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Author: Lono Waiwaiole
Designer: Dennis McMillan Books
Typefaces: Helvetica Black Condensed and Murry Hill BT
Genre: Crime Fiction/Contemporary Noir
I've been a fan of Michael's work since I first saw it. As I've said before I'm a big crime fiction fan and I love the freshness of his designs. He gives each book a unique identity yet it still communicates what I love about the genre. Well done Michael and thanks for taking the time to share. See Michael's previous Faceout books feature The Art of Redemption.
How did you become a book cover designer?
It’s a long story, but I hope it’s worth telling because I think it’s uncommon, especially nowadays. I began as an artist. I was 12 or 13 when I started to work at it seriously. While I was in high school I was also taking classes at the Art Students League of New York.
At 16 I became obsessed with filmmaking. I worked factory jobs in order to buy a 16mm camera and other equipment, and I taught myself how to shoot film. Out of high School, I packed a suitcase, left home with $200, and went to Hollywood. I didn’t know a soul in Los Angeles. I was 18. After many months of trying, I got a job in the mailroom at Warner Bros. Eventually I was assigned to the executives offices, and it didn’t take me long to realize I’d never survive among these people. Hollywood is plagued by knaves and scoundrels. I quit the studio after 3 years, lived on unemployment, and went back to painting.
I’ve always been a constant reader, and the next job I got was in a used bookstore. For the next several years I learned the rare book trade. I moved to San Francisco and got married. I worked at an antiquarian bookstore and later at the oldest private library in California. I scouted and sold modern first editions, and I painted. I was picked up by a very good gallery there and also in New York. After a couple of years, my wife and I moved back to L.A. This was around 1981, and the art scene was especially lively. I needed work of course, and I frankly bluffed my way into a job as a paste-up artist for a weekly fashion magazine. I’d never even heard of paste-up. This was in the day of drafting tables, T-squares and triangles, X-Acto knives, wax, pasteboards and stat cameras. Over the next 18 years, working at scores of magazines, I advanced from production artist to assistant designer, to designer, associate art director, and art director. For 8 years I art directed special sections for The Hollywood Reporter, and then designed a lavish consumer magazine at Variety for another 4 years.
I designed my first book cover in 1994. It was a collection of stories a friend had written, and another friend published as a limited edition. It was a success all around actually. Two years later I designed my first book jacket for Dennis McMillan Publications, an independent publisher of crime and noir fiction for some 25 years. I’ve been designing covers since.
The really curious thing is that it had never occurred to me to combine my love of books and design until it happened of itself. It’s as if I’d been carrying around a lock I couldn’t open, and one day I found the key in my pocket. Some things you look for and never find, some things find you.
What do you enjoy about your job?
That it’s not a job. I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life, but this doesn’t feel like a job.
Designing Dark Paradise
Dark Paradise is a contemporary noir set in Hawaii. It’s about a turf war between native islanders, a Mexican drug cartel, and the Japanese Mob for control of the crystal meth trade on the Big Island. Despite its tropical locale, the novel—like the title says—is dark, and violent.
Because the Hawaiian location is central to the story, and because I had an idea kicking around in my head for an all-type design incorporating imagery, I knew very quickly what I wanted to try. Luckily the publisher, Dennis McMillan, is a collector of vintage clothing, including vintage Aloha shirts. So the first thing I did was ask him to send me a boxful of these.
I designed a type treatment in Helvetica Black Condensed, with a fair amount of scaling to fill the cover and balance the information. When the type design was ready, the shirts arrived, so naturally I started… ironing!
The publisher sent me scores of colorful shirts and I scanned as many as I thought I might use. I created outlines for each of the letters in the title, and one each for the author’s first and last names. I spent a lot of time trying out different patterns in different combinations, at different percentages, looking for what worked. You can go a little daffy with too many choices, so it was very much an exercise in creative selection. In the end, I used only 4 patterns.
The novel is told from the points of view of 10 characters, with a Rashomon-like shifting of perspective, so I used a single pattern—the only one with people represented—to run across the word “Paradise”, repeating it multiple times.
I emphasized the title and the author’s last name; allowing his first name, Lono, to recede in a spare, black and yellow pattern. I needed some negative space for the eye to get its bearings, so the design would “read”.
The cover design, and the jacket as a whole, is meant to convey the meth-fueled tropical chaos, dark mood, and clash of cultures found in the story. I’d never seen this sort of type-enclosing-patterns-of-imagery before, but I’ve seen it since. I designed Dark Paradise in the late summer of 2008, and the book was published in January 2009. What matters most to me about cover design is complimenting the author’s work and giving pleasure to book lovers. As an avid reader myself, readers are extremely important to me; I hope they’ll enjoy looking at my covers as much as they enjoy reading the books.
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3.2.10 // Ian said:exquisite. I gotta say it stands out on a shelf and makes you want to pick it up. Not sure DM is still publishing books, but I was lucky enough to get a copy from Michael and have it proudly displayed on my shelf. Above all however, is that Michael is a truly thoughtful designer. He thinks and solves. Because he is well read he applies much of the tapestry of his literary mind to his designs and that can be seen in the solutions. But he is also very cognizant of the books final need to sell. this book touches well on all of those levels... Strong type, enticing imagery, and genre appropriate without being trite.
I have yet to read the book. After a stint in Hawaii within the meth culture it will be some time before I am ready to pick it up. But it won't stop me from beautifying my shelf with it damn it.
love the man. love his work. Hopefully we can all meet up at the BEA this year and have lunch.