Interview: Francois Vaillancourt on illustrating Stephen King’s REVIVAL

Artwork for the LetterPress Publications edition of Stephen King’s Revival by Francois Vaillancourt.

If you’ve bought a limited edition book from Cemetery Dance in the last decade or so, chances are extremely high that Brian James Freeman and Kate Freeman had a hand in making that book a reality. Recently, Brian announced the formation of a new small press, LetterPress Publications, which he and Kate will use to continue pursuing and creating their own publishing passion projects. (Fear not, Brian remains an integral part of the Cemetery Dance family!) They’re off to a great start with their debut* project, a special limited edition of Stephen King’s 2014 novel Revival.

*Actually, LetterPress Publications has been around for a while as the imprint for projects produced through Brian’s Patreon.

In addition to an incredible design and copious bonus features, the LetterPress Publications edition of Revival will feature 16 full-color illustrations by artist Francois Vaillancourt. You can see several of his stunning pieces of artwork on the Cemetery Dance page for the book. Francois was kind enough to answer a few questions for us about his work on this exciting new project.

(Interview conducted by Blu Gilliand)

CEMETERY DANCE: When and how did you first get involved with the special edition of Revival from LetterPress Publications?

FRANCOIS VAILLANCOURT: I got an email from Brian a couple of months ago, asking me if I would be interested to pitch the project. It would have been hard to say no to that opportunity, so I sent Brian some of my work, and it was presented to King’s people. A few illustrators were considered for the project, and after a couple of week, the news came in that I was the chosen one. To this day, I still don’t believe it.

You mentioned on Twitter that you read Revival three times in a row before beginning work on the illustrations. What are your thoughts on the book and where it stands among King’s novels?

I first read Revival in 2015, and really enjoyed it. I like stories that span many years and Revival does just that. It has a pretty bleak ending, but it was the right ending. I know some people reacted strongly to that, but it made perfect sense to me. In my own ranking system, it’s pretty high up the list. I think it doesn’t get the recognition it deserves and that’s fair because that story isn’t for everyone.

How did you pick out the scenes to illustrate?

When it was decided that i would do the illustrations, I read the book like any reader would do, just going along with the story, refreshing my memory and getting a good feel for the mood. The second time was just to pick up moments that would stand out visually. It was important to come up with illustrations that would not only serve the story well, but could also be appreciated on their own. The third time I just went back to the selected scenes to iron out details. Making sure I was staying as close as possible to King’s vision was paramount to me.

Funny thing, if I ever meet Trent Reznor, I have to give him some money as I listened to “Hurt” so much during the process, he should get something out of it!. That song, to me, was the perfect complement to the story.

Artwork for the LetterPress Publications edition of Stephen King’s Revival by Francois Vaillancourt.

Describe the process of working with the Freemans on this. Did you send them sketches or ideas about the scenes you wanted to use, or did they just cut you loose? 

Brian and Kate gave me complete freedom. I didn’t send sketches, but I told him, in broad strokes, some of the moments I wanted to illustrate. The first image I did was the panoramic illustration of the church, and after seeing it, Brian trusted me with the rest. It’s pretty great to have that freedom, but also unnerving as you have no fallback position. You have to trust yourself entirely.

The only time we had some back and forth was for the line art that will be foil stamped. That is so outside my comfort zone that it took me a bit of time to nail the style and the direction.

How many sketches and illustrations did you produce in the course of working on this? 

I did 16 full color illustrations and three line drawings. I did some sketches, but they were just to help me place elements and make sure I had the composition right.

Were there any illustrations that came out drastically different than you first envisioned?

Not really. Once I see where I want an image to end up, the final result is usually pretty close to what I had in mind. What can change is the color palette and some details.

Are there any that ended up not being used in the book?

I think they will all end up in it, but that’s for Brian and Kate to decide. There is one illustration that was just okay to me, and I told Brian I wasn’t in love with it and I would redo it. The newer version is much better.

What are some other King books you’d like to work on?

That’s a fun question. The classics all had their own special editions, so I don’t think I’ll ever get to do The Shining or ‘Salem’s Lot, but there are many stories still to be done in that type of limited edition. I’m thinking Needful Things, Duma Key, or 11-22-63.

What are you working on now?

I just finished a project for Richard Chizmar, who’s always been very supportive of my work, and a few other covers which I can’t really go into right now.
I would like to thank everyone at LetterPress Publications for giving me this amazing opportunity. Much love, guys.

Leave a Reply