Thursday, April 29, 2010

Tapjacketing #9: Blue Butterflies and Peanut Brittle

 from Cover Art Archives (See #6!) 

It's been more than a month since we last went Tapjacketing, in the style of The New Yorker's Talk of the Town.  So let's get right to it. Check out these interesting web pages about cover art / book design (some specifically about kids books, a few about book design/cover design in general) - just click on the word "Link." (and thanks, once again, to our intrepid Tapjacketing friend, Sarah Blake Johnson, for pointing us in the direction of #3 and #4. )

#1. Link: "...horizontal diversification" (the term used to explain her interest in archaeolgoy, art history, art, design, book design.) Over at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, contributor Steven Withrow does a great job interviewing Susan M. Sherman, the art director at Charlesbridge Publishing, who has worked with such artists as Barry Moser, Chris van Allsburg, Jane Dyer, David Macauley and Ed Young (nice roster!)

#2. Link: "With photo manipulation, who can tell for sure these days?"  Jacket Whys takes a look at the blue butterfly books. Vladimir Nabokov would have been in heaven.

Nabokov with Butterfly Net
#3. Link : "You can't judge a book by its cover, but you can judge a book cover. And the best of them become as vital a part of a book as the sentences on the bound pages."Bob Greene takes a quick look at nine jackets  (a few for children) that he feels are vitally connected in our memories to the books they covered. The original cover for Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby is a surprise - I would have pegged that as a book that came out much later, maybe the 1970's - so it must have felt way ahead of its time. Also surprising: How simple the cover is for Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men.
#4. Link:  "You can't tell a book by its cover if it doesn't have one." Interesting to think that we might be in the Golden Days of book covers, before they start losing their impact due to different electronic delivery modes for books Think about the way  LP record album art became less important once CD's started taking over the market. Will that be true about book jackets, too? Will  different delivery modes ring the death knoll for book jacket design? Motoko Rich wonders about it in this article from the NY Times.

#5. Link:  "''Sort of like how people used to experience vinyl records,'' he said, with the ''album covers and the music as a unifying whole.''  Am I seeing a theme emerge? Album covers & book covers = doomed? Stephen Heller talks briefly to cover art guru John Gall about designing twelve paperback covers for Haruki Murakami's fiction ("...lots of cropped women and circle motifs.")

#6. Link: Trompe l'oeil book covers over at  100 Scope Notes.

#7. Link: "Oh, joy...."   The Cover Art Archives site has the same effect on me as See's Peanut Brittle. Can't get enough.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Highlights from Our 4 Juiciest April Posts, and a Fluffy Cover that Works

April was a busy and guest-post-and-interview-packed month for Jacket Knack and may I just say, wow. Really, may I? "Wow." Julie did the lion's share of the posting because I've been moving and stuff. And there were some amazing interviews presented here this month. To wit:
  • April 8th. The Bologna Children's Book Fair as seen through the eyes of Sarah Blake Johnson. What great cover images she sent us! Highlights of her guest post for me:
    1. The cover from Portugal. Love it. Interesting that the artist chose to have the animals facing left. I can't read Portugese, but is that first word, "bichos" the word for a female dog? Probably not. (No, it means "animals." What is wrong with me?) 2. The idea that the Korean covers were the most visually stunning = intriguing. Must look for some Korean kids' book cover images soon.
  • April 12th. The interview with Sally Wern Comport about the cover art of Rita Williams Garcia's One Crazy Summer. Stuff I learned:
    1. The red cover symbolizes, among other things the "hot tempest of this particular time in history," which is to say, the Civil Rights Movement. Didn't think of that. 2. The observation that illustration in the late sixties had skewed perspectives and thickly outlined elements. So true! Oh, how I long for those groovy days of yesteryear when we ate Knox gelatin to lose weight.
  • April 15th. An interview with the cover designer for Warriors in the Crossfire, Helen Robinson, now at namelos. So many juicy tidbits to nosh on here. Here are two:
    1. I was struck by the way Helen goes about envisioning an image, intuitively and almost without thinking. How fun it must be to approach a creative project in that manner. 2. The idea of design for an e-book. I've been wondering about this a LOT--not that it's keeping me awake at night or anything, but still. Hope to do a post about it sometime.

