Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Full Black: A Thriller

By Brad Thor

Art Director: Alan Dingman // Atria Books / Simon & Schuster

#1 New York Times bestselling author Brad Thor brings readers his darkest and most intriguing thriller yet — a terrifying story of espionage and betrayal — brilliantly paced with superb nonstop action.

Born in the shadows and kept from heads of state, there are some missions so deadly, so sensitive, that they simply don’t exist. When one such mission goes horribly wrong, a wave of dramatic terrorist attacks is set in motion. Their goal: the complete and total collapse of the United States.

With the CIA’s intelligence abilities hobbled, former Navy SEAL Team 6 member turned covert counterterrorism operative Scot Harvath launches an audacious plan to infiltrate the terrorists’ network and prevent one of the biggest threats the United States has ever faced.

Simultaneously, a foreign wet work team has been sent to California. Their target: one of Hollywood’s most famous filmmakers. While working on a secret documentary project, movie producer Larry Salomon has unknowingly exposed one of the world’s wealthiest and most politically connected powerbrokers — a man with a radical anti-American agenda poised to plunge the nation into deadly, irreversible chaos.

As the plots rocket to their pulse-pounding conclusion and the identities of the perpetrators are laid stunningly bare, Harvath will be left with only one means to save America. Unable to trust anyone, he will be forced to go Full Black.
Intense and frighteningly realistic, FULL BLACK is, hands down, Brad Thor’s most riveting thriller to date.

Alan Dingman is a fantastic portrait painter / illustrator and an Art Director/Designer at Simon & Schuster Pocket Books. We both worked together at St. Martin’s Press oh so many years ago and I recently hired him to illustrate FAME: What the Classics Tell Us About Our Cult of Celebrity for me. He called me asking if I could recommend anyone new who could design BIG BOOK COMMERCIAL THRILLERS. I immediately recommended my super talented colleague Ervin Serrano, who is the Associate Art Director at St. Martin's Press. But for some reason, probably my competitive nature, I asked if I could take a stab at it. Now I don’t do many BIG COMMERCIAL BOOK packaging but I told him that I wanted to do more and to give me a chance. I would try one quick go and if he didn’t like it, he could immediately hire someone else. Turns out that they were looking for a new approach to packaging their bestselling author Brad Thor so they were open to something different. What I thought I could offer this genre was a clean, and simple approach. I saw that the author and title were mostly short four letter words that would stack nicely. I had only one idea that I wanted to pursue, a dynamically angled typographic dominant approach.

My first round I tried the angled type set in Trade Gothic Bold Condensed and placed that over a foreboding Washington DC landscape with an ominous glow coming over the horizon. Hmm, that's not going to work. The type forms looked bad and the image was a bland cliché.

Alan sent me a link to a stock photo house that specialized in military type images and I changed the typeface to UNIVERS. Feedback: they thought the type was too playful but they liked the positive/negative interaction with type within the image:

I didn’t want to give up on the angled type. Maybe it was the typeface and not the angle treatment that they had problems with. Maybe the rounded curves of the UNIVERS “R” looked too friendly and the negative spaces were too open and generous and the widths uneven. I like that the “F” filled out the negative space better and the forms were more even. But it felt kinda bland.

Trade Gothic Condensed:

Univers Condensed:

Akzidenzs Grotesk:

Various Akzidenzs Grotesk Angled type configurations:

When I switched to AKZIDENZ GROTESK, I saw that this was more of what I was going for. Even sides, sharper corners and even type color overall. I tried comps using different angle configurations but they went with the type set straight forward, which in the end, I did have to agree with. Hey, I had to try the angle.

It was a challenge positioning the image and type to interact so that the figure's action made sense through the type and still have the type be legible. With each version I tried, I wanted to make sure that the word BLACK stayed mainly all black and create some calm space on the cover that wasn't so active. For something so simple, I presented over 60+ image & color combos, which isn't much considering that BIG BOOK projects can generate 100s and 100s of comps and the hiring of several designers. Big Books = Big Expectations.

The final silhouette had to be adjusted slightly to make it less militaristic and more Black Ops. Here's the final approved design before we Chisel Embossed it up:

I was so happy that the Publisher and author liked this approach off the bat which was a nice surprise. Using genre elements of big type, big author and a silhouetted figure against bright colored background but in a simple, clean and direct way. Good for an ongoing series look. And the book is currently on the New York Times Bestsellers List. Even though Brad Thor is no stranger to the Best Seller list, I like to think that my design had a small part in setting him up to new readers.

Brad AD sighting on the LIRR:

(photograph by Patrice Kaplan)

Author Brad Thor on Piers Morgan Tonight / CNN with my jacket in the background:

CNN Video: Author Brad Thor on the Norway terror attacks:

Designer Paul Bacon is known for introducing the "Big Book Look" in book jacket design. His 1956 jacket design for Compulsion, a novel by Meyer Levin marked the inception of the "Big Book Look". This look features a large, bold title, a prominent author's name, and a small conceptual image:

“The big book look,” by Field Maloney / The New York Times Book Review, February 11, 2007:

The St. Martin's Press "Blues Crew" Art Depts. We were such non-conformist back then.

