It really is rare that I discover YA cover art on my own nowadays. Often it’s through someone tweeting “omg OMG COVER REVEAL LOOKZ” or Goodreads or someone simply emailing me a link. It’s also safe to say that the former methods of cover-share normally result in me pointing at my mouth and making gagging noises.
But happening upon a cover you can’t believe you missed in the first place does have it merits. I’m sure this is exactly how seismologist Richard Oldham felt when he made his first observations about Earth’s core. Or, y’know, when I discovered that I could make bacon in the oven. (“Yay! No more third degree burns for me!”)
So when Abrams’ eye candy cover art for Me and Earl and the Dying Girl and I met on its website…let’s just say it was love at first sight.
I was ecstatic to find that Abrams’ had a non-crappy-res of the artwork online, and was really curious to know who had designed the cover. So I emailed author Jesse Andrews asking who to credit, and his response made him my New Favorite Person:
they did a superb job. the ARCs came out a few weeks ago and everyone who’s seen one has been like, “oh man! that cover! that is a truly beautiful cover.” and then they just hold it and stare hungrily at it for a while. then i usually say something like, “yes! and it’s also pretty good, on the inside. so you might want to check that out.” they ignore this and continue to stare. “some pretty good words in there. for reading or just looking at. nice words.” no response. they are a thousand miles away, in a lush candy-colored universe lateral to our own, and hitherto untouchable. they are drooling slightly, and emitting the sound “nnggnggkh.”
So of course I
demanded asked to have him on the blog. It would be cruel (and incredibly selfish) to keep this debut author’s sense of humor to myself.
Oh, and before you read the rest of the interview? Make sure you’ve emptied your bladder. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.
It’s hard to put into words how much I love Me and Earl’s cover. There’s something about its bright colors, cut-out characters and y’know, it’s got the whole unconventional cover thing going on. I love its three-dimensional feel, the notion that if I had it sitting in front of me I’d want to run my hands over it in a very non-creepy way. And what’s more, I feel like I’m watching the title sequence to an indie movie play across this jacket. And I like that a lot. But I’m just a reader (and cover snob). What was your first reaction when you saw the final cover art in your inbox?
Honestly, my first reaction to seeing the email in my inbox was probably, “Oh, for crying out loud. This email has an attachment in it. Now I probably have to deal with that in some way.” And then I probably got down on the floor and took a very angry nap.
Even after opening the attachment, I’m a bit chagrined to say that I liked the cover, but wasn’t able to properly contextualize it and recognize how beautiful and perfect it would be as the cover to my book—my reaction was something like, “Oh, this is nice, although it’s not as horrifyingly bleak or confusing as the thing I was hoping for.”
No, it was not until I got my advance copies in the mail that I had a full sense of what this cover does for my book—and at that point I frankly got kind of misty-eyed, and lumpy-throated, and also vaguely hungry, because there is something about the cover’s rapturous fruity palette that reminds me of a box of Mike & Ikes.
Mike and Ikes are actually one of my favorite types of candy. Thus, comparing the cover art to candy = win.
I’ll attempt to not completely fangirl over Chad Beckerman, AKA Abrams’ brainchild behind so many insanely fantastic covers, AKA the creative director behind Me and Earl’s artwork. Along with Ben Wiseman’s design skills and Brian Levy’s character illustrations, they all knocked it out of the park (and probably broke the bat they swung with). What was it like working with Beckerman and his team?
Ha ha! I had a small but entertaining amount of involvement with this team, that you have accurately characterized as god-like. Before this process began, I had this whole vision of what the cover should be: a photo of an ugly high school, with no title at all—just a bleak landscape shot with the forlorn little high school at the very bottom, and then a giant pitiless gray sky above it. So in other words, a cover that people would see and then immediately start barfing with sadness. Also one where it’s impossible to tell what the book is about. So I excitedly told this idea to my editor, and she said, “Huh,” and then we sat there in silence for a good ninety seconds, during which she was visibly suppressing the urge to jab me in the eyeball. Or maybe herself.
Hey, Jesse! I think that cover’s already been made! See?
Y’know. Just a side note.
So then Chad et al. came up with some ideas, and sent them to me, and the one I liked best initially wasn’t the one we ended up using. It was a pretty-but-unmemorable little thing with a background of blue sky and wispy clouds and the title in a number of attractive complementary fonts—similar to the paperback cover to Infinite Jest. So I think I sent an email along the lines of, i guess i like the cloud one?? maybe we can make it a little more bleak though??, and and then they were like, okay, thanks, um, we’ll definitely take a shot at it, but by the way we’re also gonna keep developing this other one with the little cutouts if that’s cool. And I was like, yeah, fine, but guys! the cloud one! except insanely bleak.
This would be a better story if I could pinpoint the specific moment at which I had the revelation: perhaps instead of visually repulsive, the cover to your rollicking humorous book should instead be attractive and playful and good. But the point is, eventually that thought did occur to me, and I accepted it, and realized that Chad et al. were probably onto something good, and I should just let them do their magic. Which I of course did, and unsurprisingly, the outcome was magical.
