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When the main branch of the New York Public Library was dedicated, on May 23, 1911, John Alden Dix, the governor of New York, hailed it as “the generator of moral and intellectual energy.” For the cover of the July 10 & 17, 2023, Fiction Issue, Sergio García Sánchez captures a book’s dynamic power by illustrating the interplay between a world in motion and a mind in rapture. His central character sits at the corner of Forty-first Street and Fifth Avenue, fixed in a spellbound pose at the foot of one of two marble lions that have adorned the library’s entrance for more than a hundred years. I talked to the artist about the tumult of the city and the joy of being in thrall to a story.
During the Great Depression, Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia named the two lions Patience and Fortitude, to signify New Yorkers’ best qualities. How would you describe the citizens of New York, and what animals would you choose to represent them?
The thing that amazes me about New York City is the tremendous variety of human typologies, races, religions, aesthetics. . . . So I could not describe the citizens of the Big Apple with a single set of animals. The city is, instead, an enormous zoo in which lions and gazelles, elephants and mice, dogs and cats, seagulls and pigeons—and I suppose some worms—coexist.
The motion of the lions and the birds emphasizes the stillness of the figure engrossed in a book. What was your inspiration for this image?
The girl on the cover reminds me of myself when I was young, growing up here in Spain. Many times, I couldn’t wait to get a book or a comic book from the small public library nearby. I would begin reading at the door, or on my way home. I once read the entire “Adventures of Tintin” collection in one sitting. My relationship with libraries persists to this day. For more than twenty-five years, every November 20th (World Children’s Day), I have done a storytelling activity in several public libraries in Granada, Spain, where I tell a story while drawing it live. I am very passionate about it. Books have always been very important in my life. My parents were both teachers, and their house was literally full of books. Now our house is full of books, too.
For this cover, I have reflected graphically on the representation of movement, taking as a starting point the work of Étienne-Jules Marey, who followed Eadweard Muybridge’s experiments and captured the flight of birds, using a special camera that could expose forty-eight plates in seventy-two seconds. I tried to do something similar using the trajectory drawing on a fixed background.
A composite photo of a pelican in flight, by Étienne-Jules Marey, circa the eighteen-eighties.
This image was colored by Lola Moral, your wife and longtime collaborator. The finished product has a soft, muted palette and very little black. Did you agree on the palette from the start?
We certainly agreed on how it should look, although I must say it is always a pleasant surprise to see the finished color. For this piece, Lola thought the colors should be very faint and transparent so that the oxygen could be perceived as just another element. As the reader reads, time has stopped, creating a parenthesis of peace.
You live outside of Granada, in the south of Spain. What are your strategies for keeping cool when you have to spend time in a city, especially in the heat of summer?
In Granada, in summer, it’s impossible to stay cool during the day, unless you take shelter in an air-conditioned room (a library is a good place). That’s why we fled the city fifteen years ago to live in the Sierra Nevada, where the summer days are more bearable and the nights are cooler.
For more covers about the pleasures of reading, see below:
“August 12, 1961,” by Edna Eicke
“Dog Reads Book,” by Maira Kalman
“Fall Library,” by Tom Gauld
Find Sergio García Sánchez’s covers, cartoons, and more at the Condé Nast Store.