Wednesday, July 22, 2009

The Cover Story, pt. 2

Here's Part 2 of the DON'T FORGET THIS SONG cover story...

Neil Egan, our super art director on DFTS, liked some aspects of the "tall, skinny picture" design I'd cobbled together.

After a productive conference call with David and I, Neil sent us a quick sketch of his idea. In the image below, you see six stages of a promising new cover direction:

1) his original quick-sketch

2) a subsequent sketch, after a subsequent conversation, in which he suggested a larger, broader image, with decorative icons and a border-frame, a la Depression-era sheet music

3) another sketch by Neil Egan, as a refinement of the ideas in sketch 2

4) partly by David, partly by me, this was our response to Neil's ideas... we repurposed the Carters-On-The-Car image, as some folks had expressed a liking for this drawing

5) David's refinement of our collaborative effort

6) Neil's visual notes, following yet another phone chat, over David's refined sketch

Neil and Charlie encouraged us to try new directions, while we nursed this promising design through various changes.

Here are two wild-card designs I put together. First is a design inspired by some of Frank King's elegant GASOLINE ALLEY storybooks from the late 1920s.

This got a good initial reaction, but was set on the sidelines because it looked too modern-day.

Around this time, I had a long phone conversation with Art Spiegelman. He had seen DFTS on Charlie's desk at Abrams' New York City offices, and seen some of the discussions on the cover design.

Art generously spent two hours talking about covers and cover design with me. I wish I'd recorded that conversation for future reference!

The gist of Spiegelman's comments and insights was that the cover has to really sell the heart and soul of the book. He expressed the importance of making an emotional connection to the potential reader/buyer. The main image on the cover might best convey the promise of drama, and of something compelling.

He suggested that we take the most dramatic moment in the book and portray it on the cover. Alas, the Carters' story has a lot of intense emotional drama, but none of it is of the screaming match/thrown crockery/drunken spree variety that some later country music biographies might contain.

He also challenged us to get asymmetrical with our design. Our previous designs had tended to center everything. He suggested that an offbeat, asymmetrical design might further leap off the shelves and connect with the reader.

Spiegelman's conversation left me in a new frame of mind about our cover approach. I conveyed the essence of the talk to David, as best I could...

Then, after another study of old sheet music, and with the intent to commit asymmetry, I pieced this "what the?" cover concept together.

This design reflects another item from my chat with Art... that we might consider another title. We toyed with DIAMONDS IN THE ROUGH for a couple of weeks. This would still make a good alternate title.

After a discussion with our agent, Bob Mecoy, who helped us choose DON'T FORGET THIS SONG, David and I decided that we liked that title the best. While the song it references isn't one of the Carter Family's "greatest hits," it conveys the essence of A.P. Carter's goals as a musician and song-preserver.

This cover approach proved too much off the beaten path for Charlie or Neil. Just in case it interests anyone, "THE CARTER FAMILY" banner was pieced together from hand lettering on a 1931 song-sheet for the pop hit I'M SORRY I LOST YOU. I had to invent missing letters from the ones in the song's title.

Finally, David did it. He collated good ideas from many of our designs, gave them a fresh angle, and created this impressive sketch.

David and I had a conversation on how to depict the Carters on the cover. There had to be a way to convey the drama of their story, without depicting one specific scene.

We wanted to suggest the discord in A.P. and Sara's marriage, despite their love for each other, and their connection as musicians. We also wanted to depict Maybelle as the "rock of Gibraltar" of the Carters. By living a more stable and calm life, and giving her all to her pivotal role as the Carters' lead guitarist, Maybelle was a patient, tolerant foundation for the group.

David nailed it. Charlie and Neil agreed.

We discussed the cover again with Neil, and made some refinements to this solid design scheme.

David rendered the cover portrait in ink and wash, and the other cover elements in pen and ink.

We had our cover!

We hope you've enjoyed this survey of our many cover design attempts. Sometimes it seemed like we'd never get a for-real cover design. It was worth all the trial and error. We couldn't have done it without the feedback and insight of all the folks we've mentioned in these posts. Our sincere thanks to each and every person who helped us get on the right path!


arrabbiata said...

Love the design and I hope the colors stay the same in the final version. (I may borrow that palette for a project of my own someday) One thing I find interesting is how the book's title is now in the smallest type of all the cover text, where it had been quite large in many of the early designs. Either way, with a cover this nice, it should fly off the shelves.

Sean R-B said...

So when will this gem hit the shelves? I, for one, am really looking forward to reading it.

Paul Tumey said...

I love the final cover. I think the poses of the Carters is a perfect tableau of their relationship to each other in the book. Having them enclosed in a floating pnael conveys both an old-timey photograph, and the somewhat clautrophic intensity that resulted from their success. The background is perfect, as is the lettering. I like the colors, but feel there could be an even better palette. Great post, too. Thanks for sharing all the variants. They are all fine work in their own right!

KEITH said...

As a lifelong Carter Family fan, this will be a must buy.

chase said...

A++ I think that final cover does everything you say it does, and glad that's what you arrived at. Thanks for posting the idea progressions.