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Zut Alors, Fletcher Hanks!
Written by Jacob Covey | Filed under Paul KarasikKovey KornerFletcher Hanks 23 Nov 2007 9:39 AM

As the designer of Paul Karasik's "I Shall Destroy All the Civilized Planets" I can tell you that there were dozens of directions considered for this cover design. I share Karasik's reverence for Fletcher Hanks and this final, spare white cover design [above, left] resulted from our joint response to how Hanks' work is most succinctly communicated. At the core his style is awkward but unmistakable and carries with it a baron, iconic force. His superheroes are omnipotent and dramatically unpredictable/unknowable.

I guess I'm disappointed in the new French edition cover that showed up in our offices this week [above, right]. More often than not the foreign reprints produce covers not by starting from scratch but by somehow "improving" our cover designs. And it's not like I wouldn't understand if, say, you the reader of this post thought that the French edition is just fine. But I'm still cranky that the underlying purpose to my design choices becomes cosmetic furniture to be rearranged and thrown out-- or, as is most often the case with these redesigns, added to. It's ALWAYS accumulated upon-- never stripped down.

And this angst isn't rooted so much in pride of my own work (and certainly not rooted in some sense of vicarious possessiveness) but, frankly, it would be fun to see another, better-than-my-own take on the cover. Something besides a redecoration. In this case the French surprised me by throwing a heavy blue shag carpet over the top of fine (white) hardwood floors. They FORCE us to contextualize our god-like hero, to literally solidify Stardust in space and thereby reduce his power. His omnipotent presence is gone and he simply becomes a component in a generic field of empty blue space. The iconic quality of his turned-away pose goes from being a stark portrait of his unknowable-ness to a poorly-timed snapshot of some sci-fi space traveler. (I'm not truly an expert but besides the fact that this panel is fabricated it doesn't FEEL like Hanks to me. His character is never so incidental to a composition and landscape never dwarfs his heroes. Though his worlds are bleak, they aren't so expansively EMPTY.)

And, yes, I realize there are dozens of reader guffaws rising up at my overanalysis of this composition. I know that nobody is viewing this cover and having these thoughts pop into their mind. For the record, I don't believe it's a conscious response that the book browser has to these things; I do believe there is an unconcscious response though. On my best day the goal is not to 'market' a book but to distill unconscious cues into evoking some story about the content in a single, eye-catching cover design... Ultimately I don't feel like this new design remains as pure to the artist's peculiarities, nor does it pop off a bookshelf as strongly. (Consider the effect of an expansive white cover with a vague superhero form that causes you to wonder what the hell you're looking at versus a niche-specific panel from a sci-fi comic book. The lack of context leaves some room to engage the viewer's own imagination and, therefore, compel that person to pick up the book.)

I digress.

In any case your favorite outsider comic artist just learned French and got that much more eccentric.

All of my personal issues aside, the production on the book's interior is excellent. The hand-lettering is translated and convincingly intergrated to the point that halftone backgrounds are continued seemlessly and the letters are uniquely degraded, blending into the page as if originally written in French. The printing is crisp and the color is solid. It's absolutely worth owning if you read French or have a beloved Frenchie on your holiday shopping list.


You know who created a superb cover (and spine) design? Anders Nilsen for his "Monologues for the Coming Plague." Perfect. And today he loans some images of his sketchbooks and gives a Q&A to the great "Book By Its Cover" blog, which is really giving the spotlight to some cool cartoonists lately.