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For readers of the venerable New Yorker, the cover art is as big of a draw as the content within. The prestigious 92-year-old magazine’s covers are iconic and instantly recognizable, enough to spur international design riffs like The Parisianer and more recently, The Tokyoiter.
Andrew Joyce and David Robert, the expat founders of The Tokyoiter, spoke with me recently about the project, born out of a desire to showcase the “small and friendly illustration scene" of their newly adopted home. Whether that's capturing the bustling energy of the city's streets or reimagining the signature izakaya (a Japanese-style gastropub) that line the capital's infinite alleyways in art form, I'd say it's the ultimate homage. What they didn’t expect was the ensuing popularity and connections made with artists from all over the world.
HANA ASBRINK: Please tell us a little bit about yourselves and what brought you to Tokyo.
ANDREW JOYCE: David [Robert] is an illustrator/art director from France and I'm an illustrator from the U.K. We both moved to Japan around five years ago and first met through the small and friendly illustration scene here in Tokyo. We both had a passion for drawing various aspects of the city and became more and more interested in how this amazing city inspired other illustrators.
HA: How did you first decide to create and collaborate on this project? Did you have a connection to New York or The New Yorker prior to this project?
AJ: Separately, we were both interested in starting little side projects related to Tokyo and its creatives, whether it was interviews, a podcast, or meetups, but when David had the idea for The Tokyoiter, it clicked straightaway that this project could be something that others might be interested in.
The covers of The New Yorker were an obvious inspiration for starting our own, Tokyo version. They have an amazing history of displaying New York life through their covers and have worked with some amazing artists over the years.
HA: Have you been to New York? What similarities and differences are there between the two cities?
AJ: Yes, I’ve visited New York a few times and loved it. It's one of the few other cities that I have an urge to live in. Both Tokyo and New York have incredible depth in their personalities. Just like New York, Tokyo has little pockets of culture and character. You can travel a few stops along any train line and find huge differences in the atmosphere, fashion, food, and shops. It makes living in the same city exciting and new.
HA: How has the reception to your work been so far?
AJ: We’ve been very lucky that the response has been overwhelmingly positive. We knew Tokyo is a hub for creatives all over the world but we were a little surprised by how many people got in contact to say that they’d visited Tokyo and that one of covers really reminded them of their time here. It's this interaction that we hoped for when starting the project.
HA: Where do you draw your inspiration from?
AJ: You’d have to ask our artists! We’re blown away each and every time we receive a new cover. Some of the quality and stories of how Tokyo has inspired people's work has been fascinating to hear.
HA: How do you find your artists, and how long does a commission usually take to finish?
AJ: At first, we asked our close illustrator friends. We're lucky that Tokyo has a friendly and close illustrator/design community filled will super talented people that are always looking to work together on new projects. We were able to get some really great covers quickly at the start, which put us in a good position to show off the project.
After that, we started contacting illustrators whose work we found on social media and that we are fans of. Recently, after the exhibition and kind people like yourselves that have given The Tokyoiter some exposure, we've been lucky enough to receive inquiries from illustrators all over the world via our website.
As for timings, we purposefully have no deadline (we want the project to be stress-free and fun for the illustrators) so it varies from person to person. I'd say an average waiting time from initial email to final cover is around three weeks. Always well worth the wait!
HA: How have social media and technology impacted your art and the way you introduce it to people?
AJ: For us, being a visual project, social media has been a great way to show people the covers and help get recognition to the artists. As the project grows and more and more people follow and RT our project, it becomes a bigger way to share the work with everyone.
Even though we’re based in Tokyo, we’ve received covers from artists all over the world. Technology now has made it possible to see the work of someone who lives thousands of miles away, and be able to work with them the next day. It's great for creativity and collaborations.
HA: What artists inspire you?
JA: We’re very lucky to be able to meet many amazing artists, but apart from our Tokyoiter contributors, we’re fans of illustrators like Adam Hayes, Quentin Monge, Rob Bailey, Andy Rementer, Dan Woodger, and many more!
HA: As a food site, we must know: What are your favorite things to eat in Tokyo?
AJ: We’re huge fans of okonomiyaki and sashimi. Any excuse to eat either of these is never turned down! Although strictly not a food, izakayas (a casual Japanese gastropub) are a great way to socialize and eat with other people. There are various different styles and price ranges and I fully recommend visiting anytime you’re in Japan.
HA: Is there a Food52 recipe that inspires you?
AJ: Being a huge fan of the potato, I instantly noticed the Spanish Roasted Potato Salad. Any excuse to eat a spud! Looks delicious.
Japanese Matcha Green Tea
Thank you for your time, Andrew! Which Tokyoiter cover do you like best? Head over to The Tokyoiter to see the full collection.