THE VANISHERS

(Doubleday, 2012)

Emily, whose work I love,  graciously solicited my input before she started the jacket. Not jacket ideas, per se—she wanted to know what visual cues had inspired me while writing the book. No designer had ever asked for my input before, and I, of course, had many compelling visual ideas to offer!

One idea was to pivot off the the Vitra Design Museum poster—it’s a large poster with a grid of many, many tiny chair photographs—but try to achieve a Chuck Close painting effect, so that up close you would see chairs, and far away you’d see a face. So brilliant!!!

My other brilliant idea was to knock off a Sophie Calle photograph. My minimalist contribution was to situate a very tiny black Barcelona chair in the middle of a white cover. The upshot of all of this: the Barcelona chair idea was pursued, but then many other people besides Emily got involved, and the chair turned a strange brown color, and was situated in the middle of what looked like a therapist’s office, and I believe the note my editor sent with the jacket mock-up was, “Here’s your Barcelona chair.” Which I understood as code for: we all hate this chair idea, can we please let our designer do her job now?

I hated the chair idea, too, by this point. Emily and I ceased contact so she could work without the risk of encountering any more unhelpful input from me. My last, slightly joking plea to my editor had been, “Please don’t give me a girly cover!” So when I received my STD Man on Acid cover, I was, for about two seconds, sad.

But then I comprehended how completely bonkers and beautiful and savage the flowers were. It’s the first book cover I’ve had that made me proud of my book—I was honestly more proud of what I’d written BECAUSE of that cover. I was proud that my book had inspired such a talented designer to create this mesmerizing visual representation. I pretty regularly wrote to Emily last fall, e-mails like, “just looking at this jacket makes me so happy!” and “looking at it STILL makes me happy!”

Even now, seven months since my book was published, that jacket gives me such an energy charge. It’s like Fruit Stripe gum for the eyes. I’ve even researched having a custom iPhone case made from Emily’s design, that’s how desperate I am to always be looking at it.

Heidi Julavits, author

I usually have little contact with the author. But with The Vanishers, Heidi’s detailed e-mails and her strong connection to her novel and characters were a driving force behind the final cover design.

Heidi first suggested that I see the Alexander McQueen exhibit at the Met. Then, we discussed the exhibit’s beautiful, magical elements, especially the faceless masks, which related, in an abstract way, to the novel’s mystery and horror.

I took a first stab at a cover design by using one of the novel’s key visuals:a Barcelona chair (designed by Mies van der Rohe). The editor thought this could be a strong cover icon. I hired Jon Shireman to shoot a miniature version of the chair, which he picked up at the MOMA store. Jon pieced it together with a stenographer’s pad. His idea was to make it look like the chair was in a film reel—sort of a chair disappearing into film. We wanted to play up the novel’s “vanishing” element.

Yet there was something that was never quite right about this original cover design. It felt too small for the book, and everyone was on board with trying a new approach. I kept pursuing other ideas, more typographic and bold. I kept hearing, “Let’s make this florid and explosive and energetic,” and, while I wanted the cover to capture the novel’s storyline, it quickly became more important to come up with something that captured the novel’s feeling, not just the story. In Heidi’s words, she was looking for a “This is an amazing object; you must pick this up!” vibe.

I started creating a visual cacophony of flowers by piecing together clip art of all shapes and sizes. Then, the title and author would knock-out of the flowers in white and would be the only negative space on the cover. I tried a few other variations using flowers, but this design won hands down.

In the end, the only change the publisher wanted me to make was to add color to the type, in lieu of the white, so I picked a purple foil that would stand out.

Emily Mahon, designer

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