Printed copies of the third in a series of Neil Gaiman mass market paperbacks for which I did title and cover design work arrived yesterday. The release date is October 25th. Neil and I both love the cover painting by legendary illustrator Robert McGinnis, and I had a great time working with it. Here’s how it happened.
On April 12th, 2016 I received an email from Neil containing three McGinnis sketches for the cover art. Neil wrote: “If we are doing a late 50s early 60s cover, what are your thoughts? Fonts and design and such? And do you prefer any of the three?”
Here are the sketches:
My reply: “Thanks for letting me see these. I love them, it’s what McGinnis does best! I like the simpler composition and triangular shape of the first one best, though I do think it should be on a dark background. I see the type as the kind of looser, bouncier angular capital letters in the two attached examples. Very 50s Jazz. Your name and the title could go stacked at the upper left in the first image very nicely. It might be helpful if he left a little more room at the top of the painting, though, so we could get a top-line of text in there. I kind of like the sunglasses in the third one, too.”
Note that the above sketches are marked 1, 2 and 5. Later I was also sent this one by Neil, which seems to be marked 2, then that’s scribbled out. Probably from the same time, and perhaps an earlier version.
Here are the two paperback covers I had sent to Neil with my notes. Later I found two more for inspiration, both with Robert McGinnis covers:
In mid-May I received this raw scan of the cover art, which I thought was terrific! This is actually a revised version, as Neil had asked for the woman on the right to have darker skin than McGinnis originally painted it. McGinnis also supplied this version showing a suggested crop for the cover showing the original skin tone for the woman on the left:
Interesting to see he’s cropped off the feet at left and bottom. I went to work on the full painting in Photoshop to adjust the brightness, contrast and color balance, and I also added some to the top of the image using the clone tool because we needed room there, and the painting proportions did not quite work with the cover size I was given. Here’s my adjusted version:
This is the version I used for my cover designs, and also the version that was eventually used by Harper-Collins for the printed book. They asked me to send it to them. I would need to crop the sides, but retained the full height to fit the cover size.
On to the title design, here’s my first version. “Anansi Boys” from this ended up being the final choice. It had to fit in the available space right of the figure of Mr. Nancy, so all the designs follow this general shape.
Version 2, one I still like, but it did not fit the space as well, and was not used.
This one is getting too much like a 1960s concert poster rather than a paperback, and was not used.
Version 4. This was used for cover designs.
The first cover design submitted to Neil using the first hand-drawn titles. For the rest of the cover copy (supplied by Neil), I found a font I liked with a lot of quirky bounce. I chose two colors for the design elements, the green of Mr. Nancy’s hat and tie, and an off-white, which I thought should be a little darker than his white jacket.
Version B replaces the hand-drawn “Neil Gaiman” with one using the same font as the other text.
Version C used the fourth hand-drawn title and author name, and for the rest I found a compatible font used in the 1960s.
I submitted these four versions to Neil, and he replied: “I like #2. Can we try leaving off the bestseller and awards stuff? And shrink the Anansi a little?”
Here’s that version, which I submitted to Harper-Collins as our preferred choice, along with the other versions. The publisher insisted we use the New York Times blurb at the top, but it could be smaller. Here’s that version:
Neil’s response to this one was: “Can we try going smaller and making it ‘The Magical #1 NYT bestseller’ or ‘The Rollicking #1 NYT bestseller’? I LOVE the typeface so much!”
I submitted versions with both words, and “Magical” was liked best. This is the version that was okayed and sent in, and matches the printed cover except that the bottom bulb was moved down some. Due to the normal variations in trimming, the champagne bottle is cut into on some of the copies I have, others it’s in the clear. I’m very happy with the finished product, and I think everyone involved is. Neil liked this painting so much that he bought it from McGinnis. I think it’s right up there with his celebrated work on the James Bond novels and films, myself, and it was a privilege to work with him.