Favorite parts about Me and Earl’s cover?
Well, the DIY cutout affect is really kind of brilliant, because it’s a stylistic nod to the favorite pastime of the protagonist/narrator (Greg) and his only friend (Earl)—they make homemade movies together (which they are deeply insecure about). It’s a tricky thing to make a cover thematically consistent with the contents of a book, without being clunkily literal—YO CHECK IT OUT HERE ARE THE MAIN CHARACTERS DEMONSTRATING THEIR RELATIONSHIPS WITH EACH OTHER AND HERE IS THE PLANE CRASH THAT HAPPENS ON PAGE 203 UNEXPECTEDLY AND IRREVOCABLY ALTERING THEIR LIVES FOR BETTER AND FOR WORSE—but that’s not at all what happened here. Some chunks of the book are actually written in screenplay format (and, to a lesser extent, other invented formats), making the book stylistically kind of unusual and varied—the cover reflects that without hitting you over the head with it, a difficult thing to do.
Better yet, the cover is tonally perfect—which is to say, perfectly mutually complementary with the tone I wanted to create in the book, which is a very specific combination of funny and sad. You said that it evoked the title sequence of an indie film—I think that’s true, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Indie comedies explore that same kind of funny/sad territory (if in a different way and with different constraints).
But the best part about the cover is that it’s beautiful. You just want to pick it up and hold it and smear it on your own face and maybe shoplift it. That’s what every author wants, and that’s what I got, so I feel ridiculously lucky. I have part of this book in my mouth right now! It really doesn’t taste good, but for some reason I don’t want to take it out.
What are your thoughts on cover art as a whole? It goes without saying that I’m a judgy kinda gal, but I understand the inevitable chasm that an awful cover can create between its face and its heart (or, if you prefer a more graphic comparison, its skin and its innards). What constitutes good cover art for you?
Here are what I think are the primary, and perhaps only, criteria one should use to judge a cover:
When I read this book on the subway or bus, will I be so self-conscious about how dumb this cover is that I will have to keep the book all the way down in my lap, thereby aggravating my chronic neck pain? This is not a frivolous question. There are covers where this has happened to me. Especially covers where the book is a classic, canonical book that at some point was made into a movie, and it’s the edition where they just slap a still from the movie onto the cover of the book, and that’s what you’re holding in your hands, and you feel like a colossal jackass. There is nothing worse than that. You’re reading The Road, by Cormac McCarthy, and it’s this exquisite, gut-twisting, unspeakably intense experience, and meanwhile on the cover you’ve got Aragorn making his confused/sexy face. And clearly everyone around you is thinking, “Sweet Jesus, this cretin is surely only reading The Road because it was made into a movie with the guy from Lord of the Rings.”
The only acceptable alternative to this is searing chronic neck pain that persists to this day, or perhaps murdering everyone in the subway with your forehead.
Gah, I hear you on the movie poster tie-ins. I posted a semi-rant about this the other day. It makes me want to shake someone. Which is only slightly less violent than the whole forehead thing.
Does the cover have the name “Dan Brown” on it? This is a huge red flag.
If I am walking through a bookstore, will this cover be so captivating and beautiful that I will forget all else and try to smear it on my own face? Ha ha! I am of course joking here. Bookstores have not existed for years.
Are there any covers out there in YA literature that have stood out to you among the rest? Any design trends you wish publishers had stopped ages ago? My outcry is to PLEASE STOP with the Sad Girls in Pretty Dresses on covers.
Could not agree with you more about the Sad Girl/Pretty Dress trope, and I would add that I feel a little burnt out on covers that are mostly big loud scrawly handwriting in and around basic shapes (e.g., the upcoming The Fault in Our Stars, John Green). It’s not that I actively dislike this trend, I just feel fatigued by it.
Covers I like: I’m actually pretty fond of the paperback for The Perks of Being a Wallflower, because it’s so weird—it’s mostly just a field of green, the color of diseased snot. I am not being ironic; I genuinely love this. I also love the chocolate drippy heart of All These Things I’ve Done. Venturing out of YA, I am a pathetically huge fan of David Mitchell, and of the cover of The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet.
Conversely—not to be a downer—I could not find a greater disconnect between book and cover than in Jennifer Egan’s utterly brilliant A Visit from the Goon Squad, whose cover looks homemade, and not in a good way. Seriously, it sort of looks like I made it. With my butt. And Adobe Illustrator vintage 1997.
Any other things you’d like to add about Me and Earl’s cover?
There’s an interesting thematic thing that Chad et al. did, in dividing the cover into three parts (Me/Earl/Dying Girl)—those three parts also represent the trio of Heaven/Earth/Hell, or if you prefer, Sky/Earth/Somewhere Underground That Is Red. This is a cosmology that does not occur anywhere in the book, and for that reason I like it a lot.
A million thanks for the interview, Jesse. I can’t wait to see this book out in the wild in all its finished, candy-coated glory. Does March have to be so far away?