You should not judge a book entirely by its cover, but it’s no secret that a compelling cover helps good content stand out in a crowded marketplace.
A book cover is the first thing that a potential reader sees; a good cover should catch the reader’s attention while visually signalling the book’s message, tone, ideologies and/or narrative. A great cover can even stand on its own as a work of art, gaining iconic status over time.
As 2016 drew to an end, we wanted to celebrate some of the best designs and illustrations that graced the covers of our books throughout the year. Thanks to all our readers who voted in our online poll, we are pleased to announce the top three covers of 2016:
1. Charis Loke, A Life Beyond Boundaries
“When Gerakbudaya approached me to do the ALBB cover for their Southeast Asian edition of it, I knew I wanted to make something with a nod to regional sensibilities, within the boundaries of how I work as an artist. Verso had already put out a version with a cover in the style of Japanese brush painting, which I thought was very good – but I was not keen on making a similar cover to it.
However, GB wanted to keep the frog and coconut shell imagery, as the ‘katak di bawah tempurung‘ is an integral part of the book. I printed out blank covers, grabbed a red and a black pen, and sketched out thumbnail ideas (shown below) which were sent to Charles and Nine”.
“You can see a few different explorations of how to show coconut shells (from more dynamic to more static), while the idea of a sun with rays done in batik wax lines on cloth appears several times, as does contour lines. Thumbnail #10 was picked, which I then developed further. The final art was done by first laying down a grid and rough shapes with pencil on watercolour paper, then drawing over it with a Chinese brush and black Sumi ink (shown below), with the splash of red and background texture added digitally”.
“It would be interesting to consider if the cover would work as well in a non-Southeast Asian context where the majority of readers aren’t familiar with ‘katak di bawah tempurung‘. As an illustrator my first responsibility is to convey ideas through visuals clearly, and I think the frog leaping across the columns of coconuts, bringing disarray to order and being a dynamic diagonal element, shows boundary-breaking to a certain extent. But there is an extra ‘aha!’ moment for readers who do know the saying, and who recognise it in the cover”.
*Charis Loke is an illustrator and teacher based in Malaysia. She makes pictures that evoke a sense of wonder and curiosity, believing that art matters, stories matter, and the two can bring people together. Her work includes editorial illustration, children’s book illustration, book covers, posters, and live sketches.
2. Winnie Cheng (ERYN), Death of the Dragon God Lake
“I am a full-time artist living and creating in Penang. Two of my artworks titled “Memory” and “Star River” were exhibited at Black Box, Publika during the Elusive exhibition in 2015 and caught the eye of the publications officer who thought the themes of the artwork would suit the cover design for Death of the Dragon God Lake. After showing photos of the works to the authors it was decided to do a brand new drawing tailored to the Tasik Chini narrative, specifically to include the image of the Naga Sri Gumum. I was provided with photos of the lake from the authors as well as a chapter of the book that describes the Naga.
I decided to do pen and watercolour illustrations for the book cover, though the first design draft was created in Photoshop to show the placement of the title text and all other elements on the front, spine and back cover. The authors were satisfied with the concept I provided, and I translated the digital sketch into a hand-drawn format, inked it in with Faber-Castell PITT Pens and painted it with watercolours. The illustration was then digitized to be incorporated in the final layout in Photoshop. Then there was some minor editing done, such as adding lightning and storm clouds to contrast with the lotus flowers, as advised by the authors. The reason I chose to do a hand-drawn illustration is because I love the process of it and I feel it reflects the theme of the book well. Overall it was a wonderful experience as it was my first book cover design!”
3. Khor Shing Yin, The SEA is Ours
“Editor Jaymee Goh and I are both from Malaysia, and quickly agreed that even in a steampunk alternate history, we wanted to portray a street scene with hawkers and a diversity of people. A lot of small architectural elements in the final cover are inspired by the blend of Dutch and Chinese influenced architecture on Jonker Street in Malacca (my hometown). I tried to get in as many references to the stories in the book as possible – I think I managed six or seven! My favourite cover element, though, is definitely the flying catfish”.
Thanks again to everyone who voted in our online poll (we will be contacting the winner of the lucky draw shortly)!
We look forward to another year of publishing books that matter – with memorable covers – in 2017.