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.

Case Study 22

Title: Simply Faulkner

Author: Philip Weinstein

Designers: José Ramos (illustration) and Scarlett Rugers (text)

Genre: Biography

Graphics: This short book (118 pages) is part of the Simply series: Simply BeethovenSimply EdisonSimply Hitchcock, and so forth. Most of the covers are like this one, with a caricature of the subject and text placed in a uniform pattern.

Anyone the least familiar with William Faulkner will recognize him immediately here. The illustration is well done. On a signpost behind Faulkner is the name of his fictional locale, Yoknapatawpha County, but that clue isn’t needed: the author’s visage is enough.

By their nature, caricatures exaggerate features, but there is an oddity here: Faulkner’s pinkie isn’t his littlest finger but his largest and is shaped like a thumb—and he otherwise doesn’t seem to have a thumb.

The illustration reaches to the very edges of the cover. For the paperback version of the book this could be a problem, since the outside edge might be trimmed off and the inside edge might bend around onto the spine. The illustration should have been reduced slightly, giving it air on all sides. Note that Faulkner’s typewriter butts against the head of the man in the series logo at the bottom of the cover.

Typography: At the top are the title and author name. The first word of the title, Simply, is on a line of its own and is set not quite flush left. It doesn’t square up above Faulkner, and its underscore runs a little too far past the Y in Simply. It isn’t clear why there is an underscore at all. It seems to give false emphasis to the less-important word, Simply. I would have left out the underscore.

The main word, Faulkner, is kerned poorly. Compare the fairly wide space between the F and A with the lack of space between two other pairs, the K and N and the N and E.

This appears to be one of those fonts not intended to be used in all caps because the serifs are so large that the letters can’t be placed close to one another without some serifs overlapping. Perhaps the font had a separate small-caps variation. If so, that variation should have been used. If not, another font should have been chosen.

I suspect the designer chose this particular font because of its rustic appearance, Faulkner’s novels being set in a rural part of Mississippi. It often is a good thing to try to match fonts to themes or locales, but the font here might not be suitable for use in all caps. There likely would have been no problem with kerning had Faulkner been set in upper- and lowercase.

Notice that the remaining word of the title, Simply, and the author name are in different fonts. Why aren’t they in the same font? Given the strong serifs and fractured look of the word Faulkner, I would have chosen a single sans serif font for the other words. That would make Faulkner stand out more. As with the illustration, I would have brought in the text a bit from the sides, keeping in mind paperback trimming.

Overall: The strong point of this cover is its illustration, the weak point its typography. There could be some adjustment to the hand, and there really ought to be some adjustment to the text. It is the former that earns this cover a solid B and that latter that prevents it from earning a higher grade.