Etikettarkiv: book covers

Interview: John Gall on designing book covers

AA Knopf

I have interviewed several Swedish and American graphic designers specialized in designing book covers, and while my questions have been pretty similar the answers have varied wildly. It is always interesting to hear how they go about their craft. This is a brief interview with John Gall, a bold and brave American graphic designer.

Could you tell us a little bit about your background regarding graphic design? Where you an introvert as a kid, drawing hour after hour getting more and more skilled?

– I did draw as a kid and it was one of the first things I discovered that I was kind of good at. But I did not grow up in a household with many books or very much exposure to the arts. I had to find that all out for myself. It wasn’t until I was in college, where I was studying to be an architect, that I found out about graphic design. Even after college, when I was looking for work at graphic design firms, book covers weren’t really considered ”real” graphic design at the time. I just kind of fell into it.

I really like your crazy Caspar David Friedrich-cover (above). It’s one of my favorites this year; it’s surprising and rule breaking. Could you please guide us through the creative process?

– The author suggested that image but I was hesitant because I knew it had already been used on a lot of covers. So the cover had to be self-aware and we took on German-Romantic history and brought it into the paranoid near future. The central gradated image reflects the ”vaporwave” theme of the book and can also be seen as an impassive, all-seeing eye. In terms of ”rule-breaking”, I do like to throw together completely incongruent images just to see what happens.

Vladimir Nabokov series design for Vintage Books.

It must be fun breaking and testing the rules? And yes, why is it so exciting with depictions of book covers on book covers?

– The good and bad thing about book covers is that there are very strict parameters. A vertical rectangle —probably 6 x 9, title, author, some kind of image. Same thing over and over again. It is very difficult to come up with something new that also does all the things a book cover needs to do in the marketplace. One of my colleagues, Helen Yentus once commented during a critique that something looked ”too much like a book cove”. So that’s the challenge. Make a book cover that doesn’t look like a book cover.

Illustration for The New Yorker. Adam Gopnik’s review of Harper Lee’s new/old novel, Go Set a Watchman.
Cover for AA Knopf

– I am always looking for new ways to reinvent the format and come up with something original. It’s hard to completely break the rules and come up with something coherent but the tension created while pushing against the constraints can produce creative magic. I am also constantly challenging myself and my own preconceived ideas about what looks good, what is beautiful and what is considered good design.
Book covers depicting books are just a way to communicate a certain kind of ”meta” idea. I have probably done this too many times! I also think it’s because cover designers enjoy pictures of books.

Book cover for New Directions
New Directions

New Directions is exceptionally good at book covers. They look great on their own, and they give New Directions a really cool and unique graphic profile. They are better at this than other publishers, aren’t they?
– New Directions is great. They have a long and storied history and their present art director, Eric Reislebach is terrific. They publish adventurous work and give their designers a lot of leeway. Their books end up standing out because of that. They seem to have less people involved in the cover design decision making process. The more people involved, the more watered down the designs get. It is rare for a publisher to want something new and original. Most just want a new version of the old thing.

Denna bild har ett alt-attribut som är tomt. Dess filnamn är 1q84box.nostickcropped_640.jpg

I hope that you can help me sort this out. I think that quite a few covers in recent years have depicted persons, especially women, with their facial features erased or covered. First I thought of it as a bit creepy, but then I thought that it simply is a means to avoid locking the readers mind to certain features. I wouldn’t want to buy a copy of Anna Karenina with all her features revealed on the cover.

– That is correct. It’s the old problem: how to have a human presence on a cover without being too specific. So you end up with a lot of cropped heads, backs of heads, hands, etc.

Sayonara Home Run! book design
for Chronicle Books

What inspires you? Do you listen to music while working? If you have time, please mention ten songs you enjoy listening to while working.

– My inspiration mostly comes from the particular book I am working on. I like to let the work communicate what it wants to be without any preconceived ideas. For outside inspiration I look to artists, musicians, filmmakers, etc. But I am not looking for specific visual inspiration. I am looking for transformative points of view. I think any great work of art changes the way you see the world.

Cover design for Other Press. Illustration by Anthony Gerace

– When I am in the office, I cannot really listen to music since there are people coming in and out all day. During covid, while working from home, I find myself listening to a lot of music. But it needs to be music that can float in the background and then periodically bubble up to the conscious level. Here are some songs from albums I have been listening to over the past few months.

Many thanks to John Gall. Visit his home page, full of more great covers and illustrations. And listen to his mellow Spotify-list.

