Setting fire to fields, tangling with tarantulas: it's all in a day's work for a book jacket designer.
I used to think book jacket designers were sensitive, aesthetic types whose idea of sustained physical effort was flicking through the pages of Creative Review with one hand while lifting an espresso to their lips with the other. But I appear to have got things totally wrong.
I recently stumbled over this blog on the Random House website, which reveals that, in fact, today's book jacket creators are an adrenaline-seeking bunch likely to be as au fait with dangerous implements as they are with an Apple Mac.
That zig-zaggy line on the front of Nick Harkaway's The Gone-Away World, which makes the book look as though it has been rudely torn in half (echoing the motif of the Jorgland Pipe in the novel)? No, not created with a few clicks on Photoshop, but by hacking apart a copy of Mark Twain's diaries with a Stanley knife. Older books have better quality paper so tear better, apparently. Who knew?
The broken violin image for Richard Montanari's forthcoming serial killer thriller The Echo Man? The team took a blowtorch to it. "The blowtorch is the secret weapon in design," say the Windmill designers, sounding like some kind of book-world Heston Blumenthals. "This broken violin instantly looks more sinister once it's been burnt."
And there's more. Deputy art director Glenn O'Neill tells me that the original jacket concept for Robert Harris's Cicero novel, Lustrum, was to feature an image of a raging fire. Not content with plucking any old flame image from a picture library, however, the team set a field in Gloucestershire on fire. (No, it wasn't arson – they had the farm owner's permission). "We created a big bonfire from old crates and torched it," says Glenn. "It was pretty epic. But in the end we went for something a bit more literary – we're still trying to find a book to put the [original] image on."
For the new Kathy Reichs novel, Spider Bones, the jacket clearly needed to feature some spiders and – um – some bones. The bones were straightforward – ordered from America (apparently the place to go if you want to pick some up yourselves) but the team also decided to obtain live-and-kicking spiders from tarantula specialists Simply Spiders (and whoever guessed that was a gap in the market?)
The company originally delivered some "false black widows", presumably less lethal than the real thing. Simply Spiders sent them live through the post, in little film canisters, with flies tucked inside like a packed lunch. "They told us they had the right temperament for a photoshoot and would just sit back and pose, but actually they shot across the studio floor," says Glenn. In the end a more amenable specimen was chosen for a few close-ups – and no spiders were harmed in the making of this cover, Glenn assures me.
So there you go. The spirit of adventure is alive and well among publishers' designers, who will go to any length to get the right jacket image. The look of a book is "all in the execution", Glenn explains. I'm worried that could mean the guillotine.
- Benedicte Page, The Guardian