Wednesday, April 15, 2009


by Eric Kraft // A Picador Paperback Original

Cover photograph by Scott Nobles
Plane blueprint illustration on Back Cover by Philip Earl Pascuzzo

Critics have compared Eric Kraft to Proust, Pynchon, and Fred Astaire—an artful, slyly intelligent, wildly inventive observer of Americana. Now Eric Kraft has landed an ambitious comedy set both in our present and in an alternative 1950s universe—Flying.

It is the tail end of the 1950s, and in the town of Babbington, New York, a young dreamer named Peter Leroy has set out to build a flying motorcycle, using a design ripped from the pages of Impractical Craftsman magazine. This two-wheeled wonder will carry him not only to such faraway places as New Mexico and the Summer Institute in Mathematics, Physics, and Weaponry, but deep into the heart of commercialized American culture, and return him to Babbington a hero. More than forty years later, as Babbington is about to rebuild itself as a theme park commemorating his historic flight, Peter must return home to set the record straight, and confess that his flight did not match the legend that it inspired.

Author Eric Kraft has always been our undiscovered gem. We had previously published over five titles in another series based around his character Peter Leroy. Like his stories, the books were packaged around retro and nostalgia. They were all Illustrated beautifully and whimsically by collage artist Marty Blake and were designed in a visually connective series format. But for some reason they didn't sell as well as we hoped. And when books don't sell, it's usually blamed on the jacket. But when they do well, the jacket had nothing to do with it. But that's another story.

All illustrations by Marty Blake // All designs by Henry Sene Yee

For his latest series Flying, it was published as a planned trilogy with the first two books already released in hardcover by St. Martin's Press. To give the books more attention, it was decided to skip the release of the third book as a hardcover and publish all three as a one volume original paperback book instead. And repackage it with a new look that didn't rely on retro and nostalgia. I wanted to strip all that away. Make it clean and take the focus off of the objects in the character's past and instead place the emphasis on the emotions of the character. The main character is a Big Dreamer. He builds a plane in his garage out of junkyard scraps and repurposed motorcycle parts until he finally takes flight and reaches for his dreams amongst the clouds...or does he?

The book made me think of the Terry Gilliam movie, BRAZIL. The visuals and the nihilistic Orwellian tones left an impression on me when I first saw it. I remembered the dream sequence where Jonathan Pryce's character escapes his oppressive life and sees himself as an armored angel flying through clouds. Up there he sees his love interest floating ethereally amongst the clouds. I thought this scene resonated with the book and man's state of mind. The images of clean, billowy clouds and blue skies. A future seen through Steampunk sensibilities.

I pictured a plane taking flight through these idealized dreamy clouds, going off page until you just see its tail section. When you followed it onto the spine and back cover, you saw that it wasn't flying, but resting on cinder blocks on a hilltop. Showing that this plane never really got off the ground. I've been wanting to work with photographer Scott Nobles for some time. While talking over the concept, the original idea of the front end of the plane resting on a hill would be difficult to visualized. The angle was wrong. It would end up looking as if it crashed into the hill instead of resting on it. Looking through Scott's website, I saw that he worked with ephemera and paper as textures in his photos. We came up with the idea that the back cover, that represented the reality, would work as a blueprint. This would also put across that it was a dream that was never realized past the planning stage. Plus, it would carry the conceptual themes from front to back. Plane to plan, blue skies with white clouds to blueprints with white lines. I decided that we could use some retro as long as we kept it to the back. Scott found some model planes online and I hired Phil Pascuzzo to create the plane schematics and it all came together nicely.

Wraparound French Flap with Rough Front Paperback:

Scott's Test Shots:

Model Plane:

Phil's Blueprint Drawing:

Scott's Alternate Clouds.

These clouds had a great mood. But I wanted them to be clumpy and tangible. I thought that would better suggest graspable dreams than an overall, even spread of puffery. And I also wanted to have some groups of clouds so that I could interact with the title type.

Wednesday, April 08, 2009

The Terror Dream

by Susan Faludi // Picador

Illustration by Andrea Dezsö

This New York Times Op-Ed piece, America's Guardian Myth written by the author Susan Faludi explains the book better than I can.

