The Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye is a work of historical fiction, based on the formation of the first NYC police force in 1845. Faye's story paints a finely detailed, but intensely gritty picture of New York in the mid-nineteenth century: lawlessness abounds, immigrants are flooding into the city from Ireland, religious tensions are high, and the streets are awash with filth, poverty, and every imaginable sin.
The plot literally opens with an explosion—a great fire that actually did ravage over 300 downtown buildings in the summer of 1845. After Timothy Wilde, Gotham's narrator, loses all of his meager fortune in the fire, he joins up with the copper stars, the earliest incarnation of the NYPD. On one of his nightly rounds, he finds a little girl who is absolutely covered in someone else's blood, and in trying to determine what could have happened to her, he gets sucked into investigating a string of strange killings: all of them are children, all are Irish, and all are Catholic.
It's a great read, and full of richly detailed snapshots of life in mid-nineteenth century Manhattan. I'd definitely recommend it to folks who have an interest in New York history, Irish-American history, crime novels, or even just people who liked the movie, "Gangs of New York."
When I was first assigned this title, I was definitely intimidated. Not only am I the new designer on the block, but it's an Amy Einhorn book, and everything that Amy Einhorn touches turns to gold (like, uh, The Help, for example)! Everyone's expectations were high from the get-go, and it was made very clear that I needed to design a cover that would live up to the quality of the literature. It was what everyone described as a "big" book: a potential bestseller, and bestselling books need to look like bestsellers. So I got to it. After reading the manuscript, these were some of my earliest comps:
A little womp-womp, right? I got the general mood right, but not much else. There really wasn't much of the story going on here with the visuals, and besides that I needed to make it more eye-catching. I thought I'd proceed by focusing more on the girl, as she's such a pivotal figure in the story:
Still not quite right, unfortunately. The direction is a little too feminine for the story, and while women will be readily attracted to Gotham, I definitely knew that I needed to bump up the masculinity.
These comps started feeling as though they were getting close. I'd gone back to the text to see if I could pick up on some more useful visuals, and from that I gleaned two things: undertones of sexuality and more concretely, charcoal pencil marks. Timothy obsesses over an unrequited love interest throughout the story, and when he's alone in his room he uses charcoal on butcher paper as a way of sketching through his thoughts, trying to make more sense of them. I found a nice image of lush, sexy-looking hair, and after busting out my own charcoal pencils, superimposed the title with large, roughly drawn letterforms. Inspired by the shapes of the hair, I also sketched out some fluid fire lines with a grease pencil, so it would look both gritty and graceful. That ended up being the winning idea, and after a great deal of refinement, including the addition of woodblock type, I arrived at the final cover.
The final effects really make this jacket sing, and they're easily my favorite part. It's printed on uncoated felt stock, so it feels nice and naturally gritty, the accented fire lines are stamped in a foil appropriately called "Fire Engine Red," and all of the type is spot-glossed, giving it a deliciously slick feel. Do me a favor and touch it if you see it at Barnes and Noble sometime soon!