Chip Kidd has been getting a lot of positive buzz on his cover for Haruki Murakami’s IQ84, coming out here from Knopf in October. He talked a bit about his design concept on the Knopf Doubleday site:

[L]ogistically the title is a book designer’s dream, because its unique four characters so easily adapt it to a very strong, iconic treatment. The plot follows two seemingly unconnected stories that eventually weave together…. By using a semi-transparent vellum for the jacket, and printing the woman’s image in a positive/negative scheme with the title on the outside layer and the rest of her on the binding, once the jacket is wrapped around the book it “completes” the picture of her face. But something odd is definitely going on, and before the reader even reads a word, he or she is forced to consider the idea of someone going from one plane of existence to another.

It’s an elegant concept, for sure. Not for nothing is Kidd considered one of the most thoughtful and innovative designers out there. But reading his thoughts on the process gave me a nagging sense that I’d seen something along those lines lately. And unlike a normally inscrutable case of déjà vu, the answer was right in front of me, sitting on my desk. Kidd isn’t the only designer working with vellum overlays on printed boards this year—Graham Joyce’s most recent novel The Silent Land, which just arrived from Doubleday a couple of weeks ago, uses the same materials to a very different—and at the same time conceptually similar—end. The vellum jacket is printed in a flat black, with the book’s cover worked in the same black on a subtle gray halftone image. The result is a somber, ghostly composite that almost feels cold to the touch.

I asked the book’s designer, Emily Mahon, what led her to that format and those particular elements. She replied:

After reading the manuscript for The Silent Land, I had the idea to do a jacket that would conceptually represent the before and after, the perception of life and death. The book takes place in the French Alps in the midst of winter, so I knew it had to be stark and white in feel, and loved the idea of keeping the colors very minimal overall. Throughout the book there were mentions of birds, some of the few creatures left in the same world as the husband and wife, so I used them to represent the couple.

I presented this cover to our in-house editors and marketing/sales team initially almost exactly as it was eventually printed. I felt that connecting the letters and the birds by using a vellum overlay was the only way to convey the concept, and I was ecstatic when everyone was on board with the idea. From initial presentation, there was a unanimous decision that we’d make this happen with the printed case and vellum, whatever was necessary. The only other final effect was to blind spot gloss the “missing” letters on the case, in case the vellum jacket was somehow lost or damaged.

We ended up using a vellum that had an almost shiny cloudy effect, made with materials that won’t ever rip. The actual production of the book was a bit tricky in making sure everything would line up correctly, but despite a few bumps in the road, it was a successful package.

I have to agree. Not only is it beautiful as an object, but the idea that the publishers had such faith in the physical incarnation of the novel, even given the current atmosphere of cost-cutting and reliance on the low overhead of eBooks, was enticing. This book was deemed worthy before it ever reached my desk, and that in turn notched up my enthusiasm.

Or as Chad Post put it over at Three Percent,

Rather than completely concede to the advent of e-everything, it would be a public service to the last remaining readers if you gave us all an object that we could cherish. An object that is inherently cooler (in a retro way) than the iPad.

Post’s actually advocating here for an even higher level of craft, a multi-volume book in a cardboard slipcase, but the thought is still appropriate. Something lovely and mysterious is not frivolous. In Post’s words, “I’ll read it in public.”

I’ll be reading The Silent Land in public next week, every morning on the #1 train. If you see me, say hi, and check out that handsome vellum cover.


5 Comments to Transparencies

  1. Kat Warren's Gravatar Kat Warren
    April 18, 2011 at 11:04 am | Permalink

    Another vellum overlay: The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell.

  2. April 22, 2011 at 8:32 am | Permalink

    “made with materials that won’t ever rip”

    I am thrilled to read this as one of my concerns about this lovely cover was with the seeming fragility of the vellum overlay.

  3. April 22, 2011 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    I’ve had it banging around in my bag for the past three days and it’s holding up really well. (Yes, I know I should have taken it off. But it’s so pretty.)

  4. Anonymous's Gravatar Anonymous
    May 2, 2011 at 4:08 am | Permalink

    I created and posted this card last year but I wanted to transfer the tutorial from an old website to Scribd so Im re-posting it.This tutorial is for a Vellum Jacket that wraps around a 5.5 square card.

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