Ola Wihllke

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Spektakulära animerade, rörliga bokomslag

Henning M. Lederer, tysk grafisk designer, har gjort det igen. Han har utgått från omslagen till en rad vetenskapliga böcker (och några LP-konvolut) från 60- och 70-talet, och så har han gjort rörliga versioner av dem. Och resultatet är som vanligt spektakulärt. Under det här inlägget hittar du länkar till fler animationer. Missa inte heller Lederers Industriepalast eller Machinatorium (video).

Animation: Henning M. Lederer ///
Music: Tilman Grundig ///


Canada Modern ///
Isolated Graphics ///
Julian Montague Project ///
Kristen Lound ///
Libri Belli ///
Shawn Hazen ///

Ola Wihlke

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Under Bokomslag bilder och foto, Film video och ljud

Några av de snyggaste amerikanska bokomslagen 2017

Vi är inte helt främmande inför tanken att väga in omslaget när man bedömer en bok. I allra bästa fall är omslaget som en förlängning av och portal till bokens värld. För att uppmärksamma dem som gör särskilt snygga och effektiva omslag gör vi varje år listor. Det här är årsbästalistorna med svenska omslag: 201420152016 och 2017.

BearBooks är ju delvis amerikanskt orienterad. Det här är tidigare års listor med de bästa amerikanska bokomslagen: 2014, 2015 och 2016. Och det här är årets snyggaste och coolaste amerikanska omslag:

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Tom Fisher – Writing Not Writing (University of Iowa Press) Design: Anne Jordan & Mitch Goldstein


Cedar Sigo – Royals (New Wave) Design: Jeff Clark


César Aira – The Little Buddhist Monk & The Proof (New Directions) Design: Rodrigo Corral Lettering: June Park


Chris Miles – Spurt (Simon & Schuster) Design: Lucy Ruth Cummins

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Deb Ulin Unferth – Wait Till You See Me Dance (Greywolf Press) Design: Kimberly Glyder


Jenny Erpenbeck – Go, Went, Gone (New Directions) Design: Rodrigo Corral

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Ralf Rothman – To Die In Spring (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Design: Oliver Munday


Mike Scalise – The Brand New Catastrophe (Sarabande Books) Design:  Oliver Munday


Moshin Hamid – Exit West (Riverhead) Design: Rachel Willey


Timothy O’Leary – Dick Cheney shot me in the face (Unsolicited Press) Design: David A. Gee


Leif GW Persson – The Dying Detective (Pantheon) Design: Oliver Munday

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Jacob Bacharach – The Doorposts of Your House and on Your Gate (Liverlight) Design: Nathan Burton


Osama Alomar – The Teeth of the Comb & Other Stories (New Directions) Design: Erik Carter


Sina Queyras – My Ariel (Coach House Books) Design: Ingrid Paulson

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Lindsay Hunter – Eat Only When You’re Hungry (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Design: Abby Kagan

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Ayobami Adebayo – Stay With Me (Knopf) Design: Janet Hansen

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Timothy Morton – Humankind (Verso) Design: Anne Jordan & Mitch Goldstein


Red. Roxanne Samer & William Whittington – Spectatorship (University of Texas Press) Design: Anne Jordan & Mitch Goldstein

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Nancy Pearl – George & Lizzie (Simon & Schuster) Design: Gray318

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Gabriel Tallent – My Absolute Darling (Riverhead) Design: Jaya Miceli


Gabe Habash – Stephen Florida (Coffee House Press) Design: Karl Engebretson Illustration: George Boorujy

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Hanif Willis-Abdurraqib – They Can’t Kill Us Until They Kill Us (Two Dollar Radio) Design: Two Dollar Radio

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Katie Kitamura – A Separation (Riverhead) Design: Jaya Miceli

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Owen Egerton – Hollow (Counterpoint) Design: Matt Dorfman

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Hari Kunzru – White Tears (Knopf) Design: Peter Mendelsund

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Michael Robbins – Equipment For Living on Poetry and Pop Music (Simon & Schuster) Design: Thomas Colligan


Karl Ove Knausgaard & Fredrik Ekelund – Home and Away (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Design: Alex Merto


Jerome Charyn – Jerzy (Bellevue Literary Press) Design: Alban Fischer


Katherine Faw – Ultraluminous (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Design: Rodrigo Corral Lettering: June Park

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Eve Babitz – Sex & Rage (Counterpoint) Design: Kelly Winton


Fernando Pessoa – The Book of Disquiet (New Directions) Design: Peter Mendelsund

Skriv gärna kommentarer och berätta vad du tycker. Vilket eller vilka omslag är snyggast? Känner du till något som vi negligerat och absolut bör ha med? Och missa inte våra intervjuer med Kimberly GlyderAlban FischerAnne JordanJeff Clark och Emily Mahon.