  • April 22nd. The interview with art director Richard Deas at Holt about the cover for Once. Amazing. Two things:
    1. Seeing the comps gives us an understanding of the "organic" nature of cover design, which Helen Robinson discussed in her interview on April 15th. 2. The cover options that are generated during the cover design process are called "comps." I must work that into general conversation soon.
Lest you think I've done nothing this month, allow me to direct your eyes toward this cover, which I was astonished to realize that I actually like. The Exile of Gigi Lane by Adrienne Maria Vrettos:

HUGE type size. That's what you notice first, I think. Normally, I wouldn't give this a second look because it's a fluffy chicklit sort of image of an impossibly beautiful model. With tiara. Riding in white limo (maybe?). But then there's that X. Crossing out the exiled girl. Clever. The story is that of Gigi Lane, new girl senior year, gorgeous and initially popular--until she's dragged down the popularity ladder.

Adrienne Vrettos's other covers for Simon and Schuster, Sight and Skin are worth a look, too.

Also, I present to you this "quack," a heartwarming duckling story from Boston. This time it's Boston, Lincolnshire, UK:

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Our Guest: Designer Richard Deas

Today we have talented Art Director, designer and illustrator Rich Deas helping us understand what went in to designing the U.S. cover art for ONCE (Henry Holt, 2010) by Australian author Morris Gleitzman.  The book, about a young Jewish boy hidden by his parents in a Catholic orphanage in Poland during WWII (the story follows his harrowing efforts to reunite with his parents), is part of a trilogy (ONCE, THEN, and NOW)  published first in the United Kingdom. The covers abroad look like this: 
A volume was brought out in the U.K which combined both ONCE and THEN. Here's the cover image: 
I have to say that I think the U.S. cover of ONCE is a real show-stopper compared to the U.K. version. The focus has come in much tighter, and the relative size of the barbed wire to the small figure produces a visceral reaction that the U.K. version, seen from much farther off and in visual competition with the train tracks and the text, does not. The font used for the U.S. title is heavy, brutal and in-your-face, appropriate to the story, while the U.K. font is gentle, in the style of early Dick-and-Jane books. From what I see in the comps below, the font was one of the first things changed. Though the original cover is good, it's not strong, in my opinion. But the U.S. cover is a knock-out.- each time I look at it, something new strikes me (for example, I didn't see, at first glance, the Star of David "caught" in the letter "C" - just look at how much that letter seems to be a link in a heavy chain. I love the subtlety of that.) 

Mr. Deas generously shares his thoughts about the U.S. redesign, along with jpegs of covers which were considered along the way - comps - something outsiders rarely see, and a real treat for us here at Jacket Knack!

"The first 2 titles, Once (book 1) and Then (book 2) had such a strong, emotional impact on me....I’d be delighted to share the process behind these covers.  Note: I have not read the third title, Now which should be coming our way soon.

Basically, I struggled through dozens of approaches trying to find an option that felt strong enough to represent these moving and thought-provoking stories by Morris Gleitzman. The direction we finally settled upon is based on the UK version of Once.  The original UK cover is beautiful and well conceived but we felt did not fully represent the emotional tone and harsh reality of these harrowing stories.  Since our final covers were based on the same concept we contacted the UK publisher for the rights and redesigned the package and art.  This approach is a bit of a departure from how we normally work but is also kind of interesting. Again, there are certain aspects about the original cover I love and I was very happy that we could incorporate and expand on it. 

 Full jacket designed by Dennis Clouse, one of my all-time favorite designers/ illustrators. Unfortunately,early in the process, we thought it best to go in a different direction.

 ....various stages of the final design approach....I think you can see the progression from these. 

