The other day, Bully pointed me towards a fun-looking book design challenge over on Typophile. There’s some really nice work there using a simple set of basics: take the title of a random Wikipedia article, go to the Life archives on Google and use that article title as a search term, and go to town. While some people seem to have never actually seen a book in their lives, others came up with “covers” that made me stop and think about reaching for my wallet. (The Bordeaux Wine Regions one is just perfect, as is the “book” featuring Haydn’s Symphony No. 79.)
This, of course, got me to thinking about how comics, particularly the ones coming from DC and Marvel, compare in design to what’s on the book market lately and what I would do to sell graphic novels and trade paperback collections alongside Twilight and whatever adventure Tom Clancy’s Op Center has found themselves on this time. A lot of the design concerns of comics that come from their days as newsstand periodicals (logo on top) and the direct market reaction to those (tiered displays that only show the top 25-30% of a book) disappear in the book market, where tables and full-flush displays give people a view of the whole cover.
It goes without saying (but I suppose I should say it anyway) that I didn’t create these to slight the original artists who worked on any of these series at all, but to work on these purely as marketing and design exercises and think of how comics are presented to the world outside of the direct market. There are quite a few companies (Top Shelf, Fantagraphics,) creators (Bryan Lee O’Malley, Chris Ware,) and designers (Ch*p K*dd that create books that look terrific when they’re in the wild, but I think a lot of the comic book design mentality revolves around a culture that already exists, particularly in the case of Marvel and DC’s superhero lines.
One of the things that comes up when I’m throwing the design football back and forth with Birdie is that Daredevil books rarely look as good and noiry as they should. The recent paperback reprints of Miller’s run on the title feature near-identical covers and blur together while the Omnibus editions are attractive, but priced far out of the reach of the casual buyer. (Also: as far as I can tell, The Man Without Fear is currently out of print. Why would you want a book by Frank Miller to be available with his directorial debut hitting theaters soon, anyway? Toby in the comments points out that a new edition hit comic shops yesterday, but it’s not on Amazon yet. Heh.)
With this cover, I opted for a photograph of New York City during a blackout (obtained through the Life online archives.) It’s an evocative image that represents the blind vigilante: the city, dark except for a single shining building in the foreground with a river of light in front of it. The blurring on the title is a fairly-obvious pun, but it looked too nice to resist. I played around with the text’s placement for quite some time before opting for a forced perspective that called back to my favorite logo for the original series.
Speaking of fairly obvious, I’ve made it easy to deduce that Whiteout is about a murder in a place where there’s a lot of snow. (This time, it’s Antarctica.) This one’s more rough concept than actual cover, because given the chance, I’d probably attempt to create this photographically with snow and fake (or real, if I had an intern handy) blood. One of the posters for the upcoming film version uses a similar idea, and I know I got the blood splatter’s angle from Watchmen without even looking. If you’re going to steal, there are many, many worse people to swipe from than Dave Gibbons.
Honestly, this was mostly a reaction to how ugly I thought the recent direct market edition of Welcome Back Frank was. Three different fonts, two different versions of the skull icon, and the book’s title was buried at the bottom? What a mess. Ideally, this would be printed with a flat matte black-and-grey background with the type featuring a nice coating, helping sell the whole “handbook” look and feel a bit more.
(It’d be a fun challenge to design a whole Punisher Max series using a similar motif, with cover elements that relate to the story. While I may avoid Twilight and its brethren like the plague, I think the covers do a nice job of being different from one another while providing a unified look for the series.)
So blatant. I should be embarrassed, but I’m not, mostly because I think the original photo is quite nice on its own, plus that font does a lot of heavy lifting. I was initially looking for images that features a single man in a crowd or sea of women, but I like this because it represents a quiet moment away from the maddening life he’d soon find himself on. The only changes I’d make is to add a monkey if I were going to commission a photo that did the same thing.
While it’s unlikely that something like The Sinestro Corps War or New Avengers could sell to a much larger market, standalone books or series that require very little knowledge in the way of continuity outside of the titles themselves could show elevated sales if they didn’t look so offputting to a lot of people. Marvel and DC have crafted brands that work terrifically in the direct market, but in the book world, content comes before publisher, and that’s how I approached this project.