There are some great cover artists out there and I don’t think any of them get the attention they deserve. I know I’ve picked up a lot of books purely because of the cover, and I know I’m not alone in this. A good cover doesn’t just draw the reader in though. A cover can set the tone for the book. A lot of the covers I really like are often not the most technically brilliant and detailed pictures. I like ones with character and a bit of emotion. One of my favourite covers so far this year has been Noir Carnival. It jumps out of the and forces you to look at it. My first reaction to seeing it was that it would make a cool t-shirt. That is a good sign.
That’s enough of my prattling. I’ve convinced S.L. Johnson to answer some questions for me. Mainly out of my own fascination, but hopefully you’ll enjoy them too.
Q. When did you decide you were going to be an artist and what did the people around you think?
A. I have always had a passion for art, for creating, for expressing myself in a visual manner. I think the day I visited the Louvre and stood in front of the statue of Nike of Samothrace was the day I was struck, had a real epiphany, by how much I wanted to be part of that world of creativity. I was 13.
What did other people think? A lot of the usual dubious reactions based on stereotypes: you won’t make a living, what is the point, the only job you’ll get is graphic design (granted, I make more doing that than selling block prints.) I’ve achieved balance by having a job that pays the bills, which frees me up in my creative endeavors, so I can choose the people I wish to work with, and also make projects more affordable. I work with mostly indie artists, publishers & merchants.
Q. I first saw your work on the Weird Noir cover. I look at my Weird Noir mug every day at work and I still think it looks cool. How did you come up with that cover design?
A. why do I not have a photo of you holding the mug for my gallery!
The image just popped into my head. Sorry, no dramatic soul-searching here- it was probably stimulated by the face I had just finished a project with a skull in it. I saw the name of the book & let it simmer in my brainpan for a while. I wanted to do something literally noirish and weird, and that happened. I’m quite sure some conversation with Kate was involved. We have this synergy that generally produces pictures in my head.
The skull happened first, then the figure in the eye socket just brought it to another level. I wanted to also give a my own twist to themes from old pulp novel covers.
Q. I’ve had a nose at your portfolio (sljohnsonimages.com) and I think that Carnival Noir is probably your best work. Much fun was that cover to create and do you have anything even more cool in the pipeline?
A. Really? Well, thank you! I was quite pleased with Fluffychuck in the end.
Well…..that image had also popped into my head, and I wanted to keep with the skull theme of Weird Noir. I sweated that cover more as drawing the skull and deciding which elements to keep/discard took longer than I thought it would. I ended up with 7 different Fluffychucks, whittled it down to 4, banged my head against the wall, left it, went back & picked one.
I’m super pleased that some of the authors seem to really like it, and very pleased it freaks out the publisher. Personally, I thought it was funny when I was working on it, but now it’s done, it does look kinda freaky! AJ Sikes has a contest over on his site inspired by the cover- how cool is that? It’s really great to work with a publisher that trusts me to get the job done, and with writers who are dedicated to the project.
Q. What annoys you most when you look at a book cover?
A. Poorly “designed” book covers annoy me. Uninteresting stock photos with some crappy overused font slapped on top offends me. That whole “white cover with some font & a cut-off photo that vaguely speaks to the subject” is just a yawningly bland trend.
A poorly done book cover signals to me that the publisher couldn’t be bothered with the product, which does everyone a disservice. These days, with the bombardment of images coming at us everyday through all sorts of media, why would you want something utterly forgettable placed on your book?! I want a book cover to catch my eye! I want it to say “hey, psst, ovah here, bud, you gotta have a look at dese pages….!”
Q. What is your favourite book cover by somebody else, and why?
A. Oh, there’s not just one! In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak; John Tenniel’s covers for Alice in Wonderland & The Raven; the classic Penguin paperback covers; any carved leather & gilded cover will thrill me; Space Age book covers, especially children’s science books; anything by Chris Ware or Chip Kidd; the glorious covers for the Oz books; pulp book covers…..there’s so many to choose from!
Q. You’re stuck on a desert island with only five books to read. Which ones would you choose?
A. Complete Sherlock Holmes by AC Doyle
Alice in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass
The Letters of Vincent Van Gogh
Collected works of Kurt Vonnegut
Ask me tomorrow, and I’ll give you 5 different titles!