Photos by Maggie Eighteen.
Selected by American Illustration for its 2011 Archive.

This illustration of Raymond Carver's short story "What We Talk About When We Talk About Love" appears in The Graphic Canon Volume 3 from Seven Stories Press, edited by Russ Kick.
In the story, two couples argue over perceptions of love in the course of a gin-soaked evening. The evening becomes tense when one tells a story about an abusive boyfriend. I showed each character with a heart symbol to represent different points of view on love. Some hearts look ragged, due to either bad experiences and/or drunkenness. Some hearts are defined by negative space, which illustrates either a healthy ability to "hold" something in it, or a void.

I aimed for a look that would be distinct from the still-recent Vintage redesigns of Carver's backlist, designed by Peter Buchanan-Smith with photos by Todd Hido, and art directed by John Gall. These gorgeous covers create an austere, distanced look.

Carver earned a reputation for cold, spare prose based on unsolicited rewrites from editor Gordon Lish, as I learned in Stephen King's New York Times review of Carver's biography. The passage I quoted comes from Beginners, the original manuscript version of Carver's collection What We Talk About When We Talk About Love. The Library of America published the manuscript in their edition of Carver's Collected Stories, and it reveals warmer, fuller dimensions to his work.

I wanted the lettering to look shaky, as if written by a person, to get away from the feel of the Vintage covers, and and the mechanical feel of Lish's edited version of the story. The inconsistent drybrush of the paint in the background suggests a deterioration of the evening. The bottles and glasses of booze stand out from the environment, as the story's protagonists give too much emphasis to alcohol. The framed picture on the wall makes a reference to Carver's famous story "Cathedral."