I love to read. I enjoy nonfiction biographies and science/nature books, but speculative fiction books have been my favorite since I first learned. Reading wasn’t easy for a young boy with a learning disability. But I was drawn to comic books and stories of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. They kept my attention when other things couldn’t and I would visit the library or plunder my brother’s extensive mass market paperback collection. By the time I was in 5th grade, I was reading at a much higher level and did my first book report on Stephen King’s “It,” a 1,138 page horror novel.
Book design has always fascinated me so for my spring project, I decided to put my graphic design skills to the test and redesign covers for some of my favorite novels.
The Martian Chronicles
First on my list was The Martian Chronicles, a classic science fiction novel written in 1950. This sci-fi book is rich with themes of colonization, gentrification, and manifest destiny. It’s hard to read this book and not connect the martians’ to our history of indigenous peoples around the world. The Martian Chronicles is actually a collection of Bradbury’s short stories compiled and organized into a narrative of humanity’s arrival on Mars and how we change the red planet.
My first step was to research the many covers The Martian Chronicles has had over the years. I noted things that worked well, elements that were dated or overused, typography and the color used. Red was the clear front runner for most used color – too often used, in my opinion. I decided early on that I would use red, but the cover would use other design elements to grab the reader’s attention. I liked the use of the planet Mars and the ship arriving. Though the ship and planet might seem overused, my goal was to create more interesting and dynamic layouts with them.
So I sketched out some of my ideas. I thought of the themes of colonization in the book and thought the ship could look like a bomb dropping on an unsuspecting martian city. I made a few layout sketches to decide which I thought would look best.
I wanted the art to have a clean, retro look, so I decided that Adobe Illustrator would work best for that effect. I scanned my sketches in and began converting them to digital art. Designing the ship didn’t take too long, but the city was another story. It was definitely the most time-consuming step of the project. Designing a unique alien city is harder than it looks.
I used NASA photos of Mars for references of the planet texture and used Photoshop effects to create a starry sky. Putting the city & planet together against the night sky, I noticed the buildings blended too much into the night and decided to add a glow effect to make the martian city look mystical and fantastic. I dropped the ship artwork in from Illustrator and spent time trying different layout options for the type.
Making a dark cover with legible title and back copy was a challenge. And creating the alien city, placing it on the planet and scaling it to the right size in my vision took more time than I had anticipated. But the end result turned out great!
The Parable of the Sower
Octavia Butler is one of science fiction’s greatest authors. As a black author, she writes from a perspective that is not seen often enough in this genre. Her books delve deep into the human condition and explore places that most sci-fi authors shy away from. The Parable of the Sower is a great example of this. It’s a complex story of a future world that you might call “post-apocalyptic,” but unlike other books of that genre, we start from a place very similar to our own and watch society devolve into its worst nature. Lauren is a young woman with a strange condition of hyperempathy; she feels the physical pain of those around her. As you can imagine, this makes living in a crumbling society even more horrific. But Lauren perseveres and even creates her own optimistic religion that sees hope in humanity’s future.
I found most covers for this book to be uninspired covers that you’d see in a bookstore and likely pass over in the genre fiction section unless you were familiar with the author or title. The second cover was more interesting to me. It’s an older cover from the 90s and fits the style of that era. The artwork here fits the spirit of the story. I wanted to go in this direction.
I used a faux typewriter typeface that looked a little rough because I thought it fit the theme of a post-apocalyptic journal very well. I took the type layout in mind as I worked on my illustration. I did a few thumbnail sketches, but for this one I had a good idea of what I wanted to do, so most of my work was done directly in Photoshop. To color the final piece, I tried a technique used by digital comic artists called “flatting.”
With the flatting technique, first you select the areas of color (hair, face, shirt, etc.) and fill these selections with different colors on a separate layer. This is done so you can easily adjust the colors as needed using selections and the “fill” tool. A semitransparent shadow layer adds depth to the colors. And in my final step, I adding a texture layer.