Published on Aug 31st 2020
Since it’s the 1st September, we thought it would be an auspicious time to share some of the best international covers of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, with some thoughts and reflections from the artistic talent that created them.

It’s during Back to Hogwarts each year that we appreciate again just what a global phenomenon the Harry Potter stories are. To recognise how beloved they are around the world we thought we would showcase some of the brilliant illustrative realisations on the cover of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone from down the years. So, here is a selection, in chronological order – and remember, we don’t have any favourites!

Illustrazioni di Serena Riglietti Copyright 1998 Adriano Salani Editore S.p.A.

In Italy, Harry Potter e la Pietra Filosofale was first published by Adriano Salani Editore in May 1998 and illustrated by Serena Riglietti. Making reference to wizard chess, and perhaps a certain Animagus, Riglietti says, ‘An illustrator draws images from the flow of all that they have seen and translated in a lifetime, and sometimes pictures, melodies or words come out exactly as they should be.’

© illustraties Ien van laanen – grafische vormgeving: Anne Lammers

The Dutch cover of the first book by Ien Van Laanen makes prominent use of the iconic sport of Quidditch, with broom and golden Snitch to the fore. This edition first saw the light of day in August 1998, courtesy of publisher De Harmonie. Illustrator Van Laanen was wary about illustrating Harry because she felt that some children don’t like the main character depicted ‘because he or she never looks like the hero or heroine you see before you!’

She was drawn immediately to the flying that is prevalent in the books: ‘From part 1 onwards I tried to make something, someone, whatever fly through the air on all Dutch Harry Potter covers. I immediately loved that about Harry: FLYING!’

Cover illustration by Jean-Claude Götting

Published for the first time in October 1998 by Gallimard, Harry Potter à L’École des Sorciers sported this illustration of Harry, Ron, Hermione (and Hedwig!) by Jean-Claude Götting. He says: ‘When I was asked to illustrate the cover of the first Harry Potter book, I must say I had not realised there would be a sequel. It seemed to me the best thing to portray was the three friends. I wanted Harry's face to have something a bit special. Not handsome, but somewhat dreamy.’

Cover illustration by Dolores Avendaño for Ediciones Salamandra

For the Spanish edition, published in December 1998 by Ediciones Salamandra, illustrator Dolores Avendaño was given only one week by the art director to read the book, illustrate the cover and deliver the cover. She was immediately hooked on the idea of illustrating a book about a ‘magician boy’ and her cover shows an alarmed-looking Harry swooping on his broom for the golden Snitch, as Hogwarts and Fluffy loom in the background, and a unicorn bounds on the shore of the Great Lake. She remembers it fondly: ‘I did not know Harry Potter yet, nevertheless I felt it was the subject for me and I was very enthusiastic/happy about doing the job. The Art Director asked me to illustrate the same scene as the North American cover, in my own style. Among other details I gave the three-headed dog and the unicorn more visibility, I thought it added a little more magic to the cover.’

© Alvaro Tapia

In Alvaro Tapia’s wonderfully colourful cover, Harry, in Dudley’s baggy hand-me-downs, seems to be levitating upwards whilst admiring Hedwig on his shoulder. The rest of the people on Platform Nine and Three-Quarters all stare at the boy who lived. There is a particularly ornate Hogwarts Express in the backdrop. It was first published in August 1999 by Rabén & Sjögren. Tapia says he focused on trying to get the magical steam engine right: ‘Being given my first ever commission for a book cover I was blown away by the visual potential of the story. All the hidden layers of lore waiting to be expressed visually. My efforts all ended in trying to define the Hogwarts Express – the symbolic link between the mundane and the magical. What would a train made by wizards look like? Maybe like an eastern samovar, driven by magical aromatic herbs? A hint of the global presence of Wizardkind. In the end I had to put Harry in front – obscuring most of my efforts.’

