Let us sing of covers


Now that Byuck is available on paper, it's time to discuss its cover, work of the inestimable Matt Page.

The first thing you should know about Matt is that the man is a workhorse. He can generate ideas and polish them and throw them out in less time than your average designer can figure out how to turn on the espresso machine. I highly recommend him.

This post will be more narrative than salespitch, and as such we must go way back in time to 1999, when Byuck was just a few scenes from a barely-begun play---and I created my first image. I'm not going to look through boxes for a copy of this anthropormorphized Y with a B and an eye on one side and an UCK and an eye on the other side. Suffice it to say it was ugly. I was pleased with it though and showed it to this designer girl I knew who promptly vomited. Somehow she blocked it out and we married, with the side effect that I developed some taste. Lucky.

When [Publisher X] was on the cusp of publishing Byuck in 2007, I was mocking up covers and marketing plans for them. I was pleased with my designs from an aesthetic standpoint, but they failed to make any comedic statements and so were ultimately deadends.

Here's my favorite idea from the time, remade in Paint to negate any awesomeness.

Maybe throw a lacrosse stick against the fence, and voila!

But I'm sure you can see the issues here.

(Mountains' source.)

Picket fences are a controlling image from the book, but they don't really SAY much on their own. Or, rather, what such fences generally mean doesn't apply here. So it's a bust.

My other idea I couldn't draw to save my life: a ballpoint pen, a keyboard, and a lacrosse stick crossed like the swords behind a coat of arms.

Anyway, the whole publication fell through so I put those ideas to rest.

Fastforward almost five years to Strange Violin contacting me and, ultimately, to Matt Page being sent the manuscript.

Matt and I already had some history. He had refused to be part of the Sunstone comics issue no matter how I cajoled. He later regretted that which is part of why he did so much awesome work on Monsters & Mormons. Then add the incredible cover he did for Strange Violin's A Short Stay in Hell and I decided not to give him any suggestions and just see what he would come up with. Which resulted in this:

Which, even though there's nothing wrong with it, I didn't like? Why not?

Two main reasons. First, it looks too YA. But more importantly, due to philosophical/aesthetic reasons, Byuck's main characters are underdescribed. Dave and Ref only look like this to Matt. With the exception of what Ref's wearing, none of this is in the text.

I'm aiming for universality. So I underdescribe main characters as a matter of aesthetic necessity. Readers will fill in the blanks from two dots and a line.

And I don't want them beholden to what the cover says they look like.

You can tell I feel strongly about this.

Anyway, I mentioned the picket fence idea and Matt came up with this:

Mountains in the background was just one of the ideas I'd fittered with for the picket fence idea; Matt chose to add them on his own.

I never quite figured out what I didn't like about this cover---probably because I liked many thing about it---and Matt tried multiple other variations: more text, boxes, different fonts, etc. Here are a couple favorites:

At which point the publisher and I selected our favorite (basically the brown version of that last one) and we were ready to go to press.

Which is when Matt threw the entire concept out. Why? Because, he said, it was too suggestive of pioneer themes.

That's it! That's the problem! Mt Timp is utterly irrelevant to the story at hand! I mean, sure, at one point a couple characters go up Provo Canyon, but in general, no. Irrelevant. Misleading. It's not that kind of Mormon book.

Plus, what's funny about this? And Matt's a funny guy.

Most impressively, Matt came upon this insight when his brain was so fried
You know how sometimes you look at a word for too long it seems absurd and doesn't even look like a real word? Well this is the first time that has happened where I am actually right that it isn't a real word.
We had a long gchat and I shared some of my ideas. Before he came back with some takes on those though, he tried to sell us once more on faces.

But I wasn't budging though this cover I am actually quite fond of.

Finally we reached the conclusive set of options:

All of these were good. We ended up choosing the teal (albeit with a white border which worked better with the spine) though it's always hard for me not to choose orange when it's an option. But we were out of time and I was told I had used up my persnickety allowance.

I began broadcasting the image at this point (sometimes, I admit, the orange one) and it immediately started getting compliments. My favorite from Stephen Carter who said it looked like something out of McSweeney's catalogue. Which I take as high praise indeed. They're the best in the business, no question.

Before you look at the full cover, I'm constrained to point out the photo was not my idea. The publisher found it. Somewhere.

Be careful what you put on the intervebz, kids.

I think that covers the story of the cover.

In the end, we got something great.

With handcrafted type.

That says funny.

What more could a boy ask for?

Next time, I'll tell stories of that "advance praise" you can't quite read..


  1. It's too bad, but... people do really judge a book by its cover. That is a fun, understated cover. And it makes me want to know stuff... like why lacrosse. Why, WHY? Guess I'll find out soon...

  2. .

    That's a good point. Covers should offer just enough information to intrigue, not to answer.