Many thanks to Mr. Deas for sending us the comps - the process is fascinating! How I'd love to be a fly on the wall when this kind of decision-making is being done. 
Click here for a link to MacMillan's site, including new titles coming out from Henry Holt.
And click here for a link to Rich Deas's own website. 
Don't forget to take a look at Dennis Clouse's site at Cyclone Design Inc.
Click here for the reaction of Noa Wheeler, Associate Editor at Holt, to this book. 
And here is a link to the reaction of readers to this title - very positive -  over at  

Thursday, April 15, 2010

An Interview with Art Director Helen Robinson

 We're lucky to have the talented graphic designer Helen Robinson as a guest today. Helen has worked as the Art Director of Front Street Books and namelos, the new venture of Front Street's former publisher, Stephen Roxburgh. She designed the cover for Nancy Bo Flood's debut work of fiction, WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE, and Jacket Knack is joining quite a group of bloggers this month who are looking at Nancy's book from the point of view of editors, art directors, librarians, readers and general admirer's of Nancy's work (a few links can be found at the end of the interview.)  I took shameless advantage of Helen when she agreed to talk about the cover of Nancy's book, asking her far too many general questions as part of my cunning plan to learn cover design from the Best of the Best. 

JL: Will you tell our readers about your association with Front Street and how you got involved in the cover design for Nancy's book?

HR: I began working at Front Street in 1998, almost by accident. I was working in an ad agency, and ready for a change from that strange and unfamiliar world, when a friend told me that Stephen Roxburgh (the publisher) was looking for a designer. I knew nothing about childrens books (my design experience was primarily in newspaper and museum exhibit design) - but I was instantly hooked. I designed all of the Front Street titles from cover to cover so to speak (jackets, interiors, cases, endpapers) - and so WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE was automatically on my list.

JL: This is a book where both the main character and his best friend are boys. How precisely do you try, when designing the cover of books for children and young adults, to identify who the potential readers will be? Do you find yourself thinking very broadly of “boy books” and “girl books,” or do you think about pulling in readers across the gender divide?

HR: A cover really does help to sell a book, so I am always aware of the audience. I tend to think not so much of gender, but of kids in general. Front Street books tend to be edgy and challenging so I design my covers to reflect the emotional tenor of the story rather than to directly reflect the gender of the protagonist. When I began working at Front Street my daughter was six, and as she grew up (along with my interest in childrens and YA literature) she and her friends became some of my best critics. There were many evenings when a group of teens would be flopped around printouts of cover comps laid out on the living room floor discussing which ones they would pick up in a book store. Teens are unerringly and instinctively honest - their help was invaluable.

JL: When I first saw the cover of Nancy's book, I thought that I might be looking at some kind of radiology image - something to do with bones, something almost ghostly. Then I saw the handwriting and the image took shape as a war map/chart. The eeriness of the first impression carried over to the second. Was that something intentional you were going for? Where did you find that image?

HR: Existing images and stock photographs are great sources for me. I often spend quality time with Jupiter Images and keywords (from my gut reactions to the text) in the early stages of a project. In Nancy's case I got lucky early: I found an image that spoke intuitively to me of WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE - and which turned out (on closer inspection) to be a WWII aerial map of Guam and the surrounding islands. I was working on a few other ideas - a few where the main characters were depicted, and a few using a block print that a friend of Nancy's made - but in the end I felt that this more abstract image gave a more direct and emotional feeling for the book.

JL: Can you explain the steps in your thinking about cover design? Is there a “first this, second that, third that” or is it more organic and instinctive, something along the lines of an “Aha” moment where you know just what you want? Are there steps in the process (from the time you take the project on to the day the book is printed) that most people just don’t understand?

HR: I tend to work intuitively and organically - I almost never get an idea and then execute it. Some covers just seem to emerge fully formed like Athena from the head of Zeus, but that’s the exception and not the most interesting process for me because it presents fewer surprises: it’s more of a problem to be solved and the end result either looks just as I imagined it or not.

