On February 3rd of this year I received an email from Tom Egner, the art director for Avon Books, a division of Harper Collins publishing. He wrote:
“I’m interested in having you hand letter four Neil Gaiman book titles . The illustrations are being done by the very well known Bob McGinnis. Neil would like the lettering to have the vintage feel of pulp covers to complement the retro look of the art. I’m hoping that you are interested in creating the lettering.”
I was familiar with and loved the work of legendary cover artist Robert McGinnis, probably most famous for his James Bond paintings, but didn’t know that he was still alive and working. Mr. Egner and I spoke on the phone about the project, which I was happy to agree to, and I also corresponded with Neil about it. Neil wrote:
“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.”
I thanked Neil for asking that I get involved, and I told both Neil and Tom that I was amazed and excitied to be working with new art by McGinnis, and that I would pore over sixties paperbacks with and without McGinnis covers and see what I could come up with. At the Harper-Collins end, the project was transferred to Gail Dubov, and I worked with her thereafter, but always showing things to Neil first to get his feedback. You can read about how the project came to be in this BLOG POST FROM NEIL.
Here are the first two title ideas sketched in pencil. The top one is more free-form and typical of many 1950s to 1970s genre paperbacks (crime, thriller, science fiction and so on). The second works around a medieval black-letter style for GODS, something you might have seen on 1970s fantasy paperbacks.
I also did this title version with marker on rough watercolor paper to add lots of texture, as suggested by a few 1950s paperbacks I found.
Harper-Collins had sent me a scan of the amazing McGinnis painting and the book size, as well as the taglines they wanted to use, and I put together the first versions using the three titles I’d made (scanned and traced in Adobe Illustrator) with fonts I thought were appropriate for the time and concept. I also recreated the Avon Fantasy logo from the 1960s, which I thought would be a cool added element.
I chose to keep the colors neutral on these first versions to put the focus on the title and type styles.
This version didn’t work as well as I’d hoped. The angle on the title is too pronounced, and the letters are uneven.
After comments from Neil and Gail, as well as others at Harper-Collins, it was decided that the title and fonts in Version A were what they liked best, but Neil wanted to see a variety of different colors used, and also supplied a few more taglines to try.
Here’s a version with yellows.
One adding orange picked up from the distant sunset colors in the background and a new tagline.
Another new tagline that became the final choice, and lavenders.
This tagline, “A storm is coming,” was my favorite, but I and others felt it was too “on the nose,” since we see an actual storm in the art. Incidentally, of the other tagline, “The Bestselling Underground Novel,” as Neil said: “We looked at taglines from 60s paperbacks. I think that came from STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND.” It did come from an early paperback printing of the Robert Heinlein classic.
Neil had asked for strong colors, and here I pulled that dark orange-red from the sunset background on the right. Neil loved this color scheme, and with a change of the second tagline, I was ready to make the final version and send it in. Unfortunately, the publisher nixed my Avon Fantasy logo, as they only use the Avon imprint now on romance novels.
Here’s the final cover as recently unveiled by Harper-Collins and Neil. H-C has added a new tagline at the bottom, but otherwise it’s as I sent it. I’m thrilled to be a part of this project, and have already worked on several more Gaiman cover designs, and I’m not finished yet. When they’re announced and revealed, I’ll write about them here.
Oh man, I love it. I wish they hadn’t nixed the Avon Fantasy logo! That is so cool.
they look great, although the correct quote is “your lucky number is none” and not one. I loved the gothic styled letter. Congratulations!
This is great!
I have been picking these titles up as they’ve been released and I really love them. I am disappointed they dropped the “Avon Fantasy” logo (though I understand their branding decision) as it really fits the look you were going for. Pretty much every paperback from that time frame had a logo in the top left corner. True story; I was unaware of these reissues until I saw this title in a store in early September and was immediately drawn to it (so all the work paid off!) but felt that there was something not quite right. And now having read this blog and seen your original layout, I realize it should have that logo. You’ve done a really nice job! It’s fascinating to see how subtle colour and font changes alter the whole vibe.