Ola Wihlke

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Under Artiklar, Bokomslag bilder och foto, Listor

Bokomslag: USA vs. England II

Jag jämförde aktuella amerikanska och brittiska versioner av bokomslag i ett tidigare blogginlägg (Bokomslag: USA vs. England) och det här är en liknande sammanställning. Det är sällan uppenbart vilket som är det amerikanska (vänster) respektive det brittiska (höger), men det är barnsligt roligt att jämföra hur olika grafiska designers har valt olika, ofta radikalt olika, lösningar.

The Idiot, Penguin Press, omslag Amanda Deway. Jonathan Cape, omslagsillustration Aino Maija Metsola & AD Suzanne Dean.


Exit West, Riverhead, omslag Rachel Willey. Hamish Hamilton, omslag Richard Bravery.


Homegoing, Knopf, omslag Peter Mendelsund. Viking, omslag Nathan Burton.


To Be a Machine, Doubleday, omslag Pete Garceau. Granta, omslag Gray318 / foto Marco Fernandes.


White Tears, Knopf, omslag Peter Mendelsund. Hamish Hamilton, omslag Richard Bravery.


Priestdaddy, Riverhead, omslag Rachel Willey. Allen Lane, omslag Richard Green.

Av omslagen till The Idiot tycker jag att det amerikanska ligger mest i linje med Elif Batumans coola och kontrollerade stil, men att illustrationen gjord av Aino Maija Metsola är mest visuellt intressant. Av omslagen till Exit West tycker jag däremot att det amerikanska är överlägset mest visuellt utmanande, med sin lite skeva och nästan självlysande typografi, medan det brittiska och 80-talsaktiga är nära nog intetsägande. Det lilla snittet i ytan är dessutom en detalj för mycket.

Av omslagen till Homegoing tycker jag att det av Peter Mendelsund omslag är i en klass för sig – det brittiska känns vid en jämförelse nästan märkligt könlöst och blodfattigt trots att det är så färgstarkt. Av omslagen till To Be a Machine är det brittiska min solklara favorit, något så ovanligt som ett riktigt roligt omslag. Gray318 håller det enkelt med det obetalbara fotot av en robot vars håglösa hållning skulle kunna tolkas som om den vore lite trött på att hänga med i den teknologiska utvecklingen.

Av de båda typografiska omslagen till White Tears tycker jag att det av Peter Mendelsund är mest elegant, har mest karaktär och står ut mest visuellt, men att det brittiska också funkar riktigt bra. Av omslagen till Priestdaddy, som lär vara en hysteriskt rolig memoarbok i vilken Patricia Lockwoods genuint originella prästfarsa står i centrum. Det brittiska omslaget väcker väl snarare associationer till något otvetydigt otäckt, en skildring av en seriemördare eller något i den stilen?

Skriv gärna och kommentera omslagen och mina omdömen. Tycker du att något omslag är särskilt spännande? Vilket skulle du helst ha som poster på väggen?

Ola Wihlke

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Under Bokomslag bilder och foto

Alex Trochut – Penguin Galaxy Book Covers

ALL_FRONT_WHITE-1274x1200 (1)The world is overflowing with images that are competing for our attention. Nevertheless, sometimes you come across an image, in print or on screen, that feels truly exciting and fresh. The creative output of Alex Trochut, illustrator and graphic designer from Barcelona, is abundant with bold, striking and yet intricate images and type. His style is expressive, even flamboyant, yet controlled and clean.


G. Lettering


Toyota. Poster

A few years ago Trochut relocated to New York City, and his work is sought after. When he lists his work, music comes first. He has made album covers and gig posters for Rolling Stones, Arcade Fire, Four Tet, Vampire Weekend, Caribou among others. Editorials: New York Times, The Guardian and Creative Review. Advertising: Absolut, Converse and Adidas. Fashion: Camper, Patagonia and Ecko Enterprises.


Arcade Fire. Gig Poster

Trochut has also written a book, with a design invisible during daylight, aptly titled, More Is More. And he recently designed six hardcover science fiction and fantasy classics, published by Penguin US as a series last fall. These typographic covers are mesmerizing and they reveal, I think, something essential about Trochut’s aesthetics. I had the opportunity to ask him a few brief questions.

