Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Penguin Classics - Don DeLillo's White Noise Book Jacket Art


This is a bit of a long blog post. But that's because it's about a dream assignment that I recently completed. A few months ago, I got an email from Paul Buckley, the wonderful art director at Penguin Classics, who asked if I wanted to illustrate a book cover for him. Naturally, I was thrilled, but I was even more thrilled when I read what book he had in mind: Don DeLillo's award winning White Noise. When I got to that part in the email, my jaw hit the floor.

Now, to explain a bit, I should tell you that White Noise is a favourite book of mine. I read it in my late teens, and it has a place in my top 10 books of all time. So I was more than thrilled, I was humbled.

After talking to Paul a bit more about the assignment, I was actually awestruck. Basically, he gave me carte blanche to do whatever I wanted -- something I rarely ever get as an illustrator. And not just on the art, but also on the design. I mean, I was allowed to put whatever copy I wanted, in whatever way I wanted, pull quotes as I saw fit, and even draw on the flaps if I wanted to. The only restrictions I had were to make sure that the Penguin logos were on the front, spine and back and to leave room for a UPC box. Honestly, I'd never experienced that kind of freedom with a book jacket assignment before. Usually, at least marketing factors partially determine how a book jacket will be illustrated, but in this case, I was asked to just follow my muse. Amazing.

Now, I thought I'd spend a few paragraphs here detailing my process for coming up with the jacket art. The first thing I did, of course, was read the book again. It had been over 10 years since I last read it, so I needed to re-familiarize myself with it. After reading it though this time, I skimmed it again but with an eye toward the major concepts and images. Then I sat down over a few nights and thought about what the book meant to me.

Once that was clear, it was easy to come up with some jacket concepts. The first thing I wanted to do was use multiple images, similar to comic panels, or layers of competing media. After working out what those images should be, I drew a quick pencil thumbnail:



You'll notice that the main image on the cover is missing in the above thumbnail. That's because I already knew what was going to go there, but I didn't have the heart to sit and draw such a complicated scene in a thumbnail. I'd already drawn something like it in a comic I wrote a while back, so I decided to just lift that and use it as a temporary placeholder.

After that pencil thumbnail, I went to work and drew up a colour rough in markers. I usually send in colour roughs to art directors, since my pencil roughs can be a bit misleading. I also wanted to work out and present a colour scheme. Normally, my colour roughs are just that - roughs. But in this case, I was inspired to add a bit more polish to them. I also roughed in by hand where the copy should go, with some placeholders for the various pull quotes I had in mind. Below is my first colour rough:



The turquoise images on the left and right are obviously the flap artwork and the crop marks indicate the trim area.

Having drawn that first rough, I thought it was a bit busy, so I eliminated one of the back cover images and came up with what I thought was a much better design. I liked this one better, and showed it to Penguin:



They were happy with the rough, but wanted to run it by Don DeLillo to get his thoughts. After some back and forth, a few images were swapped out on the flaps, and the likenesses of the main characters on the cover were tweaked. I then arrived at this new rough, incorporating the changes in pencil:



Finally, everything was approved, and then it was time for me to paint up all the images in gouache and ink and then composite them together to make the final art. While a lot of people think I work digitally, I actually paint my artwork the old fashioned way -- with brushes, paint and ink. After a week of painting, this was the final jacket art I submitted:



I left it to Paul Buckley to do what he felt best with the copy and title treatment. Originally, He suggested I that could hand-letter the type if I wanted, but I felt that White Noise was too "cool" a book for such a "hot" approach as hand-lettered type.

Overall, I have to say, this was one of my favourite jobs in recent years. I was humbled to be able to illustrate a book jacket for an author like Don DeLillo, especially a book that is a favourite of mine. And I was grateful to Paul Buckley and Penguin Classics for giving me the freedom just follow my inspiration.

If you want to see a final hi-res version of the book jacket, with all the type in place, you can check it out on Paul Buckley's flickr.

44 comments:

Wil said...

Congratulations, Michael. Great cover!

Alexander Wells said...

Its really enlightening watching your process from A to B. Brilliant designs.

grant said...

White Noise is one of my favorite books, too. Congrats!

The Stapelia Company said...

First of all, this cover is beautiful and dynamic. I have not read White Noise yet *look of shame* but this makes me want to read it, which is the point of a cover afterall. Great work!

jason quinones said...

awesome job man.

Jon McNally said...

What a lovely wrapper.

Ray said...

Great work, man.

Diantres said...

congrats Michael!

H3NR7 said...

Impressive Michael. Great job!

Dan C said...

Thanks for sharing your process, Mike, and congratulations on a job well done. I can only imagine how thrilled you must have felt working on an assignment like this. I've never read the book before, but I will once the "Definitive Mike Cho Edition" hits the shelves.

Mel Valentin said...

Congrats on the dream assignment. Excellent work.

When will the new edition of White Noise come out? I want to make sure I purchase the new edition.

Arwen said...

Wow! That's amazing, congratulations! Thank you for posting this, it's very, very inspiring! I haven't read it yet, now I'm dying to. :)

ZackRock said...

