In our ongoing series Under the Covers, we talk to the designers behind some of the most striking book covers about their inspirations and the stories behind their creations. In our latest installment, Christopher King of Melville House talked to us via email about his designs for The End of The World In Breslau by Marek Krajewski ($24.95).
In your own words, what is this book about?
The latest in this series of crime novels by the Polish writer Marek Krajewski is set in pre-war Breslau (now called Wroclaw). Our detective, Eberhard Mock, is charged with investigating two grisly murders which occur within days of each other, the only link a blood-stained calendar page next to each body. He follows the trail of clues further and further into the city's dark underworld, indulging all of his vices along the way to forget his sorrows.
What was the mood, theme or specific moment from the book that you wanted to reflect with the cover?
The mood I've aimed for across the whole series is somewhere at the intersection of sexy and creepy, like, you're creeped out by how turned on you are. Krajewski specializes in matters of the flesh, both violent and erotic, and the cover needed to reflect the visceral experience of reading the books. The particular imagery on this cover is inspired by the unseemly details of one of the murders at the plot's center.
There are some really subtle touches to this cover, including the printed dirt at the top. Why did you add those (and did the printer keep trying to "fix" it?)
The grunge evokes a feeling of old-world noir, a real "dirt under your fingernails" detective story. And the grainy style of the illustration is an oblique reference to Polish poster design of the 1960s (when the framing narrative of the novel takes place). Our printer is used to working with all kinds of art so they didn't raise any objections, but there was some apprehension in-house about whether prospective readers might just think the copies they picked up were dirty. I think the effect is deliberate enough to avoid that pitfall, though.
What was the biggest challenge in designing the cover art? Did you consider different ideas or directions for the cover?
This cover is part of a packaged look for the series, so the design process was fairly straightforward. It took a few tries to get the illustration to read quickly and correctly though. While I worked that out, I explored another option based on the bloody calendar pages Mock finds at each murder scene. In the end that idea didn't seem compelling enough to work on the cover.
What is the most important element of a successful book cover?
First and foremost, it has to catch your eye.
What are some of your favorite book covers?
There are too many great covers out there to pick favorites, but I was just admiring the jacket for Paul Elie's Reinventing Bach, designed by Rodrigo Corral with illustrations by Adly Elewa—it's so simple, eloquent, and direct. And because it seems to be suffering a lot of abuse lately, I'd like to step forward and say I've always loved the original cover of The Great Gatsby.
Do you judge books by their covers?
Sure, that's why they're there. But a brilliant cover can't make up for a bad book, and a bad cover can't suppress a brilliant book.
What inspires your designs?
Around the office I talk a lot about mid-century printmaking, from the Works Progress Administration to Hatch Show Print, much of which looks as fresh today as the moment it was made. I'm always trying to capture a timeless quality, and learning from those master printmakers is a good way to keep the covers from feeling too cold and computer-driven. Beyond that, I'm fortunate to work with some of the world's greatest writers, and I take most of my inspiration straight from them.
What is your previous design experience, with books and elsewhere?
Before my current position as the art director of Melville House, I worked in the art departments of St. Martin's Press and Doubleday and as an independent designer for clients like Vintage, Random House, the Criterion Collection, and Nike.
See the final cover here: