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Cover project: Hitchhiker's Guide

Updated: Mar 25, 2020

In this post I looked at the history of covers for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. In this post I'll talk about how I'd approach the anniversary-edition-commission...

I was set off thinking again recently about what I'm pretty sure now are my favourite His Dark Materials covers, because I happened to find that edition of The Amber Spyglass at Tooting Bec bookswap. Pretty fortuitous given that they're not just US editions but pretty hard to get hold of US editions:

I just love every choice in these covers. I love the non-literal illustration, the clever choice of imagery (created by Ericka Meltzer O'Rourke) that is tonally right for the book and links by allusion to specific story elements.

I love the hand-crafted lettering (by Lilly Lee) which feels serious without feeling unfriendly. I love the composition of the two. I adore the print finish. That central lockup on the cover is not just foiled but bossed. You just want to keep running your fingers over it. It's like a wax seal or tempered metal. And the paper is heavily textured like watercolour-paper.

So basically I want to rip all that off for Hitchhiker's Guide.

It occurred to me as I was admiring these covers and as Hitchhiker's continued to play over my mind that these designs represented exactly what I would have liked to have seen on anniversary Hitchhiker's editions. Covers that didn't do the 'look at us we're wacky' think nor the 'honestly I assure you, they're proper books' thing. But instead leaned into the fantastic and the grand and the special. Covers that aren't afraid of being weighty and glitzy.

I've taken a look while confined to barracks and got to a basic design for the first three books, and especially the first, that I'm pretty happy with very swiftly.

Something I realised as I worked was that I also wanted to tie back to those original great covers for Hitchhiker's, Restaurant etc. So I've worked with a type approach that draws on the original album/book covers. I'd want to work in and make this title lockup more hand-crafted in feel, uneven and less straight of edge on the border. But I really like the layout.

That thought about typefaces led me to realising that while His Dark Materials is very much a set and a unit, I wanted a little more variation in this series of covers to reflect a set of books which aren't in such a neat sense a 'set'.

I decided to investigate keeping the central lockup the same size and shape, but vary the typographic approach each time in a way which harked back to the original cover.

Where originally I'd imagined I'd keep the titles' gold treatment and vary the background palette like the His Dark Materials covers did, I found what I actually wanted to do was stick to the greys for the background and vary the colours and styling of the title lockup:

Each cover would have a different special finish for its title lockup. The first would be foiled andtextured. The second would use neon Pantones and bossed lines to feel like neon strips. The third would die-cut the title to show the white inner cover.

And like, yes, super expensive. But these are meant to be anniversary editions.

Now the illustration is derived from stock rather than original. I'm actually pretty satisfied with how the one for Hitchhiker's looks. That's just what I imagined, I just happened to find some stock artwork that needed only relatively light editing to match my imagination. The imagery in the other two is more of a broad suggestion. But it's not far off.

Imagery is obviously pretty key. I expressed exasperation in my previous posts at covers using the same round of 'random' images from the books to get across a sense of mad-cap-ery.

I think the key is in selection and treatment. I don't want to lean into the comedy oddness of these images but rather treat them with the weight that Ursa Major etc have on the His Dark Materials covers. A feel of the fantastical. Not selecting necessarily for comedy but for symbolic importance to the book.

And as ever on a cover, you're playing of the title too. Images at an interesting tangent to the images and vibe the title already conjures (and whatever cultural baggage already exists around the title).

I'll work into these a bit more when I have some time, and take a look at So Long and Mostly Harmless too at some point I'll be bound.

Typography-wise there's nothing much doing on the originals as the books first publication dates move into the 80s, the era of dull cover typography. So I'll have to draw on other sources. I'm thinking that Mostly Harmless's title treatment should emulate the coloured-lines-on-black style of the TV series' Guide animations because 'mostly harmless' is after all a Guide entry.

And So Long... nope, got nothing as yet. Send answers on a postcard.


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