Thursday, December 17, 2009

Wandering Souls

by Wayne Karlin

Art Director: Nicole Caputo // Nation Books / Perseus Books

On March 19, 1969, First Lieutenant Homer R. Steedly, Jr., shot and killed a North Vietnamese soldier, Dam, when they met on a jungle trail. Steedly took a diary—filled with beautiful line drawings—from the body of the dead soldier, which he subsequently sent to his mother for safekeeping. Thirty-five years later, Steedly rediscovers the forgotten dairy and begins to confront his suppressed memories of the war that defined his life, deciding to return to Viet Nam and meet the family of the man he killed to seek their forgiveness. Fellow veteran and award-winning author Wayne Karlin accompanied Steedly on his remarkable journey. In Wandering Souls he recounts Homer’s movement towards a recovery that could only come about through a confrontation with the ghosts of his past—and the need of Dam’s family to bring their child’s “wandering soul” to his own peace. Wandering Souls limns the terrible price of war on soldiers and their loved ones, and reveals that we heal not by forgetting war’s hard lessons, but by remembering its costs.

For freelance clients, I'm just required to design the front and spine and the rest is handled in-house. If I have time, I try to design the entire package. But this time I was swamped. Alyssa Stepien, Nicole's Design Assistant, did a great job taking my design and reinterpreting it for the entire package. Thanks Alyssa.

Alternate sketches:

Monday, December 14, 2009

Think Twice

by Michael J. Mauboussin

Art Director: Stephani Finks // Harvard Business Press

Usually I'm walking on thin ice when my type is illegible. But in this case, illegibility was used to make the reader read / think twice.

Alternate takes:

Friday, December 11, 2009


by Richard Price // Picador

Cover photograph by Bruce Davidson / Magnum Photos

Eighteen-year-old Stony De Coco has to make a choice: either join his father in the tightly knit world of New York's construction unions or take off and find his own path. But Stony’s family is not about to make that choice easy. As he tries to protect his little brother, Albert, from their dangerously unbalanced mother, and to postpone the difficult adult responsibilities that await him, he finds hope in a job working with children at a hospital--a job that promises not to make anyone happy but Stony.

Richard Price's Bloodbrothers is a soulful and often profane story of working-class life in the Bronx, and one young man's bruising initiation into adulthood.

Early Sketches focusing on Co-Op City:


by Richard Price // Picador

Cover photograph © Susan Meiselas / Magnum Photos

CLOCKERS by Richard Price


Rocco Klein is a Dempsy, NJ homicide detective six months from retirement in the opening pages of Clockers. Dempsy, NJ is a lost, desolate place, full of slums hemorrhaging drugs, specifically crack. Strike, the second main character, is the crack dealer. He overseas his host of minions—his clockers—but not without undue stress. His profession makes him nervous and he doubts whether it is truly for him. His boss, the drug kingpin Rodney Little, sees it another way. This sets the stage for the event that catapults Rocco Klein and Strike toward each other. A murder occurs outside a fast food restaurant. Instead of Strike stepping forward, his brother, Victor, admits guilt claiming he did it in self defense. Klein of course does not buy the confession and the pursuit of Strike and Rodney Little begins.

The story is told from the perspectives of both Rocco Klein and Strike, alternating chapters as the novel moves through the grime and grit of slummy NJ. Each character has a distinct view of the world they live in. On the whole, this lets Price create two different worlds within one, a layered city, with each layer utterly connected.

I’d have to say this book is geared toward a predominantly male audience.

The tone is desperate and violent. Every line spoken, every description suggests violence in one way or another. “The New York skyline had begun to bruise purple.”
The language is aggressive and direct. Everything is meant to cut someone else in some way, emotionally, physically. It’s a hard environment and Price paints the picture of Armageddon, the last days over Dempsy, NJ.

Compare this book to all the gritty cop dramas that were once good. NYPD Blue in its beginning days. The Wire (which Price writes for). It’s smart and fast paced. Homicide: A Year in the Killing Streets by David Simon

The language is what makes this book different. Price’s prose clips along. Every character is cunning or done for, and there is a clear line between both. The crack dealers he is portraying are smart, know the game, know the cops, know their clientele. The cops know the clockers, and watch the city and its dismal surroundings, like crooks themselves.

