Beautiful Books: Dirty Birds

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: okMM: Hi!Did you do this?
KB: oh thatyeah i did thatMM: Wow! It’s beautiful!KB: you’re too much! MM: No you…KB: go onMM: 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 duressbut this time it wasn’t my faultI 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 weekMM: 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 himselfMM: Which is also the same reason you married me.Romance!KB: I married you for the dental planMM: I think you were like 11 months pregnant then too, weren’t you?KB: I was very pregnant and could only roll in lateral directionsMM: 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 otherbut we did actually do work on itMM: 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 libraryso I was looking at mid century book coverslots of oranges and certain looksMM: 
How early in your thinking did you grab onto that orange blob?I mean circleKB: that’s the first sketch i sent you isn’t itMM: It isIt took you like 10 seconds and was brilliant.KB: that orange says to me, like, ’60s and stuffhold on let me see if i can find any othersMM: I’ll hold.
KB: here we are talking about itthis is preceded by a lot of me complaining about how pregnant i am
MM: Aw, snap. You found the receipts!KB:
MM: That “I am a Seagull” one is pretty great, why didn’t we just rip that one off?KB:
you can see that orange in the examples i’m pullingMM: 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 ideaMM: 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 themMM: Jeez, that Fairy Tales one is gonna give me nightmares.KB: but the shape in that Alfa Eridana book – I mean it’s right thereMM: 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 goodBut we were on a tight deadline, I was glad to get that kind of inspirationin my mind my cover would not look like that onejust the shape gave me the idea i neededMM: 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 glanceMM: 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 oni liked doing something differentand the kind of puzzle of figuring out a book coverMM: Have you done many book covers? KB: no, only mine, and a few others – a Best American Comics and another YA bookand I make the text the big part of my book coversbut did not want this to look like “my” art as muchI didn’t want people to pick it up thinking “oh this is a Kate Beaton book”but I did want to make something eye catchingMM: 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 themyou have to be able to read the titleand see the artin a tiny thumbnailand that changed book cover design in waysand so – that orange circle, it’s also a bullseyeit draws the eye inMM: 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 storyMM: A bit of both, perhaps.KB: mary only has two teeth, she’s finei want veneers!i’m countin’ on yaMM:
Anything for you!KB: god them are niceyou’re a dollMM: I tryOkay, I smell… a diaper…Better wrap things upThanks 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 >>