Penguin-style book covers
I've always loved book covers, but never gave designing them a shot before - I think I was overwhelmed by the wide-open possibilities!
When recently admiring some vintage Penguin covers, I was suddenly inspired to try my hand at them. Creating "fake Penguin covers" seemed like a comfortable way to get started in book cover design because of the degree of consistency and constraint in layouts and typography.
I chose a handful of books that I had already read this year. For each book, I thought about what aspects of the story stood out most for me, and how they could be visualized. The images I arrived at figure into the stories both literally and symbolically.
Muriel Spark - Robinson
The first book I tackled was Robinson by Muriel Spark, a story about a woman who gets stranded on a small private island near the Azores with three strangers. The first imagery this story brings to mind is, of course, the iconic desert island sort: palm trees, the ocean, perhaps the plane that crashed.
But this seemed a little too obvious. The desert island is the setting, but what actually propels the action? The castaways do not need to work toward their rescue, as the owner of the island has assured them they will be saved when the workers arrive to harvest his pomegranates in the first half of August.
The phrase "the pomegranate boat" repeated throughout the book came to represent to me the major conflict: surviving the months of waiting together until rescue came.
Patricia Highsmith - The Glass Cell
Next I looked at The Glass Cell by Patricia Highsmith, a book about a man who is wrongly imprisoned. Once released, he has trouble readjusting to his life due to both the traumatic experiences of prison and his growing suspicion that his wife has been having an affair with a lawyer who worked on his case.
The outward manifestation of the change that prison has inflicted on the protagonist is his thumbs. In the opening scene, shortly after entering prison, the protagonist is strung up by his thumbs by prison guards. This leaves him with deformed hands and constant pain (which he regulates with morphine, also distancing him from his former life).
The hands in this image can represent many aspects of the story at once. They can be the torture he experienced, and the resulting injury. But they can also be hands of a person communicating defense, threat, or surrender (read the book to see where these come in).
Patricia Highsmith - Found in the Street
I especially love the Penguin Crime covers, so it seemed fitting to try another Highsmith novel. Found in the Street revolves around a young woman, Elsie, who has recently moved to New York City.
In the beginning of the book Elsie is working as a waitress in a diner, where she makes the acquaintance of two men from the neighborhood. One is a lonely older man who tries to give her moral advice, and develops an unhealthy obsession with her as she begins to avoid him. The other is a well-off, artistic married man, who introduces her to his family and friends, starting her life down a new path.
The primary plot device in this book is the lonely man following Elsie. For me, though, this book was really about everyone watching, and to some degree obsessing over, Elsie: the married man, his wife, Elsie's new social circle, and eventually the public, when she becomes a fashion model.
In this cover I thought that the superimposed eyes might be a little over-the-top - but then I realized that's exactly the quality I like about so many of the Penguin Crime covers!
Graham Greene - The Human Factor
The Human Factor is a Le Carré-esque story about the hunt for a double agent in the British intelligence service during the Cold War.
My cover represents the game of hide-and-seek that reoccurs throughout the story. I mean literally - the protagonist's young son loves the game, especially with his colleague Davis. Later in the novel, the protagonist hides in the same bushes where they've played, in a moment of crisis. Of course, there is the symbolic meaning of hide-and-seek, too.
When this idea popped into my head it had the look of a Monty Python's Flying Circus animation, which I was going for here - it seemed appropriate in its Britishness :-)
Edith Wharton - The Age of Innocence
Lastly, The Age of Innocence. This book was about how a society of people in a particular time and place behaved. It tells the story of an affluent young man named Newland who, when he is about to marry his perfect match, falls in love with her disgraced cousin Ellen. Due to the social mores of New York at the time, he is basically unable to do anything about it.
Newland does make a few gestures outside of what he "should," though. Once, after paying Ellen a visit, he sends her a big bunch of yellow roses. These yellow roses are a bit unusual, and a contrast to the lilies-of-the-valley he sends his fiancee May. The yellow roses "did not look like [May]—there was something too rich, too strong, in their fiery beauty."
I put yellow roses on the cover to represent Ellen's being different from the rest. This individualism during a time of strict conformity was what drew Newland to her so strongly, hence causing everything that happens in the book.