Monday, October 25, 2010

Nice and Mean = Real Nice

This refreshingly different cover for Nice and Mean by debut author Jessica Leader (Aladdin Mix, 2010), really catches the eye, yes? It's lively and it captures the conflict between the two vastly different junior high school girls in the novel. What's more, it is so very much like my own doodling back in school, on folders, in notebooks, and yes, on my blue jeans. The artist, Linzie Hunter, does such appealingly playful work. Be sure to check out the images on her site.

I wondered what the author, Jessica Leader, must have thought when she first saw the cover art. So I asked her.

CB: Did you have any preconceived ideas about what your novel's cover might look like before you saw the actual art? If so, what were they?

JL: Once upon a time during the editorial process, Kate, my editor, mentioned that the cover would be "title-driven."  "Oh, cool," I said.  When we hung up the phone, I realized I had no idea what that meant, but I thought, "Oh, well!  I'm sure it'll be cool."  For some reason, I then started imagining a photo-realistic cover, maybe the hands of the two characters reaching for a computer mouse to represent their struggle over the video project.  I'm glad my editor didn't think to pick my brain about this one.  My idea was far less exciting than what she and Linzie Hunter, the illustrator, came up with!

CB: What was your reaction when you first saw the final cover?

JL: I was thrilled by how vibrant and eye-catching it was.  Every space seemed to be filled by something significant, and that feels like an accurate depiction of my characters' fevered brains (and, ahem, my own.)  One of my oldest friends, upon seeing it, said, "Don't you think you could have doodled that when you were in seventh grade?  I mean, those swirly purple doodles..."  It's true.  It was just like something I would have drawn.  Did Linzie Hunter go rifling through the archives at my mom's house?  Watch this space for shocking revelations...

CB: How was the artwork different from what you might have expected?

I was a little surprised, initially, that the characters' faces weren't represented, and I worried, because I had read somewhere that a cover needed faces to appeal middle-grade readers.  However, I recently appeared at the Books by the Banks Festival in Cincinnati and Nice and Mean practically flew off the table.  Kids, parents, and grandparents just seemed drawn to it, even after I'd given away all my chocolate.  The paperback price could have been part of the appeal, but I think Linzie's pitch-perfect execution of the title-driven--and, I think, character-driven--concept puts to rest any idea that you need faces to attract people to a story.  Energy, image, and line seem to be attracting people just fine. 

CB: What I'm driving at--I think--is that the choice of Ms. Hunter shows that your publisher wanted something extraordinary and unexpected--not the typical fare. Don't you agree?

JL: I agree!  I feel so grateful.  I don't know if there was anything about the story that screamed, "I need an energetic cover!" or if my editor was just feeling exceptionally generous and creative, but whatever the reason, I do think we ended up with something unique and appealing.

CB: Please share any opinions you have about Linzie Hunter's drawings. (Mostly, I love her stuff and I'm going to enjoy pointing readers to her site for some eye candy.)

JL: Kate referred me and my agent to Linzie's website before enlisting her to do the design, and I gushed, "It's like Maira Kalman meets Roz Chast!"  (I love both Maira Kalman and Roz Chast.)  I was a little curious as to how Linzie would prevent the design from looking too young; there's a whimsy to her drawings that adults can decode as intentionally cute but that tweens might think was meant for elementary-school students.  I shouldn't have been concerned, though.  In my opinion, Linzie hit that sweet spot of grown-up and kid-like for the 9-13-year-old readers.  Did I mention that I am grateful?  I'm so grateful.

Thanks for Knacking me, Carol!  And thanks again to Editor Kate and Illustrator Linzie for giving me something to Knack about! 

~~~~ And thank YOU, Jessica Leader, for sharing with us! ~~~~

My thoughts: It's neato to hear about (and see) two other illustrators--Maira Kalman and Roz Chast--that Jessica thought Ms. Hunter's art looked like--two artists I knew by their work but not by name. As regards Nice and Mean, I also would have expected a photo on the cover (yawn!) and the change is welcome. I like "Knacking" as a verb for being interviewed for Jacket Knack.

And just for fun, here's one of my own doodles. A Jacket Knack original. I made this while listening to an author's lecture in July, 2010:

Dear Readers, share your thoughts on Linzie Hunter's style. Any doodles or school doodling stories to share? One random commenter will receive my doodled heart via snail--or a nice clear image via email if you like--and I suppose I'll let him or her know which author was lecturing at the time.


  1. Just wanted to pop and thank you both for your kind and generous comments. As an illustrator, you don't (and for many good reasons) have direct contact with author when creating a jacket, so it's really interested to hear the experience from the perspective of the writer.

    Of course, I cannot take all the credit for the cover as the Art director and the design team also have play a large part in the design concept and process.

    Still, I'm thrilled that Jessica is pleased with the cover and to have contributed in a small part to the success of her book!


  2. Great interview Carol. That is one fancy doodle! Beautiful! What was the lecture about? Any connection with your doodle? Steph

  3. Linzie--Thanks for commenting. We LOVE the cover! Hey, Steph--the lecture had nothing to do with the doodle, alas. When a doodle turns out as elaborate as that one did it can only mean that the lecture didn't interest me. Consequently, I don't remember what it was about. :-}