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About the Cover: Frontiers

An interview with Topic’s January 2019 cover artist about the Victorian astronomers and 1980s movie-set designers who inspired him to shoot for the stars.

Liam Cobb looked to the stars for inspiration when creating the cover art for “Frontiers,” Topic’s January 2019 issue. “I thought about the literal spaces humans could explore—especially with space tourism becoming a thing, and the Mars One project,” says the London-based illustrator and comic-book artist.

Cobb, the cocreator of a comics anthology called Silica Burn and an artist whose work has appeared in publications like the New York Times and Wired, studied illustration at Camberwell College of Arts at the University of the Arts London and says he has always had a love for telling stories through drawings.

We spoke to the artist about the 19th- and 20th-century muses behind his very futuristic cover, the appeal of tangible artwork, and whether he’d be willing to climb on board a rocket ship anytime soon.


What went through your mind when you were asked to do the cover for Topic’s Frontiers issue?

I got a chance to preview some of the stories, and I wanted to see if I could encompass some ideas from those. I thought about the series I’m Moving to Mars and what places were still physical frontiers for humans to explore. Another idea was based on the story about mediums and people connecting to the afterlife. But then I came across these illustrations from the 1800s done by selenographers—people who study the moon’s surface.

I recently went to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art outside Copenhagen, where they have an exhibition about the moon. There were a lot of interesting installations, abstract art, and technology on display to do with the moon, but also plenty of beautiful scientific illustrations from the past couple of centuries. Through researching this, I stumbled across the image “Lunar Day,” from the 1879 book Recreations in Astronomy by H. D. Warren D. D., which is a wonderful, conceptual etching of what he imagined the moon's surface would look like.

One of Cobb’s inspirations was a story idea about a remote area in Georgia that was hooked up to the internet by analogue methods, to be published in January 2019.
Another intriguing premise involved an ambiguous room and location. “Think the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, with a slight witchcraft vibe,” says the artist.
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The winning idea was much more straightforward and dynamic. “I thought the grid could suggest time travel, or traveling to this planet,” Cobb explains.

How did you get into illustration?

Both my parents are artists. They met at a painting course in London. They’re both abstract painters, though my dad has moved into doing photography. So I always knew that I wanted to be something along the lines of an artist, and I loved drawing, especially comics.

How long did it take to complete the cover art, and what kind of tools did you use?

I think it took a week in total. I had a day of ideas and sketching out, then feedback. After going forward with the idea, there was like three days of drawing and putting it together on the computer.

I always start with pen on paper. That’s sort of how I can explore ideas, as opposed to digitally. I usually use a black ballpoint pen. Then I started sketching the main idea, and I scanned it on my computer. I used Photoshop to play with texture and color. I messed around with the background a lot—I wanted to make it kind of futuristic and matrix-like.

Where do you draw inspiration for your work?

I’m a big fan of sci-fi artists, as well as 1970s and ’80s aesthetics. Syd Mead, who designed the landscapes for Blade Runner and Alien, is a big influence. I like interiors and architecture, too; Frank Lloyd Wright’s designs are one of my favorite references. I find mid-century modern architecture and interiors rather attractive. I usually just reference things I come across, such as books or discoveries through the internet.

I also enjoy comics, especially contemporary ones. Breakdown Press in London publishes a lot of interesting manga from the ’60 and ’70s, as well as current artists such as Joe Kessler and Yuichi Yokoyama. Landfill Editions, Lagon Revue, and Colorama from Europe also publish lots of alternative comics that I really enjoy. In the States, publishers such as Perfectly Acceptable and New York Review Comics release really nice work, too. Most books from these publishers I regard as some of the best of contemporary comics publishing.

“I would go to Mars, but only if I knew it was 100 percent safe.”

How did you start reading and making comics?

I always liked comics as a kid, and as a teen, I did my own sort of knock-off versions. Then when I went to college for illustration at Camberwell in London, I started making them again, every now and then. Now I’ve been consistently doing them for the past four or five years.

They’ve been quite useful in regard to getting my work out there in tangible form—they’re like mini portfolios. Also, I always want to touch artwork, and I like the accessibility of a book. You can thumb through, and it still has some artistic value to it.

What frontiers would you love to explore?

I would go to Mars, but only if I knew it was 100 percent safe, wasn't going to take as long as it does now, and there was wifi. So maybe not anytime soon. There are still lots of places on Earth I am eager to visit.

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