Designing a great cover for a famous novel can be a daunting enough task, but Canadian illustrator Ray Fenwick had to literally do one better. As part of a series in which Houghton Mifflin republished two of an author’s books in a single volume, Fenwick had to come up with 12 designs that could each do double-duty as the covers of a pair of very different novels.
Fenwick, an artist with a predilection for making patterns, was approached by Houghton Mifflin art director Michaela Sullivan. Sullivan knew the publishing house had to take a approach that was less literal than the usual single-story specs by creating a kind of artistic portmanteau of two different books.
“Michaela and I talked a lot about the thematic similarities in the stories, and then I tried to find something that, in repeat, could tease out these ideas,” Fenwick tells Co. Design. “We essentially drew big conceptual circles around each book and looked for places where those circles overlapped. It was more often than not about an author’s sensibility rather than a direct reference to the books.”
The resulting designs look less like book jackets than book endpapers. For example, the cover for Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is A Lonely Hunterand The Member Of The Wedding uses a repeat pattern of jalopy trucks left to rot in an overgrown field. It doesn’t necessarily pull an image that the two books share as much as it taps a general mood and sense of place–one that’s very much in keeping with the author’s common themes of spiritual isolation set in the Deep South.
Fenwick took a similar approach to other covers in the series (which contains volumes by Olive Ann Burns, Eudora Welty, Alice Walker, George Orwell, and more). “I’m partial to the Jonathan Safran Foer one for its weird exuberance. I think it has the right tone without being didactic about it,” he says. “I also like the C.S. Lewis one for its intensity.”
The crisp geometry and brilliant colors of the C.S. Lewis illustration are a fine example of Fenwick’s deft hand: Like an abstract stained glass window, the design manages to be deeply spiritual and illuminating without being cloyingly Christian, as Lewis himself was.
The illustrator admits he was “nervous about how the authors would react to these, because I’ve had books killed by authors before.” That many of the writers in his series are dead certainly helped in that regard. Among the living, the reaction was positive.
As for the general public’s reception, Fenwick is a realist, and admits that it’s rare to hear too much deep cover analysis from readers. “But with a project like this, it doesn’t matter,” he says. “I’m proud of what we did.”