Designing The Shining Girls Covers: We Go Behind The Scenes With Joey Hi-Fi
Presenting: an unveiling of the South African cover designs for
The Shining Girls, the highly anticipated forthcoming novel by Lauren Beukes, and an in-depth interview with designer Joey Hi-Fi in which he discusses typography,
Ray Gun magazine, and things that glow in the dark.
Today we are very excited to announce what author Lauren Beukes has termed a "binary exclusive" (Pornokitsch
and brainwavez.org were both given access to this) - a first look at the South African cover designs for her latest novel, The Shining Girls
, which have once again been designed by award-winning cover designer Joey Hi-Fi.
We've got a great interview with Joey Hi-Fi further down the page, in which he goes into great detail describing the creative process, as well as work-in-progress samples of some of the art but, first, here's what everyone has patiently been looking forward to:
Roll your mouse over the cover to see the first draft of this design by Joey Hi-Fi. If you can't, don't worry, there's a side-by-side comparison later in this article.
You may have noticed that I said cover designs
, plural, a few times. This is because the publishers have secretly been working on two editions of the book: the standard paperback edition we were all expecting as well as a special hardcover edition featuring an exclusive second cover design by Joey Hi-Fi that focuses solely on the typographical elements seen in the design for the paperback:
The books are being published by Umuzi
, an imprint of Random House Struik. We asked the publisher at Umuzi, Fourie Botha, to tell us more about the choice to use two different designs, as well as what readers can expect from the special edition. He told us that "we wanted something special and lasting for the collectors' edition and Joey Hi-Fi did a wonderful job to distil the paperback's design into something understated and classic. The collectors' edition will be in hardcover, and will give fans and collectors something really beautiful to treasure for many years".
In preparing to write The Shining Girls
author Lauren Beukes travelled to Chicago on a recon mission, which was a crucial part of the research process for her book. It enabled her to check facts, scout locations, and get a sense of the place that one can't get sitting in front of a computer. It also unexpectedly ended up providing photographic material that was included in the final paperback cover design. I asked her to tell me a little about the trip, and how, from her perspective, it had an impact on the design of the cover.
"I spent two weeks in Chicago on a research recce, taking notes, but also photographs for later reference, of evocative places or scenes that I wanted to remember, from a haunted ballroom in the Congress Hotel to dilapidated tenement houses to the bird sanctuary adjoining Montrose Beach where one of the book's most harrowing scenes takes place. Of the 1000 photos I took on my iPhone, there were about 30 decent ones and Joey and I went through them to find the ones that would suit the tone of the cover. I love the way he's chosen the ones that are creepy and evocative but that there's also a lot of light, shining through the filigree of the staircase, for example, or the neon streaks of the car wash sign," she said.
Joey Hi-Fi, who is based in Cape Town, South Africa, has collaborated with Lauren on covers for all her books so it was a natural fit for him to be chosen as the designer for South African editions of The Shining Girls
. He is known for his strong illustration work and meticulous attention to detail, which is especially noticeable in his typography. I asked him to tell me more about designing this cover.
MJW: Did you know from the beginning that you would be designing two covers, and how did you plan for it? If not, how did that affect your work in progress?
JH: I was only aware there was going to be a special edition after I was done designing the paperback cover. Designing two covers for the same novel was something I had never done before and it came with the added expectation of at least matching what I had done for the paperback edition. It must be said - I was quaking in my Converse sneakers. Fortunately, during the design process, I'd pitched a glow-in-the-dark cover for The Shining Girls
to the publisher (which I still hope will be produced for the hardcover special edition). This eventually became the basis for the special edition cover. Initially I had designed and illustrated the paperback cover-title typography to work on its own without any photographs, which later made designing the hardcover special edition cover much simpler.
MJW: The photographic cover is a departure from what most people associate as being your style. Take us through some of the conceptualising that occurred. How did this cover design come about?
JH: I tend only to use photography for book covers if I feel it suits the tone of the book or if I can commission photography specifically for the cover. Commissioning good photography is often hamstrung by budgetary and time constraints. Fortunately in this case I had access to a bank of interesting images, which I will mention later on.
I had the basic idea for the cover in mind almost immediately after reading the novel. I thought that since events in the book cover so many different time periods, the cover should reflect this. The book also follows the attempts of the lead protagonist (Kirby) in trying to solve a mystery spanning decades. I thought the cover should also have that feel - of someone trying to put together clues in order to solve a mystery.
Initially I had the idea of just illustrating the title of book, with each letter in the title being from a different time period. I then expanded this concept to include some of the eerie objects mentioned in the book (their true significance of which would become clear as you read the story). I decided then that photography combined with some kind of illustration could work well.
A portion of the book plays out in the 1990s. I thought it would be great to capture some of that 1990s design aesthetic on the cover as well in a subtle manner so I delved into the boxes in my spare room and emerged victorious (albeit a bit dusty) with old Ray Gun
magazines from the 1990s, some examples of David Carson
's deconstructed type, and a few Dave McKean
relics, all of which influenced my design in small ways.
