Beautiful Books: Sputnik’s Children

In Terri Favro’s genre-bendingSputnik’s Children (ECW Press), we meet cult comic book creator Debbie Reynolds Biondi, who after struggling to write new plotlines for her super awesome mutant-killing heroine Sputnik Chick, decides it’s time to tell her origin story. Not only did the story intrigue us, the stunning cover art with foiled stars and stylized cover pages that separate each section in the book had us oohing and ahhing. Designer David Gee shares the process and inspiration that brought us the gorgeous package.


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The brief for this book covered a lot of ground: comics, writer’s block, booze-and-pills-fuelled multiple personalities, and lots of unreliable narration. Plus, there’s a “Sputnik” on the cover, and some elements of time travel, but it’s not a genre title. Simple. But the simple fact that the lead character is a comic artist/author who sketches on martini napkins, was the a-ha moment. There’s the hook, the thing that can keep this looking like it exists in the world of adult literary fiction. I can tip my hat towards Valley of The Dolls.I started scribbling, and doodling, lots of scratched-out marginalia; sputniks, ringed planets, etc. It was all looking too cute and precious. And as the hastily hand-drawn type approach has become so democratized — see the cover of nine out of ten magazines, and five out of ten book covers — I scrapped all the hand-drawn stuff and went for a stylized super-clean version of something that evoked comics, instead of trying to look like one.The overhead shot of the martini was the result of an image search that lasted about five minutes, and the type was set and the different “action lines” were added in another 30 minutes – fully aware of my earlier “no hasty-hand-drawn stuff” edict.
As much as you try to avoid visual cliches, or approaches that seem somehow on-trend, sometimes you just end up there. In the case of the second comp sent in, looking back it seems like I decided to cash it all in and use as many au courant tricks as I could jam in: the double exposure profile photo (ready for the movie adaptation of the book) and some more hasty hand-drawn type. Miraculously, I found a balance on this one, but there was a feeling it was too wistful, or soft, and may miss out on some of the humour in the book, and where even though the woman on the cover is lost in deep-space thought, where are the booze and pills?
Here’s where a designer, or any creative individual on-hire has to test their mettle: the third idea. As much as I think the first idea is usually right, I am often alone in thinking so. Speaking for my own processes, the second idea I come up with, or pursue, usually veers off of the first idea in such a wild direction, that the third idea often seems stuck between the first two. Moving on to other projects, I tried my best to ignore this book and then “pop”: the idea hit me, and came together very quickly, within minutes from concept to execution. Cue my hand slapping my forehead, and endless “why didn’t I think of this earlier?” questions.This comp, the martini glass constellation certainly ticked some boxes: space, booze, and with the addition of some more loose cursive type, a sense of whimsy. The colours pull this back from being too comical in approach, and the final touch of making the stars on the cover a metallic foil, give this some life in finished form. All that was left for discussion was playing with the typefaces to give the composition some life and dynamics. Printing as a straight two-colour job gave this the “feeling” of chap comics without
directly aping their look. And, I managed to save all the requested comic book visual devices for the spine and back cover, where they would do more to support the descriptive text, and most importantly, not skew someone’s initial reading of the front as a cover for genre fiction or young adult fiction.The only change on this was shaking up the text a bit so that there was a clearer separation between the title and the author’s name, and that was something I asked the client if I could do after this was approved. This was a fun, and rare project: one round of comps, with one cover selected. No revisions required. Martinis are on me. * * * David’s work makes the book irresistible to pick up — it even caught the eye of Instagram nail artist and book reviewer Jennie Shaw, who was inspired to create these beautiful nails: 

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* * *Thanks to David Gee for sharing the inspiration behind Sputnik’s Children, and to Stephanie Strain at ECW Press for making the connection. For more books that look as good as they read, check out Beautiful Books, here.