How would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t seen it before?

– I love to play with the fine line between abstract and figurative. Letters are often my sweet spot.

You seem to have a Spanish side, a little bit of Salvador Dali, and an American side, a little bit of Saul Bass for instance. Could you please tell us a little bit about your background and how your work has developed?

– I started to work as a graphic designer around 2003, since then I’ve always loved to dive into styles, let those carry the idea throughout. I don’t have a particular method when i work, i look forward to get lost into the process, i believe it is in that state you start figuring things out and create something interesting.


More is More. Book

What are the main themes of More Is More?

More is more is a monograph book that compiles the work done from 2003 to 2011. Dani Navarro was the one who came up with the idea, and together we divided the book in 3 parts: Inspiration, Gallery of works, and Process.

Binary Prints is a truly fascinating project. Please tell us a little bit about it.

– Following the publication of More is More, I became interested in the duality that could be represented in one two-dimensional work on paper. After some experimentation I came out with a process through which two completely separate images could be shown on one surface – one which appears in light, and one which appears only in the dark.

– What followed was a collaboration with some of the premiere electronic musicians of our time. I contacted James Murphy, Caribou, Four Tet, Damian Lazarus, Acid Pauli, John Talabot, Lucy and others to create a series of portraits that explore the people behind the music. Discussing themes of both visual and auditory natures.


Sufjan Stevens. Gig Poster

I get the impression that you really enjoy creating intricate type, almost like a graffiti writer. What makes type so fascinating?

– Text is malleable matter in constant change, always adapting to time and places. I find it fascinating that you can communicate so much just with form, without even reading the text. letter design is like non-verbal communication.

Please tell us about the Penguin Galaxy Series. It would be brilliant if you could say something both about details and the main ideas.

– The brief consisted on a strictly typographical approach, creating a consistent style throughout the whole series, from the shortest title Dune to the longest The Left Hand of Darkness. Although this wasn’t a system per se, it demanded that decisions were not made on a full custom context on each book, but thinking of them as a series.



Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

– The concept is based on the crash of perceptions based on behaviors, traditions, religions etc. that the book expresses in the differences between Mars and Earth. The words “Stranger in a” appear facing an opposite direction as “Strange Land”, confronting the subject and the context.



Neuromancer by William Gibson

– William Gibson created the concept of “Cyberpunk”. The future that Neuromancer pictures isn’t clean or sleek, its low key and obscure, mutated into a hybridization of all kinds. The glitch aesthetics is a good way to capture this mix between human and machine, physical and digital, humanizing the machines and mechanizing humans. Making a hybrid of both. The typography has a technology nostalgia approach using the colors of an old screen.



The Left Hand of Darkness
 by Ursula K. Le Guin

– Focused on Gethen (the frozen planet) and its androgynous society, these letters are duplicated and transparent, inducing to interpret as ice and the duplication of the same type of gender. On the back-cover we see the androgynous symbol.



2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

– 2001: A Space Odyssey is a timeless enigma that raises questions that escape the human comprehension, therefore the front cover plays with the idea of the reader solving a game. The back-cover teases the reader even more to decipher an impossible group of modular pieces that belong to the front cover. This lettering forces the reader to solve a 2 seconds solving game, who needs to turn around the cover 90 degrees in order to read it. VVideo of sketch



Dune by Frank Herbert

– An intricate political story of emperors, dukes and barons. Futuristic but with the same ingredients of a medieval epic story. The lettering has a hint of Egyptian jewelry designs inspired by the desert. Dune is, as a word, a quite special puzzling structure of letters that allow to read 4 different characters by simply rotating 90 degrees the “D” shape. I thought this logo, in some way, speaks of the strategic nature of Arrakis, a planet where different parts intersect from different points of view and interests. This design is going to be used in the back-cover. Video of sketch.


The Once and Future King by T. H. White
– Following up with the line style, this book cover is the result of merging the line style of the collection with a medieval style lettering. The icon of the sword is on the back, appearing half of it hidden, referencing the sword in the stone.

Alex Trochut always listens to music while working. These are two of his playlists: 1 & 2.

Ola Wihlke

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Under Bokomslag bilder och foto, Intervjuer, Recensioner

Interview: Emily Mahon on designing book covers


Doubleday, Illustration: Rizon Parein

I have made interviews with several great Swedish and American graphic designers specialized in book covers. I have asked them rather similar questions, but the answers have varied considerably. This suggests, I think, that designing book covers is a craft. You can learn how to create great and captivating covers, but above all you have to make covers, over and over again. The final covers that we get to see, are only a fraction of those that are made.

