May 5, 2011

Making the cover: The Lake


As my colleague Jason mentioned earlier this week, here at Melville House we couldn’t be more excited about the launch of Banana Yoshimoto‘s incredible new novel, The Lake. Among book designers I’m lucky, since I get to do work for so many exceptional authors, but I knew this book was something special the moment I dove into the manuscript last year; as reviewers have already pointed out, the simplicity of Ms. Yoshimoto’s style on the surface belies an enormous depth of emotional complexity lurking beneath.

Similarly, the simplicity of The Lake‘s cover belies the long design process that unfolded behind the scenes, with dozens of variations from the initial concepts to the final, printed package. My earliest ideas for the cover centered on the mural our young protagonist Chihiro paints over the course of the book, depicting a safe place to which she and Nakajima can escape from their troubled pasts as their fragile relationship develops. But despite my best efforts, these covers all fell flat. They seemed too literal, and more than that, they were too quiet—we saw the release of this book as a major event, signaling the return of “Bananamania,” and we felt the cover should make a big splash.

Starting over, I decided to capitalize on the book’s title and try to find an interesting way to treat the typography. Doing some research—what if the type literally made a splash?—I came across a stunning photo series of ink dissipating in water. A few hours and one giant sandwich later, I had a new cover.

The immediate reaction was strong, and everyone agreed the image was arresting, but now it felt too much like a horror novel. The book could be described as haunting, but it certainly isn’t scary, so it was back to the drawing board again. I wasn’t ready to give up on this idea, though, and in the end I found the problem to lie in my choice of typeface (too dark and condensed) and color (too dreary and ghostlike). Changing to a brilliant blue and a lighter, more elegant font did the trick.

Finally, several months after my first attempts, we had a jacket that fit the book—mysterious and haunting, but uplifting as well.  In the end, I hope the cover entices readers of all stripes to dive into Banana Yoshimoto’s deeply affecting story.

As a reminder, a portion of all proceeds from The Lake will benefit disaster relief in Japan.

Christopher King is the former Art Director of Melville House.