Title and Cover Design for Neil Gaiman’s STARDUST


I’ve just received advance copies of “Stardust,” the second in a series of new paperback versions of Neil Gaiman books with wonderful cover paintings by illustration legend Robert McGinnis and titles and type design by me. I wrote about the first one, “American Gods,” HERE. This book’s release date is Sept. 27th, so it will be on sale soon. Here’s how the final cover was achieved.

mcginnisstardustrawscanvers1bOn March 22nd, 2016 I received a scan of the painting by Robert McGinnis for the book. This is a raw scan, so it would need adjustments to make it look right. I was told there would be one change requested by Neil, but this was fine to start with.

mcginnisknifeIt turned out that Neil wanted the knife at the right edge to be black (obsidian) as in the story, so this revised version came to me soon after.


I made adjustments to the levels, brightness and contrast to get this version, which I felt worked well, and I think on this book the publisher’s art department made a similar adjusted version at their end. This was the scan I used for my design work, and is very close to the printed version.
stardustvesskleinI had done title design work for an earlier edition of “Stardust” illustrated by Charles Vess and published by DC Comics in 1997, though the version shown here is from a 2007 reissue. I designed the title based on Vess’s hand-drawn one, and a font in similar style for the rest. I knew for this new paperback I wanted to do something quite different, but my first hand-drawn title does echo this version somewhat.

stardust001bMainly it’s the shape of the S’s, the rest is different enough to give a fresh look, and I thought it suggested 1960s fantasy paperbacks, the style we were after.

stardust002bI did two more hand-drawn titles. This one seemed promising, but didn’t look that good on the art, so I never submitted it.

stardust003bThis one was fun to do, but I felt too hard to read, so it never got beyond a sketch. I did like the Virgil Finlay stars, though.


Here’s the first version I submitted to Neil with my hand-drawn title. The rest of the cover copy came from Neil and Harper-Collins. I also chose how the cover art would be cropped as part of my design, the proportions were not quite right, and I felt the figures should be as large as possible.

StardustTitles1BAn alternate version with red on the author name.

StardustTitles2AMy second submitted title design started with a font that I manipulated to give it bounce.

StardustTitles1BOn this one I added those Finlay stars. (Many other artists have used similar ones, but Virgil Finlay is the first I’m aware of.) In retrospect, this is a little too “I Dream Of Jeannie.”

StardustTitles1BThe third submitted design started with another period font that I manipulated.

These designs went to Neil together, and he didn’t like any of them very much. He wrote, “Could we go a bit more Ballantine Adult Fantasy? Their “Worm Ouroboros” or “Voyage To Arcturus”? As if it’s a 1920s book someone is repackaging in 1969?”

That gave me a better idea of what he had in mind, and I own the entire run of Ballantine Adult Fantasy paperbacks (from the late 1960s through 1970s), so it was easy and fun to look there for ideas.

wormouroborosMany of those books use standard type for titles, which was not particularly helpful, but “The Worm Ouroboros” by E.R. Eddison has a great hand-drawn title that I thought would be a perfect style for “Stardust.”

stardust006bI drew one up in the same style, scanned it, tweaked it in Photoshop, and thought it was just about perfect. I liked the slightly rough-hewn look that makes it unmistakably hand-drawn, and the uneven widths of the letters add to the charm.

StardustTitles1BThe next round of designs used it with new thinner font choices for the remaining copy to make a better match.

StardustTitles1BAs before, I sent versions using blue and red in the author name. Neil was very happy with the title design, so that was okayed, but we needed more work on the colors and cover copy.


For the next round, Neil suggested we try the hot pink of the star’s shoes as a color choice, and he supplied several new tag lines to try.


Another tag line.


The hot pink was not a success, but these two tag lines seemed popular with everyone, including myself. Neil suggested we try the lavender of Tristran’s vest as a color, and that worked better.


Harper-Collins suggested upper and lower case for the tag lines, giving us this version, which everyone liked.

StardustTitles9The final version added one more tag line at the bottom, and this version was approved. Let’s compare it to the printed book.

stardustfcprintedI think it looks great, myself. There are slight differences in color, but that could be my scan. A few details you might not notice:

The trim is very close to the witch’s hand and dagger on the right edge. Some copies I received cut into them a little. Trimming any large print-run book is going to result in slight differences on the trim line, a good reason not to put anything important close to it. The copies I have are also trimmed slightly smaller than the specifications I worked to. The art should have been shrunk a little, but the proportions of the painting would have required extending the art a little at the top and bottom to make that work. I did that on later covers, but not this one, where I simply supplied the type and Harper-Collins put it on their adjusted cover art. It’s not a huge problem, but one I wish I had anticipated.

The lavender in the author name and some of the type is a spot color rather than being made up of red and blue dots. Adding that extra ink color increases the printing cost, but I think is well worth it in this case because it ensures those areas are as bright and precise as possible. The title and all the type on the cover are also varnished to add brightness.

The bottom tagline has a black drop-shadow to make it more readable. This was added by the publisher, and I certainly understand why, but I had decided not to do that on any of these covers because it was almost never done in the time periods we’re mimicking. Again, a very minor point that probably no one would notice but me!

In all, I’m very happy with the printed book, and hope readers will be, too. I will write about the next two when I receive printed copies.

2 thoughts on “Title and Cover Design for Neil Gaiman’s STARDUST

  1. Lyric Kinard

    This is fascinating – I love seeing all of the iterations and how many different people have input. There are so many more things to think about in the design process for cover art than there would be for a regular painting. Regardless of legibility – my favorite is the hand drawn STARDUST font with the Virgil Finlay stars. It’s gorgeous! Thank you so much for sharing!

  2. ms m

    I’m glad the black drop shadow was added for readability. The retro book cover feel had already been achieved by all the other elements. I gather the objective was to mimic rather than capture every styling. Great work though!

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