I start by reading the book. ALWAYS. Cover to cover, word for word. I begin to work often with only vague images or ideas which I explore visually until a few of them speak to me. I don’t really think. I draw, or paint, or make photographs and collages, but most often I start looking at existing images from photo libraries and stock image houses. I work in Photoshop using many layers of photographs, paintings, objects, type. At a certain point I show my editor (in this case it was Joy Neaves) and other Front Street colleagues. Usually Nancy Hogan, the marketing director, Joy, and I gather around my computer and decide together which few we will show the author.

JL: Your web site includes sections such as “Novels,” “Picture Books,” and “Museum Graphics.” That quite a range! Tell us a little about the kinds of projects you get involved with as an artist (and do you differentiate between a graphic artist and an artist? If so, what first pulled you toward the “graphic” side of things?)

HR: An artist works for her/himself, and a designer works for someone else. It became clear to me in college that I was not an artist. I did not need to (nor was I able to) create an entirely different view of the world through my work. And I needed to earn a living. Graphic design fell into my lap, and I loved it - the impermanence of it (especially in newspaper and periodical design where I began), the lightness and playfulness of it. I've been lucky in that I've always gotten jobs I've been completely unqualified for (and book design was no exception). Book covers is the area of design in which I have most effectively able to really merge my art and design selves.

JL: Your web site also lists you as the Art Director for Stephen Roxburgh’s new venture, namelos. It’s interesting to think of an Art Director for non-print books which are delivered electronically. I've heard Stephen speak enthusiastically and convincingly about non-traditional delivery systems for books, and many of us are interested but uninformed. Help us understand?

HR: Books delivered by “non-traditional systems” still need to be designed. Each new book that namelos publishes is also available as a Print on Demand (POD) book - both in hard cover and paperback. These require the same design that “regular” books require - covers, jackets, interiors - with some added design challenges/limitations due to the current generic quality of POD. This quality is going to get better and better and the design possibilities of it will only increase. We are very excited to be publishing our first graphic novel by Timothy Decker as a POD and electronic book. In addition to the new books that namelos is publishing, we also control the electronic rights to the Front Street list. For these books we are using the original covers and interiors.

JL: Are there contemporary book designers whose cover work you particularly enjoy and admire? Any books from the past that you would like to design the cover for? Chip Kidd once said that he wished he could design a cover for Catcher in the Rye. Do you have any wish-list like that?

HR: Well, Chip Kidd is, of course, one of the most amazing book cover designers ever. I have never aspired to design a particular book because I'm so aware of the fact that I can design a great cover for a terrible book (and nothing is more disappointing for me as a reader than to pick a book by it's fabulous cover only to discover out that the book itself is terrible) and vice versa. I'd be more interested in designing a group or series of books - like all of George Elliot’s novels, for example.

JL: Any current projects you can tell us about? Do you handle several projects at once?

HR: I work best on many projects at a time. I’m currently working on a sequel to Betty Levin's Front Street title THORN, called THE FORBIDDEN LAND for namelos, an adult title, LOVING RYAN by Christopher Brookhouse for Safe Harbor Books, the Warren Wilson College art department web site, and a “lookbook” for Hark Designs, a high end leather bag design company.

JL: What does your work space look like? Photos/jpg’s earn you extra points!

HR: Funky, and tiny, and cozy, and fabulous.

My wall....

My chair....

JL:  I understand you were expelled from Montessori School for drawing all day long. Congratulations! Any thoughts about the current state of arts education in this country, or is that too depressing for a nice spring day?

HR: Education is a charged/depressing subject. My current experience is primarily with the public school system in North Carolina. Seeing my daughter through this system - she’ll graduate next year - what strikes me is that for all my anxiety about who her kindergarten teacher would be, it didn't really matter that much - just as most of this phase of her education will probably not matter that much either. Kids are way more interesting and resilient than our education system. And as long as they have not run into a truly deadening situations their own interests will show them the way.

