Designer Jacob Covey recently posted a short essay on his personal Facebook page about his cover design for Pirates in the Heartland, the first volume of Patrick Rosenkranz’s biography of underground cartoonist S. Clay Wilson. I asked Jacob if I could repost it in its entirety here, but the book’s publisher Fantagraphics had beaten me to it. While you can read the whole piece on their blog, here’s a short excerpt:
In publishing, one has to approach a cover with the information of an expert and the ignorance of a browser. In biographies, a photo of the subject is generally employed for good reason: The viewer immediately knows this is a book about a person. (Hence the trend in fiction of generally cropping off the heads of models or having them looking away — this is not about THEM.) But Wilson is recognizable only by his artwork, so a photo alone isn’t enough information. Ultimately, my solution is a kind of psychedelia but a practical one: Pirate art (a favorite theme of Wilson) overlaying a mythic portrait of young Wilson. Creation and creator in color overlays that force your eye to try to unhook one from the other.
I generally consider it a failure when cover design requires a band of color upon which to set the type. In this case, it allowed for the art to be the primary feature, to be a bit uncontrolled, while the type treatment is an anchor that harkens classic album design. This kind of visual messaging is trying to align Wilson with rebels and rockstars without making false promises. The trickiest part was simply finding Wilson art that had ANY white space so his portrait could connect with the viewer. The dual function of his artwork blowing the brains out, simultaneously, of Wilson and another of Wilson’s creation was too wonderful to pass up but I’m going to leave the symbology of such things to the viewer.