Under the Covers is an ongoing series where we talk to book cover designers about the inspiration behind their work. For this feature, we interviewed Max Phillips, who designed the book cover for Stephen King's new novel, Joyland (you can also read an exclusive excerpt of Joyland here).
In your own words, what is this book about?
It's a carny novel, it's a novel about growing up, and, as you might expect, a novel about terror. All of us go through terrors growing up; in our hero's case, the terrors have an objective correlative in the person of a deranged killer. But there are also more insidious fears in life, and the book is also about a young man confronting some of those.
What was the mood, theme or specific moment from the text you depicted with this cover?
Our heroine wanted to penetrate a mystery, and here we see her realizing she may have succeeded.
What inspires your design?
Most designers are visual omnivores. If it's got words or images, I look, and if it's got both, I look harder.
What is your previous design experience, with books and otherwise?
I've designed a little of everything: branding systems, packaging, user interfaces, typefaces, children's toys. Most of my career has been spent doing various kinds of corporate design, but way back in the 80s I did a few book jackets as well. They weren't much fun. The Hard Case Crime stuff is, in part because I'm not working for a client. I'm working with my partner, and Charles and I have very similar visions of what the line should look like. The great thing about collaborating with Titan is that they're driven by love for the same sorts of things we love. Achieving a mind meld's pretty easy.
What was the biggest challenge in designing this cover?
Same as with all our books: how do you make it look old when it's new? We limit ourselves to typefaces and styles of lettering that were readily available in publishing art departments 60 or 70 years ago. We try to keep the layout a bit quick and rough, because the old paperback originals art directors didn't have a lot of time, and they didn't have a lovely suite of digital tools for fine-tuning an image. But it's very, very hard to find artists who have the skills and the understanding to paint in the classic paperback manner. Glen Orbik's a rare bird: someone who's passionate about the old pulp stuff and has a stunning set of painterly chops to carry it off.
Did you consider different ideas or directions for this cover? Are you happy with the final decisions as it ran?
We're very happy with the final image. We chose it because it had tension and visual impact and, to be blunt, sex appeal. And to be even blunter: because it left room for me to put the type in. We give our artists a lot of freedom, and they reward us with some stunning work, but sometimes we've got to remind them that a cover ought to include the title and the author's name.
What is the most important element of a successful book cover?
There are at least two things a cover has to do. First, it has to stop you, among thousands of book covers that also want to stop you. Second, it has to capture the spirit of the book, so that if you're someone who'd enjoy the book, you'll be drawn to the cover.
What are some of your favorite book covers?
Book jacket design has never been better, and I couldn't possibly list all my favorite designers: Rodrigo Corral, Peter Mendelsund, Jonathan Gray, John Gall, Will Staehle, Paul Sahre, to name a few. But a lot of my favorites are from the last century. In the 60s David Gentleman did an amazing set of paperback Shakespeares for Penguin with tinted wood engravings. Celestino Piatti designed over 6,000 titles for the German publisher DTV: plain white books with plain black type and small, intensely colorful gauche illustrations. When you had a display of those in a bookstore, the customers really had something to look at.
Do you judge books by their covers?
Everyone does. That's what covers are for.