Cover advice: The Last Girls Standing second pass

Apropos of this post on Covercritics.

And this follow-up.

See my previous post here.


The author is interested in pursuing a cover that is a pastiche of the original poster for Friday The 13th, using that format to highlight the ways in which her book inverts and subverts the traditional slasher-horror format.


My advice is that parody/pastiche can offer rich ground but that is one of the hardest design angles to pursue.


It means that you are not just trying to get together a design that works internally on its own merits, which is challenging enough, but also trying to work within the confines of an existing design which was created by a professional designer using entirely different tools for a different purpose. You are inviting your work to be compared to a piece of perhaps iconic design. Nothing will guarentee any shortcomings beign found in your own design than having a template aginst which people will immediately judge it.


A parody or pastiche obviously involves mixing an existing image with your own new needs and content. And the really difficult part is getting the balance right so the reference reads clearly but doesn't bog down your own needs with irrelevant, cluttering aspects and elements. It's easy to end up with something that neither nails the reference nor gets across your own message and idea, and that feels clunky and forced.


It's certainly not a direction I'd encourage a new designer to pursue for a project where they want the best possible results. It just makes things harder and the chances of getting a good result narrower.


... However, I'll go through how I'd approach it. A lot of this stuff comes down to instincts gained through experience so you can't articulate it much more than 'it feels right' or 'it feels cluttered' etc. But let's see.


This is the Friday The 13th poster:

It's... all right. It's not the best poster from its genre or era.


I wouldn't call it iconic, not in the way posters like those for The Exorcist, Scream, Silence of The Lambs are. Name those films and I I can call their posters to mind straight away. Whereas If you'd showed me this image without the title attached I'd have had to guess what film it was from from context clues.


As a design it's a good idea with a slightly 'eh' ececution. The figure is a bit of an unsatisfying silhouette, in a kind of weak lopsided pose, with an inconsistent level of detailing - the wrinkle of fabric at the torso but not on the legs etc. The illustration inside is a bit muddy.


And while this probably worked better as a large one-sheet than a thumbnail, we are seeking to adapt this for a book cover. Book covers, it is alway worth restating must work at thumbnail size.


So a slavish copy of this cover is going to bee importing a lot of stuff which wasn't that great to start with and is going to create even more of an issue on the new format.


The part of the poster which does work brilliantly is the typography, and its tie to the knife via the start red/white palette.


In contrast to the imagery, this typographic treatment is iconic. If I saw other works written in that treatment I'd know at once the reference and the associated vibe.


That is probably why this element has continued to be associated consistently with the franchise. When designers want to tie into the existing associations of Friday The 13th they keep that typography. Sometimes the colour-treatment changes, or the arrangement, which shows how strong the design is - some aspects can be changed and it's still strong enough to retain that tie.

So that gives a clear sign of what element of the poster should be referenced strongly and which are more disposable. The typography is important, the imagery less so.


I'd say the colour scheme is worth paying attention to also. The original poster is stark black, red, white and then the subtler shades of grey and blue for the illustration. Later parts of the franchise mostly use the black, red and white.


The thing about parody and pastiche is that they usually work best when treated lightly. Being too literal can not only hamper your own design needs but also paradoxically make the reference less recognisable. Its better to pick out the parts that need to be locked down, and hold other aspects and elements more lightly.


Unfortunately the only way to really get a sure sense fo what is essential and what is not is experience, the practiced eye, plus a process of trial and error.


To give an example fo what I mean with this particular reference in mind, check out this Friday The 13th parody poster for Community:

Now this isn't a brilliantly drawn poster or anything but it works very well as a parody (I should note that it's actually more directly referencing the poster for Friday The 13th Part II than the first film, but the posters are very close).


Firstly it's a well-chosen combination of reference point to subject matter to audience.


And it recognises what is sacred to keeping the reference in tact and what can be played with. The lettering and colour scheme remain identical to the reference point's. But the silhouette is completely changed and a letterman 'G' added to bring in the subject matter on Community strongly.


Now this poster relies on references to the media in hand that only devoted fans would get. A Community fan recognises the letterman 'G' and the slogan 'six seasons and a movies', and that helps them make the little leap that the silhouette must be the 'Greendale Human Being'. Those are all very opaque references to anyone outside the Community fandom but this poster is for a very specific audience.


A book cover for is for a general audience. You are hoping to draw in a particular kind of reader but the pool you are speaking to is browsers with no reason to stop and examine your cover other than what you made leap out at them.


It's no good piling up clever references on a book cover and clever references alone; no one will ever pause long enough to appreciate them.


So a very direct Friday The 113th reference is ging to appeal to people who already really like that film, but you've got to ask yourself - a. is that a wide enough audience to pull readers from? and b. is it even very representative of the book? It doesn't sound like it's a parody or pastiche of a particular text, more a tribute to and modern spin on a whole genre.