NY Public Library Picture Collection

This was a difficult subject to package. I wanted to focus on one aspect of the book and I chose the "Heroic Cowboy" myth. Where women needed men's protection and men were able to provide it. This was the turning point where America's persona was formed. I thought using a classic John Wayne pose as a silhouette would be an arresting image. But it was determined that it wasn't saying enough of what the book was about. It had to look epic and expansive. The only way to portray the story that my Publisher wanted was to depict the entire history with multiple images. From Pre-Revolutionary America where homesteads were attacked, the women kidnapped with nothing that the men could do to protect them. To the growing myth of the cowboy savior, hopeful stories of the cowboy defeating the Indians and protecting the women, to the resurgence of that ideal in Post-9/11 America and heroic rescue of Private Lynch. But this was beginning to sound like a recipe for image/story overload.

My first device to contain all of these ideas was to create a shadow box or diorama of these scenes. Looking through them as if we were peering through history. I had recently seen the Kara Walker exhibition at the Whitney Museum and I was blown away by her animated shadow puppet films. So graphic and full of energy. I had started seeing Illustrator Andrea Dezsö work around in magazines and went to her web site. The range of her visual expression was amazing. She had the technique, style and flow that I thought would be perfect in telling this complex story in a simpler form.
I called her up and it turned out that she was already familiar with the book because she had illustrated the author's New York Times Op-Ed piece. So from the start, I felt confident about the two of us tackling this project together.
After several brainstorming discussions, we soon scrapped the idea of a dimensional picture box because it was unnecessarily complicated and decided to try this on one level.

Below are Andrea's sketches and her email comments.

Andrea: I did a layered composition where the layers represent time periods from the past (top) to the present (bottom). The top shows different versions of the "fight with the indians" story. In some scenes the cowboy is the rescuer in others the cowboy is huddling behind the tree and the woman fights.
The bottom layer refers to the Jessica Lynch rescue fiction by US
Special troops.

Me: Beautiful! But too busy and too much story to figure out. Let's edit it down and concentrate on just 3 aspects.

Andrea: (Top): women fight indians (I took the guys out from here because I wanted to concentrate on the bravery of women and show them in an unusual way as fighters also to contrast that image more with the ones where men rescue women) (Middle): Cowboy myth--cowboy rescues woman (Bottom): GIs rescue Jessica Lynch reference or the contemporary myth.
I think the images can go as one continuous block or be cut into 3 scenes however it would fit your typography better. I LOVE the stark stripped-down to the essence black and white idea:

Me: The Jessica Lynch/hospital bed story isn't coming across. I don't want to include the burning twin towers. But in the end, this was the terrible moment that President Bush used to justify his actions. So let's try fitting that in:

Me: It works, but please remove the 2nd plane.

The sketches were then photographed to suggest the original diorama box idea and to feel like a nightmare seen through a television:

Alternate comps:

Too small on the page.

Nice but too ghostly and wintery.

The final cover was printed as a 4/C over Metallic Silver Ink, PMS 877 with Glossy Film Lamination.

Authors@Google presents Susan Faludi // September 11, 2008

Thursday, April 02, 2009

Designing a Book Cover: 101

Designing a Book Cover-101 from Henry Yee on Vimeo.

(Click on the link DESIGNING A BOOK COVER-101 to go to the Vimeo site to view a larger, higher-res version)

Back in early 2001, I was asked to give a presentation to our Sales Department at the St. Martin's Press / Picador Sales Conference to describe very simply, what went into designing a book cover. I chose the topic of working with different types of art. Showing one example each of working with an illustrator, a photographer and creating artwork myself. Since this was done in 2001, you'll notice I made note of the use of the emerging new technologies that were starting to change the way we did things. Sketches sent to me electronically via email, Using eBay and the Internet as a source for research, taking portraits using a digital camera instead of shooting on film for instant viewing and cost savings, and retouching digitally. This was also the first time I used PowerPoint and I enjoyed working with the different ways you could transition between one element to the next to convey the story. Although in exporting the PowerPoint as a movie, I lost many of the subtle scene shifts. So I'm presenting it as is. It may be a little hard to follow without me narrating. But you'll get the general idea. I added the music to fill in the dead space.

Cover 01: DOUBLE TROUBLE by Greil Marcus / Illustrated by Steven Stines
Cover 02: TRIALS OF THE MONKEY by Matthew Chapman / Photo-illustration by Daniel Lee
Cover 03: DARLING? by Heidi Jon Schmidt / Illustrated by Henry Sene Yee