So yes, we love Joey HiFi. His artwork for Moxyland, the UK Zoo City and Blackbirds has blown us away, and just today we have taken receipt of his latest piece, the cover for Chuck Wendig’s second AR novel Mockingbird. And lo, here it is (click for awesome massiveness):

To celebrate, we shot Joey a few smartass questions, to see if we could get to the bottom of this enigmatic artgeek’s worldview. We failed, obviously…

What do you call yourself – graphic artist, illustrator, designer, part-time space cadet, etc?

An illustrator & graphic artist.

How did you get into “all this”?

I started drawing when I was a kid – and I never really stopped.

What’s your balance of artwork – covers, graphics, editorial, personal stuff, etc?

It is often very varied. I try (often unsuccessfully) to keep a balance. But generally I find it is dependent on what briefs land in my inbox! So as far as paying commissions go, one month it will be book covers, the next editorial illustration, the next a series of posters. Often I only get to work on personal projects between the hours of 10pm and midnight.

What’s your typical approach to a piece, if you have one? Computer or sketches?

It’s varied, but I’d say mostly computer. I usually start out with rough sketches, then move onto my computer, where i work over them or draw using a Wacom tablet. I often work in multiple layers, so working in Illustrator or photoshop streamlines the whole process.

Do you typically like a brief stuff with detail, or the freedom to do whatever you want?

Tough one. It varies, but often I find with too much freedom it’s easy to get lost. I prefer to get as much information and a detailed brief as possible, but then be left to interpret that in my own way. As far as designing & illustrating book covers are concerned, I feel more comfortable being able to read a draft of the book first, before sharing cover concepts.It provides me with insight into the tone of the book and a direction for the cover. Then, along with the publisher, we can shape a brief & a unique visual direction.

And how did you work on Blackbirds particularly?

On Blackbirds I did not get to read the book first. But the brief was pretty thorough, and Angry Robot had a strong concept already for the cover. Something I felt I could really sink my teeth into. The author – Chuck Wendig – also provided me with a list of various elements & scenes in the book from which I could draw inspiration. I started with rough sketches on paper. Once I’d worked out how the illustration would work with the title typography, I moved onto the computer. For the cover, which has a distressed ink, brush & pen style, I drew some elements, then scanned them in and worked over them in Photoshop. Other elements for the cover I illustrated completely in Illustrator & Photoshop.

What’s a typical day, if you have one?

I am a night owl. So I usually start work a bit late at about 10 am, work till 5 pm. Then take a break – and do 2/3 hours of work or drawing much later in the evening.
I find I get some of my best ideas late at night. Then I feel compelled to act on them. Not doing so results in a restless night’s sleep.

Having recently seen a sketch allegedly depicting your room packed with all the geek treasures of the ages, just how much of a rabid fanboy are you?

Pretty rabid. I used to collect all sorts of random geeky weirdness. It got quite out of hand. But now I’ve learned to control the impulse. That – and I’ve run out of space.

What would you kill to illustrate?

My own graphic novel. I’ve started writing & drawing one, the effort of which is killing me slowly between the hours of 10 pm till midnight. This is the only time I seem to get to work on it!

Anything you really hate/struggle with drawing?

Strangely… hair! But not that I struggle drawing it, but rather because I’m obsessed with drawing it perfectly.

Does being South African bring anything different to your work?

Definitely. South Africa has many interesting stories to tell, and that influences your work. We can draw much inspiration from our surroundings here in South Africa. And sometimes it takes the form of something the rest of the world hasn’t seen. Creatively, South Africa is moving from strength to strength, be it in the realm of films, novels, music etc. So it’s an exciting & inspiring time to be involved in the creative field.

You have a very special talent with using negative space – is there something wrong with your brain, or could anyone learn to do it?

I hope my brain is not wired incorrectly (although that would explain a lot). It has always come naturally to me. It’s a personal obsession of mine, hiding images within illustrations. It’s like solving little visual puzzles. I also love illustrations that work on two levels: what you see initially, and then, what you see when you look closer.

Tell us about five (or more) cool things – music, movies, comics, books, toys, whatever.

Of late I’ve really enjoyed:
Reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, with beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay, The Death Ray graphic novel by Daniel Clowes and The Mall by S.L. Grey.

Working & listening to the post-rock bliss of A Winged Victory For the Sullen, as well as local musician, Marcus Wormstorm’s new album, Not I, but a Friend.

And as always a plethora of B-grade films from Duane Bradley & his deformed twin (Belial) in Basketcase, to a flying motorbike in Megaforce, to a psychotic plate-throwing dwarf in Skinned Deep.

Which other artists do you rate?

There are so many! Not just artists – but writers, musicians etc. But internationally the work of Noma Bar, Chris Ware, Alan Fletcher, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns & Adrian Tomine hold a special place in my heart. Locally illustrators such as Adam Hill, Emma Cook, Jade Klara, Jordan Metcalf, Daniel Ting Chong and Ree Treweek are constantly inspiring me.

Do you have any other skills? What would you do if you didn’t do this?

Allow me answer in this way: In an episode of the TV show 30 Rock, Jack asks Liz, ‘In a post-apocalyptic world, how would anyone use you?’

She answers, ‘Traveling bard!’ He answers, ‘Radiation canary’.

I’d like to think that if I could no longer illustrate – I could just write or play some kind of music. But I fear my true calling would be something akin to a modern day ‘radiation canary’.

And what are you working on next (don’t worry, we won’t tell anyone)?

I hope to continue work on my own graphic novel.


  1. i just stumbled upon blackbirds tonight and was blown away by the cover and had to look up the cover artist asap. thanks for this interview. i can’t wait to see more of his work in the future. and good luck with the graphic novel!

  2. Great artwork, Dale! Incredible what you accomplish with just black and white. I bet your graphic novel is a killer!

Leave a Comment