Photo of Helen Robinson as a schoolgirl in Greece 
(taken from

For THE DRIFT RECORD's interview of Nancy (all about how WARRIORS OF THE CROSSFIRE came about) and two lovely poems from the book,  click here

 To read Nancy Bo Flood's interview with the people at (about literacy projects on the Navajo Nation) click here

Dianne White has a two-parter:  an interview with editor and publisher Stephen Roxburgh, who acquired WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE for Front Street, and an interview of Joseph Ruak, Reagu'nu'worh elder and Director of the Talbwogh Men Stick Dancers. 

Click here for Sarah Blake Johnson's interview of Nancy (many insights into Nancy's time on Saipan.)

Nancy will be part of a Special Interest Group discussion of Literacy and Social Responsibility at the 55th Annual  International Reading Association Convention in  Chicago - the discussion is on Monday, April 26th, from 3:00-5:45. Hopefully, Front Street will have Nancy signing WARRIORS IN THE CROSSFIRE at the convention, too! 

Monday, April 12, 2010

One Crazy Summer--More from Cover Artist Sally Wern Comport

Rita Williams Garcia's new book, One Crazy Summer for middle grade readers is creating quite a stir out there (A Fuse #8 Production, and The New York Times, just two of this title's glowing reviews). It's about three sisters in the late '60s who travel across the country to visit their mother for the summer, and end up spending most of their time at a center run by members of the Black Panthers movement.

We LOVE the cover. You should see it in real life because the image here doesn't capture the colors right -- the reds are so saturated in real life; heat practically radiates off of the jacket. I recently asked the cover artist, the talented Sally Wern Comport, to tell us about what went into creating the cover art. What follows is her thoughtful reply, which pulls back the curtain on what-all goes on when an artist approaches a cover project.

Sally Wern Comport:
The story, being narrated by Delphine, the oldest and mothering character in the book, needed the visual idea of reflective thought. She clearly calls the story a memoir, so it seems fitting she is pensively reflecting on the experience that is related in the story to follow. She is the most prominent in the narrative even though each sister is very much a distinctive character. Delphine is also “plain” as in “plain spoken” so her center position and symmetrical pose anchor the character as the solid one of all three in the frame. The book takes place in a historic 2oth century setting (60’s in Oakland, CA) so references to place (clothing, cars, architecture), to temperature (this is summer), to atmosphere altogether seem critical to impart in the visual scope. I chose a surreal landscape perspective so, rather than a montage, the scene is somewhat realistic and somewhat fantasy as are the stylizations of the 3 main characters. The narrative is part fiction / part historical fact –so this type of aesthetic fit the story. Because the girls are mostly ignored by their mother during their visit, and left alone, it seems appropriate that they are primary to the cover without Cecile’s (mother) image. The palette is also very intentional. It is warm summer and the thick city atmosphere is pink as the sunset, as is the misty idea of memory of the scene, as is the idea of the hot tempest of this particular time in history.

When I am creating cover concept sketches for any book, I will normally immerse myself in the surrounding sociological visuals. (Photographs, posters, Art, Newspapers, fashion, architecture, signage) I often make new discoveries of artists working during the same time period of history and mimic, to some degree, the art styles or compositions for the time. For this book, I looked at many black and white photographs, but decided, because of the rich and colorful content of the narrative to direct the art more towards 60’s styles of illustration most evident in the graphic sun shape in the background, and the tilted cityscape. The heavy outlines of the figures also mimic the 60’s styles of illustration. The content of this book made creating the content for the cover a joy. Every new discovery in researching for a piece of art is the reason I will never grow tired of making pictures.

Sally Wern Comport's website
Rita Williams-Garcia's website

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Cover-ing the Bologna Book Fair with Sarah Blake Johnson

Bologna Book Fair 2010 - Illustrator's Wall
We are very lucky this week to have Sarah Blake Johnson sharing some cover-related comments about and favorites from her visit to the recent Bologna Book Fair.  Sarah lives in Germany and provides the perspective of a writer who appreciates and is exposed to more international books for kids (that is, more than we normally get in the U.S., sadly for us.) She guest hosted for THROUGH THE TOLLBOOTH while she was at the fair (be sure to read all five posts, from March 22-26th - I'm only linking to one), and click here for a link to Sarah's own blog. 

