I set up AR under the aegis of HarperCollins in late 2008. A couple of the more forward-thinking folks there had seen the work I’d done at Black Library, supporting that book imprint by building a community of dedicated readers and fans, establishing a strong brand identity, and starting to embrace the changes in publishing that online and digital developments were promising.
Alas, self-same folks moved on from HC just as we launched, and as is so often the way, those who remained didn’t quite get what we were about. The end result was that nine months later we moved to Osprey Group. Although on the surface it was an unusual new home – military and historical non-fiction – once one considers the customers’ profile it becomes obvious. SF also has fanatical, enthusiastic, hobbyist readers, who are *into* the subject, who follow online and printed reviews, who have “Wants Lists” of titles they’re after. The amazing team at Osprey helped us get back on our feet within a few months, and we also launched in the USA at last. Since then we’ve just grown and grown, as indeed have the other parts of the group.
SWR: You wear a few different hats at Angry Robot. Can you tell us a bit about what you do in your role as Art Director for the company?
Quite simply, I commission the covers, usually to concepts that I have come up with. That involves a bunch of tasks: research the market, gather some concepts for the cover, research elements, track down a suitable and available artist, and supervise the process of to-and-fro as we work up the illustration and/or design. Sometimes I work up the typography – book titling, author name, and so on – too. On a few occasions, I’ve designed and illustrated the cover too, but not too often.
SWR: What is the Angry Robot brand?
Erm, it’s a little robot with a red eye-slit. His name is Angstrom. You must have seen him.
SWR: One thing I love about many of the Angry Robot covers is the retro feel they have (Dead Harvest and Evil Dark). There is an edginess to a lot of the designs. Is there a certain look that is quintessential Angry Robot or that illustrates the Angry Robot brand?
No, but certain themes do recur, of course. And I’m not sure that “many” is quite right – really just two series, out of thirty or more. The Justin Gustainis books – police procedurals set in a town where vampires and werewolves are the norm – seemed to demand crime packaging to reinforce that side of the content, while the illustration had supernatural and occult elements. It was a short step from there to grab some old US pulps of the 50s and 60s and riff on their design.
The Chris F Holm titles took things a little further, and I must confess it is the only cover design I’ve commissioned that I deliberately didn’t show anyone, in case someone talked me out of it It came from the recent online meme where designers recreated classic rock albums and Harry Potter books and movies in the style of old Penguin paperbacks. The Sam Thornton novels explicitly reference classic Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler novels, and while looking at different designs of those I kept coming across the same Penguin designs. It was obvious to me that was the direction to go. Unbelievably, everyone agreed with me, and we’ve probably had more acclaim from fellow publishing types for those covers than any others.
As for the AR style, well, everyone very kindly focuses on the best covers rather than the ones that were more everyday, or didn’t quite work. But I have my favourite approaches, and certainly my favoured illustrators (as a quick glance at the five Joey HiFi covers across three authors will instantly reveal). To some extent, perhaps Joey’s covers stand out most, but overall I’d perhaps venture it’s just that we use more graphical approaches than most, and we’re not afraid to try something a little different.
SWR: What is your creative process when designing a book cover?
It depends. Some, well, I have the idea gathering shape even as the book goes through the acquisition process (editor likes book, gathers potential sales estimates to convince sales team we should buy it, does so). Others come from suggestions by the author or the book’s editor. Questions are asked: who’s the readership, how old are they, what’s the genre of the book, what is working in that area, is our chosen illustrator available and what are their limitations, is the book a larger trade paperback or a smaller mass-market. And always – does the design work as a small on-screen thumbnail as well as a physical book?
SWR: What makes a good book cover?
The purpose of a book cover is to sell a book, and the best do that – mostly by creating an accurate but also alluring impression of the thrills the book will offer. Then again, some are deliberately quirky, to get you to pick them up, and then hope that the design doesn’t let down or misrepresent the contents. The best and worst thing is that everyone has a different favourite cover (almost), from experimental graphics to florid romantic or fantasy paintings. But I always try to remember – if everyone’s wearing black, the guy in the white suit will always stand out.
SWR: What have been some of your favorite Angry Robot covers and why?
Embedded, because Larry Rostant nailed exactly what was in my head, that I’d seen when I read Dan’s novel. Zoo City by Joey HiFi, because it was something so immediately different yet recognisable. Slights, because even though I know some of the people on the cover and they’re all lovely, normal people, Stef Kopinski’s photo still scares the hell out of me. The World House, cos I designed it and people liked it. vN because Matt spent days and days building all those robot parts on the computer, only to dump Amy into them. The Great Game because David Frankland’s artwork is so simple yet so clever. Seven Wonders (which we’ll show the world next week) because my god, Will Staehle is a genius modern cover designer.
And for fun, Marc was game enough to take the Pivot quiz. Here are his answers:
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
I don’t have one.
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Thinkers, thinking, rethinking.
What turns you off?
An unexamined life.
What is your favorite curse word?
It changes from day to day.
What sound or noise do you love?
Cat purrs, depthcharge deep bass, my daughter’s gentle snoring, the sound of an enormous door slamming in the depths of hell.
What sound or noise do you hate?
The alarm clock.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
‘Attempt”? Life isn’t a rehearsal, kid
What profession would you not like to do?
I know someone who runs a sock factory. He wears grey clothes. That.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Unlikely on so many levels, but thanks for asking.
Please stop by and visit Marc at
& of course visit Angry Robot and take a look at some of the covers/titles in the their current line-up
Tell me which cover is your favorite!
Now, let’s get to reading…
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