The book covers of retro paperback novels have a distinct aesthetic steeped in nostalgia and a palpable ridiculousness. Romance novels are particularly tickling, but no matter the genre, pawing through a crate of old paperbacks at a dusty book store will surely induce a chuckle, and maybe even an ironic purchase. In an increasingly digital world where fewer of us have library cards, this genre is a relic of a bygone era that some are still committed to preserving, celebrating, and even laughing at.
The graphic designer Domi is one such guardian, who runs the popular Twitter and Instagram accounts @PaperbackParadise. Domi sources real book covers that he then reworks on Photoshop to parody, typically with a hardy dash of absurdist dark humor. He’s not afraid to go crude, raunchy, or downright morbid either, finding jokes in death, sex, and other places others might shy away from. But therein lies the brilliance of Domi. “I love cover art— it can be so earnest, which makes it ripe for parody,” he tells me.
Part of what makes the project so successful is Domi’s ability to reinterpret these covers so realistically. Their look is so spot on that you might not even think they’re actually photoshopped at first. He mimics a cover’s typefaces, colors, and textures so perfectly that his edits feel seamless.
So where did Domi’s idea for Paperback Paradise originate?
“Back in 2005, I worked at a comic book store for a few years, where I was surrounded by comic covers all day,” he says. “To pass the time, I would reinterpret the characters’ expressions on the cover for a laugh—like making Wolverine secretly in love with Professor X, or Batman saying something passive aggressive to the Joker, because he’s never been asked to hang out with the rest of the bad guys. If it made me laugh, I’d share the idea with one of my coworkers, and it became a game we’d play.”
A decade later, when Domi found himself between jobs, he embarked on a fun project to flex his creativity and humor. “I had done some parody photoshops in the past, and decided to try my hand at repurposing books out of the dollar bin at a used book shop, because the source material was easily affordable. I posted the first attempts to Twitter, and the account took off pretty quickly.”
Domi’s process is pretty simple. “I go to a second hand store and browse the paperbacks until something catches my eye, either an expression illustrated on the cover or just the art itself,” he says. “Sometimes I have the idea for the joke immediately, but usually I have to stare at the cover and think for a while. Once I have the joke, I like to push the premise further with a plot synopsis on the back cover. I know a new one is ready when I read over it again and still laugh out loud.”
Paperback Paradise has amassed nearly 230K followers on Instagram and has hit the 210K mark on Twitter. Domi also sells products including bookmarks, stickers, prints, and apparel that feature his covers online. This success has come as a bit of a surprise to him.
“Initially, I thought people may enjoy the covers, but I certainly did not expect to be doing this full time,” he shares. “I do this work because it’s fun, so I’m very happy that it translates to people who see my work. Whether you’ve purchased something from my store or simply shared my page with a friend: I appreciate you so much. I’m happy that we can connect on common themes like strange sex and the inner rage of horses.”