Notable imagery: Strike drinks vanilla Yoo-hoo to nurse and calm his ailing stomach.
Handcuffs. The slums, the endless maze of brick housing projects. The corners, parking lots and concrete yards where clockers know to set up shop. Police interrogation rooms. Crack viles. Beepers or pagers.

Early Sketches:

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Sixties: BIG IDEAS // small books

by Jenny Diski
BIG IDEAS // small books / A Picador Paperback Original
A brilliant, alternative take on 1960's swinging London, Jenny Diski offers radical reconsiderations of the social, political, and personal meaning of that turbulent era.

What was Jenny Diski doing in the 1960's? A lot: Dropping out, taking drugs, buying clothes, having sex, demonstrating, and spending time in mental hospitals. Now, as Diski herself turns sixty years old, she examines what has been lost in the purple haze of nostalgia and selective memory of that era, what endures, and what has always been the same. From the vantage point of London, she takes stock of the Sexual Revolution, the fashion, the drug culture, and the psychiatric movements and education systems of the day. What she discovers is that the ideas of the sixties often paved the way for their antithesis, and that by confusing liberation and libertarianism, a new kind of radicalism would take over both in the UK and America. Witty, provocative, and gorgeously written, Jenny Diski promises to feed your head with new insights about everything that was, and is, the sixties.

Once you create a series look, you can get handcuffed by it.
For the BIG IDEAS // small books series, photographer Jon Shireman and I had set up a single image conceptual approach, stripped down to its visual essence with a limited color palette around the conceit that the book itself was physically experiencing the BIG IDEA of that book.
This book was not about the 60s as it was experienced in America but in England. So I had to find some way to distinguish this aspect. Without the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War to draw upon, I saw that 60s London was more about external cultural changes. Mod fashion styles, ala Austin Powers. I did some research on Mod culture, Carnaby Street fashions, groovy industrial designs, tie-dye, abstract trippy art and saw that all of those approaches demanded an explosion of colors. Which was a possible problem. This direction might be too colorful to fit in with the established look of the series.

I needed to say UK and the Mod culture of the 60s. I thought of taking the British Flag aka The Union Jack, and tie dyeing it would be a smart combination of the two. Jon had an all-white flag created from cloth and we experimented with just using the flag's blue and red colors. But it wasn't working as well as I thought and there was too much color scattered all around.

Maybe if I tried breaking it into segments to contain the colors. But it still wasn't clicking. BOLLOCKS!

Forget the tie-dye and work in a peace sign instead.

PISS POOR Attempt!

Maybe a more graphic approach. I tried to find relationship patterns between the angles of the peace sign and Union Jack. For a good moment I thought this would be it!


Maybe I should go full out and just commit to using a multi-colored tie-dye pattern to make it recognizable:

BLIMEY! It was too much color and breaking away from the series look. And they all abandoned the simple and original conceit that the books were experiencing the author's idea.

Jon and I brainstormed some more and ended our conversation with absolutely no ideas or direction. We decided to talk again at a later date when minds were fresh. So I hung up and stepped out of my office door and then it hit me. BUTTONS! Growing up in the 80s and hanging out in the East Village of NYC, it was the style to personalize our jackets with objects of our affection/affectation. Our jackets were covered with favorite band logos, bandanas, patches, safety pins, store buttons like CANAL JEANS, FLIP and Trash and Vaudeville and hand-painted back panels and sleeves. I thought that this would allow me to include many of the eclectic ideas of the 60s by representing them in a button and pining it on a clean white Union Jack. e.g. model Jean Shrimpton, peace sign, rock music, drug use, paisley. I saw plenty of 60s political button art but they probably didn't use buttons like this in their 60s fashion. But still, I like that this approach kept the monochromatic color scheme of the series. Maybe the flag could be a white denim jacket. And used colors only as added dashes of accents. I also liked that it was applied onto the flag and removable. Implying that these were fashionable trends of the moment that you can pick and choose and add to yourself and remove when you were over it. I'm not sure if this is the best solution but I was glad I was able to bend the visual closer to the series original intent and tone.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

The Value of Nothing

by Raj Patel // A Picador Paperback Original

"A deeply thought-provoking book about the dramatic changes we must make to save the planet from financial madness." —Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine

Opening with Oscar Wilde's observation that "nowadays, people know the price of everything and the value of nothing," Patel shows how our faith in prices as a way of valuing the world is misplaced. He reveals the hidden ecological and social costs of a hamburger (as much as $200), and asks how we came to have markets in the first place. Both the corporate capture of government and our current financial crisis, Patel argues, are a result of our democratically bankrupt political system.

