Author of the coming-of-age, rom-com, crime-farce thriller
Dirty Birds (Breakwater Books) Morgan Murray sits down Facebook Messenger-style with designer (and wife) Kate Beaton to talk about how she turned his "hot pink Diefenbaker trash [cover attempt] to hot stuff Dirty Birds cover," book cover design in the age of thumbnail, and dental plans and diapers.
Below is a reproduced Facebook Messenger conversation between Morgan Murray and Kate Beaton.
Morgan Murray: Hi Katie!
Kate Beaton: ok
Did you do this?
KB: oh that
yeah i did that
MM: Wow! It's beautiful!
KB: you're too much!
MM: No you...
KB: go on
MM: The people want to know how you came up with such a great cover. How did you come up with such a great cover?
KB: like most of my college essays, at the last minute under duress
but this time it wasn't my fault
I don't know if I was your first choice but you got word from your publisher one day that they needed a cover image from you in less than a week
MM: You're always my first choice. But I can't afford you.
But yeah, I think there was a book show or something coming up and they needed a cover like yesterday. So I started doodling, and... well...
The best I could come up with was a bird pooping on John G. Diefenbaker's head.
I think you took pity on me and my hot pink abomination.
KB: they needed a preview image to put online asap for some retail thing. And yes I saw you sweating over these covers in the living room and I thought, I must save him from himself
MM: Which is also the same reason you married me.
KB: I married you for the dental plan
MM: I think you were like 11 months pregnant then too, weren't you?
KB: I was very pregnant and could only roll in lateral directions
MM: So you rolled over to me, rolled your eyes, yanked the sketchbook/photoshop out of my hands and said, "here, my love, allow me..."
That's how I remember it anyway.
KB: I think was mostly living on the couch at that point anyway, rolling from one side of it to the other
but we did actually do work on it
MM: So how did you get from my hot pink Diefenbaker trash to hot stuff Dirty Birds cover?
I remember you scribbling for like 30 seconds and coming up with something so much better it made me weep with joy.
KB: well I had an idea of the book covers you liked and I knew you wanted Dirty Birds to feel, in the size and everything, like an old paperback from the library
so I was looking at mid century book covers
lots of oranges and certain looks
How early in your thinking did you grab onto that orange blob?
I mean circle
KB: that's the first sketch i sent you isn't it
MM: It is
It took you like 10 seconds and was brilliant.
KB: that orange says to me, like, '60s and stuff
hold on let me see if i can find any others
MM: I'll hold.
KB: here we are talking about it
this is preceded by a lot of me complaining about how pregnant i am
MM: Aw, snap. You found the receipts!
MM: That "I am a Seagull" one is pretty great, why didn't we just rip that one off?
you can see that orange in the examples i'm pulling
MM: There's some wild stuff in here. How did you put all these pretty dark/far out things into the brain blender and come up with the one you did?
Which is the same question you're answering now.
But I remember getting all these wild examples from you, and thinking "sure, any of those."
KB: this one
KB: I was looking at that and I thought oh, i have an idea
MM: Was this the nudge towards woodcutty like how it ended up?
KB: a lot of those covers look grainy and woodcutty - but this one too
KB: and I liked the look of them
MM: Jeez, that Fairy Tales one is gonna give me nightmares.
KB: but the shape in that Alfa Eridana book - I mean it's right there
MM: Yeah, the wavy wheat and water for sure.
MM: "Here's an idea," she says. "Only a sketch," she says.
KB: ah I feel kind of bad that I pulled so hard from that other cover - even though in the end they look nothing alike at all. Which is good
But we were on a tight deadline, I was glad to get that kind of inspiration
in my mind my cover would not look like that one
just the shape gave me the idea i needed
MM: Yeah, you can see the influence, but it's not a rip off or anything.
KB: and the story that the cover tells, which is the story in the book at a glance
MM: You needed inspiration, and my Diefenpooper wasn't doing it.
Yeah, you really got all of that in there. It is a dizzying journey from Saskatchewan to Montreal to Newfoundland.
Well, Milton Ontario, our hero, is dizzy anyway.
KB: it was fun to work on
i liked doing something different
and the kind of puzzle of figuring out a book cover
MM: Have you done many book covers?
KB: no, only mine, and a few others - a Best American Comics and another YA book
and I make the text the big part of my book covers
but did not want this to look like "my" art as much
I didn't want people to pick it up thinking "oh this is a Kate Beaton book"
but I did want to make something eye catching
MM: Yeah, I don't think most people would know on first glance it's your work. But you can see it once you know.
KB: and you have to make things eye catching even as a small thumbnail online because most book covers, that's how people see them
you have to be able to read the title
and see the art
in a tiny thumbnail
and that changed book cover design in ways
and so - that orange circle, it's also a bullseye
it draws the eye in
MM: Well, if I ever lose my dental plan, maybe you can do some book covers on the side to keep Mary in floss and fillings.
KB: the setting sun or the rising sun depending on what you think of Milton's story
MM: A bit of both, perhaps.
KB: mary only has two teeth, she's fine
i want veneers!
i'm countin' on ya
Anything for you!
KB: god them are nice
you're a doll
MM: I try
Okay, I smell... a diaper...
Better wrap things up
Thanks for sharing all of your secrets! This was cool to relive those wild pre-baby days.
KB: it's been a pleasure
* * *
Thanks to Morgan and Kate for sharing their conversation with us about the design inspo behind Dirty Birds, and to Samantha at Breakwater Books for connecting us. Dirty Birds is available July 31 —
preorder now on All Lit Up!
All Lit Up is produced by the Literary Press Group and LitDistCo. LPG and LitDistCo acknowledge the financial support of the Department of Canadian Heritage, the Canada Council for the Arts, and the Ontario Arts Council.
All views expressed by bloggers and contributors to the All Lit Up blog are their own and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of All Lit Up or the Literary Press Group.
All Lit Up acknowledges we are hosted on the lands of the Mississaugas of the Credit, the Anishinaabeg, the Haudenosaunee, and the Wendat. We also recognize the enduring presence of all First Nations, Métis and the Inuit people, and we are grateful to have the opportunity to meet and work on this territory.