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Pirates in the Heartland: The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Vol. 1 - Cover Uncovered, Designer's Notes
Written by Mike Baehr | Filed under S Clay WilsonPatrick RosenkranzComing Attractions 17 Mar 2014 12:36 PM

Pirates in the Heartland: The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Vol. 1

The man. His work. They coexist on the cover and in the pages of Pirates in the Heartland: The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Vol. 1, compiling Wilson's seminal underground comix work along with the first part of Patrick Rosenkranz's authoritative biography. Wilson unleashed a cannon barrage on the boundaries of the comics art form and rushed through, flintlocks blazing, cutlass in teeth, and fly open, taking no prisoners with his outrageous output. This book, combined with its two forthcoming sequels, will be the last word and the ultimate collection of a comics legend. Look for more previews between now and its release this summer.

And for lots more insight into the cover design, art director Jacob Covey wrote these notes on his personal Facebook page, re-presented here with his kind permission:

Here's the cover design for the new Fantagraphics book from Patrick Rosenkranz, The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson, Volume One: Pirates In the Heartland. This is the result of more comps than I have ever produced before and I figured I'd write about it to get at some idea of why.

For one thing, I went into this project with little enthusiasm. Wilson is a pioneering Underground Comix artist who inspired R. Crumb to let loose his id, to break comics wide open for self-expression. But Wilson on the surface -- and after forty years of being built upon (back to before I was born) -- lacks the contrasting dignity of Crumb's linework and his compositions are DENSE. Wilson art is recognizable: His line, and his humor, is crass; there is no white space and there are no taboos.

There are artists you have to recalibrate for and, for me, Wilson turns out to be one of those. It took a lot of sitting with the stories to let down my guard and enjoy how powerful the work is. A lot of artists talk about wanting to get back to creating like a kid again. Wilson manages to remain as unfiltered as an adolescent in detention. His is not the art of an innocent kindergartner who draws fanciful anatomy in a surreal landscape but that of the self-realizing, hormone-raging, unclean middle-beast that is boys who are becoming men. He still draws like a kid, just not the kid we romanticize about. At a time when most of us become self-conscious and begin self-censoring Wilson did not.

That accomplishment in itself is remarkable but his relentless creating is the application that makes him genius. Wilson seems to exist solely to get his sprawling imagination down on paper. His prolific output is that of the consummate artist. That it is also very graphic, violent, and offensive to most all social norms takes a little adjusting to.

So all of this is what I had to assimilate just to start my job. To feel like I had enough grasp on Wilson to "brand" his life by designing this cover to (volume one of) his biography. My first attempts weren't about Wilson but associations with his Underground brethren and the psychedelia connected to the period. Pinks, Cyans, solid clashing color. All completely missing the character of Wilson. Wilson was (is) certainly a drug user but of the escapist, rebellious variety, not the trippy, feel-good variety. He's a meat-and-potatoes guy who creates fevered worlds, including his own. Hence the title "The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson" -- a smart nuance on the part of Rosenkranz.

In publishing, one has to approach a cover with the information of an expert and the ignorance of a browser. In biographies, a photo of the subject is generally employed for good reason: The viewer immediately knows this is a book about a person. (Hence the trend in fiction of generally cropping off the heads of models or having them looking away -- this is not about THEM.) But Wilson is recognizable only by his artwork, so a photo alone isn't enough information. Ultimately, my solution is a kind of psychedelia but a practical one: Pirate art (a favorite theme of Wilson) overlaying a mythic portrait of young Wilson. Creation and creator in color overlays that force your eye to try to unhook one from the other.

I generally consider it a failure when cover design requires a band of color upon which to set the type. In this case, it allowed for the art to be the primary feature, to be a bit uncontrolled, while the type treatment is an anchor that harkens classic album design. This kind of visual messaging is trying to align Wilson with rebels and rockstars without making false promises. The trickiest part was simply finding Wilson art that had ANY white space so his portrait could connect with the viewer. The dual function of his artwork blowing the brains out, simultaneously, of Wilson and another of Wilson's creation was too wonderful to pass up but I'm going to leave the symbology of such things to the viewer.

Pirates in the Heartland: The Mythology of S. Clay Wilson Vol. 1 cover