Cover illustrated by Enric Jardí for Editorial Empúries

Perhaps the most surprising element of the Catalan cover of Harry Potter i la pedra filosofal is that the Hogwarts Express is… blue! Of course, many of these editions came long before Harry and the wizarding world were depicted onscreen, and it’s fascinating to see how illustrators interpreted scenes from the book. This was published in November 1999 by Editorial Empúries . Looking back, illustrator Enric Jardíc says, ‘This illustration was made before the image of the Harry Potter as we know him today began to spread, even before the movies. At the time of the illustration we knew that he was a boy of a certain age, wore glasses and had a lightning-shaped scar on his forehead, but nothing more. Today it is strange to see his character illustrated in this way.’

Cover © Vladyslav Yerko, 2002

Illustrator Vladyslav Yerko compares his fantastically detailed cover to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and rightly so – like Peter Blake’s famous cover, this also features a wealth of characters. This vivid addition to the international roster of covers of Philosopher’s Stone was published in April 2002 by A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA. Yerko explains how every character ended up on the cover, because Harry didn’t look right on his own: ‘My first sketch of the cover was short-spoken. Harry's lonely figure with an enormous fluffy pair of wings, and dozens of owls' eyes looking out of them. I remember my publisher, Ivan Malkovych, gasping desperately. "Where is Ron? Where is Hermione? Where is Hagrid? Where is everyone? Oh my God!"’

© Nicholas Filbert Chandrawienata

Fast forward to March 2017 and we have this extraordinary swirl of detail by Nicholas Filbert Chandrawienata, from the edition put out by Gramedia Publishers in Indonesia. The amount of characters and objects from the book depicted on this cover is astounding. Interestingly, because this was released with the Fantastic Beasts films out in the world, Chandrawienata took that as a starting point: ‘Fantastic Beasts are not only a complementary subject but also an integral part of the Harry Potter universe. That is why I took Fantastic Beasts as the core idea for the Indonesian Harry Potter book covers and centred one beast on each.’

As well as this, Chandrawienata leant into the traditional artwork of Indonesia which accounts for the level of detail: ‘The other main idea was to incorporate the spirit of Indonesian batik artwork, which is made meticulously and skilfully. So I made these book covers into giant continuous drawings by adding lots of characters from the books to make them super detailed. As a finishing touch, I also added a little bit of a head turn “animation” to the beasts to make the covers more dynamic. Combining these ideas into single art pieces was definitely a challenge, a really fun challenge.’

Illustration by Iacopo Bruno © Carlsen Verlag GmbH

For a new edition published by Carlsen Verlag in September 2018, they turned to Italian illustrator Iacopo Bruno to refresh the cover. Interestingly, Bruno took inspiration from the story’s British roots, as well as nodding to the edition’s German heritage, for his beautiful heraldic crest-like design: ‘I’m very attached to Italian graphic design, yet I’m also very attracted to Anglo-Saxon imagery. My research always draws from a universe of objects and images from past ages and countries: I consult the books that fill my library, the objects that I collect myself, and certainly also the infinite well of the internet. Putting all my references together with J.K. Rowling’s universe has allowed me to vent my passion and to tell each of the seven volumes through covers full of all the details, decorations, places and characters that I could manage to fit in – while keeping those two words that we all love in the centre: Harry Potter.’

© Peoples Literature Publishing House, Co., Ltd, 2019

Released in July 2019 by the People’s Literature Publishing House, this edition (in simplified Chinese) is illustrated by Li Min, an illustrator with a strong but modern Chinese style. In this vibrant cover, we see Harry wearing the Sorting Hat, as Dumbledore looks on amidst floating candles – meanwhile the Gryffindor lion roars out from the banner that swirls around the design. This scene and the characters are immediately recognizable using the colours and lines for which Li Min is well known. She also illustrates the covers for the other 19 volumes that comprise the series in Simplified Chinese.

