Behind the Cover – Nim Ben-Reuven
(Revenge and the Wild, by Michelle Modesto)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

Here with us today is Nim Ben-Reuven, the amazing letterer and designer behind the cover of Revenge and the Wild, by Michelle Modesto, published by Belzer + Bray (HarperCollins). We also have an introduction by Jenna Stempel, the designer!

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Jenna Stempel: I knew this cover would be challenging from the start—the author packed so much imagery into a steampunk Western world full of magic, cannibals, and vampires. It felt especially important to hint at the boisterous adventure and occasional violence that had me entertained and telling everyone at the office about this book. I was a fan of Nim Ben-Reuven’s cheeky work on Instagram and thought his gorgeous and elegant hand-lettering was a perfect match to balance out the flames and blood splatter I had in mind.

How did you become a designer and illustrator? Was it an area you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

Nim Ben-Reuven: One day I saw a book jacket that Chip Kidd made for Augusten Burroughs’ book, Dry, and immediately I wanted to learn how to create that type of stuff. Soon after, I applied to grad school and moved to New York, thinking I could somehow get in without any design background and somehow it worked. I’m still a bit shocked.

How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

The creative team at Harper Collins had a pretty good idea of what they wanted from me (hand made, super elegant letters), so the process was quite smooth. They had a specific examples of other work I had done to shape how I created the title lettering for the cover so I was never left high and dry to try to read anyone’s mind (which happens often with clients). The photographic imagery below the lettering was put together exclusively by Jenna Stempel and her team.

RandW_handmade

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with Michelle Modesto, any ideas or suggestions?

As far as I could tell, the author was not involved in the design process. In my experience working with large publishing houses, the author is only brought in toward the end of the process to sign off on final imagery. I’ve had experiences working almost exclusively with authors in the design of their book jackets but only when the authors themselves have enough sway to personally bring me on the project. Or if I’ve been kidnapped by the author and trapped in their basement until I do exactly what they tell me to do in terms of design sketches.

Do you have pictures of earlier designs?

REVENGEWILD_nimbr_sketch_01  REVENGEWILD_nimbr_sketch_02

revengewild_finalsketch_small  REVENGEWILD_mockup_03

From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer (and in some small ways the writer) have free rein?

I’d say the publisher (specifically the marketing team) has the final say in how most jackets are designed. This can be frustrating at times when the final goal becomes a marketing ploy rather than an engaging and unique piece of design art. Oftentimes, for better or worse, a publisher will try to shape the design of a cover in order to sell the book quickly rather than actually look interesting. The only time I’ve experienced any free rein is when an author is self-publishing or paying me out of their own pocket to design the book.

Finally, what are some of the favourite book covers that you’ve seen (recently or not), from other designers and illustrators?

I’d have to say that Rodrigo Corral is always killing it with his jackets. But pretty much any book store I walk into, I’m floored by the art and typography out there these days…

    

 

Michelle Modesto said: I loved this cover immediately. It was beautiful and unique, and fit the tone of the novel perfectly.


Thank you Nim for this amazing interview, and Michelle for your words! Let’s hope that part about an author kidnapping you is not based on real experiences ;)

I leave you with more of Nim’s great work, and see you next time!

  

Behind the Cover – Jon Smith
(The End Games, by T. Michael Martin)

by Diana Sousa

BehindTheCover

Today’s artist, Jon Smith, is the illustrator of The End Games by T. Michael Martin, published by HarperCollins. Thank you for your time, Jon!

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How did you become a designer and illustrator? Were they areas you always wanted to explore, or did it simply happen?

As a kid I was really serious about illustrating comic books. I think I was 13 or 14 when i started doing full 10″x15″ comic book pages and taking them to comic book conventions to get critiqued by my favorite artists. It was a fun and enriching exercise because at that time (and it probably hasn’t changed too much now) the only way to make it in comics was to submit samples to publishers and get rejected over and over and get brutally critiqued by artists who have made it because there’s a standard you have to reach to actually get work and they’re not shy about letting you know.

I don’t care how bad it is or how bad I am I just want to know where I stand, y’know?

