Book Cover Design 101: Tim Inkster Muses on the Design Process for Ed Seaward’s Fair

My recollection is that the first time I met Ed Seaward in person may have been at an Ontario Heritage Doors Open event at the shop on the Main Street of Erin Village. Likely the summer of 2019. June, or possibly July. Fair is ostensibly a story about moral issues attached to the scourge of homelessness as set in southern California, with references to Milton’s Paradise Lost as a sub-text. I remember asking if Ed had thoughts about the sort of image that might be appropriate for the cover of his first published novel. (Authors have been known to cherish firm convictions on the subject.)

A male and a female, holding bunches of fruit, stand at the feet of an angel.
Adam and Eve entertain Raphael. One of a dozen etchings on the theme of Paradise Lost produced in 1896 by the British printmaker and painter, William Strang (1859–1921). Some of these etchings are reproduced in Fair.

Some months later I received a message from Stephanie Small that advised Ed had been looking at images of the Santa Monica Pier.

The Pier at Santa Monica is at the foot of Colorado Avenue, the extreme western terminus of US Route 66, which brought immediately to mind the song of the same name though I would most certainly have been remembering Mick Jagger’s 1964 cover version rather than the original recorded by Nat King Cole in 1946.

I also retained pieces of distant memories of a television series called Route 66 which followed the exploits of two young American grifters who tooled about in a Corvette convertible through the early part of the 1960s. George Maharis played second fiddle. I can’t remember who starred.

Ed Seaward’s narrative is set in Santa Monica. Ed and his wife Barb winter in Santa Monica. This was all starting to make a sort of sense.

Garamond header found in An Exhibit of Garamond Type with Appropriate Ornaments (Redfield-Kendrick-Odell Co.: New York, 1927). Used in the interior design of Fair.

The Pier at Santa Monica includes a somewhat tacky amusement area called Pacific Park that features a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, a video arcade, some interesting neon signage and a really nice 1920s-vintage Hippodrome carousel. I spent a long time thinking about the carousel in particular, but then subsequently shifted my search to urban streetscapes as they appear in the fifty city blocks of Central City East (Skid Row) in Los Angeles proper. A plethora of images of homeless people, but no obvious book covers. Thence back to Santa Monica, looking at images of commercial buildings along Wilshire Boulevard and Colorado Avenue.

Palisades Park follows the course of Ocean Boulevard north from the pier to San Vicente Boulevard. The Park, of course, is not to be confused with the New Jersey pleasure garden of the same name immortalized by Freddy Cannon in 1962. I came upon a photograph of the Park at night, looking east, away from the water. It was the quality of the light that first caught my attention … night, obviously, but there is something about the image that suggests a chill in the air that could only exist in the pre-dawn hours when no-one other than the homeless would likely to be about.

Editor Chandra Wohleber talks about Ed’s narrative in terms of the “dangerous and deceptively sunny streets of L.A.” but she also makes mention of the “lustrated light of the city at night”. The Park image includes a sequence of star-shaped aperture diffraction patterns attached to a procession of streetlamps that draw the eye from right to center lower-left and towards a garishly-lit retail area that could provide a hint of the Pandaemonium of Milton’s epic, a counterpoint to the relative Edenic foliage of the Park in the foreground, seemingly populated by expatriates from Tolkien’s Fangorn Forest in Middle Earth.

Three versions of the cover of Fair, with different fonts and some with a hairline white rule.
Cover design at the Porcupine’s Quill is a collaborative process which necessarily involves an element of give-and-take. In retrospect, the choice of Beverly Hills for the titling was the correct choice; the loss of the thin white rectangular box was maybe a mistake.

An early version of the cover included a hairline white rule that defined the parameters of the text block inside the book but also suggested a kind of suspect parallax lens that illuminated the dichotomies as they appear in the photograph. The author couldn’t fathom the graphic wit of the device in play; neither could the editor, so we had to abandon the hairline, somewhat reluctantly. An early version of the cover also included a rather blindingly obvious misspelling of the author’s name. That got fixed.

There is a hotel on Ocean Boulevard called The Shangri-La, done in the Art Deco style of the late 1930s. The marquee is set in a stylish display typeface called Beverly Hills that features a fine inline highlight and dramatically low crossbars, particularly the “E”, “F”, “G” and the “H”. The inline highlight gave us an excuse to double underscore the title to add some horizontal reach to a rather spare, four-character title, and to add a set of monotype ornaments for the same reason. The low crossbars, however, were an issue for the author. Particularly the “F”, as in  F A I R.

Ed wondered if we had considered Broadway, an earlier Art Deco display font that appears on the marquee of The Georgian, a budget hotel on Ocean Boulevard a couple of blocks south of The Shangri-La. A version of the cover was duly rendered replacing Beverly Hills with Broadway, but the loss of the inline highlight made for an effect that was crude, and clunky by comparison. Broadway Engraved does include the highlight feature but the face is neither as elegant nor as sophisticated as Beverly Hills.

Specimens of Beverly Hills, Broadway Regular and Broadway Engraved Typefaces
Broadway is a decorative typeface designed by Morris Fuller Benton in 1927 for ATF as a capitals only display face. It is often used to evoke the feeling of the twenties and thirties.

The author was persuaded to overcome his aversion to low crossbars, then asked if we had considered images of graffiti on the hoardings along the boardwalk at Venice Beach, south of the Pier.

Tim Inkster
July 2020

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Many thanks to Tim for putting together his witty recollections on the experience of designing the cover for this very special book. I hope you’ll join myself, Chandra Wohleber and the man of the hour Ed Seaward for his launch of Fair tonight at 7:30 p.m. via Zoom. There’s still time to register to attend the event here!



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3 Responses to Book Cover Design 101: Tim Inkster Muses on the Design Process for Ed Seaward’s Fair

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  2. Ross says:

    See you later at the zoom launch.

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.