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Cover story

Reading is an intensely visual experience. On first impression, one might conclude that looking at a cartoon strip or a picture book is more of a visual experience than reading a standard printed book, but I believe that the opposite is true. When we read a comic book, for example, our eyes provide to our brain an exact representation of the writer’s/illustrator’s vision. We only need to absorb that vision. On the other hand, when we read a standard printed book, our visual cortex is stimulated to create a vision that is an interpretation of what the writer saw, rather than an exact reproduction. Vision is truly the queen amongst the senses.

Accordingly, as writers, we wish to provide our readers with some visual clues as to the content and style of our work, in order to tempt them to engage with our work in the first place. It is for this reason, that the design of a book cover is a very important exercise. The book cover offers clues as to the nature of the story within. Is it dynamic and exciting? Is it elegant and sophisticated? Does it call to mind particular cultures or periods of history? Making a successful cover design allows us to signal to our target market that this book is intended for them.

Doubtless, many writers, while interested in this process, will be obliged to outsource this activity to those with the necessary visual skills and experience. My own journey has been different, because my background is in Art and Graphic Design, subjects that I have taught for the best part of four decades. Consequently, I was well-equipped to take care of the design work myself, with the advantage that there was no intermediary to stand between me and the visual representation of my book. Naturally, the concept for the book cover and the publicity material arose from discussion with my publisher. She was keen to stress the fact that Alex Trueman’s books were part of a series recounting his adventures, and that the branding should stress his central significance in this. Because of this, my first task was to design a logo that would be at the core of what we might loosely describe as his ‘corporate identity. Alex’s logo combines the upper-case initials of his name encompassed in a circle. The strokes of the letterforms terminate in arrows which represent the directions of time experienced in the ‘real’ world and in Intersticia, the world Alex finds himself trapped in, which conceptually cross at right-angles. I hope that this is a bold and effective design solution that works well in any conceivable context and scale.

The book cover itself incorporates this logo but the front makes use of an interplay of typography, photography and background elements. The main photograph is of my son, Jack. In the photographic studio sessions, I banked a large number of static and movie images that I can use for future books and for their associated publicity. Jack has become ‘Alex Trueman’ in my mind now! The photograph used on the cover shows him running into the image. First, this suggests that the book contains a lot of action. Second, the viewer feels involved in the action and drawn into the world, a visual technique that is as old as the visual arts themselves. The background contains swirling visual elements of a vaguely psychedelic nature (suggesting other-worldly or fantasy content) and contain pocket watches with the hands set to 2:23, a moment of particular significance in the content of the book. Finally, the font used is a serif one. Serif fonts are often associated with tradition or the past. Given that time-travel is an essential element in Alex’s adventures it seemed appropriate to make this choice. The arrangement of text elements creates a style that can be tweaked and re-used when designing the covers for subsequent books.

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