Case Study 45

Title: The Face of a Monster

Author: Patricia Earnest Suter

Designer: Manos Design

Genres: Biography, literature

Graphics: This is an account of a German immigrant who became Philadelphia’s first mass-murderer. The author draws parallels between Anton Probst’s life and that of Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, a book that was published nearly half a century before Probst’s 1863 arrival in America. Thus it makes sense to have on the cover not just an image of Probst but one of Dr. Frankenstein’s monster.

But which predominates? The book chiefly is about the real-life criminal, but what catches the eye is Boris Karloff’s famous interpretation of the monster, which occupies about four times the acreage as does the man, who is shunted off to one corner. The Karloff image is screened but not nearly enough for it to be unobtrusive. Its lines and coloration remain so strong that it not only overpowers Probst’s image but makes the overlain text difficult to read.

Since the book chiefly is about Probst and only secondarily about Shelley and the monster she contrived, Probst’s image should predominate. The monster could be suggested by being positioned as a “shadow” of Probst, either a shadow that is just a silhouette (the bolts in the neck would be enough for identification) or one that is much like the current monster image but more screened.

On the current cover, the title refers to a face, but the face that stands out is on Shelley’s creation, not on the true biographical subject. Thus there is an inadvertent misdirection.

Typography: If the graphics were rearranged as I propose, the present title treatment would be adequate, but the words would need to be drawn in slightly from the margins. They come too close to the edges of the cover. If the graphics are left largely as they appear, then I suggest that the title be changed from black to white.

Even though “Monster” is by far the largest word on the cover, the small subtitle stands out nearly as well because it is white. The subtitle could stand three changes. Its color should be changed to black, it should be moved closer to the title, and it should be kerned more widely so it extends the same width as “Monster.” (I also would reduce the spacing between the two lines of the title, to make them seem more of a unit.)

The author name is hard to read at thumbnail size. It ought to appear in a single line, in larger type (perhaps bold), and in white, to stand out against the mostly dark colors of the bottom of the cover. It too could be set to be the width of “Monster.”

Overall: This story has two foci: on the one hand, Probst; on the other, Shelley and her monster. The designer seems to have given emphasis to the wrong one, since the book (as I understand it) mainly is about the real-life murderer.

If I saw this book on the shelf of a book store, I would presume it concerned mainly the fictional character rather than the real man. The cover would throw me off—which means it needs further work.