A New Dawn for a Rising Son

This is a fun favorite—a son of the Lone Star state stumbles his way to the top of the wide world of sumo, finding love along the way. The book is an indie success, but was in need of a new look to help it find new audiences. Optioned for a film, the new trade paperback deserved a more grown-up cover, this time with a hint of mystery and a bit more punch.

The original publisher’s hardcover has a kind of Zen simplicity that’s elegant and appealing. While it does create some curiosity, I wonder if it isn’t perhaps a little too austere? It hints at the Japanese flag in a nice way—although honestly, that went over my head at first; but once it was pointed out to me, I liked it. Even so, unless you’re some kind of J-fan, the cover doesn’t really draw you in. And the title—those small white letters running down the red figure—well, that’s next to invisible. So, it’s nice and low key, but perhaps a bit too restrained.

On the other hand, the first paperback edition went entirely the other way—big, cartoony, and obvious. The problem is, it feels like a kids’ book, which actually narrows down the audience. I have a great interest in Japanese culture and history, but this cover actually drove me away from a story that I had really enjoyed. Where is the exotic mystery of the Orient? Where is the competition, the romance, or the self-discovery? A cover shouldn’t try to tell you the whole story, but it ought to at least hint at some of the good stuff.

The five covers above are the initial batch of re-designs. The first takes on the original hardcover, and tries to solve some of its problems. Okay, it’s not great, but I had to get it out of my system. The next three get more to the point, and the last is an experiment—a bit of a gimmick. (I tried to make English letters look like Japanese characters.) Interesting maybe, but it suffers from the same poor readability as the original.

What can I tell you? They can’t all be winners. You know what they say about laws and sausages, right? It’s best not to see them being made. Yeah, well, design can be like that too. But sometimes even the weaker designs can inspire new thinking when you give them a little exposure. Or they reveal new elements that you can use. It’s all about making it better, and an extra set of fresh eyes on the problem can often help.

After we narrowed down the designs, there followed a whole bunch of variations with different character silhouettes, all of which culminated in the final cover at right. Better yet, the back cover was able to make use of an element from one of the alternate designs, so all of that sketching paid off. This time, we ended up right where I hoped we would.


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