Comic Insights Part 6: Cover Design

Designing book covers is a fun exercise for a graphic designer when it’s for old, well-known classics, but when it’s your own book, the process suddenly becomes intimidating. Because a writer knows their book too well, it can be a challenge deciding the best way to design the cover. A book cover needs to hook the reader, but also match the content of the book itself.

One of my personal pet peeves is badly photoshopped romance and thriller paperback covers. Granted, these are inexpensive mass-produced novels, so they wouldn’t warrant the most prestigious designs. But still. A boring shirtless white guy poorly cropped and inserted on a sunny boardwalk in the snow does not make me want to pick up the book. Likewise, there are few letdowns as personal as picking a book for its cool cover and finding out it’s totally nothing like what’s on the front.

In my case, designing a cover for my anthology was challenging because each comic was drawn in an entirely different style. How could I create a uniting image that gave the viewer an accurate glimpse at the book?

I had no idea, but my first draft needed a cover in order for the preview copy to be printed, so I decided to use the watercolor title page stand-in from “Little Fay.” This illustration was print-quality, unlike the rest of the sketches in the draft, and had a distinct fairy tale feel to it.

Notice the front cover is on the right side of this layout, the back cover is on the left, and the spine is in the middle. This is how all the cover designs will appear throughout this post.

Even though Little Fay made a pretty cover, I did not think it fit the often dark subject matter of the graphic novel. I did not want people to immediately assume this book was for children, since that would not be good. Also, it doesn’t inherently look like a collection of comics. Because of these reasons, I went looking for other directions.

The two examples above are brighter and more graphic, as fitting of a graphic novel. Neither one uses finished art, just sketches I thought would make appropriate stand-ins for whatever cover I would design later. The first was an example for an abstract design, while the second was an example for a large image (just happening to show Little Fay again, but the final image wouldn’t necessarily be her.) Thought they were more graphic than the initial painting, neither was what I was going for.

So, I inserted an unused cover idea I had for Seton Hill’s literary magazine, Eye Contact. I did not like the way I painted the weird blinking eyes in the corners of this piece. However, I did like how it resembled an old fantasy tome, with false gems and gold inlay.

I liked the dark greens of the original Little Fay painting, though. All my fairy tale treasuries at home are dark green or blue, so I just associate fairy tales with those colors. As a result, I recolored the false tome cover and digitally removed the eyes to see if I liked the effect. At this stage, I made two versions: one with a light center like the original, and one with a dark center for gold text. (I also experimented with different fonts.)

The consensus from my peer group was that the gold text on a dark background fit the book better, but the color scheme of the light-centered blue-green one was nicer looking. For the next experiment, I combined the two, and settled on the font I wanted.

This cover mockup looked nice, but without the eyes in those corners, they seemed empty. In my latest mockup, I’ve filled those spaces with little rondos of important bits from each story. I also removed the distracting dark spine in this version.

This may not be my final cover design, but it gives me a good plan when I make the final one. I believe it fits the dark yet fantastic nature of the anthology, with fun sneak peeks at the different art styles that lay inside. It says “fairy tale,” but not “children’s story” or “boring history lesson.” Most of all, it looks like a book cover that I would pick up. Hopefully, readers will think the same.

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