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Around the World in 80 days with Lehel Kovács

Places around the world, with a slightly retro, slightly pop-art feel, come to life in Lehel Kovács’ new project. If exploratory journeys are not an option for a while, the Budapest-based illustrator treats us to his new book project, based on Google street views. Here we go!

Lehel Kovács is a freelance illustrator who has worked for prestigious magazines such as The New York Times, The Economist and The Los Angeles Times. He also creates his own projects between two assignments or after work. His illustration series, Around the World in 80 Days with Street View, is one of them, which we can now help to take shape as a book through his newly launched Kickstarter campaign.

What makes illustrations special is not only the subject matter but also the way they are created—Lehel says he has long been interested in Google’s street view feature. “I started sketching around 2008, taking virtual walks in small American cities,” he says. “The first drawing I made was an illustration of a building that was already visible on the map with Street View. As the image sent by the client was not of very good quality, I looked it up there. It may seem trivial today, but at the time, I really liked the interactive feature of being able to view a building from different angles, zoom in and study the details. For me, it’s a truly meditative experience,” he explains.

He then created his first series around 2010, where he searched for cities alphabetically and drew the streets as a virtual tourist by tapping on the map. This is how he finally came up with the idea for the Around the World in 80 Days series, sometime at the end of the year 2014. “This was the base that I felt would make a series like this more exciting and complete the concept,” he notes. “Basically, I was looking for something to provide a framework for another Street View series, and Gyula Verne’s novel was an obvious choice. I last read this book when I was a child, and, on re-reading it, I was surprised at how many specific places it mentions that still exist today. As it is a 130-year-old novel, I cannot fully reconstruct the route it takes, but I tried to cover all the towns and landmarks,” he added. Initially, Lehel’s street graphics were drawn entirely with traditional techniques, using felt-tip pens on paper, but the illustrations in Around the World in 80 Days are now digital. “These are essentially sketches, so I was more concerned with using simple colors and drawing relatively quickly to convey the atmosphere of the place,” he said.

The series was preceded by a previous Kickstarter campaign when he created a forty-piece postcard set from the graphics; it was only then that Lehel first considered making a book. Interestingly, it was in the months before the pandemic that he picked up his series again, and it was only after the lockdown that he really got going. As part of his current campaign, he has envisioned a one hundred- and twenty-eight-page book, with sixty locations to flip through. “In addition to the different places, the book is made up of several separating pages, which are also illustrated page pairs and make the overall book a little more exciting and less monotonous,” he adds. The story of the book starts at the Reform Club and ends back at the same place, and will also include iconic locations such as 7 Saville Row in London, where the protagonist of Gyula Verne’s novel lived and which is now the site of a shop selling men’s suits, according to the author. Other locations include Charing Cross in London, the Gare de Lyon in Paris, the port of Brindisi in Italy and Montgomery Street in San Francisco.

Although the author says that his Kickstarter campaign is not yet going as he had hoped, he plans to publish the book with the help of the Symposion publishing house in the near future. You can access the Kickstarter campaign for Lehel Kovács’s Around the World in 80 Days with Street View at this link.

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