Etikettarkiv: John Gall

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.

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Vintage

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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Årets snyggaste bokomslag 2020

Be My Guest av Priya Basil. Design Janet Hansen (Knopf)

You Will Never Be Forgotten av Mary South. Design Alex Merto, broderi Alex Stikeleather (FSG Originals)

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Natural History av Carlos Fonseca. Design Pablo Delcan (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

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The Hole av Hiroko Oyamada. Design Janet Hansen (New Directions)

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Some Go Home av Odie Lindsay. Design Sarahmay Wilkinson (W.W. Norton)

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Indelicacy av Amina Cain. Design June Park (FSG)

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The Lost Book of Adana Moreau av Michael Zapata. Design John Gall (Hanover Square)

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The Song of the Tree av Coralie Bickford-Smith (Particular Books)

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Cleanness av Garth Greenwell. Design Ami Smithson & foto av Mark McKnight.

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Fracture av André Neuman. Design June Park (Farrar Straus & Giroux)

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Hinton av Mark Blacklock. Design Jamie Keenan (Granta)

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Guillotine av Eduardo C. Corral. Design Carlos Esparza, art Felipe Baeza (Graywolf)

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Pelosi av Molly Ball. Design Adalis Martinez (Henry Holt & Co)

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Rendang av Will Harris. Design David Pearson (Granta)

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Ledger av Jane Hirshfield. Design John Gall (Knopf)

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Agency av William Gibson. Design Gray318 (Berkley)

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This Brilliant Darkness av Jeff Sharlet. Design Sarahmay Wilkinson (W.W. Norton)

Strange Hotel av Eimear McBride. Design Rodrigo Corral (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

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Finna av Nate Marshall. Design Carlton Murrell (One World)

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Luster av Raven Leilani. Design Na Kim (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

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Red Pill av Hari Kunzru. Design John Gall (Knopf)

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Someone Who Will Love You in All Your Damaged Glory av Raphael Bob-Waksberg. Design Linda Huang (Vintage)

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Threshold av Rob Doyle. Design Greg Heinimann (Bloomsbury)

 

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Putin’s People av Catherine Belton. Design Chris Allen (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

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The Inland Sea av Madeleine Watts. Design Anna Morrison (Pushkin Press)

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Uncanny Valley av Anna Wiener. Design Rodrigo Corral (MCD/FSG)

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Pizza Girl av Jean Kyoung Frazier. Design Emily Mahon, illustration Tallboy / Night Watch Studios)

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Heavy av Dan Franklin. Design Luke Bird (Constable)

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Must I Go av Yiyun Li. Design Gray318 och Richard Bravery (Hamish Hamilton)

David Pearson har designat omslagen till tre Camus-klassiker utgivna av Penguin editions: The PlagueThe Outsider, and The Fall. Det kan mycket väl vara årets allra snyggaste eller mest eleganta omslag.

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The Vanishing Half av Brit Bennett. Design Lauren Peters-Collaer (Riverhead)

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The Death of Vivek Oji av Akwaeke Emezi. Design Grace Han (Riverhead)

Prosper’s Demon av K. J. Parker. Design Christine Foltzer, art Sam Weber (Tor.com)

I Hold a Wolf By the Ears av Laura van den Berg. Design Na Kim (FSG)

Homie av Danez Smith. Design Carlos Esparza (Graywolf Press)

Antkind av Charlie Kaufman. Design Tyler Comrie (Random House)

Fraternity av Benjamin Nugent. Design Rodrigo Corral, text Michael Schmelling (Farrar, Straus & Giroux)

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Wicked Enchantment av Wanda Coleman. Design Rachel Willey (Black Sparrow Press)

The Aosawa Murders av Riku Onda. Design Eleanor Rose (Bitter Lemon Press)

David Pearson har gjort en ny, helt fantastisk design till John le Carrés George Smiley-romaner. Designen är gjord i samarbete med Nick Asbury, och är, med sin tydliga 60-talsstil, en av årets höjdpunkter.

Night, Sleep, Death, the Stars av Joyce Carol Oates. Design Jamie Keenan (Fourth Estate) Ytterligare ett omslag som är något utöver det vanliga.

Real Queer America av Samantha Allen. Design Lucy Kim (Back Bay Books)

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You Exist Too Much av Zaina Arafat. Design Nicole Caputo (Dialogue Books)

Ola Wihlke

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Under Bokomslag bilder och foto, Listor

10 snygga röda bokomslag

Industries of the Future design Jason Heuer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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