If part one asks how we can rebalance society and limit markets, part two answers by showing how social organizations, in America and around the globe, are finding new ways to describe the world's worth. If we don't want the market to price every aspect of our lives, we need to learn how such organizations have discovered democratic ways in which people, and not simply governments, can play a crucial role in deciding how we might share our world and its resources in common.

This short, timely and inspiring book reveals that our current crisis is not simply the result of too much of the wrong kind of economics. While we need to rethink our economic model, Patel argues that the larger failure beneath the food, climate and economic crises is a political one. If economics is about choices, Patel writes, it isn't often said who gets to make them. The Value of Nothing offers a fresh and accessible way to think about economics and the choices we will all need to make in order to create a sustainable economy and society.

Arun Gupta: You contend that the actual price of a $4 Big Mac should be $200. What are the real costs of that hamburger?
Raj Patel: The Center for Science and Environment in India tried a few years ago to figure out the true cost of a hamburger. Assuming that it was raised on pasture that was once rainforest, the ecological services provided by that rainforest, the loss of diversity, carbon sequestration, water cycling, fuel and tropical product sources, among many other things, the cost would come to $200. The U.S. food industry has huge hidden costs, from the agricultural run-off that causes a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico to the cultural destruction wrought by the “Western” diet. There are also huge health costs associated with poor diet — in 2007, $174 billion was spent in the U.S. caring for people with diabetes — as well as the public funds that support the industrial food system.

Cheap food is “cheat food.” There are all kinds of costs that are externalized from the price we pay at the checkout. We pay those costs one way or another — but the food companies don’t. Merely having a system of free markets with accurate prices still doesn’t address the underlying issues of poverty and disenfranchisement.
—from The Ideology of Hope: An Interview with Raj Patel
By Arun Gupta | From the November 20, 2009 issue of The Indypendent

The hamburger analogy was my original approach. The concept was to show the hidden cost of a hamburger. When you bite into it, you're contributing to the cost of land, transportation, fuel, global warming, heart disease, health care cost, etc. I thought a burger made out of representative icons of all of these cost areas sandwiched between hamburger buns would put the idea across. I also used bright colors to suggest fast food.

Initial concept sketch:

To make a quick mock up of my concept for presentation, I used the icons from the poster of Gary Hustwit's documentary OBJECTIFIED.

{ My signed postcard by Gary when I saw him and his documentary at the IFC Center.}

I hired illustrator Daniel Pelavin to flesh out my idea. These were still in initial sketch stage:

My Publisher liked it but thought it was emphasizing too much on one specific part of the book. I was asked to broaden the idea to bring to the forefront the economic aspects of the book and somehow show the vague idea of "value". And it had a "call to action". More big poster and immediate in feel. Hmmm. I decided to illustrate the title. Making "Nothing" out of "Something." A BIG FAT ZERO made up of phrases and World currency symbols. To further the idea of "nothing", I planned on blind embossing the letters so that it was black on black. I imagined the texture looking like a garlic/ginger grater. I set the type at a very small 4 points to form a smoother zero. But it was difficult to read and the blind emboss would never read on Amazon. So I simplified it to just using the US "$", increased the point size and dropped the idea of blind embossed and printed the letters in silver ink. The final cover prints in super glossy lamination with 2 hits of dense, rich black; metal tone silver ink for the small type and uses one of my favorite bright printing colors:

Lime Green PMS 375.

Earlier comps when the tentative title was ANTON'S BLINDNESS

This idea was to put price tags/values on things that were considered priceless and not for sale. The sun, sky, trees. But I couldn't make the tags work in an elegant way. I also tried a barcode but got bored of that approach.

ANTON'S BLINDNESS is a neurological condition in which loss of sight is accompanies by an insistence and a belief that the patient can see. One of the key symptoms is the complicated confabulations needed to explain accidents that result of in fact being blind. We are like those patients in our blind belief in the free market and its accomplice prices. Why even now are we making complicated excuses for the failure of free market capitalism? As we witness the continuing financial and economic crisis, economist and activist Raj Patel asks us to consider why things cost what they do, and how we reclaim both the market and democracy.

Book trailer: