This is very exciting. I have been asking my friend and Senior Creative Director at Macmillan Children's Publishing Group, Rich Deas, for an interview for a long time. Finally, the two of us have gotten it together enough for me to post this. Rich designed all of my book covers, and in the process we have exchanged numerous emails and phone calls, sometimes having less to do with covers and more to do with Pearl Jam. Or how one of us is getting old (ahem). Below is a look into one of the great minds of book design. I'm lucky to have him on my team. Or am I on his team? Play ball.
First, Dear Sir, what is your official job title?
I’m actually the Fire Warden on my floor where I work. I think that concerns some. But, I’m also a Senior Creative Director at Macmillan Children’s Publishing Group. I work directly with the Feiwel and Friends, Henry Holt and Square Fish imprints.
Do you read every book you design a cover for? What is the expectation for that in this business (for you and other designers you know)?
I do try to read every title I work on. I really feel disconnected if I don’t. I’ve worked as a designer for other publishers, and there are variations in the way people work. Some art directors just read a description or a synopsis since there are so many titles on a list. It can be quite difficult to read them all but I do try.
When is the moment you envision a cover for a book? What do you do next?
I doodle and take notes while I read a manuscript. Then I start to play around with more sketches or ideas. I usually do numerous comps before I land on one direction. I may think I have a good solution early on, but when I get into it I may realize it doesn’t work. I have tons of personally rejected pieces or stages before I show the few final comps.
I’ve been fortunate to have worked with my publisher, Jean Feiwel. I think we share a similar taste and appreciation for art and creativity. We work closely and have generated a lot of covers together. She may have thoughts before I start in on the manuscript. She’s constantly thinking and throwing out ideas. We usually meet a few times through the process until we have comps we feel comfortable presenting.
Have you ever come up with a cover, had it published, and then seen a very similar cover? What is the first thing that comes to your head when that happens?
Thief! Just kidding, it does happen, especially in the stock photography era. I’ve had plenty of designs and/or ideas that I’ve worked on, used or not, to only later see them published somewhere else. I think there are a lot of art directors, artists and designers out there with similar tastes, so it’s bound to happen. There is a series that I worked on that had a very stylized approach. I was fairly disappointed to see the approach and style mimicked for another series in a similar genre. Actually worked out better for them – oh well!
What is your all time favorite book cover you designed? If you can’t think of just one, how about a top five or ten?
No such thing. I don’t normally like what I design. I know it sounds crazy, but I tend to see the flaws etc. I’d rather look at someone else’s work. I do think Into the Wild Nerd Yonder, The Marbury Lens, The Wager, and the original, rejected Demonata covers are some of the better ones but I do have issues with them. Ask me tomorrow, and I might give you a different answer.
How do you feel when an author tries to suggest ideas for their cover? Have any authors demanded you use their idea or change the cover after you’ve completed it?
Do you mean besides you (just kidding)? There have been a couple of unsatisfied customers, but for the most part, the authors have been very supportive and happy with the designs.
What are the factors in the publishing business dictating the design trends right now?
Publishing has changed quite a bit due to the economy and limited shelf space. So, there is a stronger focus on what is published and how it’s packaged. More people are involved with the process, trying to help create a marketable and sellable book. Unfortunately some of the trends are to follow whatever is selling at the time, and because of that you see less variation and originality suffers a bit. I think a good example of this is the amount of teen covers with headshots. It amazes me, when I walk into a bookstore and see a wall of good-looking floating heads. Some of these covers look great, but I hope the trend continues to open up to more conceptual approaches and styles, etc. I’d like to see illustration and design become more of an option (or trend), as well!
Do you personally hand draw any of your covers? Are they all computer made?
I can still draw a pretty straight line without using a mouse. Magic. . . no. I use the ancient instrument of our ancestors, the almost extinct, Pencil. I’m a big fan of the Sanford design 2B pencil. For me, everything starts with some sort of sketch, doodle, note to self etc. I think I’m an illustrator at heart and I do feel sketching helps me think. I still paint and draw, but I find myself scanning and finishing illustrations on the computer.
What is the worst thing you could hear when you finish a cover? Who said it?
“It looks like a whore or something.” I kid you not, one of the first covers I ever designed and illustrated about 12 years ago was abused or defiled at a sales conference by a sales rep who could not find the better words to describe his reaction. It was a western novel (can’t give you the title) that I illustrated using a flat vector style. It was rejected because of that comment. It’s ironic, I’ve seen plenty of covers including westerns done in this style. It’s too bad because it was definitely different at the time.
What is the best thing you could hear when you finish a cover? Who said it?
Comments are good. There are times where I don’t hear anything. . .gulp. I think, I’ve been fairly lucky, most people are nice about the covers. I’m usually most happy when Jean, the author and editor have a nice words.
How did you get into the art and design business in the first place?
I picked up a pencil.
Who are some of your biggest influences in art and design?
I could go on forever here because I do so admire other people’s work. I’ll keep it short, unfortunately, leaving off many names that are important to me:
I saw that your brother designs postage stamps. Are you insanely jealous? Can you ask him if he will put out a commemorative Beverly Hills 90210 series? What about Buffy? And the question we’re all wondering: does he get free stamps?
My big bro, Mike is an amazing painter and has illustrated some pretty interesting projects in his career including the Edgar Allen Poe, James Dean and Marilyn Monroe Stamps, Columbia Pictures logo, etc. I’m not sure if he gets free stamps, but I do have some cool collector stamps from the relationship. He also was a big help in teaching me how to paint. Unfortunately, I think he robbed the gene pool on that trait.
Do you really exist, since we have never met in person, or are you more of a Max Headroom-type?
I’d prefer, a Keyser Soze-type comparison. The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.
Who is your absolute favorite author to work with? And since I know your answer will be me, why is that?
There are several reasons. First, you understand and have also mastered sarcastic humor. Your books make me laugh. You are passionate about books. You hung with Eddie Vedder. And, for the most part, I respect my elders.
Thanks, Rich, for your answers and your art!