Friday, May 25, 2007

Shut Up He Explained: The Covers ...

What we have above are five initial cover treatments for John Metcalf's Fall release Shut Up He Explained. Part memoir, part travelogue, part work of criticism, it's an odd beast of a book. Couple this with the fact that it is quite funny, and we're not sure exactly how to approach it.

I started with wanting a purely typographic cover, and came up with the idea of the divided black-white jacket. I also liked what Chipp Kidd did with a few books, where he literally just reproduced the first several paragraphs of the book for the dust jacket. John's introduction is so good that it seems to me that if we could get people reading the book before they even opened it -- before they were even aware that they were reading the book -- that would be all to the good. But I wasn't, and still am not, certain of this, so began to think of other ideas.

The travel aspects of this book serve both as metaphor and organizing framework, so it hit me one night that a ship might provide an interesting cover image. But I still wanted to maintain a largely typographic approach. I wanted an edge to it, I wanted it to be simple and clean. I wanted there to be a joke of some sort connected to the image. From there it was not much of a leap to think of a sinking ship. I went through a bunch of image banks, but most of the shots were too complex or detailed; the one I did like would cost close to $800 US, more than I could afford to spend. So I stopped, and went back to the proverbial drawing board.

A short while later, I came up with the idea of the life ring. When a ship has sunk, what, often, is left? Flotation devices. The life ring, floating in the water. It had the benefit of being simple, clean, allowed for an uncluttered, still largely typographic cover, was significantly ambiguous, odd when juxtaposed with the actual title of the book. I, at least, think it's a touch funny. Not everyone will get the joke (but, then again, not everyone will get John's either.)

None of the above treatments are likely to survive unscathed. Other options already present themselves. John Haney has sent a photograph of a group of old folk strapped into their preservers, sitting with legs crossed in a ship lounge: a detail may yet work from this. And if I am to reopen this to a largely photographic treatment, I may yet have to go back to the image banks: there were several arresting and apt images I've chanced upon over the last few days.

Any thoughts out there on what works? Anyone read the excerpts published in CNQ, The New Quarterly, elsewhere? What think you?

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