Black and white op-art style illustration of a warped checkerboard pattern

La Boca illustrates anniversary edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four

Just 750 copies of this lovingly designed edition of George Orwell’s classic novel have been made, commemorating the original book’s enduring legacy

This year, George Orwell’s seminal book Nineteen Eighty-Four celebrates its 75th anniversary, and to mark the occasion, London-based publisher The Folio Society has released a new, illustrated edition of the title. Hoping to offer readers a new reading experience, and a lovingly handcrafted object which they can treasure for years to come, Folio looked to illustration studio La Boca to help them achieve this.

In turn, the artists at La Boca developed a series of illustrations for the pages of the book, designs to adorn the cover and the accompanying box, and a print, a collection of stickers and a sew-on patch to go inside. The team at La Boca looked to the enduring themes within Nineteen Eighty-Four as a guide for the work, informing the style and content of their illustrations.

Illustration of a row of red, orange and yellow hued boots stamping down towards a row of heads looking up at them

“It’s a book that is ingrained in popular culture – not just the book itself, but ideas from the book, like Big Brother, Room 101 etc,” says Scot Bendall, co-founder and creative director of La Boca. “[When creating the illustrations] we tried to come up with images that would stimulate the imagination more than explicitly explaining things. We’d like the design to hopefully enhance the experience of reading.”

Drawing on ideas of totalitarianism, propaganda, identity, and surveillance, La Boca carefully illustrated a series of subtle symbols, surreal scenes and abstract compositions that hint at the book’s defining notions, rather than showing them directly. Bendall says it was important to the team that they didn’t attempt to portray any of the main characters, so that readers could “project some of their own thoughts on how people might look”.

Airbrush style illustration of a black and white globe wrapped in arrows labelled 'hate'

It was crucial for La Boca to avoid any real influence from 1980s visual culture, which would have been low-hanging fruit for the team, because the 1980s predicted and portrayed within the book are a far cry from the era that eventually played out. As such, the illustrators focused instead on the 1940s, during which time the book was being written, as aesthetic inspiration for their work.

Stylistically, the illustrations nod to editorial tradition, as well as the designs of the Soviet Union and wider World War II propaganda that would have been circulating at the time of the book’s writing.

Illustration in the style of an old photo featuring a moustached man wearing a suit and top hat

The latter comes through particularly in the print, stickers and patch that are included as extras within the special edition, with Bendall explaining: “We wanted to put ourselves in the position of the regime [The Party] and imagine how they might have used graphic design to normalise the contradictions in their messaging.”

Writing on the success of their collaboration with La Boca, the Folio team says, “For Nineteen-Eighty-Four, a novel with dystopian, political, and psychological commentary, [La Boca’s] artistic approach provides a visually interesting interpretation that captures the oppressive atmosphere of Orwell’s world. By using a mix of retro and contemporary elements they bring a unique vision to the project.”

The limited edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four is published by The Folio Society;