Exercise: Judging a book by its Cover

For this exercise I’m using Guy Sajer’s war time autobiography The Forgotten Soldier. The book is set on the Eastern Front during World War Two and charts Sajer progress from driver to infantryman in the Großdeutschland Division. The book itself is a sobering read for anyone and when initially released was considered in 1965 during the wave of popular books written by Dane Sven Hassle. The two authors were poles apart in terms of style and subject. Where Sajer was considerate, almost contrite, Hassle was brash and obscene. The Forgotten Soldier brought the reader closer to the effects and experience of war than any of Hassle’s Pulp Books and with that came an opportunity for the graphic design to create an iconic cover.

Understandably nearly all but one of the covers I’ve found featured a lone soldier, the single non illustrated cover uses the White Space exceptionally well. Of the illustrated covers, only one actually features an illustration, drawn by Sci-Fi artist Richard Clifton-Dey, whose work for the New English Library publishing house was varied, imaginative and very much of its time. The illustration is raw, showing the physical and emotional effects of battle exceptionally well, and it’s fair to say it would be exceptionally hard to replicate such an illustration as well as Clifton-Dey.

The other titles used established and sometimes clichéd portraits of individual German soldiers, sometimes to great effect, to show the loneliness that one can experience as a soldier. It’s interesting that only one cover features a portrait of a young Sajer as a soldier prior to being an infantier.

The cover that intrigues and appeals to me the most is the illustrated one by French publishing house Robert Lafontt, with shades of work by Joe Colquhoun, a British comic illustrator famous for his World War One work. This add an air of intimacy, is a more personal connection to the story and a line of design I’m keen to follow.

The use of a plain type cover is something rarely seen on popular war books, and while the illustrated books use a range of different types and fonts, the use of a utilised White Space is rarely seen on the cover of military histories, so to see it was intriguing as well as food for thought.

The first stage of my design process was to create a mind map centring on the books title.

The main theme was the title of Sajer’s story, what it meant for him as individual, a soldier and the child of a French/German marriage. The themes were further developed and then a commonality identified; the military. Here the symbology was sought to be unique to show he was a German solider, and there’s nothing more unique than the German wartime helmet. A draft of three possible arrangements was designed, along with how the text only cover would appear.

The first task is to create the basic design for the front page using Affinity Designer utilising the Großdeutschland’s divisional insignia as the centre piece. The helmets were then arranged as if on parade with space for text above and below. The second test cover featured the same image, but with a helmet removed, signifying Sajer, as the forgotten solder. I then coloured a helmet with the French tricolour, to symbolise Sajer’s nationality to see how that would fit. Another experiment features the Großdeutschland’s divisional insignia over the tricolour. However it seemed a little contrived, so won’t be pursued.

Yet as a motif the helmet certainly sticks out, and when placed with copies of the original insignia it makes for an interesting juxtaposition; indentifying Sajer as both a German soldier by the shape of the helmet and as a Frenchman by the Tricolour. This theme also recurs at the end of the book when Sajer takes part in the French Victory parade as a French soldier and his thoughts runaway to where his friend, Hals, is. This alluring to that his connection was stronger with the German army than the French. As one of the 130,000 Frenchmen Alsace and Moselle forced to fight for the Germans because of their births, and the post-war desire by the French authorities to not talk about it Sajer become one of the Malgrd-nous or Despite us/against our will. This theme again confirms the forgotten soldier status of Sajer, and indeed he told in a post capture de-brief to ‘Get yourself home, and try to forget all this as fast as you can’.

I was able to find a book cover tutorial for InDesign, but struggled with it a little so reverted to Affinity Publisher for the design process. For the Font I wanted to use a Black style, but nothing too contrived. For the spine I chose a dark green from a custom palette which I also used for the font colour. The background was coloured a pale yellow green. The Spine font is left justified Georgia 20Pts and rear text is Justified Georgia.

For the front cover I used the Sans-serif Haettenschweiler font (80pts) designed by Walter Haettenschweiler in 1954. This font was designed to be eye catching as given its Black font style suits the cover well. The authors name sits below this Georgia (25pts). The helmets had their opacity reduced to 80%. I then created three differing backgrounds to see how they compared.

Whilst I was happy with the back and spine the front lacked the visual impact I wanted, so I decided upon finding a suitable photograph of German solders marching, one that would allow me to split the page into third and experiment with font placement and type. I appreciate this was a complete departure from form, and I expect this is how themes are developed, but all of a sudden the cover, for me at least, snapped into place. The top of the photo was erased at 50% flow, hardness and opacity to help it merge with the white space, whilst the text was brought in from the edge to helped to define and deliver the final cover. I added the line underneath the title to see how physically and aesthetically the cover would look if separated the title from the author’s name. I found it didn’t sit quite right visually with the text right justified, but pulled away from the edge slightly gave it a more calming appearance.

The green spine details were kept as a tool for theme colour coding by the publishers, echoing the 1930’s classic Penguin covers with their range of colour’s, whilst the back cover information was left as it.

With the illustrated cover complete I was now ready to look at using just font work for the front. The back over and spine achieve the aim of clarity I was after. A quick search of various Text only covers showed how text was used effectively. I was aiming to use three vertical columns, with the central one clear, allowing the side one to be used for information.

The first draft looked ideal, and I chose to include the finally two paragraphs of the book to join the text as they were powerful. As they were mounted there lay along side the vertically set text of the title and the author I decided to highlight the authors name in red and enlarging it to 16pts against the 15pts of the main quote text, which has been skewed to 20°. The title was stretch by 43% which improved the impact of the Haettenschweiler type. Using the White Space wisely I set the vertical aspect of the font deliberately to replicate the erect nature of a soldier standing to attention. A final idea was to split the page into two columns, the title sparing the space with an edited quote, which is the final line in the book, with Sajer’s name highlighted in red.

So comparing the two book covers my favourite has to be the one featuring the photo graph. The text only cover has an appeal, but given the market would be predominantly male (though my daughter has read this book twice now), the photo style follows previously successful approaches, but uses the idea of even belonging to a group one can still be lonely. Of the two I’d say the photo-cover, which was used after my illustrated cover felt a little flat, is more eye-catching and in terms of fulfilling the design brief is more successful on this occasion.

Screen shots of exercise development:

Resources Used

Sajer, G, (1997, The Forgotten Soldier, Third Impression, Orion, London.

Forgotten Soldier covers https://www.pinterest.co.uk/search/pins/?q=the%20forgotten%20soldier%20guy%20sajer&rs=typed&term_meta[]=the%20forgotten%20soldier%20guy%20sajer%7Ctyped

Großdeutschland Division Insignia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guy_Sajer#/media/File:%E2%80%9EGro%C3%9Fdeutschland%E2%80%9D-Division_(Wehrmacht).svg

Richard Clifton-Dey samples https://www.pinterest.co.uk/search/pins/?q=Richard%20Clifton-Dey&rs=typed&term_meta[]=Richard%7Ctyped&term_meta[]=Clifton-Dey%7Ctyped

Book Template https://indesignskills.com/downloads/book-template/

Malgrd-nous reference – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malgr%C3%A9-nous

Barcode Generator https://www.barcodesinc.com/generator/index.php German Infantry still https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bundesarchiv_Bild_101I-219-0595-05,_Russland-Mitte-S%C3%BCd,_Infanteristen.jpg

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