The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Mark Haddon, 2003
This story revolves around Christopher Boone, a 15-year old who finds that his neighbour’s poodle has been killed with a garden fork, and begins an investigation to find the ‘murderer’. Christopher has Asperger’s syndrome (a form of autism), and as a result he lives his life according to various rules that he’s set himself – for example if he sees 5 cars in a row, it will be a ‘Super Good Day’, whereas 4 yellow cars in a row means a ‘Black Day’, regardless of what actually happens during the day. He also finds it difficult to interact with people, particularly strangers, and refuses to be touched to the point where his parents can’t hug him. His fascination with order and mathematics is apparent in the book, as the chapters are numbered based on prime numbers.
Around halfway through the book I started getting quite tiresome of the storyline, but events began to unfold that proved the book is about much more than a dead dog, and I was surprised how much support I felt towards Christopher.
The book is known for appealing to both adults and children, with separate editions published for each. Most of the existing cover designs have a childlike aesthetic, which, although is fitting for the main character and his frame of mind, could perhaps be off-putting for adults who may be judging by the cover. For that reason, I decided against using too much colour and roughly hand-rendered images/typography.
Part of the story involves Christopher being in the garden in the middle of the night and looking up at the stars, commenting that he could create his own constellations. This instantly offered a range of visual directions that I could work with, and I learned that there are several constellations which are portrayed as dogs. There were very few illustrations of this, but I found a set of celestial atlas maps drawn by Alexander Jamieson in 1822, one of which featured a constellation called Canes Venatici. It’s represented by two dogs, and one of them conveniently has a 4-point star above their eye, which is comparable with cartoons where crosses replace the eyes of dead people/animals.
Throughout most of the design stage I had my heart set on using mostly dark blue colours with the stars and title/author in white, but a last-minute switch-around led to using greys and golds.
The Outsider (1942) The Plague (1947) The Sea Close By (1970) Albert Camus
Maybe not quite self-initiated, as this was a submission for a competition organised by Penguin and Nowness.
The brief was to select one of three titles by Albert Camus, a French author and philosopher, and create a cover for it, in celebration of 100 years since the author’s birth. As usual, I made things more difficult for myself by choosing to design all 3 as a series.
A friend made me aware of the competition 5 days before the deadline, and I’m a really slow reader so there wasn’t a chance in hell that I’d be able to read even 1 of the books in time. Thankfully I found out that 'The Sea Close By' is a very small book (at 20 pages long it doesn’t even have a spine), so I managed to buy a copy from Foyles and read it in a couple of hours. It’s not so much a story as a trail of thought, from a man longing to be at sea. Even though it’s been translated from French, the writing is stunning and heartwarming, with each paragraph dedicated to a specific reason why he only feels whole whilst sailing the seas.
This was the first time I’d designed a set of book covers, so I relied on using linear patterns to tie the 3 covers together. The layout and typography was the consistent element, with the pattern and its colour as the variant. Although I didn’t manage to read the other 2 books, I found detailedsummaries that gave me enough of a direction. 'The Outsider'focuses on a character who commits murder, with the second half of the story describing his time in prison leading up to his execution, hence the barbed wire pattern.'The Plague' is centred around a town that becomes infected by a bubonic plague and is quarantined, with some characters trying to find a cure and others trying to escape the town.
Other book covers I’ve designed over the past few months can be found here.
Since starting this project, I’ve been asking various people for recommendations on which of the classics I should read, and one that’s been mentioned a few times is 'Nineteen Eighty-Four' by George Orwell, a novel which foresees the world in a constant state of war, with all barriers of countries replaces by 3 main divisions. The story is set in Oceania, where the Party, symbolised by Big Brother, holds incredibly strong control over its inhabitants, mostly through fear. Even thinking about rebelling against the powers-that-be is referred to as ‘thoughtcrime’, which can be detected and results in not only being ‘vaporised’ (killed), but any references to the person’s existence are completely erased from history, whether it be by editing articles, re-recording pieces of video/music, or altering photographs. Something I found fascinating is that one of the Party members mentions that the Soviet Union started using similar techniques, and after doing some Googling I found that a prominent figure called Nikolai Yezhov had actually been retouched out of a photograph after his arrest and execution in 1940.
