The Making of Brian Selznick’s Book-As-Artifact, The Marvels

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Selznick’s characters, marveling. Photo: Illistrations by Brian Selznick/Courtesy of Scholastic

At once a grand adventure story and a self-reflexive mystery, The Marvels, the upcoming, lusciously designed book from The Invention of Hugo Cabret author Brian Selznick, is made up of two tales. The first is told solely through Selznick’s illustrations and focuses on the survivor of a 1766 shipwreck, Billy Marvel, and the five generations of legendary thespians descended from him. The second, told in prose and set 90 years after the final events of the first, presents the story of Joseph, a London runaway. If Selznick’s prior work is any indication, the sum total promises to be a feat of both narrative and bookmaking design, gorgeously rendered in gilded pages and a stunning gold-foil cover.  

“It’s a privilege to work on something like this,” said Selznick’s longtime editor, Tracy Mack, about the author’s three-years-in-the-making effort. “It’s a print book that’s also a thing of beauty.”

The concept: “The pictures are meant to function as a collective memory for the reader. You’ve just experienced 400 pages of visuals, and then you fast-forward 90 years, and you slowly realize that you’re reading about things that you’ve just seen.”

The process: “Brian moved to London for three months. He lived right in Piccadilly Circus. He felt like if he was drawing a book about the theater, he needed to be living in the heart of London’s theater district.”

The reader: “You, the reader, know more than the main character does about what’s happening, but not how it adds up. The challenge was how to give enough clues about what was coming, but not too many.”

*This article appears in the August 24, 2015 issue of New York Magazine.