I had the privilege to ask graphic designer Emily Mahon a few questions. She has worked for some of the most well known American publishers, and she has made covers for books of literary fiction as well as for books of non-fiction, contemporary as well as classics. She has made several stunning covers; one of my favorites is the cover she has made for Heidi Julavits The Vanishers. Further below you can see both the final cover, lush and irresistible, as well as two killed covers.


Doubleday. Photo: Mike Lambert

Could you please tell us a little about your background and how and why you became a designer of book covers?

I studied Graphic Design at Penn State University. I needed to apply for the program which only accepted 22 students a year; it’s a very small program in a school of over 35 thousand students. After graduating, I focused on landing a job at a book publishing house in New York. To me, designing book covers is the most creative job I could have. Every book tells a different story, and reading has become a crucial part of my life. And I love that each cover is like a poster—there are no guidelines in terms of imagery or type that I use—it’s all based on what feels right for the audience.


Doubleday. Tactile Typography: Dominique Falla


Vintage. AD: John Gall, Photo: Holly Lindem

What purposes are book covers supposed to fill?

Designing covers is not about making art. We need to sell books at the end of the day. Covers should market a specific audience for every book and they should give enough of a visual impact needed to inspire someone to pick up the book and read it!


Random House, Photo: Bob Croslin


Penguin. AD: Paul Buckley, Photo: Rich Evenhouse

How would you describe your style(es)?

I try never to have a style. I always try new approaches to how I look at a problem and to how I design. The content should dictate the style. It’s hard to stay fresh and current all the time but I think it’s important not to try and emulate trends, and stay true to the content.


Doubleday. Photo: Andrew Purcell



Do you have a philosophy, rules of thumb or rituals that you follow during the creative process? Please tell us a little bit about the creative process.

As I’m reading a book, I usually jot down visuals or notes from the text that could help in defining the direction the cover will take. I usually make lists and sketch ideas before every turning to the computer to guide me. Sometimes I find it helpful to go to museums or look through magazines or books as I brainstorm, and I try to find inspiration in looking at other current book covers. There is so much great work out there, and seeing recent book covers inspires me to keep pushing my work and make myself a better designer.


Flatiron Books. Killed

Can you please tell us a little bit about the cover you made for The Guineveres and explain how it came about and how you intended it to work?

Well, as of this moment, the cover has been killed! This happens all the time, albeit a bit disappointing. I loved this novel and tried several different iterations before coming to this solution. The book takes place in the 1950s in a convent where four girls named Guinevere have been abandoned to be raised by nuns. I wanted to set this cover apart from what’s out there and felt that because the catholic theme was so strong, showing the cross in an abstract kind of way made for an interesting visual.


Killed version


Killed version

I’m also very fond of the cover you made for Heidi Julavits The Vanishers. Do you have any shelved versions of it, that we might take a look at?

This cover started in a very different place from the final version. Initially I took an interest in photographing the Barcelona chair, and projecting the title on it to create a dimensional feel.


Doubleday. Final version

After many iterations of this cover the author decided she wanted to focus on more of a feeling rather than a depiction of the story. I decided it would be fun and energetic to work on a layered floral collage, that better represented the multi-layered emotional impact of the novel. It was really fun to create this cover. I originally preferred the type knocking out in white from the art, but the publisher felt that using a color would have more impact so that’s how the final cover was printed.


AD: Emily Mahon. Design: Ben Wiseman


 Nan A Talese/Doubleday, Photo of cut paper lettering: Geoff Spear

What are your favorite graphic designers, specialized in book covers, and why?

Gabriele Wilson, Keith Hayes, Kelly Blair, Peter Mendelsund, Oliver Munday… the list goes on! They are all extraordinarily creative and ambitious with their approaches and I’m very lucky to work around such talent in my office in the Knopf Doubleday Art Department every day.

If you have cravings for more beautiful covers, visit Emily Mahon’s homepage. Don’t miss the designs she has made for The Modern Library Classics.

