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Redesign: Voice of the Fire cover

2010 November 16

So I did manage to finish up one of the personal design projects which I mentioned last Thursday, after all, and now I can share it with you. Here is my copy of Alan Moore’s novel Voice of the Fire in its brand new book jacket designed by me:

Redesigned front cover of Voice of the Fire

Don't look for this edition because you won't find it unless you're in my living room

This one has quite a long history…

I’ve been a fan of Moore and his work for many years, now. I probably began with the graphic novel Watchmen I suppose, just because it was and is considered more or less the standard against which all other superhero works are measured and A Landmark and something that as a comics fan you pretty much just have to read so you do and so I did. (Though frankly, for all of its dazzling technical brilliance I find the story rather cold and mechanical and devoid of any really sympathetic character; in Moore’s earlier Ballad of Halo Jones for example, I can see a lot of the seams in the plot, etc., but the story has an actual heart to it which personally I find much more appealing.)

In any event, when I heard that Alan Moore had written a novel I determined to track down a copy; the Des Moines library eventually managed to acquire one via interlibrary loan which, if I recall correctly, was borrowed from somewhere all the way out in California. This was a British paperback edition—at the time there was no American edition—and sported a very weird cover. (Though it’s a strange book, really; I highly recommend it but would advise most readers to start with the second chapter unless you’re sure you want to push through the rather experimental first chapter which is barely even in English.)

In 2003, Top Shelf Productions released an official U.S. edition sporting an entirely new design and cover, and I grabbed one which I have enjoyed many times in the years since.

But I never really cared for the dust jacket design. It’s visually striking, certainly; from the perspective of being a “grabber” it’s probably a splendid success. But… it seems like it could be just as successful a cover, from that perspective, on any number of other books; it never really struck me as being a cover for Voice of the Fire. Which title is, for that matter, almost invisible. Presumably “Alan Moore” and “novel” were considered the only significant words on the cover and everything else was just gotten out of the way…?

In any event, I actually disliked this design so much that I tossed the dust jacket and have known the book in this form for the past several years:

Inner cover of Voice of the Fire

It has a red cloth cover, but wrapped with this honestly kind of bizarre salmon-pink... it actually stands out even more than in this photo, I think

I’m pretty sure that I had some vague idea of creating a replacement cover from the first. It took some years to actually get started, though; I finally made a beginning in December of 2007, taking measurements, gathering some image options, creating an InDesign layout… and then didn’t really do anything further. I suppose it has been something of an eventful three years.

I’ve always meant to go back and finish it, and I think I made one or two attempts to restart the project in the interim, but I remained stumped for what to do and, having no deadline to force a solution, the project remained on hold. Since starting the blog, though, I’ve had it in mind as something I would finally finish up because I do need things to post (that’s been one of the great things about doing this, honestly; it’s a motivation to actually do some things that I only daydreamed about before).

Finally, the approach of November was enough to push me to complete this job at last. Voice of the Fire takes place over the course of 5,000 years, but most of the action is confined to the region of Northampton, England (which is the author’s home) and the month of November (for reasons which are probably more open to interpretation). So if I were ever to finish a new Voice of the Fire cover, this month was probably going to be the time to do so.

Fortunately, it was.

Redesigned back cover for Voice of the Fire

Back cover. There are inside flaps, too, but you get the idea.

Coming back to this project after nearly three years was odd, certainly. I still didn’t really strike any kind of brilliant inspiration, to be honest. So I just tried to come up with the best solution I could from what I had.

I’d found various photos of Northampton online when I began the project; I looked at some other options but ultimately went back to one of them because it seemed to have the right “feel” for the cover. The building in the center is, I believe, some sort of Northampton landmark, which is appropriate at least; Northampton is the subject of Voice of the Fire and I really felt that whatever design I came up with needed to reflect that. The kind of feeling of a narrow corridor or tunnel, though, is also very fitting for the story, so the framing between the buildings on either sides is really just as important in the selection of this photo I think. (The slightly askew axis was in the original photo, though it too is perhaps a “happy accident” as I think it complements both the mazelike quality of the scene and the touch of madness which runs through the stories.)

I also really like the pub sign on the left hand side, as it ties in with one of Moore’s reveries toward the end of the book: “The pub signs of the county are a secret Tarot deck…”

Of course all of this is fine. But, well, you know. The fire…? I’d pulled various images of fire, as well, and tried a few approaches to integrating them with the background photo. Eventually I just settled on a framed box, which seemed to have the virtues of both straightforwardness and of suggesting a kind of window through the bricks and stones into the “real” history and being of the town, which again is by no means inappropriate.

Having chosen that layout, it fairly quickly occurred to me that this would make a nice die-cut feature. And then occurred to me that as I would only be making one cover, by hand, budget was not really relevant so why not have a die-cut? So I do.

The type is Perpetua. I considered various faces, of course, including a modern serif which would match the interior type of this edition… but I went with Perpetua because I love it (especially the italic; it’s my favorite italic in the world I think) and this is basically one rare instance where I’m both designer and sole client and so I may as well make myself happy, right? Plus, the finely-engraved look of Perpetua Titling looks absolutely smashing on a book cover.

The title is, unlike on the Top Shelf edition, very large and even above the author’s name, which definitely would not happen on a real cover but again this is a fantasy project so why worry about details like that…? I did try to add realistic touches to give the cover a more “real,” polished look in other ways, though; the Top Shelf logo and bar code on the back, e.g.

Finally, the background of the back cover (and the jacket flaps) is a vintage map of Northampton. Because 1) again, it’s pretty central to the book and 2) I love maps, of course.

All in all, as noted I never really achieved that elusive “Eureka!” flash of brilliant inspiration for this one. But, in the end I’m really happy with how this worked out anyway. I imagine that seeing it on my shelf will make me happy for many years to come, so it has been time well-spent.

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