Here’s a recent job that involved designing and illustrating the cover for a soon-to-be-published American horror anthology edited by Mort Castle and published by Wicker Park Press. It’s a little different from the more whimsical style I usually work in, so I was looking forward to taking a crack at it.
The assignment was to do something appropriately creepy but work in the Americana aspect somehow. I came up with up a few sketches, and though I kind of liked the idea of doing a needlepoint sampler with the suggestion of a skull and some macabre folk-art images, it was decided that we should go with something iconic and stark, so we settled on a weathervane topped with a ghostly raven.
It took a couple tries to get the silhouette looking OK, though the skeleton isn’t quite accurate, but I was more concerned with an impression than getting the anatomy right and with enough fog, I could cover up the fact that I’m no ornithologist.
It was a fun project and I look forward to the year 2020 and volume two.
This week’s announced closing of Borders Bookstores leaves just one remaining major U.S. brick-and-mortar bookseller, Barnes & Noble. Within the past year, one independent (or as their awning states..FIERCELY independent) bookstore in Oak Park, IL, The Book Table, has witnessed the closing of two of its rivals, Borders and Barbara’s Bookstore, both within a block of their store. But husband and wife Book Table owners Jason Smith and Rachel Weaver view it as a solemn occasion rather than a cause for celebration.
I asked Jason about their business and the outlook for the future of independent bookstores:
Q: How have you managed to survive when others around you have gone under recently?
Jason: I think our biggest strength is that we have two owners that are very involved in the day-to-day operations of the store. One or the other of us is always behind the counter. We’re able to respond to customers in ways that other stores aren’t and it allows us to be more involved in the community as a whole in a way that chain stores aren’t.
Q: You’ve cosponsored some very interesting guest lecturers at Oak Park’s Unity Temple, some of which I’ve blogged about. How did that series come about and how do you decide who to book and who would you most like to book for an appearance?
Jason: Writers at Wright is a partnership between The Book Table, Friends of the Oak Park Public Library, Unity Temple Restoration Foundation and Midwest Media. We came together because we felt there was a need to bring high quality authors to Oak Park and we thought Unity Temple is a perfect venue for them to showcase their talent. Midwest Media and The Book Table share the responsibility of booking authors. Since it’s a partnership, we all need to agree on the various authors. I have a list of my favorite authors and am very excited that one of them, Neal Stephenson, will be at Unity Temple in September. In the world of graphic novels, we’re very excited to have Daniel Clowes and Seth coming in October. Art Spiegelmanm and Craig Thompson are probably the two graphic novelists that I’d most like to have at Unity.
Q: Where do you see the book selling business heading in the next few years?
Jason: The book business is in flux right now and anyone that thinks they know what’s going to happen is just pretending. With Borders liquidating, this country is losing 6.2 million square feet of books display space. The big winner will be Amazon and eBooks. I think any industry that is dominated by one company isn’t a healthy industry and if that industry is selling ideas then it’s even more dangerous.
Q: What do you like best about Oak Park and your Lake Street location?
Jason: We’re constantly amazed by the feeling of community in Oak Park. We get to interact with so many amazing people every day at our counter and just walking down the street. We love the impromptu community meetings as people run into each other browsing in our store.
Q: Do you have a personal all-time favorite book or author?
Jason: My list of favorite authors is Haruki Murakami, Richard Powers, Neal Stephenson and David Foster Wallace. Rachel’s is John Ashbery, Kazuo Ishiguro, Audre Lorde, Sylvia Plath and Zadie Smith.
Thanks to Jason and Rachel for providing some insight into their livlihood. Please support them and other independent bookstores, which are becoming all too scarce in the current economy. And when you stop in, say “Hi” to Jason and Rachel and let them know you read about them here.
Last evening, as part of its Art & Design lecture series, Columbia College in downtown Chicago hosted a presentation by legendary book jacket designer and author Chip Kidd. If the term “rockstar” can be applied to graphic designers, he would certainly fit the bill. Though his name may not be familiar to those outside of the graphic arts, if you’ve been near a book store in the past couple of decades, chances are you’ve seen his work.
I arrived early which was good, since apparently word had spread on Twitter, and the place was filling up fast. After a short introduction by talented cartoonist and Columbia College faculty member Ivan Brunetti, Chip Kidd took the podium, sharply dressed as usual with a wide striped jacket and his trademark round glasses. The informal lecture was accompanied by a Powerpoint presentation featuring a number of case studies.
One of the earlier ones involved the designing of the dust jacket for Michael Crichton’s novel “Jurassic Park“. At the time, the film rights for the book had already been sold to Steven Spielberg, so Kidd’s instructions were to “think JAWS”, meaning that he should come up with an iconic image that could be repurposed for the film, in the same way that the image of the shark emerging from below was used on both the “Jaws” book and film poster. The now famous Tyrannosaurus skeleton image was inspired by a drawing from an old book purchased at the New York Natural History Museum. Kidd drew it with a Rapidograph pen on tracing paper and the image was used on the book cover and later as part of the movie poster and on countless merchandising tie-ins (apparently without any further compensation.)
Despite 25 sucessful years as a graphic designer, Kidd makes it clear that rejection is still part of the job. One of the most entertaining case studies centered around a cover design for “You Better Not Cry”, a collection of twisted Chistmas stories by Augusten Burroughs. Kidd had already designed several book covers for Burroughs and the subject seemed a perfect fit for his daring and subversive wit, but the project hit some snags. The first couple of ideas were rejected for either being too tame or too “mean” (One involved a ceramic Santa figurine carrying a sack full of G.I. Joe weaponry). Finally, after weeks of stagnation, the project was completed by the publisher’s in-house staff and featured a not-so-subtle rearview image of Santa exposing himself, which apparently was more in keeping with the publisher’s sensibilities.
Besides his work as a graphic designer, Chip Kidd is also the author of two satirical novels which have attained a devoted cult following. Seated behind me at the presentation was graphic novelist extraordinaire Chris Ware, who illustrated the cover for Kidd’s first book “The Cheese Monkeys“, centering around a graphic design student’s art school misadventures. His sequel, “The Learners” follows the main character, Happy, as he lands his first job at an ad agency. Both books are breezy, fun and convey the same wit and style as his book cover designs.
Many thanks to Columbia College for opening the event to the public and to Chip Kidd who kindly chatted and signed books and posters following the presentation.
Next up: Author Sarah Vowell at Oak Park’s Unity Temple
This is my second entry for author Steffan Postaer’s contest to come up with a cover design for his latest novel “Sweet by Design” which can be read in its entirety here. There are about sixty entries, many of which are very clever. While I usually don’t take part in “crowdsourcing” artwork, I thought the idea of rolling out a book by posting it online chapter by chapter was fun and different and I enjoyed the collaborative nature of the contest.
The book is a mostly light hearted “road trip” story, about a Chicago interior designer who, along with his faux fianceé, makes a visit to GreenBay, WI for his father’s 80th birthday party. It’s a fun story with good characters.
Steffan himself has just announced on his blog that he’s leaving his post as Chairman & Chief Creative Officer of Euro RSCG Chicago. Best of luck to him in his next venture.