But anyway everything turned on a dime when I committed to the Art Institute of Seattle out of high school. There’s nothing wrong with the school I just didn’t know what I was getting into. I told them I wanted to be an Illustrator, they told me Graphic Design was the program that fit me best…I didn’t really kow what that was but in my mind there would be bad ass Illustrators teaching me in this school, sharpening my already amazing talent :)

But the reality is, it’s a for profit school that makes money based on placement rates. They get people into their school by showing prospective students and parents thereof the numbers – if you enroll in program X there’s a 75% chance you’ll get a job in that field… whatever the percentage is.

The problem with Illustration is you HAVE to be good to get a job when you graduate, which kills the whole placement rate thing. They can’t make you talented, BUT you can teach people how to use Illustrator, Photoshop, Flash, Indesign yada yada and they should find a job somewhere. So when I started they were phasing the Illustration program out which is why they funneled me into Graphic Design.

When I realized this I wanted to quit but the contract my parents signed for payment (which was a lot!) was irrevocable so it was pretty frustrating, but by the end I started to figure out what design was and how I can fit within it… but I wasn’t really ready to get a real job, I never even applied for an internship anywhere which is weird but I was young and dumb so I fell into doing concert posters randomly which I guess makes sense because it’s not unlike the comic book scene. You throw yourself into it and if you’re good you stick.

How did you get involved with this cover? Did HarperCollins contact you directly, or did they already know your work?

They saw my posters on gigposters.com and contacted me. They were looking for someone to incorporate the type as the main design element. I believe this Eric Church poster is the poster they referenced, and I think Fitz & The Tantrums.

(click on the images to make them bigger)

  

How was the process of developing the cover? Was there a clear goal in mind?

I just kept throwing (ugly) comps at them with clever usage of type as the main element of the illustration until one stuck. I hate making comps because my stuff doesn’t make any sense or look right until it’s fully fleshed out. It was a fun process though, I love the work and my art director at HC is the best. We have a lot of fun in the Email exchange.

How was the author involved? Was there some back and forth conversation with T. Michael Martin, any ideas or suggestions?

T. Mike (I’m sure I’m the only one who calls him that) wasn’t directly involved, which is good. Having channels is good for the process because there’s the publishing/sales side and then there’s the author and the editor. So I submit comps and whatnot and then wait for the feedback after HC/sales and T. Mike and his editor have talked it over. That process repeats until everyone’s happy.

On the next book with T. Mike I went rogue and contacted him without telling anyone, which can be dangerous in that it can complicate things but I was mostly just asking about particular details of the story. I wanted to make sure I understood and whatnot and I think we both respected the fact that too much back and forth could gum up the process.

From your experience, does the publisher have the final say regarding the design of the book, or does the designer/illustrator (and in some small ways, the writer) have free reign?

The book is a product, at the end of the day, and the publisher is the seller of that product so they have to get what they need so I’d say they have the strongest hand in the stirring of this creative stew. But HC, in my experience, has been good at balancing their needs with the authors needs.

Was there anything particularly different or interesting about this illustration, interesting facts you’d like to share?

I think it does a good job of including a lot of aspects in one image, the brothers, the dark creepy backwoods, the mountains and the zombies. I think it works for the most part, blending the photorealistic elements (the boys in the foreground and the mountains in the background) with the stark silhouette graphic of the trees but in a way the detailed illustration of the brothers goes against the grain of how “designy” the other 90% of the cover is. I guess it just leaves a little bit less to the imagination…but that’s nit picky, they are small and you can’t see their faces or anything.

Finally, what are some of your favourite book covers, whether they’re recent or not?

Wow. I don’t even know where to begin. Going back to the comic book thing that was my strongest influence as a kid, that Scholastic pamphlet that would come to school with just the cover images and brief description of new books always made me drool. I ordered books based on the covers alone… mostly Goosebumps and Calvin and Hobbes as I recall.

And the covers of movies and video games at the video store as well.. and as an adult of course posters have pretty much consumed my creative life. I’m bad at picking favorites but I’d have to say the stuff I like best is all the old pulp/scifi/noir stuff from the 50’s and 60’s. From the amazing painted stuff to the clever minimalist design, all very very fun.

    


Thank you Jon for these amazing answers!

I do agree that college/university can teach you the basics and how to work with certain software, but teaching you how to be good is very hard. That you have to learn mostly by yourself, because it only comes with hard work and dedication.

You can see more of Jon’s work on his portfolio and GigPosters website.