So in conclusion, if I was looking at the Friday The 13th poster, it wouldnt' be as a template to parody, but rather something to draw resources from where they seem useful and ignore where they don't.


Imagery


When I say the imagery of the poster can be thought of as pretty incidental and changeable compared to the typography for the reference, that doesn't mean I think the idea behind it should be thrown out entirely.


But this is where design thinking really comes is, which is often about associations, identifying links and trends to make cohesion.


In this case the style of the original imagery is very dated. If it was brilliantly done that could read as cool and retro but as I say it wasn't a great execution then and time hasn't improved it.


But the idea is basically solid. Using a figure to frame scenery is a solid move and consequently still has currency.


Only now the version you tend to see a lot is the 'double exposure' effect: one photo overlayed on another to make the former a frame for the latter.


Type 'double exposure movie poster' or 'double exposure book cover' into Google images and see what I mean about this being popular:


I've designed a book cover that employs the technique myself and made notes on it here.


The technique/approach incredibly popular for a few reasons:


Because it's a reliably effective way of combining the idea of 'character' with 'setting'.


It's simple for even a novice designer to get something effective looking by just having a good eye for stock and playing around with the transparency settings on Photoshop.


And though the technique is the same you get unique and bespoke results according to the images you use, so however many times this technique gets used the posters and book covers don't start looking too samey.


So the double exposure approach is a way of following the idea of the Friday The 13th poster while leaving behind what is weak or not useful. It has a continuity of while being modern-looking and slick.


But you need to find the right stock images to use of course.



The girl


Finding the right stock imagery is not easy, especially when it comes to representing characters. Characters are particular and finding an image that matches one - let alone striking a pose that works for the cover - can be very hard. If your character isn't white, that sadly makes it all the harder. Stock photography on the big sites sadly has quite a white bias.


One advantage you have when you are planning to do a double-exposure effect is that your figure can/will be basically a silhouette, making those details less important.


So the thing to look out for most is the silhouette the figure makes.


This is an excellent site for finding diverse action girls in loads of poses, and at very reasonable licencing fees: thestockalchemist.com


As ever I'd advise dowloading a low-res version of whatever image/s you like and getting to a final composition before you commit to buying your stock.


I picked from this photoshoot and the photo below struck me as offering the right feel, even when reduced to silhouette. It's vital to get the character image right because it needs to seel the right angle hard - in this case the sense of a strong, cool action figure. It would be easy for this book cover to sleip into looking like it's about a creepy serial-killer girl.


Again, design instincts - I made a good guess here, I did experiment with a couple of others but this was a clear front-runner.


The less experienced one is the more one should give oneself time to play around with losts of different options.


The scene


In the original poster the scene seen through the outline is relatively complex, showing the woods, the cabin and the protagonists.


But as I noted before, that design was for a poster to be seen large and up-close. we want to simplify that. We want one figure that converys the monster/slasher vibe. That figure doesn't need to have details from within the novel. Here simplicity matters more than detail. We want to get across this simple archetypal sense of the slasher movie monster.


There's already a lot to process in this cover idea so the simpler you can make each touchstone the better.


You also need to be careful of tone - again, something that's easier to navigate with experience. There's a million different shades of horror and you want to make sure you're getting just the right version of a creepy wood.


Here's the images that I ended up working after trying a few...

... but only after I'd played massively with them, flipping the colours, wacking up the lightness/contrast levels etc.



Cover designs


So these are very rough versions. The stock images are lo-res and watermarked. The byline and logline are in placeholder fons. There are plenty of details to finesse.


But we can evaluate how the design is working.


The first attempt feels too cluttered because there's too many areas of focus of equal weight. The eye doesn't know where to go.


The second solves this by giving the girl a hard crop, taking away the face as an area of focus. It's a better composition but feeels inappropriate to genre. The centring of the model's bum makes this feel like a more adult chicksploitation story.


The third also simplifies the figure with a crop, but more successfully.


Crucial is the space is forms for the title typography. It turns out that the right-align of the text gives the Friday The 13th reference that extra push.


And generally the composition is very strong: the white and red text/knife elements frame the girl, who frames the creepy figure. Everything is nicely grouped and flows well.


I think there's probably a better forest/creepy figure image or couple of images that can be found to really perfect this cover. And once I'd bought the stock image of the model I'd do a lot of fiddling to make sure I was getting the level of detail showing right. Currently we've lost all clothing definition, and that makes her lose personality a bit. But that's the business of the final stage of a design, once the basic composition has been worked out and alternatives discarded.


This design is one I'd take forward confident that with those final choices and polishes it would become a really effective, good-looking cover which strikes the balance between reference and being its own great design.



NB: this post was actually written and published 6th March 2020 but date attached changed for reasons too uninteresting to get into.

​© 2018 by Kathryn Rosa Miller. Created with Wix.com

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