All images © Neil Gaiman and HarperCollins

In 2016 I was hired by publisher HarperCollins, by request of their author Neil Gaiman, to design covers for four mass market paperbacks for his books that would have new paintings by legendary cover artist Robert McGinnis. McGinnis had been a top cover artist and movie poster artist since the 1950s, and was now in his 90s. I was surprised to learn he was still with us, and willing to take on this project, but he was, and I was delighted to be involved. Neil and I had many email discussions on what he wanted, and he summed it up like this:

“What I’d love is if you can design the whole cover in each case, so all the lettering is of a piece, including the tag lines. The brief is, it’s 1966 and these are cult underground bestsellers, and you are selling them to the curious, I guess.”

We didn’t always stick to that concept completely, but it was a good starting point, and I think the four covers, above, came out well. I should add that I had no contact with McGinnis, just marveled at what he turned in.

In 2018 I heard from HarperCollins that McGinnis was starting on paintings for a second round of four books, and they wanted me to again do cover designs. The process went on from then to 2020, and gradually four more paintings and cover designs emerged that Neil and the publisher were happy with. For the first four, I had written a blog article about each one (links at the end of this post), but I neglected to do that for the second round. For one thing, I didn’t know when they were published, always tricky in these times, and I wasn’t hearing much from the publisher. The other day, Neil posted an image of the final printed book of the second four, making clear they were done and out, so here are details about all four.

First up in early 2019 was this one, and my initial idea was a hand-drawn title with lots of curves. I soon learned from Neil that McGinnis would be revising the art, but this version was fine to work out ideas for the title and text. It’s a long title, and I played with different ways of dividing it and how to emphasize the important words.

Another version using only fonts.

This hand-drawn title followed the style of some of the 1950s-1960s paperback covers we were using for style ideas, and Neil thought it was a good direction.

Here’s the revised McGinnis art with, I think, a better look for the main figure, the other one was too fashion model-ish. The boy loses some movement, but the cat he’s holding is a nice addition. As I compare the two paintings now, I see that it’s completely new. I like the closeness of the ocean on this one. Neil usually supplied several possible quotes or statements to use as blurbs, while HarperCollins always wanted credits and accolades, so I tried to use some of each.

The hand-drawn title on this art is better than the all-type version, but we were still not sure about the way the title read, and it would be nice to have it larger.

A different hand-drawn title used bolder letters and read better, but might have gone too big.

Neil suggested framing the art on a black background to give the title and type more room, and I did a third hand-drawn title that worked well with that. The quote was dropped.

This is the best image I can find of the printed book, I’m not sure how accurate the brightness and colors are, but as you can see, it’s the same as the last design except that New York Times is italicized, and the art is a bit larger, cropping McGinnis’s signature, something I wish the publisher wouldn’t do, but otherwise it looks fine.

The second book, done in fall 2019, began with this title using fonts I have that Neil and I both thought worked well.

I also needed to add the subtitle and a quote, and here’s that version. Having AND twice in the title could have been awkward, but with the decorative version I found, it works well I think.

I also needed to try other type treatments like this one for comparison.

Another type treatment.

Everyone one liked the first title best, and this is the final version. The art has been reduced a bit, and I moved McGinnis’s signature up to clear the trim line.

This image of the printed book matches exactly, so I may have sent them my adjusted art file and they used it. Somehow we were able to get this approved with only the quote and no accolades.

The third book was worked on in spring of 2020. For the title, Neil and I agreed a fashion magazine would be a good model, and I liked this one the best:

I created the title above by hand based on this magazine logo. The rest is script fonts.

Everyone liked the main logo, but the quote needed adjustment and other versions were done.

Another style and placement for the quote, not so good. More versions followed.

This is the image I found of the printed cover. The subtitle is red to read better, and the quote is now clear of the cat. The brightness of the image has been improved, I would have also increased the contrast a bit, but it looks fine. No accolades were used again.

The fourth book was worked on in the fall of 2020. I found a movie logo that I thought would work well as inspiration for the title:

I liked the faux wood block style where small wedges of color surround the letters, and I used the same idea in my title. I didn’t have any quotes from Neil when I designed the first version, so I made something up.

This version had Neil’s input, he nixed the “presents” after his name, and gave me several quotes to choose from.

Everyone liked the title and design, but HarperCollins wanted to add the accolade at the top, and several color options were tried. This is the final version I sent in.

The printed cover image I found matches it exactly, and I think the painting is the most interesting one of the four.

This was again a fun project, and working with Neil is always a pleasure. Below are links to the articles about the previous covers.






  1. Dean

    I love seeing this breakdown. Word art is so fascinating, and I have always appreciated your work. Thanks for doing this.

  2. Eddy

    These are amazing! The breakdowns are really informative and eye-opening. Have you re-created/re-worked covers in other languages? Or do you design exclusively in English?

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