The character of Winston Smith leads a typically mundane lifestyle and works in the Ministry of Truth as an editor, whose job is to rewrite stories in newspapers and magazines to remove pieces of information that the Party select, so as to create the past that they want people to believe. He becomes obsessed with learning what the real past is, and begins to look for a way of revolting against the Party. And if I say anymore, I’d spoil it for people who haven’t read it. Basically, it’s brilliant.
The vast majority of existing covers for this title rely on using an eye to represent Big Brother’s undying presence, or focus strongly on the grim nature of the story. The novel covers a huge range of themes, which made it difficult to decide how to represent it fairly on the cover, so the idea stage took longer than with the other books I’ve read. One of the initial ideas sprang from a poem/song that’s important to the story and characters:
Under the spreading chestnut tree, I sold you and you sold me, There lie they, and here lie we, Under the spreading chestnut tree.
Chestnuts fall to the ground encapsulated in a shell of sharp spines, something I thought could represent the brutal and violent attitudes of the Party. I also looked into using photographs or paintings where a person had been removed, and thought about incorporating work by Joe Webb or Chad Wys in some way.
Eventually I settled on the idea of creating a utopian cover for a dystopian story, but still hinting at the swift end to a person’s existence. After trawling through some online libraries of illustrations used in advertising from the 40s, 50s and 60s, I chose one that depicted a happy family, just to pull at the heartstrings. The script typeface used for the author also acts as a pointer to the ‘American Dream’ type of lifestyle that is the complete opposite to the story’s setting.
The cover also has a subtle hint to a specific part of the story — one of Winston’s colleagues vanishes after being reported of committing thoughtcrime by his own children.
Orwell is equally well-known for writing Animal Farm, which I’m definitely adding to the list.
“Zelig has sold his life story to Hollywood for a large sum of money. When the scandal breaks, the studio demands its money back. Zelig can only return half, as the rest has already been spent. Outraged, the studio gives him half his life back. They keep the best moments, and he is left with only his sleeping hours and mealtimes.”
Narrator, ‘Zelig’ (1983) Written and directed by Woody Allen
I’d seen posters for the play adaptation of this story around London, but it wasn’t until I was at the Southbank book market a few months ago that I found that it was originally written as a book in 1915. The cover had been designed by Coralie Bickford-Smith as part of an adventure-themed series, each with their own style of illustration on the covers but tied together by the spine design and minimal use of colour.
The story itself was fantastic, and seems to be a much more mission-focussed tale than how it’s been adapted for the screen and stage, which involve a love interest for the main character, Richard Hannay. He meets several allies and foes on his getaway through the Scottish moors, and something that’s mentioned a few times is an enemy monoplane, which almost becomes a character in it’s own right. The plane was a constant reminder that Hannay’s pursuers were never far behind him, and Buchan added a vulture-like quality to it in the way he described it circling above him, with Richard being a helpless piece of prey exposed in the wide open fields. The plane instilled as much fear as the leader of the enemy, and it didn’t even have a face.
It’s for that reason that I wanted to portray the pilot of the plane on the cover, thus giving a visual identity to the only ‘character’ in the story that didn’t have one. I had a lot of fun looking through photograph archives online of military pilots from the WWI era, and finding design/typography reference from propaganda posters belonging to the same period, specifically the well-known Lord Kitchener poster.
Soundcloud is always a great place for finding mixes/mashups. I’ve just stumbled onto a user who goes by the name of P. Bateman, and so far I’m listening to this combination of Notorious BIG and Grateful Dead on repeat. This version of Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place” is also pretty damn nice.