After that I met with Lauren to discuss some ideas. Knowing that Lauren prides herself on the meticulous research for her novels, I asked whether she had taken any photos of the various objects mentioned in the book while she was doing research in the US. She had - and a whole lot more. It was then that she showed me the research photographs for the book that she took while in Chicago - photos she'd taken of buildings, interiors, and landscapes where scenes from the book took place. They were almost like location shots for a film. The photos were exactly what I had in mind. They all had that creepy, haunting and almost otherworldy glow that I felt the cover required.
At that stage I'd also seen the covers for the UK
editions of The Shining Girls
, both of which feature a woman on the cover. I then decided that instead of using photos of the "shining girls" from the novel, I would only offer small glimpses of their appearance and personality. I preferred leaving the appearance of the various shining girls to the reader's imagination. I also felt this would set apart the cover for the South African edition from its UK and US counterparts.
Once we'd sorted through the photos, I selected the images that worked well together and would complement the typography. In keeping with the tone of the novel (and of course the "shining girl" aspect of the plot) - I wanted all the images on the cover to have a slight haunting and otherwordly glow to them. To achieve this I decided to superimpose some of the images over each other. On some of the images I also superimposed and added small, subtle elements, some that the viewer may not see initially.
I wanted the title typography to reflect events in the book. Some of the letters represent different time periods and some are derived from objects and events mentioned in the book.
For example, some of the time-period-inspired letters include:
The "S" (in "Shining"), which has a 1930s-era neon showgirl sign feel to it.
The [second] "N" is derived from a specific 1950s comic book.
The "H" is reminiscent of 1990s deconstructed type seen in such magazines as Ray Gun
and the work of David Carson.
The "E" is based on an actual Chicago newspaper from the 1980s.
Some of the letters inspired by events and objects in the book include:
The knife forming the shape of the "L".
The Yale & Towne key making up the [second] "I" in "Shining".
The charm bracelet forming the other "I" in "Shining".
The chalk "R".
I explored using just photos of objects for the title typography but felt the typography got lost when placed alongside the other photos on the cover. It was then that I decided to use black and white for the title. It had more impact, and also added to the eerie and haunting mood of the cover. I also wanted to present an option of a glow-in-the-dark cover to the publisher, which would work better with the title in black and white.
Once I had finalised the title typography and layout it was just a matter of finding the right mix of images to complement it. This process was a bit like solving my own little jigsaw puzzle. I tried quite a few combinations (with input from Lauren and Fourie from Random House Struik). Eventually (and after much debate) the right balance was struck and I think it all came together well in the end.
MJW: How do you plan the typography and the iconography that you intend to include? Do you go through many iterations (trying different designs and icons for different letters) or is it quite a straightforward process?
JH: I made notes of various objects while reading the book and asked Lauren for the visual reference she had collected.
I had a basic idea of how the typography could work, based on some loose sketches I did, but it's only when I started working with the actual objects or illustrated letters that I got to see what worked well. During this process I usually end up going through many iterations of the typography.
I wanted to include objects from all of the time periods covered in the book, so I compiled a list of objects for each time period. From there I began matching up objects with letters and seeing how they worked as a typographic whole. It was a bit like solving my very own typographic version of the Hellraiser puzzle box. Eventually it all clicked nicely into place, but I did end up with quite a few versions of each letter. Some looked great on their own - but were overpowering when part of a whole. I find when designing this kind of typographic piece (type made from objects), it is always a challenge reigning myself in and not pushing the limits of legibility too far. Obviously on a book cover, legibility of a novel's title is of a high priority.
MJW: You mentioned working with the help of Lauren and Fourie when you were putting together the typography jigsaw puzzle. How much input did Lauren and the publishers have in your design work?
We all worked together quite closely on this cover. I always value the author's input when working on any book cover. I take the responsibility of putting a cover on any writer's work very seriously so the end result must be something the author is happy with. Lauren is always a great help when working on her covers and she is a constant source of insight and interesting ideas. For The Shining Girls
she was most helpful in suggesting and selecting the photographs for the cover, as well as giving me some visual reference and input for the title typography. For example: in researching and writing the novel she had a specific kind of key in mind, a particular make of knife, and so on. She'd taken a massive amount of photos on her research trip to Chicago, so I needed her input in the selection process. Being the author she was in the best position to tell me which were most relevant and so on. She also lent a hand sourcing alternate photos for the cover where needed. As for the publisher - the team members' input is always important, since they have the final say on whether the cover is approved or not. In this case they were always there to provide a positive guiding hand.
Don't forget to read our feature that explores the design of the
Zoo City cover, in which you can learn more about Joey Hi-Fi's work process, as well as some of the tools he uses.