Case Study by Erin Craig RGD, Creative Director, Trade Publishing at Harlequin (a division of HarperCollins Publishers)
The Lady from the Black Lagoon is a book from Hanover Square Press that uncovers the life and work of Milicent Patrick—one of Disney’s first female animators and the only woman in history to create one of Hollywood’s classic movie monsters. The book required a cover that would appeal to fans of Millicent Patrick, Classic Monster Films and Hollywood.
Background: Hanover Square Press
Launched in 2017, Hanover Square Press publishes compelling, original fiction and narrative nonfiction. The imprint draws its name from the square that was once known as “Printing House Square” for the American printers, publishers, and booksellers who thrived there in the 1700s and early 1800s. The imprint encompasses a broad range of genres—from crime, thrillers, and high-concept fiction to history, journalism, and memoir. As a new imprint under the Harlequin umbrella, I was working to get it off the ground and help to establish a look and feel for the titles.
Each imprint has a typical type of book or genre that they publish – so there tends to be a general look because of that for example some imprints have the majority of the covers done with illustration or typography while others will have a photographic approach. For Hanover we established a house style for the way the copy would be handled on the back cover and on the flaps for hardcovers. This creates a branded look to the imprint that is unlike the other imprints under my umbrella.
Background: The Lady from the Black Lagoon
The Lady from the Black Lagoon is a new book from author Mallory O’Meara. As a teenager, Mallory was thrilled to discover that one of her favourite movies, Creature from the Black Lagoon, featured a monster designed by a woman, Milicent Patrick. But for someone who should have been hailed as a pioneer in the genre, there was little information available. Patrick’s contribution had been claimed by a jealous male colleague, her career had been cut short and she soon after had disappeared from film history. As a young woman working in the horror film industry, O’Meara set out to right the wrong, and in the process discovered the full, fascinating story of an ambitious, artistic woman ahead of her time. The target market for the book is mainly female fans of classic Hollywood history, horror and monster movies, animation and special effects, monster enthusiasts and readers of biographies.
I have a background in costume design and fashion, so working on this project for Mallory O’Meara’s book The Lady from the Black Lagoon was something that I was really passionate about.
It was important to be able to show Milicent Patrick and the work she created, so that we could appeal to fans of hers and the movie Creature from the Black Lagoon. Unfortunately, there aren’t many photos of Milicent around and even less available for use. Most of the images of her are owned by the studio which meant obtaining rights would be extremely challenging. We had to be so careful about image rights and ownership that, after discussions with our photo researcher and legal department, we decided that an illustration capturing Milicent’s likeness would be best suited for this cover. Illustration would also give us control over what we wanted to show and allowed us to use some creativity in depicting Milicent and her famous “creature”.
Tips for working with an illustrator
When working with an illustrator it is important to have a clear line of communication. For this book, I initiated the conversation through email outlining the project then scheduled a phone call where we disused the tone of the book, ideas and the details about copyright. I like to have sneak peeks of the work any illustrator I hire is doing throughout the process so that I can see where the illustration is going and share with the internal team. This allows us to make changes or tweaks to the illustration before the final is delivered and ensures that the vision is being executed in the way I envisioned it. You never want an illustrator to go to final art without these check-ins because changing final art is difficult and often requires a complete re-do, which wastes time and can be very costly.
Executing the concept
I was inspired by a photograph of Milicent Patrick that shows her at her drawing table, holding a mask of the “creature” from Creature from the Black Lagoon. She looks so beautiful and in charge of her creation in this photo, looking down somewhat lovingly to the mask like a mother looking at her child. I imagined her in her studio creating this amazing creature and thought it would be cool to depict the creature coming out of the sketch, as though coming to life.
I worked with Matt Buck, who is a tattoo artist and friend of the author Mallory O’Meara to develop the art for the cover. Matt was great to work with; he understood my vision right away and came back initially with three sketches, proposing two different options showing the mother / creature connection.
There were merits to all of the ideas, but in the end we decided to go with the original one we had discussed as it had the largest audience reach. And from a design standpoint, I liked the way we could utilize the drawing to encompass the entire book, wrapping around the spine to the back cover.
Matt provided me with a more fleshed out rendering and I worked with him to finalize it.
The initial thought was to have the drawing in full colour on a white background for the cover. But looking at the coloured version, I felt that the drawing was skewing a bit younger than our target audience, and may not have the shelf impact that I was hoping for. I also didn’t want the drawing to take away from the title, since the title was so strong and a definite selling feature.
I was working with Art Director Quinn Banting and we talked about my concerns. We were lucky to have two versions of the art – one in black and white and one in full colour. Quinn took the art and worked with it to create some fantastic versions using day-glo colours and x-ray effects.
We finished the cover with a soft touch coating, and emboss and gloss on the title and author to elevate the package even further. The result is a cover that showcases a hierarchy of design that places emphasis on the right elements – showcasing the title and the art.
We started working on the project with a cover brief between myself and the marketing and editorial directors one year before it was to go on sale. Within two months I had presented ideas and hired Matt Buck to work on the art. Rough Illustrations were presented to the team three months later. And the final cover file was delivered to the printer three months before the on sale date.
What is successful in book design is not an exact science. There are so many factors when it comes to publishing a book that the cover is only one small component. If a book sells well, then we know part of that sale is because of the package, so that helps to quantify the success. My personal criteria for success is when we have a happy author and people are talking about the cover in reviews.
The goal for this book was to create a cover to help position The Lady from the Black Lagoon as the 'Must Have' book about women in film. We have had a lot of great feedback on this cover internally, and from the sales force. The author is really excited about it and it has been featured as one of the best covers for March on Lit Hub, and 'Book Covers We Love' on Spine Magazine.
- Never give up. There were a lot of hurdles executing this cover, from copyright restraints to figuring out how to work with an illustration in a different way than originally imagined. Constraints and obstacles can actually make you think more creatively and you end up with a better result then you had maybe imagined
- Embrace the project goals. When working in house there are always going to be internal goals coming from other areas of the business. Try to embrace them and use them to your advantage. Use them to help you push your creativity. In the end you are all working toward the same goal.
Now go create!