One of the first questions that pop into my mind when I see an interesting cover is: “What kind of creative boundaries did the designer have to work in?” I work for a small production company, and 90% of our design is done in-house. Our graphic designer bounces back and forth between client, art director, boss, producer, editor, and back again. It’s like a seemingly-never-ending ping pong match of keeping your wits, making the client happy, and hopefully not getting your creative soul neutered in the process.
I first saw Mark Shulman’s Scrawl cover when it popped up on my radar on Goodreads.
Simple and unique title: check. Genius illustrative execution by creating the title out of an extraction of space: check. Black, white, and desaturated red: check, check, check.
But that pencil with its missing lead really bothered me.
Below, I’ve lifted the pencil from the cover to draw (hehe) a comparison between pencil and sans pencil.
I almost felt like the pencil was on the cover because someone felt “something” was missing. Or that perhaps the novel’s intended audience wouldn’t understand that the scribblings came from a pencil. Or maybe even that because the novel is about a bully who has to scrawl his life story in a beat up notebook, the missing-lead pencil adds another sort of level of personal dimension. I’m not sure.
Regardless, I felt that the cover could have been pencil-less. It felt unnecessary. I was prepared to write this post declaring my love for the pencil-less cover art until I was sent this:
There are three major changes that made me redact my prior pencil-hate-filled thoughts. One (and the most obvious), was the addition of the new pencil. The longer, darker pencil in the old cover was replaced with a brighter, shorter pencil. One that’s been whittled more, and has seen more scrawling days versus its broken-lead cousin.
Second, the new type choice and color that piggybacks from its pencil’s scheme. “A Novel By Mark Shulman” gets less attention with its lighter weight and tighter tracking, but both blocks of text pop, and not in that annoying, gosh-it-hurts-my-eyes kind of way.
And finally, the addition of the questioning tagline. All of these new elements work in a simple harmony. With the title, the cover, and an intriguing question in the tagline, who wouldn’t want to pick this book up?