In Conversation: Book Jacket Designer, Richard Bravery
“What book are you reading?” or “This work reminds me of a quote from the post-modern author XYZ.” Invariably bandied about in culture conversations since the invention of the printing press, it’s fun and enlightening to match literature with visual art.
In the past several years, UK-based art director and book cover designer Richard Bravery has envisioned these connections, and invariably paired prominent emerging artists with some of the most classic novels of the last 100 years. From Cleon Peterson on a Philip K. Dick novel (above), Parra on Kurt Vonnegut, and David Hockney on Ali Smith, Bravery enhances storied literature with a multi-faceted identity.
Evan Pricco: I’m curious about your background as a designer. Can you give us a timeline. Did it start with publishing or fine art?
Richard Bravery: My route into publishing was pretty scattered. I did fine art and illustration in art school, then in between graduating and starting an MA in Design, I was an apprentice carpenter for a few years. I guess, like most people, it took me a while to find my feet in the industry.
Before delving into your book cover and jacket designs, do you have a particular cover from the past that has been inspirational for you? Like some Ray Bradbury or Orwell?
The first time I really remember noticing a book cover was when I was a kid and came across a copy of Lord of the Flies with Paul Hogarth's painting of a severed pig’s head on the front, which I think the late, great Alan Fletcher designed with Pentagram. I loved it, and not because it was gruesome, but because I knew it was something different, and that made it precious to me at an age when everyone around you is trying hard to hammer conformity into you.
(art by Parra)
I also have to ask, before we get into some of the artists you have worked with and art-directed, what makes a good book cover design?
I subscribe to “less is more.” A cover is a small space to try to communicate a big message, and there's always the danger of suffocating a cover with too many ideas. Paul Rand was a master of the understatement; his designs were dynamic, bold and conceptual, but always beautifully simple.
You caught our eye, obviously, because you were taking some of the most classic novels of past generations and art-directing recognizable artists like David Hockney, Cleon Peterson, Roa, Parra, Luke Pearson and Sickboy to do the covers. How did this direction start?
Classic books afford you a fairly unique opportunity when designing a cover; everyone knows who the author is, what he or she represents, and what the book stands for, so you can start to play with people’s expectations. Taking something that is seen as disposable like graffiti and applying it to a classic text that is held as permanent presents a nice juxtaposition.
Can you tell us, for instance, how you came to choose Cleon for The Man in the High Castle?
I've always loved Cleon's work. It's a graceful, brutal movement, with no beginning or end, where good and bad is in many ways irrelevant, replaced by the idea of power. This fed into the way I saw The Man in the High Castle, and they seemed to be a perfect dystopian marriage.
Are all these covers restricted to the UK?
They're available throughout Europe where they seem to be really well received, which is great. But I don't think they are available in the US right now, which is a shame.
What has the response been, among readers, colleagues in the business and vendors?
We have been fortunate that the authors and their estates have really got behind the projects and embraced them as an opportunity to bring the books to a new audience, which I am very grateful for. We've had good responses from peers too; publishing, like all businesses, can sometimes get bogged down in old habits and trends, so it's always good to see publishers doing something different, as it feeds back into the industry in a positive way.
(art by David Hockney)
Any projects of note coming up?
There are some great books coming up. I'm working with a couple of very talented young artists at the moment, Zoë Taylor and Jan Van Der Veken. Like with all projects, it's a long process and the outcome isn't certain, but I always consider myself incredibly fortunate to work with such a talented and diverse group of artists.
For more design work and information about Richard Bravery, visit richardbravery.co.uk