Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Charles Jessold, Considered as a Murderer

by Wesley Stace // A Picador Paperback Original

England, 1923. A gentleman critic named Leslie Shepherd tells the macabre story of a gifted young composer, Charles Jessold. On the eve of his revolutionary new opera’s premiere, Jessold murders his wife and her lover, and then commits suicide in a scenario that strangely echoes the plot of his opera---which Shepherd has helped to write. The opera will never be performed.

Shepherd first shares his police testimony, then recalls his relationship with Jessold in his role as critic, biographer, and friend. And with each retelling of the story, significant new details cast light on the identity of the real victim in Jessold’s tragedy.

This ambitiously intricate novel is set against a turbulent moment in music history, when atonal sounds first reverberated through the concert halls of Europe, just as the continent readied itself for war. What if Jessold’s opera was not only a betrayal of Shepherd, but of England as well?

Wesley Stace has crafted a dazzling story of counter-melodies and counter-narratives that will keep you guessing to the end.

A wonderfully layered novel with lot of plot pieces that could easily lead to a kitchen sink design approach. In order to rein it in, I needed to reduce it to its essential story elements:
1. Three intertwining main characters (Love Triangle)
2. Music (English specifically) and
3. Mystery (Historical)

I thought using an 8th Note Triplet musical note would be a nice symbol to suggest a story of three linked characters. And printing it on an aged distressed letter to say historical setting. But I needed to bring out the music aspect more so using sheet music came to mind.

I originally started with the classic Schirmer's Library Piano Sheet Music:

But I was informed that Schirmer's sheet music was not accurate for a novel about English music. A rival sheet music library, Edition Peters would be a better choice. The author's mother sent me several JPEGs of her music collection as reference.

A few had wonderful typographic solutions to possibly play off on:

But I went with this one because I had enough elements and wanted to keep my cover simple:

I didn't want to lift their look exactly so I found a similar frame in one of my favorite copyright-free Dover book of frames and borders, BORDERS, FRAMES AND DECORATIVE MOTIFS: from the 1862 Derriey Typographic Catalog by Charles Derriey:

I overlaid the design on some burnt sheets of paper to give it a sense of distress and foul play. To give the faux cover some added depth, I used snippets of the music score composed expressly for this novel underneath. Bar 140 specifically because of the line "the victim." Although in the final design, the lyrics were covered up.

Opening title page of the score, "On Murder, Considered as a Fine Art: a suite for soprano with harpsichord, flute and cello" by Wesley Stace/Thomas De Quincey:

Bar 135-140:

Previous Directions
An Old Love Letter:

A Musical Score:

Damaged by Bullet Holes:

Final full Paperback Cover with French Flaps:

Eugene Mirman's hilarious interview with Wesley Stace for Picador Paperbacks:


Ian Koviak said...

great work. Love the triple note thing. It's subtle, but you are forced to see it. The wrap of the full jacket is nice too. great continuity.

It's funny, but it's only in the full jacket that I notice that it is the cover that is burned and not the music sheet that then reveals some sort of cover underneath. Optical illusion.

Gary Day-Ellison said...

Like it!

Elisabeth said...

Hi Henry! Lovely cover!
And fun to see that we have made something quite related! I did the cover for a novel called "Enmannsorkester" (One Man Orchestra) and the author (who is also a composer) wanted a cover that looked like as similar to the Beethoven score you posted as possible, as the whole novel is a collection of different stories tied together by a piece of music.

You can see the finished cover here:


Steve Cooley said...

Very cool Henry. How long do you typically get to compose (no pun intended) a jacket like this?

And how many titles are you simultaneously working on at any given time?

I'm just curious...

H3NR7 said...

Thanks Steve.

It's hard to quantify how long a project takes. In general 2-3 weeks to develop several concepts where every idea is a possibility. But once I present it and get positive feedback for a specific approach, it's pretty much refined and done that day or within the week. But I usually like to put it aside and marinate the concept and refine it little by little, chipping away, sometimes adding but mostly removing elements or replacing with better forms of the elements. I love the detailing part. Subtle changes in type sizes, positioning and spaces between elements, contrast of size and values, and color shifts. If that choice stays is determined by whether it expands on my concept or diminishes it. And throughout this process, always keeping the emotion of the piece in the forefront. For Picador, I have the benefit of working on it on my time by the catalog deadline or sales conference. And even right up the time it goes to the printers. For freelance, I have probably have 3 weeks at most to complete it with fewer chances to refine it. Although in my work process, it's the concept stage that takes 90% of the time. I'm able to execute the concept pretty quickly. But the idea still needs polish for it to shine. It's the refining stage where it transform into something special. Hopefully. And I'll take and use all the time I can get.

On any given time, I'm working on anywhere from 10-20 designs at a time myself. But design is actually the smallest part of my daily responsibilities. My day is filled with meetings, art directing others, emails, production, research, meeting new artist, contracts, meetings, lunch, coffee breaks, sharing ideas, discussing The Jersey Shore, determining where to drink after work and finding things to photograph. etc

Steve Cooley said...

Really informative description of your process Henry. I wish I still had 10 - 20 designs that were in my lap at a given time. Although I don't miss the endless meetings and the rest of the busy work.

These days I'm lucky to have 3 or 4 covers to work on. It seems like the work is just drying up.