Meet the Illustrator Behind the New Blue Devil

Amid the excitement of Homecoming 2021, was the unveiling of the much anticipated new Poly Blue Devil design.

When Poly decided to update the mascot’s more than 50-year-old design, it was  international award-winning illustrator and cartoonist, Ken Niimura, whose work has been translated into 12 languages, who was chosen.

“We’ve tried to make it into a character that’s more in tune with the current times,” said Niimura.”

Niimura is a Spanish-Japanese illustrator and cartoonist, who lives and works in Japan and Europe. He illustrated the 2008 book I Kill Giants, written by American Joe Kelly, which was adapted into a 2019 film starring Zoe Saldana. I Kill Giants was nominated for the Eisner Awards (Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards), which are presented for creative achievement in American comic books, and are often called the comics industry’s Academy Awards. The book also won the First Prize in the Japan International Manga Prize in 2012. I Kill Giants was awarded the gold prize out of 145 entries from 30 countries.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, “The original comic book edition of I Kill Giants introduced readers to the beautiful artwork of Ken Niimura, which mixed American, Japanese and European influences into something unique and irresistible.”

Ken Niimura photo curtesy of The4coconuts, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

“I’ve made character designs in the past,” Niimura said, “mostly for companies or brands, but the Blue Devil is for a school—mainly the students—so in each new sketch and step, I was constantly asking myself whether they’d like it or not, and also if I’d like it myself had I been a student in the school.”

Niimura has worked with clients such as Amazon, Google, McDonald’s, Marvel Comics, Apple, L’Oreal, DC Entertainment, Shogakukan, Slate, The Apatow Company, Tezuka Pro, Image Comics, Kodansha, and NHK Broadcasting Station, among others. He has exhibited his work internationally.

Niimura wrote and illustrated Henshin, an anthology of short stories set in Tokyo. He also wrote and illustrated the series, Umami,  set in a fantasy world. “In Umami,” he explained, “there’s a kingdom in trouble and two cooks come to the rescue armed with their culinary skills.” The Umami series earned him the 2019 Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic.

“I want them to be two characters all students can identify with…”

For the updated Blue Devil designs, Niimura said, “I want them to be two characters all students can identify with. There’s this thing I like about the idea that the school’s motto is ‘virtue is the victor over fate,’ and that the school mascots, which I think represent more the students, are a couple of small devils. It does correspond more with my memories of what going to school was like, more on the playful side.”

Niimura has a book, Never Open It, coming out at the end of October and he is developing a new project that he cannot discuss yet. “I love doing illustration work in between these longer books,” Niimura explained, “as it’s a nice small challenge every time, and it allows me to collaborate with people and places I normally wouldn’t.”

Niimura said the project was a challenge, “but I’ve enjoyed every step of the process,” he added, “and was especially happy about the feedback I got from the school, which helped and encouraged me at every stage of the process. I would have maybe tended to do something similar to what I’ve done in the past otherwise, but all of this feedback has pushed me to go into uncharted territories. Exciting!”

To see more of Ken Niimura’s work, check out his Instagram feed.