Use Your Words! The Creative Typography of Ben Wiseman

I recently discovered a mini treasure trove of book covers designed by Ben Wiseman (view his portfolio). He seems to be best known for bold, simple graphic illustrations, but I was completely bowled over by his typographic book covers. These covers focus on the creative design of the letterforms, and imbue the titles themselves with subtle significance and a sense of visual delight.

I was impressed with his creativity and the range of styles that he was able to bring to this collection of book covers. From clean, vector san-serifs for The Shallows to rough, textured, hand-painted letterforms for The Melting Season, Wiseman brings rich visual detail and attention-grabbing graphics that are appropriate to each title. I also love his bright color palettes—a skill he no doubt honed as an illustrator, Wiseman’s color combinations bring a fun energy to the typography. These six are some of my favorites:

 

I came across a fun interview with Ben Wiseman talking about his career and design process. It was interesting to read his thoughts on what makes a good cover, and his favorite examples of this artform:

“A great book jacket is one that makes you pick it up. It can be a great photo or a great illustration or just a great concept. But the best ones are the ones that stop you in the store and make you look. As for favourites, I love Paul Rand’s cover for HL Menken’s Prejudices and Alvin Lustig’s Lorca.”

You can how these two covers, with their hand-drawn type and bold, arresting style, have influenced Wiseman’s work.

Another part of the interview that I enjoyed was about his process. Wiseman is thorough and reads the whole book to brainstorm ideas, but he also places an admirable faith in “happy accidents”to get to his final design:

“I always read the book, and spend the whole time bouncing ideas around in my head. Usually I might have a couple of ideas halfway through the book, and usually those won’t go anywhere. But once I’ve sat with the book for a while, and thought about it for a few days, things usually start coming together. And after I start working, there are hopefully some happy accidents that occur.”

Looking at Wiseman’s  book covers I was also interested to note that he submitted a cover for John Bertram’s Recovering Lolita project that I wrote about in a previous post, Lo. Lee. Ta. A Collection of Covers. This cover is a combination of an obsessive, hand-written “Lolita” over and over, censored and hidden by black marks and a clean, white ripped paper with the author’s name. Appropriately intriguing, foreboding and an unsettling combination of innocent and dark that hints at the themes of the book without revealing too much. And, once again, very much type-centric.

Lolita

While I think Wiseman has made a name for himself mostly through his illustration, I will certainly be keeping my eye out for more of his great typographic covers in the future.

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More Information about the Book Covers:

The Melting Season: paperideas.it/paperzine/news/4140-Ben_Wiseman,_book_jacket_designer,_New_York

The Shallows: bookcoverarchive.com/book/the_shallows

The Collective: flickr.com/photos/wwnorton/7296881744

The Tragedy of Arthur: isfdb.org/cgi-bin/pl.cgi?368149

And Then There’s This: bookcoverarchive.com/book/and_then_theres_this

Epigenetics: flickr.com/photos/wwnorton/5704006427

Lolitathebookoftheday.wordpress.com/2012/08/15/lolita/

Lo. Lee. Ta. A Collection of Covers.

The other day I was looking through my collection of book cover designs and realized that one book was cropping up way more than any others: Vladimir Nabokov’s disturbing and classic Lolita, narrated by the protagonist Humbert Humbert, perhaps the most famous pedophile in modern literature. The enigmatic characters and plot of Lolita have drawn designers to it over and over. How to best capture the horrifying sexualization of a 12 year old girl? How to design an image for the story of a monster, but somehow convey that monster’s point of view?

However, as I was gathering the covers together I realized that there may be another reason, beyond the draw of its literary merits, that there are so many designs out there. Apparently three years ago the architect and blogger John Bertram put on a Lolita cover competition due to a personal belief that most previous designs had misrepresented the nuances of the novel and that designers could do better. His issue, described in an Imprint article on this competition, was that “she’s chronically miscast as a teenage sexpot—just witness the dozens of soft-core covers over the years. [but] ‘We are talking about a novel which has child rape at its core.'” The results of this contest are apparently being gathered together into a book, Lolita: Story of a Cover Girl, due out August 2013.

If you have a second I would definitely recommend reading through that Imprint interview with him that I linked to above. Bertram has some interesting stuff to say on the role of the designer, the difficulties of such a nuanced and sensitive subject, and the responsibility of a designer to do justice to such a literary work of art and not short change it. Perhaps, even add to it:

I was interested to see what well-known designers might come up with when freed from editors, publishers and art directors and the constraints implicit in the marketing and selling of books. The result, I think, is a sort of meditation on what it means to create a cover for a complicated book, but it’s also about how a cover can add to or change the book’s meaning. In other words, there is a sense in which it’s a two-way street, which gives the designer tremendous power but also demands responsibility.

So, here is my collection of covers, some of which I found were part of Bertram’s contest, and some of which weren’t. Enjoy, and let me know which is you think best represents the enigmatic Lolita.

1970 Italian cover for Lolita.
Cover design for Bertram’s contest by Jamie Keenan, depicting “a claustrophobic room that morphs into a girl in her underwear”

Cover design for Bertram’s contest by Jessica Hische, with “the lace lettering used to represent something that can be construed as both hyper-sexual or innocent and virginal depending on the context.” While I think the lettering is beautiful and I get her reasoning, I’m not sure how much of the double-implication is apparent at a casual glance
I featured this image in my “A Bit of Pretty” post last year, but I think its one of the best. Originally from a submission for the Polish Book Cover Contest at 50watts.com
Cover design for Bertram’s contest by Rachel Berger