Ola Wihlke

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Under Bokomslag bilder och foto, Intervjuer

Bokomslag: USA vs. England


Grief is the Thing With Feathers (Greywolf Press + Faber & Faber)

10:04 (Picador + Granta Books)

Fated and Furies (Riverhead Books + William Heinemann)

Dept. of Speculation (Knopf + Granta Books)

NW (Penguin Press + Hamish Hamilton)

The Pale King ( Little, Brown & Company + Viking UK)

Book of Numbers (Random House + Harvill Secker)

Complete Stories (New Directions + Penguin Classics)

The Wallcreeper (Dorothy, a publishing project + 4th Estate)

Mislaid (Harper Collins + 4th Estate)

Jag tycker att det är ganska lätt att urskilja nationella särdrag när det gäller bokomslag. Exempelvis omslag från typografiskt starka länder som Schweiz och Holland, eller ganska konservativa omslag från Frankrike och Spanien, där man ofta låter omslagen i högre utsträckning vara bärare av förlagets identitet. Trots att nationsgränserna spelar en allt mindre roll, åtminstone när det gäller kulturell konsumtion, upprätthålls nationella identiteter som påverkar hur bokomslagen ser ut.

Men när jag tittar på de här omslagen är jag inte lika tvärsäker på att jag skulle kunna identifiera särskilt många amerikanska respektive brittiska. De amerikanska omslagen har ju haft rykte om sig att vara färgglada eller grälla, ostentativa, och för att omslagets hela yta utnyttjas maximalt.

Brittiska omslag har i motsvarande grad ansetts mer nedtonade och sobra, och det kan finnas rester kvar av de här traditionerna, men jag tycker att den här synen till ganska stora delar är föråldrad. När jag gjorde det här blogginlägget försökte jag komma på ett omslag jag tyckte om, och så sökte jag reda på motsvarande amerikanska eller brittiska omslag. Det är kul att se hur grafiska formgivare gör sina tolkningar av en bok och ofta kommer fram till mycket olika lösningar.

Ola Wihlke

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10 snygga röda bokomslag

Industries of the Future design Jason Heuer

Alec Ross – The Industries of the Future (Simon & Schuster) Design: Jason Heuer


 Rosecrans Baldwin – Paris, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) Design: Rodrigo Corall Studio


V. Nabokov – The Real Life of Sebastian Knight (Vintage) AD: John Gall Design: Sam Potts


Jo Soares – Twelve Fingers (Pantheon) Design: Evan Gaffney

cover image for

Lawrence Ferlinghetti – Poetry As Insurgent Art (New Directions) Designer: okänd


Luc Sante – The Other Paris (Farrar, Straus and Giroux) Design: Alex Merto


Justin A. Frank – Bush on the Couch (Harper Perennial) Design: Rodrigo Corral


Victor Pelevin – Omon Ra (New Directions) Design: Paul Sahre


Chuck Palahniuk – Survivor (W. W. Norton) Design: Rodrigo Corall Studio


Toby Barlow – Sharp Teeth (Harper Perennial) Design: Christine Van Bree

Kom gärna med förslag på omslag, så kan jag lägga till dem.

Ola Wihlke

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Interview: Alban Fischer on designing book covers


Horse Less Press, 2015

I have made brief interviews with a few Swedish and American graphic designers I admire. I have asked somewhat similar questions, but interestingly enough the answers vary to a considerable degree. “It’s a hopeless question,” one of them answered, while another answered the same question with enthusiasm.

I really enjoy reading about how each and every one of them approach the task to make an excellent book cover, one of those that makes you want to snap up that book, not one of the others, immediately. Alban Fischer, author and graphic designer, have made several covers with that quality – beautiful, haunting, melancholic and nostalgic.


Trnsfr Magazine, 2015

Fischer has designed covers for poetry and literary fiction for some of the finest American small presses, including Horse Less Press, YesYes Books and Birds, LLC. He has also designed magazines like Trnsfr and PANK. His portfolio is varied and very enjoyable to explore, some of my favorite covers have a layered quality to them, a depth that makes them visually captivating.

Fischer is the author of the poetry chapbook Status Area (Varmint Armature, 2011). His work has appeared in BlazeVox, Kindling, Past Simple, Thieves Jargon, amongst other publications. He is the founding editor of Trnsfr and he lives in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

TWTKCD Front_340

Aforementioned Productions, 2014

Could you please tell us a little about your background and how and why you became a designer of book covers?

I became a designer somewhat by accident. I’m a little wary of how that sounds, I must say; it seems blithe or capricious or something. Serendipitous, even. But I’ve certainly worked hard to make a career for myself. When I was young, I thought I’d grow up to be an artist. I’d discovered at an early age that I had a talent for drawing, for making things. I was even excused from handwriting exercises in school because I had such nice penmanship. The trade­off was that I’d clean erasers instead. (It’s funny—it occurs to me just now that this is something of a model for what my life is like now as a freelance designer.) I don’t think I had any real idea what an artist was, though, or what an artist did, exactly. I figured I’d just go on drawing things.

