Book Cover Design: I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore

My friend Chris Lombardi is closing in on the finale of her long-in-the-works book, I Ain’t Marchin’ Anymore: Soldiers Who Dissent, from the Boston Massacre to Bradley Manning. I’m privileged to have a part in this project.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve been prepping a video for the Kickstarter project that– crowdsourcing gods be praised– ¬†will attracting funding for Chris to spend the next few months getting the manuscript into final shape, and to hire and editor to help the process along. I’ll post a link to the video when that’s done and ready for public review. I’m also going to do some work on setting up a website that’ll function as a resource for soldiers and concerned citizens, as well as a repository for the stuff that got cut out of the actual book.

I also took a whirl at designing a book cover.

There is no guarantee that the design will be used. For one thing, one of the things Chris is offering through her Kickstarter is a special cover designed by someone else. For another, the press that is publishing Chris’s book may not want to use it.

But I wanted to give a design a try. For every Chip Kidd out there, designing great covers, there are hundreds of people whose work wouldn’t pass muster as free templates. (Right now, both Paul Krugman and Joseph Stiglitz have books out about the current economic crisis. Both have covers consisting of white backgrounds, black type, and not much else.)

Academic presses get especially lazy with their designs. Sure, maybe they publish one or two glamorous books with a little pizzazz. But a lot of presses don’t do a very good job. I had a look at some examples; lots of tall, thin, sans-serifed fonts, a few rectangles in pastel colors, maybe a black and white photo that’s been tinted or Zipatoned to look as though the art director wasn’t completely asleep at his or her job. The tendency’s even worse when the books are radical political and history texts, because then you have uninspired art directors trying to look like other small-press radical histories… and that can hurt sales.

The design I came up with may not be exciting, but it does look like an Important Work of History from a major press. The use of a finely-serifed font like Garamond may be old hat, but it does signal a dignity we associate with a book by David McCullough¬†or Robert Caro. That is how good Chris’s book is.

My first draft (upper picture) used some stray graphics we’d assembled for the Kickstarter video. The strength of this layout is that Chris’s book discussed soldiers’ dissent throughout American history; we tend to associate the subject with the Vietnam War, but a collage of photos, illustrations and documents helps convey that this is a grander history than we usually expect. (Also, using the photo of Lewis Douglass on the spine was too perfect to ignore.) But my second draft (lower picture) had another virtue; Sure, the photo is of a Vietnam-era protest. But, by wrapping it around the entire cover, the picture takes on an epic aspect, as though the story is too big to be contained solely on the front cover. It also draws the reader around the back to read what, I hope, will be laudatory blurbs from well-known reviewers.

The Tony Auth cartoon on the inside book flap probably won’t make the final design, but it does sum up Chris’s book very, very nicely.

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