Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Mark Melnick: Strange Flesh
Gorgeous cover from Mark Melnick for this poetry collection. Sepia photo, oddly beautiful script type, and naked ladies? It goes against everything most publishers want in a cover! I wonder if this was a hard sell or if it sailed through the approval process?
Description from Amazon: William Logan’s dark, intense, muscular verse has long unsettled some of the standard agreements of American poetry. His eighth collection finds its home in the elsewhere, in the various small towns and ancient cities where the poet has felt some shimmering presence of the past. Logan uncovers the memory of the Leviathan in the Massachusetts fishing village where he was raised, the coupling of gods in Venice at the millennium, and signs of the Flood in Texas. He explores places familiar and unfamiliar, whether tenting on the plains with General Custer or seeing a horrific vision behind the Blaschkas’ famous glass models of the invertebrates. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah followed strange flesh; in the collapsing real-estate market of the past, this master of formality as well as form discovers the sins of the flesh that still haunt us.
Posted by Blair at 12:28 PM
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To be honest, I designed this in about half an hour, turned in the one comp, and it was approved without any changes or reservations.
Then I contacted the estate in order to clear the art. I should preface this by saying this is a book of poetry with a print run of around 4000, and even though it's published by Penguin, the art budget is $0. Not figuratively $0, but literally $0. The art director tells all designers at the outset, "Keep your art budget as close to $0 as possible, because everything over that means the book is over-budget." Gotcha.
The estate of Edward Weston was very pleasant to deal with. I was surprised they granted us permission at all, as these are two of the most famous and expensive (at auction) photographs in the world. They even gave us a price break. But the total bill came to, I think, somewhere around $2,000, which caused more than a few jaws to drop. Penguin knew that, even if they sold every last copy of the book, it would never make a profit. And yet, they decided the art fit the book so well that to not use it would be the greater error. I offered to waive my fee entirely, but they refused, so we settled on a half-fee, which I thought was very generous of them.
The book is terrific, by the way, a great earthy read.
Thanks so much for writing in, Mark! I love the story behind this. Poor poetry--for designers, these are often the most interesting books to work on, but as you said, the budget just isn't there.
Question: were you already familiar with these two photos? or did you find them while researching images for the book? Did you present the rights fee dilemma to Penguin when you submitted the comp?
So glad you told that story, Mark.
I had a experience of vicarious victory when the Publisher said "eff-it... This is beautiful. Let's go for it." It really is a fantastic cover.
I did know about the photos beforehand ... Years ago I needed desert photos for something, and picked up Edward Weston: A Legacy, which is a terrific book, well printed, etc. This series of photos (of Charis, his second wife, who was a lot younger than Weston) stands out, even in a body of work like his. After reading the first few poems, I knew these would work.
And no, I didn't present the rights/$$$ issue beforehand, mostly because I didn't have the time to make the phone calls and write the emails. And I blindly hoped that it'd somehow not be terribly expensive. And I didn't have any other ideas.
The scripted title treatment really makes it sing. Is it 'hand-drawn'?
ps. deleted last comment post by mistake.
It's based on hand-drawn forms from the 20s/30s, but it certainly wasn't hand-drawn by me. It's Miss Stephams, from Veer. (I had used it earlier on my wedding invitations.) Both the type and the women have the same kind of languid fluidity.
type treatment is very lovely. The whole thing is fun and quirky. What a great cover.
And see, it is possible to do a great cover in half an hour. It's the designer that matters. Great work mark. Amazing that Penguin bent on the 2k.
Hi Blair and Tal: I am working on an article for Hyphen magazine (http://www.hyphenmagazine.com) about the aesthetics of Asian American book covers and was looking to talk to some book cover experts. How can I get in touch with you? Please email me at neela (at) hyphenmagazine (dot) com. Thanks!!
I love how new the photos look in this context. they are images i've seen many times before, but they look amazingly contemporary and surprising in your cover design--i couldn't remember that they were westons shot many decades ago. (i guess the best images are timeless that way).
BCA has a follower ;-)
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