Beside Myself Cover_340

Tiny Hardcore Press, 2014

Then, in my early teens I became a voracious reader, and discovered what I’d really wanted to do was write. So, naturally, in my twenties I began reading tons of literary journals, and submitting my work. And I thought, sort of vaguely, that maybe one day I’d start my own journal. And at thirty I did. Obviously, I knew I’d need someone to design the thing, but I didn’t know anyone. So I taught myself. Trnsfr was my education in design. At the time, though, I didn’t think of what I was doing as design. I just wanted to make something unique. A few years later, I was out of work for a brief period. It occurred to me that I’d developed through Trnsfr a number of contacts in indie publishing. I thought maybe I could get work doing layout for a small press or something. Luckily, there were a number of them that needed help. Some of them really responded to the look of Trnsfr, so I started doing book covers as well.


Curbside Splendor, 2015

What purposes are book covers supposed to fill?

Well, obviously book covers were initially purely utilitarian. Dust covers were just that—meant to protect books from dust and whatnot. They’re now of  course a kind of art form unto themselves. Naturally, we want them to be pretty. And pretty certainly goes a long way, but we need them to do more than just look pretty. A lot more. They have to say, I have what you’re looking for. They’re advertisements. We also need to be able to trust them. So in a certain way a good book cover has to tell it straight. But in the most attractive way; it has to be astute. And book covers are a kind of visual shorthand for the book itself, for its contents. A designer has to be cognizant of that. And a cover has to be able to withstand that responsibility, that challenge. And when it does, it can sometimes itself become as iconic as the book it clothes.

When I think of one of the books that has always meant a great deal to me, Ulysses, I think of the cover—in this case the Gabler edition, with that beautiful design by Carin Goldberg (whose work I revere). And I think this is all the more underscored by the current age, with so many people buying their books online. Covers have to be more aesthetically concise than ever before. But I think they have to reward us too. Maybe like a validation of our taste and intelligence. People want to possess something that is really remarkable, something they can cherish. We need covers to reinforce our belief in a book’s power, that its contents are invaluable and truly meaningful (this extends to a book’s interior layout and production, too). You’re not impelled to pick up an ugly book.


Arcadia, 2015

Are there differences between book covers and other kinds of graphic design? I think quite a few of your covers would work well as posters.

Absolutely. And certainly there are similarities. For instance, what I said about rewarding us, and the validation of taste. With any design—in whatever discipline—those are definitely concerns. But perhaps we view books as even more tied to our taste and intelligence as intellectual flags, signifiers, mirrors, projectors. We view them as communicating something deeper about who we are than, say, one’s choice of footwear. I know this all sounds a bit superficial, but at the same time, I think those concerns are important. Because these signifiers are communicating a certain truth. What a person wears obviously says a lot of things about him or her, but class and fashion can be cleared away. Intelligence, what we know, our moral core—these are something else altogether.


Elixir Press, 2015

And I think the haptic nature of books informs their design to a greater degree: they don’t become what they are until we open them. Obviously, one could say that about a shirt, but a book keeps becoming a book, forever. Its stories don’t exist until we imagine them. And then, too, we want precious objects to feel good in the hand, but with books this feel also tells us something that is directly connected to the content of a book. Is it serious?, say; or is it light?


Trembling Pillow Press, 2015

Do you have a philosophy, rules of thumb or rituals that you follow during the creative process? Please tell us a little bit about the creative process.

I don’t—not really. Certainly no ritual, or at least nothing I would recognize or categorize as ritual. Maybe just that I don’t think a book cover should pander to easy expectations or simply be a patchwork of fashionable motifs. I don’t see why a work of genre fiction, for instance, should look a certain way or should follow a proscribed set of visual tropes. Design for me is more an intuitive process than anything. And I don’t see why those same tropes can’t be exploited or queered, too—even for genres with which they’re not customarily associated. I think tradition is important—hugely so. Without it, without a keen knowledge of it—and even respect for it—what do you have to push against, spring off from, broaden, or tear down? It’s heuristic, in a sense: paradigms can themselves be tools to dismantle other paradigms. As far as process is concerned, it is in many respects different for each book.


YesYes Books, 2015

It seems most of my covers rarely resemble the original concept. Of course, I’ll read a book, take notes. Often the author or publisher has a few ideas or images they’d like me to do something with or keep in mind. Sometimes I’m given artwork to incorporate into the design. With some publishers, albeit rarely, I’m given carte blanche; with others, it’s a little more collaborative, in a way: they’ll like certain aspects of two different concepts, say, and ask that I merge them, or suggest a different angle I hadn’t thought of. And sometimes—also (very) rarely—I nail it the first round.


