Scott Biel is an Art Director at Random House with a job that many Star Wars fans would love to have. Biel has the responsibility of overseeing art direction and design for the covers of the Del Rey/LucasBooks titles. He works closely with Del Rey editors and publishers, along with Jennifer Heddle at Lucasfilm, to develop cover art, most recently for Star Wars books like The Essential Reader’s Companion and Scoundrels. The important duty of creating a Star Wars cover that will catch the reader’s eye and have them pull the book off the store shelf falls to Biel. In this interview, he offers an inside look at the creation, marketing, and decision making process that happens behind-the-scenes.
EUCantina (EUC): To my knowledge, this is your first fansite interview. We’re glad to have you here. Please tell us more about yourself and your job at Del Rey/LucasBooks.
Scott Biel (SB): Thanks and I’m really glad to be here! I started off my career at Penguin as a designer and moved my way up the ladder. A few years ago, I moved over to Random House and have been the Art Director of Lucas Books for the last 2 years.
I’m responsible for the covers for the Star Wars Books over here, at Del Rey. That means I, along with help from my editors and publishers, come up with the cover concept. From there, usually, I will find an illustrator that I feel will fit the book. From sketch phase until the final art, I will go back and forth with the folks at Lucas to fine tune things. Once the art is completed I will choose the type that best suits the illustration and theme of the book. Then it will go back to Lucas for final approval.
EUC: How do you define Star Wars?
SB: I love Star Wars! The fact that I get to do this as my job is a dream come true. My definition for Star Wars is similar to what Obi-Wan says about the Force: “It binds us.” It’s something that connects with everyone. When I used to tell people what my job was I’d have to explain it. Now all I have to say is “I work on Star Wars Books” and they instantly get it.
EUC: In what form does the initial design idea come to you?
SB: My goal is to try and make the covers look as good as possible. For the design, I don’t want it to overwhelm the art. One of the great things about Star Wars is working with such great artists and I really want the cover to highlight their hard work.
EUC: Some fans think that Star Wars literature is marketed to a male audience. Is this true? When you design a cover, who do you have in mind?
SB: The people I have in mind are the fans. This doesn’t just mean the book fans. I love our fans and think they are fantastic but I also want to bring in the fans who haven’t read one of our books yet. I want the person who has only seen Episodes IV, V, VI to pick up one of our books. I don’t think our books are marketed toward a male audience. We try and market to the general Sci-Fi audience.
EUC: Sometimes cover art changes when the novel is released in a different country. Does Del Rey/LucasBooks have any input in international cover art?
SB: From what I’m aware of we do not have a say on the cover changing for international markets.
EUC: Why did X-wing: Mercy Kill undergo a cover revision?
SB: For Mercy Kill, we looked at what was originally the final and felt it looked dated. We wanted the design to harken back to the old Bantam X-wing novels but it was missing the mark. While discussing redesigning the cover we saw these great posters for Star Wars done by Olly Moss. I used this as inspiration for the cover and I’m very happy with the final product.
EUC: Han Solo, Luke Skywalker, and Leia Organa Solo are on more covers than any other Star Wars characters. Are there any artistic challenges with the Big Three?
SB: Yes. Definitely. They are so recognizable and we’re fortunate in having a ton of reference for them. We want them to not only look like Han, Luke, and Leia but also look cool. This can sometimes lead to a lot of back forth with the artist.
EUC: You’re the cover artist for Shadow Games. How did you conceptualize Shadow Games’ plot?
SB: This was one of my first Star Wars books I got to work on so it’s really special to me. The book has more of a suspense/thriller feel so we wanted a cover that reflected that. We looked at the covers of such great thriller writers like Lee Child (The Jack Reacher series) and Robert Ludlum (The Bourne Series) for inspiration. I had a lot of fun working on this. I was so nervous when I sent it over to Lucasfilm, but they pretty much approved it as is, with some minor tweaks.
EUC: Mara Jade Skywalker is generally depicted wearing a catsuit. Why do you think that particular outfit is popular? If you could design a cover with a different outfit, what would Mara Jade wear instead?
SB: I’m not sure if it’s necessarily popular, but I feel it’s depicted like that because it’s become her de facto costume (similar to superhero costumes). On the paperback cover for Choices of One, Daryl Mandryk took the initiative and redesigned it in his illustration. By adding some armor and making the suit more functional it becomes a more practical interpretation.
EUC: Which cover design do you consider your best?
SB: This is a very clichéd answer but I always try to outdo myself with the next cover, so I feel my best is yet to come.
EUC: What projects are you working on now?
SB: I can’t discuss that but look for some announcements at San Diego Comic Con and Celebration VI!
EUC: As an art director, do you have any advice for graphic designers, artists, and other creative types?
SB: Always put your best foot forward and never be late on your deadlines. Most important, have fun with what you do.
EUC: So…can you judge a book by its cover?
SB: I feel I have to say yes.
Thanks to Scott Biel for taking the time to do this interview. You can read past EUCantina interviews here.