Penguin Horror Series: Under The Covers

Check Out These Amazing New Covers For Classic Horror Novels

The following is part of Huffington Post Books' series, Under the Covers, where we interview book cover designers about their work on particular projects. For this piece, we interviewed Paul Buckley, the creative director at Penguin, about his work on the new Penguin Horror series.

In your own words, what is this series about?

The series is about rediscovering classic horror... taking a fresh look at things we may have read as a kid, or maybe things we never got around to in the first place, and realizing that “horror” need not be limiting; this is not "SAW," but serious Literature with a capital L. These books have more to say about the human condition than anything I have read in a very long time. I had forgotten how absolutely brilliant "Frankenstein" is and what a simple joy it is to sit down for a few hours and simply consume a handful of supernatural short stories. These books are pure pleasure that have something to teach us all.

What was the mood, theme or specific moment from the text you depicted with these covers?

I went after the psychological aspect of each book: the way Frankenstein’s monster after being educated and filled with betrayal would coldly look down on his maker, wishing him nothing but pain; for "Sardonicus" (a short story in "Haunted Castles") the shame, pain and humiliation the Baron has brought upon himself and the woman who will never love him; for "The Haunting of Hill House," the terror Eleanor feels within those walls and the house wanting to consume her; for Lovecraft the creatures he conjures up and their desire to stay in the hidden fringes of humanity; for "The Raven" the bird standing firm and looking you in the eye, imparting something it wants you to hear; and for "American Supernatural Tales," I took our Classic Publisher Elda Rotor’s lead and illustrated a short story within the collection, "Old Garfield’s Heart," for nothing more than the enjoyment of drawing a hand grasping a heart it just ripped from someone’s chest.

What inspires your designs?


What is your previous design experience, with books and otherwise?

I’ve been at Penguin 24 years. I am a Creative Director here and oversee a large staff handling 12 imprints and somewhere in the realm of 1,000 bookcovers and jackets per year. I went to the School of Visual Arts on an illustration scholorship and during that time was getting a homegrown degree in design by working at various design studios at the same time. But if you truly want to know, I have also been a muleskinner and a ferry tillerman, a landscaper, a carousel operator, and as a child I sold flowers on the highway median right off the Tacony Palmyra bridge in Philadelphia –- that ten year old you saw freezing his ass off while sitting on an overturned bucket was me. After SVA, once I tired of being a freelance illustrator, I shifted into a full time job in publishing design at Penguin and have never looked back.

What was the biggest challenge in designing these covers?

Deciding how I wanted to illustrate them. These look like wood or linoleum cuts but are actually a time consuming process of paint and ink. (See pics in slideshow) In a complete reversal of how illustrative art is done, I paint the negative areas using water soluble white paint on white paper... it is not easy to see what you are doing with white on white. Then the whole sheet is coated in permanent india ink and all is left to dry. Then I stick the paper under a faucet and rinse away all the white paint, leaving only the ink behind. There are much smarter ways to work!

Did you consider different ideas or directions for this cover?

After using my art was decided upon, this was a pretty straight forward process, nothing was rejected art-wise, but there was some back and forth with design as I offered these loud versions and also more refined and elegant options where thae art was put onto antique papers for a more restrained look – but the team wanted pop. Though I was terrified of what the Penguin team might think... they know me as an art director & designer; they do not know me as an illustrator as well, and as I did not have a body of work in this style, I could not just go into my packaging meeting and pitch “me” as I would any other artist I would want them to get behind – so I took three weekends in a row and just did two finishes and hoped for the best. Not showing sketches is not the right way to do things, but I really did not see any other way to sell myself, and I REALLY wanted to draw this series. I put them on the table and held my breath, and everyone loved them. What a relief.

What is the most important element of a successful book cover?

Everything. It is a whole. You can separate the typography, the image, the design, etc –- but if it is not a harmonic unit because one thing is off, then it does not work.

What are some of your favorite book covers?

Our recent covers for "Fear of Flying," "Kamasutra," and "Philosophy in the Boudoir." Challenging America’s absurd puritanism is one of life’s joys.

Do you judge books by their covers?

Of course I do. A cover, even a wrong one says volumes about how the publisher, editor, author, agent, and maybe or maybe not the designer, saw fit to clothe that author’s efforts.

The process, part 1

Penguin Horror Series

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