PANK Magazine, 2015

You have made covers to small and cool niche magazines, like PANK Magazine and Arcadia Magazine, and to books from rather small presses oriented towards literary fiction, like Tiny Hardcore Press, YesYes Books and Birds, LCC. Looking at your work I see all kinds of different styles, from Dadaism and collage to very contemporary visual expressions, like the beautiful cover to Dolan Morgan’s recent story collection. Do you think that you enjoy a greater freedom than a graphic designer working exclusively for large presses?

I find it hard to apprehend my own “style.” A client will contact me and say they love my style or aesthetic or my sensibility. But it can be hard for me to see what that is. Or perhaps to see what they perceive it to be. I know how I don’t want something to look. Maybe a person’s style can be defined by what they choose to not do. I’ve wondered this about larger presses, whether I’d have less freedom with a major house. Perhaps one does have more freedom with an indie press. But I have no idea, I’ve no metric for that. I mean, it’s rare that I have a marketing or sales team to please, or a distributor. But I do have to deal with this too for a few of the presses I work for.

And while one might say I’ve created work in many different styles, I don’t think I’ve ever consciously tried to create anything in a certain style, unless asked to do so outright. I like to think I’m flexible. And I’m influenced by a lot things. Graffiti, for instance. Things that aren’t design—happy accidents— like the look of a casually laid stack of junk mail, even. Or completely utilitarian things, user manuals. But as a freelancer, I have to be flexible. Maybe that necessity is what accounts for the freedom one might see me as having as an indie designer.



Horse Less Press, 2014


Can you please pick one of your covers and explain how it came about and how you intended it to work?

A cover I’m particularly proud of is James Tadd Adcox’s Does Not Love. There is a scene in the book in which one of the characters peruses online profiles of surrogate mothers. In all of the profile pictures, the women’s are eyes blacked out with a bar. Tadd wanted an image like that for the cover, and I believe even had a particular one in mind. Eventually, the editor on the project, Jacob Knabb, sent along the images you see on the book now. I wanted the placement of the text to work in the same way the black bars over the eyes would, to obscure identity, to give a sense of something hidden or verboten. The book has a lot to say about identity—identity in the context of a marriage. The book is about a lot of things—pharmaceuticals, paranoia, conspiracy theories, jealousy, infidelity, the American dream, the inviolable ideal of the nuclear family—and I needed the tone to encompass all of those things. So the images on the cover are somewhat classic, suggesting a more “proper” time in which our roles in our relationships and the world were, we imagine, more clearly defined. But I wanted the book to feel big, too. Because it does feel like a big novel, even though it is short (its dimensions are quite small, too). For Adcox’s first book, I placed a quote from the book on the spine, no author name or title, and I wanted a similar treatment for this one. I thought it would be interesting to have a pharmaceutical label on the spine. The mysterious pill one of the characters takes is called Milamor, so I thought it would be perfect to create a mock label for that. It would look sort of institutional and threatening, and seem a bit strange, which the book is—in the best of ways.

Ola Wihlke

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Under Bokomslag bilder och foto, Intervjuer

Hypnotiska animationer av 55 bokomslag från 60- och 70-talet

Ett varmt tack till Henning M. Lederer – animatör och grafisk designer – för att vi fick visa den här förtrollande videon. I ett mejl berättar han att han själv är förvånad över hur populär videon med de 55 animerade bokomslagen blivit. Den bygger trots allt på en enkel fråga: Hur skulle omslagen se ut om man animerade dem?

Lederer beskriver videon som ett typiskt projekt han gjort för sitt eget höga nöjes skull. Han säger att det på sätt och vis är en bra beskrivning av honom själv. Han gillar att sätta saker i rörelse och han tyckte att det var spännande att se hur den statiska designen fick liv.

Lederer utgick från omslag från 60- och 70-talet som han hittade på Montague Projects och Book Worship. Det är vetenskapliga titlar, vissa omslag har gjorts av kända grafiska designers men många är helt okända. De flesta av omslagen betraktades som ointressanta som samlarobjekt när de gavs ut. Nu har Lederer blåst liv i dem och deras geometriska former. Resultatet är en hypnotisk och smått unik visuell upplevelse.

Besök gärna Henning M. Lederers hemsida

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Ola Wihlke

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Under Artiklar, Bokomslag bilder och foto