Grazie, Sarah - and extra thanks for all the links to author and illustrator web pages!

Covers are what caught my attention as I walked through the several exhibition halls at the Bologna Children’s Book Fair in Italy last month. I could tell with a glance what types of books a publisher focuses on--just from the covers. Often covers are made into posters or wall hangings and are used to bring attention to that book and the publishers’ booths. Some booths go for the glitter effect. Others for “comic” style art. Some use bright colors and others use deep and dark hues. Korean publishers had such wonderful displays and incredible books that I forgot to take photos.
Some booths I didn’t really look at--just because the covers didn’t appeal to me. Other booths--either all the books covers on their shelves, or sometimes, just one individual cover, drew me closer to gaze at their books.
Here are a few of my favorite international covers:
Il Mondo di Oliva  (Italy) (2653)
Author: Federica Campi
Illustrator: Simona  Mulazzani
Publisher: Edizioni Corsare

Cirkusflickan (Sweden)  (2757)
Publisher--Rabën & Sjögren

Lal’s Water Pail (Lebanon)   (2765)
Author: Nabiha Mahidali
Illustrator: Fadi Adila
(This publisher received the Bologna Ragazzi Opera Prima Honorable Mention award this year for another title.)

Hansel and Gretel  (Germany)
(She received the HansChristian Anderson Medal in 1992.)

Bichos Diversos en Versos (Portugal) 
Author: Antónia Manuel Couto Viana 
Lisboa--Texto Editores

Sarah Blake Johnson

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Yet More Pretty Neat-o Title Fonts

Ran across these covers recently and was taken with the title typeface choices:

Rosie and Skate by Beth Ann Bauman (Random House, 2009). A young adult novel about two sisters living on the Jersey shore during the off-season. So 1950s diner-ish. Love the whole cover, actually.

Layla, Queen of Hearts by Glenda Millard, illus. by Patrice Bowman (FSG, release date April, 2010). A middle-grade novel about a girl's friendship with a senior citizen. The red lettering is inviting (for girls, anyway) and the curly style promises a heartwarming story within.

Can an Old Dog Learn New Tricks? And Other Questions about Animals by Buffy Silverman, illus. by Colin W. Thompson (Lerner, 2010). A non-fiction book which examines common sayings about animals and whether they're really true or not. The typeface is energetic, like a comic book; it promises juicy good fun inside. I think boys would think it's rough and tough enough.

I wonder if there are other typefaces that could be sorted into "best for girl books" and "best for boy books" categories.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Ducky Easter

Quack quack, very fashion forward!  Here are two views of ducks on parade today in Sydney, Australia. I think maybe Seth Aaron, my current favorite on Project Runway, designed the pink outfit. ..?

Thursday, April 1, 2010

On Angels and Overkill

Just this quick look at two very different covers - it's the Is-More-More-Or-Is-It-Less? question (which was also expounded on over at Jacket Whys) and by Carol here at Jacket Knack who did a nice job of defending both simplicity and ornamentation .

Clockwork Angels (Book One of Cassandra Clare's new fantasy trilogy, The Infernal Devices) - wow, there is a LOT going on in this:  Edwardian jacketed young man, purple beams emanating from body parts, golden angel figure, Big Ben, Houses of Parliament, strange demonic drawings, ghostly vestiges, multiple fonts: title of book, title of series, reminder of previous series name, volume number, author name...multiple colors: blue, purple, gray,brown, gold, black, white....

2. Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper - wow, clean as a whistle design:

These two covers remind me of these two sculptures (on left, Bernini's Fountain of the Four Rivers in the Piazza Navona, Rome, and on the right, an owl by French sculptor, Francois Pompon)...

... or maybe these two chairs?