Rare is the designer who ends up killing his own design. John Gall, art director for Vintage Books, had already received approval for his cover of Remainder, the critically acclaimed 2007 debut novel by British writer Tom McCarthy. For the story of a man with head trauma who uses his settlement money to stage recreations of his scant remaining memories, Gall’s initial idea was “to treat the cover as if it were a slightly damaged artifact,” he says. (The concept also nods to the shopworn state of remaindered books.) But Gall had doubts about his own design, and worried that it was too sedate for a first novel being published as a paperback original. “I thought it needed a little something,” he says, “some color.” His concern led to a series of experiments submerging type in blue liquid, complete with a water tank, various shades of blue dye, and an assistant to swirl the fluid. At the last minute, a new cover was born. “It ended up feeling like we were rehearsing one of the scenes in the book as we slowly lowered the book in and out of the water again.”
Paul Buckley, executive creative director for Penguin Books, came up with a bounty of possible covers for God Is Dead, a 2007 collection of short stories by debut writer Ron Currie, Jr. Each expands on the book’s fantastic premise: God lands on Earth in the Darfur region, taking on the form of a poor woman, who dies and is eaten by a pack of wild dogs. The dogs begin to speak about the deicide; Currie’s stories recount the frantic effect the news has upon various characters. Buckley says that his favorite idea was a collage of a falling coffin superimposed
Gabriele Wilson / How Perfect Is That by
Sarah Bird / Knopf
“Editors sometimes need to see what doesn’t work, in order to figure out what does work,” says freelance designer Gabriele Wilson. That process was taken to extremes when Wilson conceived a cover for Sarah Bird’s How Perfect is That. The novel, originally titled Weightless, has at its center a fallen Texas society woman who hopes to re-enter her old milieu by opening a high-end catering service. Wilson’s earliest comp showed a woman out cold. “But they felt that she looked dead,” Wilson says. Pushed to make the jacket “lighter, more fun,” she says, she experimented with putting status symbols in floating bubbles. When the title changed, the direction shifted, and Wilson thought
the braying ladies in Jessica Craig-Martin’s party photographs were ideal—“very decadent and over-the-top.” The consensus: The women were too old. In the end, Wilson collaborated with Portland, Oregon photographer John Clark to create a great leg shot: “He had all these models coming in and standing on their heads,” she says. Wilson is happy with the finished cover, which isn’t too different from her earliest concept.