Beautiful Books: Dirty Birds

July 29, 2020

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. 

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Below is a reproduced Facebook Messenger conversation between Morgan Murray and Kate Beaton. 




Morgan Murray: Hi Katie!

Kate Beaton: ok

MM: Hi!

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


MM: Yeah!

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.

Nailed it!

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


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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 




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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!


Discover more beautiful books and the designers behind them on the ALU Blog >> 


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