Illustration © Robert McGinnis.
Continuing my series on these covers, this is the fourth and last of the group I worked on this year. Links to the other articles will be at the end.
On June 28th, 2016 I received the image above from Harper-Collins, the raw scan of the cover painting for “Neverwhere” by illustration legend Robert McGinnis, who is still painting at 90 after a long and celebrated career on paperback covers, movie posters and related media images. Neil had this to say on an approach to the title and type design: “I think probably Gothic. ‘Secret House of Forbidden Danger’ kind of thing.”
To me it suggested gothic romance novels, and I found lots of examples online. I told Neil, “1970s gothic romance covers, our suggested model, often have elegant and swirly titles and heavily serifed type.” Neil agreed that was a good direction and I set to work on a title design.
First I tweaked the painting image to improve the contrast and levels, and added a bit to the top of the image to get the shape I needed for the paperback cover. I left it pretty dark, as I thought that was a good thing. I just love the expression on the woman’s face, so haunting. Neil said about her, “Personally I suspect that it is Lamia and not Door at all.”
Here’s my first title sketch, on vellum laid over a printout of the cover art. I really liked this, and rather than do more, I decided to tighten up the letters I would need to trace in Adobe Illustrator (the W would be made from a doubled V, and the rest were repeats), scan it, and produce a finished design to send to Neil. Usually I start with three different designs, but sometimes the first one just seems to nail it. In this case, working with a friend, I thought I’d skip the extra work of more designs and see what Neil thought.
Here’s the resulting vector file in Adobe Illustrator. I tweaked some things from the sketch, adding another ball serif on the R and curving the center stroke of the H. I thought the result was fanciful yet slightly ominous, just what I wanted.
Here’s the title and author’s name on the cover art. For the latter, I found a font with large serifs that looked right for the 1970s, “Americana,” designed in 1965. Neil’s reaction:
“I think that’s gorgeous!!!
“We need to get the best typeface for the blurb line, whatever it is. But it feels just right. And weirdly dangerous.”
Harper-Collins also liked it, but asked for a brighter color for Neil’s name, as shown here. The hardest part of my job, the title design, was approved! Next I needed cover blurbs from Neil, and he provided a few to work with for more designs.
As you can see, I offered lots of variations. The yellow tone for Neil’s name and one of the blurbs was preferred, and of the two retro serif fonts I chose for the blurbs, the thicker one, seen just above in Version G, was liked best. Of the blurbs, Neil liked “Mind the Gap” best, and while I thought it was appropriate for the book, it seemed like something too puzzling for American audiences, the reference being what the announcers on the London Underground always say when passengers are entering or leaving the trains, referring to the gap between the train and the platform. Also highly symbolic of the gap the story’s protagonist falls into! But Harper-Collins also was not satisfied, and asked Neil to try another blurb.
Neil’s new and final blurb was more specific about what readers would find in the book, and everyone agreed it was the best choice. Version H2 was approved as the final design, and was sent in to Harper-Collins on August 1st.
I received printed copies of the book last week, and I’m very pleased with the way it came out. The bottom blurb was moved up a little and now covers the McGinnis signature, which is unfortunate, but otherwise everything looks fine to me. The printed art is a little less green, so may have been tweaked further on their end, but I think it’s just fine. It was great fun working on these four new paperback editions of Neil’s work, and it’s possible there might be more in the future, though I have no definite information.