“It’s very tricky to do any drawing of a tragedy,” said Christoph Niemann, who created “Dark Spring,” this week’s cover. When asked to come up with an image about the series of disasters that have hit Japan, he was hesitant. “A drawing often comes across as lighthearted, and there’s obviously nothing lighthearted about this thing.”
The earthquake and tsunami were instantly and extensively captured through lenses. Niemann said, “If I would make the most amazing drawing of a destroyed building, it would never be as strong as a photograph.” (See photos by Adam Dean, whose work ran with Evan Osnos’s Letter from Japan.) They were also natural disasters, while the emerging nuclear threat was “something manmade,” he said, and therefore more suitable for illustration—especially in contrast with traditional Japanese ink drawings, in which nature is a central theme.
Niemann was fascinated by the “eerie silence” in many of the interviews and video clips coming out of Japan following the earthquake. “Considering the force and destruction and scale of this, I thought it was a scarily quiet disaster,” he said.
The buildings at the Fukushima Daiichi plant do not have the hourglass shape we associate with nuclear power plants. “They have no recognizable shape whatsoever,” Niemann said. So he juxtaposed cherry blossoms with a universal icon: the radiation hazard trefoil.
Niemann’s initial version (below) followed more closely the model of Japanese brush painting. Our art editor, Françoise Mouly, “wanted to use the irony” but said she had a “reservation about how beautiful it was.” She suggested that “the image be set against black to bring forth the darkness,” and so “Spring Doom” (Niemann’s original title) turned into “Dark Spring.”
(Lifted whole cloth from The New Yorker site.)