Left to Right: Evan Gaffney, Junie Lee, Alan Dingman, Judith Stagnitto Abbate, Henry Sene Yee, & Jennifer Chiorazzi

Thursday, August 11, 2011

By Nightfall

by Michael Cunningham // Picador

Cover photograph by Plain Picture / Jeff Spielman

A New York Times Bestseller

Peter and Rebecca Harris, midforties, are prosperous denizens of Manhattan. He’s an art dealer, she’s an editor. They live well. They have their troubles—their ebbing passions, their wayward daughter, and certain doubts about their careers—but they feel as though they’re happy. Happy enough. Until Rebecca’s much younger, look-alike brother, Ethan (known in the family as Mizzy, short for the Mistake), comes to visit. And after he arrives, nothing will ever be the same again.

This poetic and compelling masterpiece is a heartbreaking look at a marriage and the way we now live. Full of shocks and aftershocks, By Nightfall is a novel about the uses and meaning of beauty, and the place of love in our lives.


For the previous Cunningham titles I designed, The Hours, Flesh and Blood, Specimen Days, and Laws of Creations, I had an unintentional floral motif going on. Like a vine, visually tying them all together. So I originally approach this book in the same way. I hired Marc Yankus to photograph this idea for me. A flower arrangement on an apartment window overlooking the SOHO neighborhood outside. Although pretty, it wasn't the right tone for the book:

I found this previously shot image on Marc's website. Although it connected with the storyline, we didn't want to suggest that this was a gay novel. Plus, it had already been used on another cover:

We then wanted to get a sense of the city at night. Not any specific neighborhood but more dream like. To suggest getting lost and searching for something. I tried using one of my photographs but it was too vague:

Approved comp:

Everyone loved this chosen image. Right before it went to the printers, I had to add a New York Times Bestseller to the front. It gave me a moment to rethink my original type solution which bugged me. The serifs were too thin and quiet and I wanted it to interact with the image more. So first, I changed all my type to the beautiful Archer, and then centered and anchored it to the red traffic light. I decided to pivot the entire type block on a slight counter clockwise rotation to match the slight skew of the photo's horizon line and positioned it uncomfortably tight to the top. Just to make it not so perfect. Everyone has been so kind to warn me that the type is crooked on the cover.
Thanks, but it's a designer's thing. I hope you understand.

Michael Cunningham & James Franco Meet: Part I of III

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Humiliation: BIG IDEAS // small books

by Wayne Koestenbaum

BIG IDEAS // small books / A Picador Paperback Original

Cover photographs by Jon Shireman

Wayne Koestenbaum considers the meaning of humiliation in this eloquent work of cultural critique and personal reflection.

The lives of people both famous and obscure are filled with scarlet-letter moments when their dirty laundry sees daylight. In these moments we not only witness the reversibility of “success,” of prominence, but also come to visceral terms with our own vulnerable selves. We can’t stop watching the scene of shame, identifying with it and absorbing its nearness, and relishing our imagined immunity from its stain, even as we acknowledge the universal, embarrassing predicament of living in our own bodies. With an unusual, disarming blend of autobiography and cultural commentary, noted poet and critic Wayne Koestenbaum takes us through a spectrum of mortifying circumstances—in history, literature, art, current events, music, film, and his own life. His generous disclosures and brilliant observations go beyond prurience to create a poetics of abasement. Inventive, poignant, erudite, and playful, Humiliation plunges into one of the most disquieting of human experiences, with reflections at once emboldening and humane.

Alternate Comps:

HUMILIATION is not just shame hidden inside you but it's shame that is witnessed by others. Public shame.

So my initial ideas with my talented Big Idea series photographer Jon Shireman was the face covered-up from embarrassment and the Pants with pee stain. I think the rhythm of the fingers looked great but I loved the pee stain idea. Very simple and funny. But it was thought too crass for a book cover. So we went with a diary of guarded secrets that looks like someone is desperately trying to get to.

I remember one of my many public humiliation experiences that involved a Best Man speech I once gave. The night before, I took careful consideration to write down onto four pages of tightly handwritten pages every heart felt, funny anecdotes of my history with my best friend. At the reception with my moment at hand, I got up and took out my pages of notes from my tuxedo inside pocket. Everyone got to their feet and raised their glasses up high and I suddenly realized that this speech was going to be at least 5 minutes long. With everyone staring at me, I had to edit my speech down in real time. I rambled and scrambled and muttered and sputtered incoherently. Stories led nowhere, jokes weren't funny. In front of me I saw glaring faces turn from happy expectation to confusion followed by pained pity, boredom and cocktail arm strain. I finally salvaged it with the only winner I could think of, "And may they have many offsprings!" Hear, Hear! Glasses clinking. I stuck the landing. I slowly slunk backwards to the bar and tried to hide my public humiliation in a Tequila Sunrise. ouch. But I couldn't hide for long. The Bride & Groom sandwiched me in the biggest love hug of happy tears. Hey, I guess that speech wasn't THAT bad.

Humiliation Book Trailers: