Shelf Candy – Interview with MARC GASCOIGNE, Managing Editor & Art Director, ANGRY ROBOT BOOKS

April 21, 2012 General, Interviews, Shelf Candy 23

Shelf Candy is a weekly meme hosted by the lovely Five Alarm Books.  This meme gives us an opportunity to highlight a cover we love and the artist who created it.  Please click the button above to find out how to participate and to see what other covers are being discussed this week.
This week I decided to do something different.  Rather than focus on one cover and one artist, I wanted to take a look again at the other half of the cover design team – the Art Director.  The AD is often responsible for the overall concept and for selecting and commissioning an artist to take that concept and turn it into a cover.  I approached Marc Gascoigne for an interview.  He is the founder and managing director of Angry Robot Books, a U.K. based publisher whose mission is to “publish the best in brand new genre fiction – SF, F, and WTF?!”  Yes, I love that mission, too.  Art Director is just one of the many hats Marc wears at Angry Robot and he was kind enough to take time out from a busy week of London Book Fair craziness to answer some questions on the origins of Angry Robot, his process, and his favorite curse word.
They are unique and bold.  This is the primary reason I am drawn to the company’s covers across the board.  I tend to like the ones with a retro/vintage look but I also appreciate the strong graphical approach they take to design.  Edgy and young, the Angry Robot aesthetic is fast becoming one of my favorites in cover art.  Perhaps the one I’ve been gushing about the most this week is the cover for Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds.  I know this is not an original choice (take a look at the Qwillery‘s Debut Author Challenge Cover Wars where this design is winning by a landslide – vote people!), but the cover is too beautiful not to mention.  A She-Wolf review of the book will be posted soon.
Please welcome Marc Gascoigne!
SWR:  Can you tell us how and when Angry Robot was established?

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.


Resistance is futile.


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…


23 Responses to “Shelf Candy – Interview with MARC GASCOIGNE, Managing Editor & Art Director, ANGRY ROBOT BOOKS”

  1. cambria hebert

    What a great shelf candy post! I love all the art you have put up along with the interview. The art is definitely dynamic and I love how everything he designs has a different feel. He is very diverse and I bet that is one of the reasons for his success (ither than talent, lol) Love the cover with the birds, its striking. Definitel it makes you stop and look because you can’t take it all in with once glance. You have to study it a moment to fully appreciate all the detail. great post this week!

  2. Steph (@FABR_Steph)

    The cover for Blackbirds is insanely awesome! I love that Marc Gascoigne is not only looking to design an incredible cover, but also one that accurately represent the content itself. Fantastic interview and a great choice in designers.

    • shewolfreads

      Thanks for stopping by! I think the Blackbirds cover is really stunning. And the fact you have to go in for closer looks to see everything adds to its interest.

  3. Maria Behar

    This is such a fascinating post!! I love your idea of doing interviews with cover artists and art directors for this meme. Very original and unique! I found the interview very interesting, and informative, and Gascoigne a quirky, fun character. All of the covers are AMAZING!! Thanks for a GREAT post!! : )

    Maria @

  4. Tanya Patrice

    Wow – I didn’t know that group was responsible for the cover designs of so many of the books that I want to read. Of course, the cover of Blackbirds is fantastic – and Zoo City is one that I hope to pick up soon too.

    • shewolfreads

      Tanya, the cover designs are amazing and I agree, their lineup is good. I want to read so many of the books they have out!

  5. fishgirl182

    great interview! i have only recently become aware of angry robot and i do love the vibe of their covers. so very different that what’s popular right now and very unique. keep those shelf candy posts coming!

    • shewolfreads

      Thanks so much! I love doing these posts. Hopefully, you all will continue to enjoy reading them! 😉

  6. Jen

    Wow, I’m just blown away by the Blackbirds cover. It’s gorgeous and there’s so much going on that I could just look at it for an hour

    • shewolfreads

      Hands down one of the best covers I’ve seen.

  7. Opal

    This is a great post! I just read Blackbirds and I loved the book and the cover!

    • shewolfreads

      I know – the cover is beautiful. I think Angry Robot has some of the best cover art around.