Fantastic! Great work, Michael, and thanks for posting the step-by-step. I love how the fragmented signs share space with the airborne toxic event on the cover, nice juxtaposition. Also, glad to see the barn made it onto the jacket flap!

mick statham said...

simply...amazing. Nice job Michael.

Michael Cho said...

Thanks for the support and the nice words about the jacket art. I'm glad some of you found it interesting to read about the process.

Mel Valentin: I'm not sure when it comes out -- whether its in the fall or in spring. Best thing to do is check the Penguin website and the catalog there.

Paul Conrad said...

Beautiful art Michael, a masterpiece.
Thank you so much for sharing your process steps.

I can't wait to see it at my local bookstore!

ol' joe said...

Michael.
Great cover! you are awesome, sir.
congratulations, that is a sweet gig.

looking forward to the D&Q book as well.

joe Ollmann

Greenblatt the Great! said...

Your illustrations are just drop-dead amazing. I can't believe you've even delineated that fat little nothing Herbie Popnecker!

Love your depiction of King Kirby, by the way.

best,

Michael Aushenker
humor cartoonist
Los Angeles

MacGuffin said...

Beautiful job. Even if this wasn't an outstanding author's work but some unknown hack's garbage, I'd want this book simply for the gorgeous art and great design.

mike r. baker said...

Hilarious! I just read White Noise a couple of weeks ago. Fantastic book. Your illustrations are so spot-on. Great work!

(as I discover you did this cover, I realize at this moment that my copy of White Noise is at home sitting on top of the Illo magazine with your work on the cover... so weird.)

alan said...

Huge Congratulations. Must've been cool to know the author had approved the art too. I haven't read the book, though it keeps appearing on the 'recommended' shelf in a local bookstore. The jacket art is beautifully done; that alone would make me want it. Great choices. Usual classy job

Rod McKie said...

Congratulations and many thanks for the walk-through. Excellent blog piece.

Michael Cho said...

Thanks for the nice comments, folks. Much appreciated.

Joe: Thanks for stopping by. You know I'm a big fan.

Greenblatt: Clearly, you are very familiar with Herbie - much more than I was when I drew that pic.

Mike: thanks -- that is quite the co-incidence: maybe you can smush the two things together...

Jay W said...

My God - I think that is one of the most beautiful book jacket designs that I've even seen. Absolutely stunning. I now must buy this book!

Kyu Shim said...

Chip Kidd and Chris Ware better watch out;)
Impressive, Mike.
Congrats.
I've only read The Body Artist of his, but might pick up White Noise if I see your cover art on it.

Eric Orchard said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Monkeyfeather said...

Gorgeous cover. Really outstanding work.

Love seeing your process as well.

Tiff said...

Congratulations! I've been meaning to read White Noise for years, and now I have an extra special reason to go and pick it up! Your work on this cover is beautiful.

Do you know when this new edition is going to come out?

Cadwell said...

I bought the Dan Clowes Frankenstein and I'll buy this for sure. I haven't heard of the book before, but I get the impression I'm going to like it. Incredible work as always Mike.

Viejomostro said...

i love this
your work is amazing

Don Van Horn said...

Very nice. Congrats Mike! You deserve it.

JavierOlivares said...

Terrific work, Michael!!!
Love the color, the composition, the idea...
The draw.
All...

raphael said...

This is truly amazing and congratulations! I want to check out this book now.

pete ryan said...

this is amazing!

S.H.I.E.L.D boy said...

Awesome work Mr. Cho.

I think you could draw a great "Cold War" Black Widow story.

Eric Orchard said...

Congratulations man! This is by far my favorite piece by you. Each character looks like a unique real person and the design is stunning.

kaylamariehillier said...

this is beautiful! such an awesome cover!

Michael Cho said...

Thank you, one and all, for the very kind comments. I appreciate them a lot.

Ben said...

Just realized I forgot to comment on this one . . . since everyone else covered the "Awesome Cover!" ground, I just wanted to say that if this was even half the dream job it sounds like that you must be one happy man. Congratulations on getting to do something with that special personal connection, and having it turn out spectacular to boot! I love when that happens . . .

Anonymous said...

Michael.
Fantastic work! I can't wait to see this on the shelf.
Rob Elliott

David J. Fowlie said...

I was walking to the cashier at my local Borders when his attractive cover jumped out at me. It's fantastic! I had heard of Dan DeLillo but never read his books. Ironically, not even a half hour before this cover slapped me upside the head, I had heard screenwriter Mark Boal mention it on a podcast...and there it was! Just thought I'd share.

janeathan said...

I just bought it, because of your jacket copy, and yes, because it it one of my top 5 books of all time (my master's thesis). Wunderbar.

And I just read White Noise again, for maybe the 10th time.

I'm emailing this process blog to all my artist friends!

jane e roberti said...

I just bought it, because of your jacket copy, and yes, because it it one of my top 5 books of all time (my master's thesis). Wunderbar.

And I just read White Noise again, for maybe the 10th time.

I'm emailing this process blog to all my artist friends!

jane e roberti said...

I just bought it, because of your jacket copy, and yes, because it it one of my top 5 books of all time (my master's thesis). Wunderbar.

And I just read White Noise again, for maybe the 10th time.

I'm emailing this process blog to all my artist friends!