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How do you choose the cover design for a book made entirely of pictures?

This was probably one of the hardest decisions of visual communication throughout the process of the whole book: I knew I had to design something that stood up to the challenge of being picked up off the shelf. I had some ideas at the start, but as the story itself unfolded, it became something that I kept putting off. I was very grateful to the Faber design team in the end for helping to steer the course.

My first idea, back in the early days, was to have a very stripped-back design with the title in a large type, and the ‘giant’ protagonist barely visible on the page. A simple metaphor for how he might be feeling small, despite being a giant. I am still fond of this idea; however, this is my debut, and challenging people to pick up my book without having seen my work before, with only a teeny weeny drawing to go on, seemed a bit risky.

A biro sketch of Mollie's first idea for a cover. The word GIANT is large and a small figure is on a white background. A note reads 'Cover?' in the top corner.
The next iteration was the opposite. A huge wraparound, with the central character spanning from front to back, showing off the detail in his design.

I had handwritten the title, which felt right at the time, with the only writing inside also being hand-lettered. However, there were two problems – in discussion with the Faber design team, they pointed out, firstly, that although striking, the ambiguity of the design gave nothing away about the content of the story; and secondly, that the handwritten font made the whole design feel as though it was targeted at a younger audience than intended.

Mollie's next design, showing the Giant's patterned body wrapping around both sides of the book. The text is small.

 

It was Imogen Whiteley, who was working on the book’s marketing campaign, who chimed in on the email chain with the suggestion for the winning image. As soon as she said it, it put a lump in my throat, as it is a moment in the book inspired by myself and my brother after shaving our heads together. I will always remember that day as one of those important, bittersweet moments. It captured the essence of the story perfectly: both melancholy and hopeful.

The winning image for the cover of Giant – a small character being hugged by the Giant of the title.
When the design team first sent over a draft cover, I must admit it took me a moment to adjust to seeing the typed font for the text.

I was a bit taken off guard at first – I was concerned about continuity, with the text inside all being handwritten. This stage involved a lot of back and forth, with several variations just on the depiction of my name. I am very grateful to the Faber design team during this stage for their patience. Having worked on the book for so long, vulnerable a story as it was, I was anxious to tie up the project with the perfect ribbon.

I messed around with a few colours for the title. I remember turning to my partner and jokingly saying, ‘What about bright red?’ I was surprised to discover that an iteration of this was actually my favourite.

There had to be a fish, or many, as one of the central metaphors throughout the story.

I am very pleased now, seeing the final book on the shelf with the fish on the spine – in fact, I got a tattoo of this fish on my wrist as a memento for the project, after seeing it there, proud amongst the other books.

Lastly, from a design perspective, there was one thing troubling me. With the choice of image, there was a lot of white space that didn’t quite work. The shaded background behind the characters was the finishing touch that just helped the two of them stand out.

 

Rob Macfarlane and Katie Green’s generous comments for the cover really completed it for me. What a privilege to have the comments of two unbelievable creatives, whom I admire so much, on the cover of my first book. I had my ribbon.

 

Mollie Ray’s debut novel, Giant, is out in hardback on 6 June.
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Mollie Ray
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The captivating and affecting graphic novel debut of a major new talent.

Deeply moving and tender, with gorgeous ball-point illustrations, Mollie Ray’s debut graphic novel is a resonant story of empathy, healing and hope.