Beautiful Books: Has the World Ended Yet?

November 1, 2017

What happens to superheroes when they retire? Peter Darbyshire's short story collection Has the World Ended Yet? (Wolsak and Wynn) begins with that question in an unremarkable suburbia, home to ex-superheroes, where everyone gets lost making their way home. In a series of linked short stories with a fantastical, Twilight Zone-esque bent, we're introduced to the undead, hired hitmen, avenging angels, ghosts, and other souls who find themselves pondering their reality. Conveying the awesome strangeness of these stories is the striking cover art by designer extraordinaire Michel Vrana who shares with us the process and inspiration behind his cover design.

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As a freelance book designer I’m accustomed to receiving design briefs in many shapes and forms. Sometimes they are detailed, with specific directions (author hates purple), target market, and samples at other books in the category. And sometimes the briefs can be terrifyingly sparse (designers do love constraints). That said, my relationship with the unique offerings of Wolsak and Wynn has made the short design brief fall more on the exhilarating rather than the terrifying. 

Peter Darbyshire’s short story collection Has the World Ended Yet? was my third cover for the Buckrider imprint. I was given a PDF of the manuscript, and my art direction from publisher Noelle Allen was “Paul had the idea of the cover being influenced by Weird Tales and having that fun, pulp feel.” (Paul being Senior Editor Paul Vermeersch). 

With evocative story titles like “The Calling of Cthulhu,” “The Deity Salesmen Always Ring Twice,”  and “You Shall Know Us by Our Vengeance,” as well as the eponymous “Has the World Ended Yet?,” I felt confident in putting together an appropriate apocalyptic pulpy cover. 

I initially worked on two distinct directions: 1940s and ‘50s sci-fi magazine, and ‘50s and ‘60s comic book horror. The internet is a treasure trove of archival material, and I was fortunate to find a niche stock image company that had high quality print resolution scans of the magazines Amazing Stories, Planet Stories, Fantastic Adventure, and so many more. I put together a sample collage that said "end of the world" to me, using elements from three different magazine covers.

 

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Michel's inspiration.

 

And to cement that retro feel, processed the final collage to create the exaggerated halftone dots that have become synonymous with old comics and magazines. For the type, I opted for treatments that were more contemporary; the goal being to evoke those old magazines, not to ape them. This still needed to look like a book!

 

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Retro concept.

 

For the comic book horror concept, I wanted to provide a direction that was very different than the collage, with a clean, clear and powerful image. The day-glow flaming skull still felt apocalyptic and fun. But more of an icon or totem than the sci-fi illustration of the collage.

 

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Comic book horror concept.

 

While both directions were well received, the hands-down winner was the collage with the slanted type, with only one small tweak (changing Short Stories to Tales to Astonish). 

 

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The final cover

 

The selected cover informed the design of the interior as well. Again, inspired by those old sci-fi magazines, I borrowed typesetting tropes and adapted them to a more traditional book presentation. To keep each story starting on a right hand page, selected zoomed-in details from magazine covers were laid in place to create spreads that evoked Amazing Stories, etc. The publisher was even so kind as to allow space at the end of the book for a gallery showing the full covers of all the illustrations used, from the collage on the cover through all the details used within. 

 

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Interior

 

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Back interior

 

The result is a package that through and through acknowledges its influences while being its own unique collection of tales to astonish!

 

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Thanks to Michel Vrana for sharing the inspiration behind the cover art for Has the World Ended Yet?, and to Noelle Allen at Wolsak and Wynn for making the connection. For more books that look as good as they read, check out Beautiful Books, here.


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