Cover illustration by Lyuben Zidarov © Egmont Bulgaria

The painterly style of Bulgaria’s edition clearly depicts Harry and Hagrid, with a flourish of sparks emitted from Harry’s wand, as he steps off the Hogwarts Express for the first time. Egmont Bulgaria’s cover is by prominent artist, Lyuben Zidarov, and they describe it as ‘homecoming, like a journey that we know is somehow crucial and that we know is going to stay in the readers’ hearts forever. A journey that is about to change their lives the way it has changed millions of lives before.’

According to the publisher, Zidarov is the most prominent living Bulgarian children’s illustrator. Reflecting on this edition published in November 2019, he says, ‘J.K. Rowling has enchanted me like a real magician and has shown me her magical world. This has not only inspired me, but has pointed my drawing in a whole new way, a way I have never expected. I am really grateful and honoured to be part of this magical journey.’

© Miho Satake

This stunning, fantastical Hedwig-featuring illustration from Miho Satake was used as the cover of this edition published by Say-Zan-Sha in November 2019. Satake explains what inspired her and the importance of light in the image: ‘The inspiration for this illustration comes entirely from the scene in Chapter 6, when Harry and the others first see Hogwarts Castle. I depicted various “lights” against a blue background: moonlight, starlight, countless lights from the castle, and the twinkling eyes of owls. The colour “blue” has the image of a quiet beginning of a story. The lights of the boat heading for the dark entrance at the bottom of the cliff show the nervousness of the students. I drew a land route in the lower right corner of this illustration, the Quidditch Stadium behind the castle, and Dumbledore’s room at the top to create a little different atmosphere from that of an ordinary castle. What I wanted to express more than anything else is that the lights of Hogwarts Castle are a comfort to all who see them.’

Cover Art by Arch Apolar © 2020 by Nanmeebooks Co.

We took a close look at the superb 20th anniversary covers being released by Nanmeebooks in May. They are so good, we thought it was well worth including their cover for Philosopher’s Stone again here, with some insights from illustrator (and fan) Arch Apolar: ‘As a fan of the books myself, I understood how much the fans love this series and how big the responsibility was on my shoulders. I wanted my covers and boxset to be like a love letter that we could pass on to the next generation of fans. I am the sort of artist that doesn’t limit himself to one specific style so finding the right style for this project was incredibly challenging. I don’t want my artwork to look too digital or sharp and clean as I prefer a crafty feeling like hand paint with oil colour. I wanted the character design in this version to be relatable to both kids and adults, so it shouldn’t be too stylized or realistic but well balanced between the two. My intention was for the covers to be like a moving scenario that does not portray just one specific scene but all the fans' favourites together.’

℗ Crown Culture Corporation

The new twentieth anniversary cover released last month in Taiwan for the Complex Chinese edition by Crown Publishing is elegant and focused, drawing on key elements from the story: Hedwig, the Hogwarts Express and the Hogwarts crest most prominently, but more to see if you look closely. Not one, but two, illustrators worked on it – the creative team of Krenz and Loiza: ‘For our new original cover of the Complex Chinese edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, we drew many elements that are popular with readers such as Hedwig, the Platform Nine and Three-Quarters sign, the Hogwarts Express, a luggage trolley, Harry’s Hogwarts acceptance letter, a Gringotts Key, a wand and a Hogwarts Crest; all decoratively joined together. Aside from the cover, the book spines of the new seven editions put together, also show an image of Harry as he flies over Hogwarts alongside Hedwig. We avoided depicting characters on the covers because we believe we all have our own versions of Harry Potter. Imagination is the greatest joy Harry Potter gave us, so we hope that these new covers will depict the story while letting readers keep their imaginative interpretations of it too.’

So there we are – these international covers show the extraordinary creative talent which has adorned Philosopher’s Stone down the years. And judging by the more recent additions, the ambition and vision only seems to be growing. We hope you agree that poring over these covers is a great way to transport yourself back to Hogwarts this 1st September.


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