UnderCover: Civil War novel jacket and the power of symbols

Friday, February 19, 2010

Civil War novel jacket and the power of symbols

This week was all about jacket build outs. Here is the final jacket design for the Civil War novel shown here and here.

For this design, I recommended using an uncoated paper and doing a sculpture emboss along with ink over a gold foil to really make the locket pop. Deckled-edged paper for the book's interior pages would have been nice too, but the author wasn't too keen on it.

A couple of interesting things came up during this project. One is that the author is a history buff and therefore a stickler about authenticity. For instance, I chose the Confederate and the US flag solely on how their draping worked with my design. The author liked them but pointed out that there were too new looking and that the stars and stripes were machine double stitched with blue and red thread—neither of which was appropriate for the late 1800s. So I did some Photoshop work to age the flags, to delete the second row of stitching, and to make all the thread white. The original portraits of the sisters inside the locket were also rejected for a similar reason—their hairstyles were too 1900s. Luckily the author was able to provide me with new era-appropriate images.

The second issue was more subtle. Somehow, as a mixed-race Midwesterner who went to middle school in Illinois and Indiana, I just wasn't taught that much about the Civil War. Of course I was taught about slavery and the war and Lincoln, but the Confederacy was not really dwelt upon. The South lost... slavery was abolished... Lincoln became a hero... and we all lived happily ever after, no? So when I started on this cover I knew that the main character was a Southerner and so I went hunting for Confederate imagery. Flags are usually very bold and colorful and the Union Jack looked nice, so I included one prominently on every comp. My design manager (who grew up in Corpus Christi) suggested that I show at least one cover without a flag—which I thought was a little odd—but I complied. The author liked many of the ideas I presented, but he was adamant about not having just the Confederate flag on the cover. This is why the final design includes both it and the Union flag (a 'fair and balanced' cover, if you will). It's a cultural thing I was just not aware of. Obviously, the Confederate flag is still a very salient and loaded symbol which must be used with caution. (You can read the Wikipedia entry here.) Lesson learned.

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