This month on our book cover design series, Faber Senior Designer Luke Bird talks us through the brief and design process for Ghachar Ghochar.
The written brief for Ghachar Ghochar suggested that the novel had all the hallmarks of a ‘cult classic’. It needed to have a cover which would stand out as bold, iconic and visually stunning, and it was suggested that it should be beautiful to hold.
The novel’s style, it said, is ‘…direct and lucid. It is about corruption of will and intention, but also contains real warmth and wry humour.’
Often, the focus of the cover of a translated novel is the part of the world in which the story is set. You wouldn’t be surprised to see a photograph of southern India on the cover of Ghachar Ghochar, for instance, but the brief clearly stated that the cover should be designed with a more striking approach in mind.
After reading the novel, I set about producing responses to the brief. Some responses played on the title, which is a made-up term meaning ‘entangled beyond repair’. Others riffed on a scene in the novel in which ants become an unimaginable pest in the family home.
In discussions, the editor also suggested that we look at Faber’s design heritage. The iconic cover designs of Faber’s illustrious past, when the great Berthold Wolpe and Shirley Tucker were churning out some of our most recognisably beautiful book jackets, is a resource which we’re very fortunate to have access to. A nod to Faber’s heritage in the jacket would certainly help it to feel striking and iconic. In a sense, it would also go to show how serious we were about Ghachar Ghochar‘s literary clout.
After a long period in which the photograph or illustration became king, we’re beginning to see lots more typographic book covers in bookshops. They appeal to today’s analogue-appreciative literary audience and the cleanliness of their design can help them stand-out when sat on tables alongside photographic or illustrative covers. Zadie Smith’s recent cover for Swing Time, designed by Jon Gray, is an example of a modern typographic cover which is both beautiful and commercially successful.
With that – and Faber’s heritage – in mind, I designed the cover as it now stands. I created a simple grid inspired by some of Wolpe’s classic covers, and used Franklin Gothic for the author’s name, set in a straight rectangular block (after seeing the likes of Plath and Heaney’s names set in the same brave, bold type). But as this is a modern novel, with humour, warmth and beautiful, vibrant language, I wanted to subvert the grid and create something a little more anarchic. I rotated the bottom section of the grid a little, and used a hand-modified tightly-consended sans-serif font, which I staggered or ‘stepped’, to reinforce the meaning behind the book’s title (‘entangled beyond repair’).
I wanted to achieve the same ‘heritage-with-a-twist’ effect when we printed the book. The jacket is printed on an uncoated stock, as is traditional, but the pink/purple tone is printed in a screamingly bright fluorescent Pantone ink.
To contrast with the colourful grid design of the front cover, I created a simple pattern out of black graphic illustrations of ants for the endpapers. The layout appears to have almost no ‘order’ at all – seemingly a tangle of random insects – but, in fact, was a further intentional riff on the book’s title.
Final Book Cover
Peruse the early cover designs in more detail: