Client: Chris Philbroom
My name is Jeremy Flagg, and I am the Cover Villain. I’m here to talk about the concepts behind the cover. Today we’re going to be talking about Dark Recollections, Book one in the Adrian’s Undead Diaries series by Chris Philbrook. This ZomPoc design was used as a special edition cover to launch Philbrook’s series into hardback via Kickstarter.
This project required a unique style of brief. Having known Philbrook for nearly a decade, I have had the pleasure of reading about Adrian’s survival after the collapse of mankind and the rise of zombies. Having found success with his early blog and later audio, Philbrook has a rabid fanbase and their expectations had to be pushed to the forefront of the conversation. What visuals would make them want hardbacks added to their bookshelves? As an avid marketer of his series, Philbrook didn’t want to ignore new potential readers. This created a conundrum, not because the two audience are different, but how they’re reached requires looking at advertising restrictions.
Relying on Amazon and Facebook ads, his books are held to these platform’s community guidelines. This means no blood, no violence, and no guns. These three visuals are a staple in the genre, but having them on the cover means the books cannot be marketed. Knowing Philbrook’s intent meant crafting a concept that reached existing fans while also marketing to new readers. This required throwing out many of the typical tropes, and Philbrook had a firm hand in steering the concept away from genre cliches such as gas masks and solitary man walking away from the camera on a lonely highway.
Contracted for the first eight books in the series, I focused on a desolate tone. Finding urban settings in a state of urban decay is typically easy. But this had to be balanced with the styles of zombie stock images. If the city was too photorealistic, the zombies would stand out. If it was too illustrated, it wouldn’t have the necessary tone. I found stock photos of 3D rendered buildings with a decay overlay that had an almost painterly quality to them. These suggested an urban setting, but sidestepped the need to be photorealistic. Thanks to a single stock contributor, I sourced enough backdrops for the entire series. The images were desaturated and recolored to imitate the fog created by a nuclear fallout.
I relied on the brand recognition of Philbrook’s series for the dominant typographic element. This allowed for consistency across the covers, as his individual titles varied in length. The bold, minimal font mimicked the lines of the buildings and allowed for easy integration. Using scale, the series title dominates the book cover, but I wanted to make sure it didn’t overshadow the visual narrative. By incorporating the title into the apocalyptic setting, it brings the reader into the city. This creates depth and a sense of immersion. It also lets the title be moved up or down depending on the layout of the city itself. A cracked overlay helped remove the stark whiteness of the font and reinforced the urban decay.
The most complicated aspect of the design was including zombies in a book that couldn’t have zombies. I discovered the solution within George A. Romero’s original Night of the Living Dead poster, which featured cutout suggestions of zombies. The zombies on Dark Recollections were painted to help them sink into the background while relying on the slumped forms and outstretched hands. To keep the blood, I looked at movie trailers, which are known to desaturate and decolor blood for Primetime broadcasting. The blood is still visible, but hidden within the color gradation. Because the trinity plays a heavy role within Philbrook’s world, each wrap features three zombies. There is a single exception, which plays into the content of that novel.
Knowing Philbrook would only use the front for advertising allowed the back of the book to feature the taboo. Here, the zombie stands closer to the viewer, revealing all their undead glory. The gradation is lowered, and the blood is visible. Each book features a different zombie on the back as an Easter egg for readers.
In early concepts, we kicked around the idea of making the cover appear as Adrian’s diary. This didn’t work, both as a visual and as it relates to the story. But the previous design gave me the idea for the book jacket flaps. Using texture and decay, I created a messy transition between the city and the flaps. They intentionally bleed onto the front and back cover using the burning edges to frame the city.
And that is the concept behind Dark Recollections. Because Philbrook came to the table with a clear understanding of how his covers would be used in his marketing, it allowed for an in-depth conversation that greatly impacted the overall design. The more the designer knows the context of a project, the better they can tailor it not only to reader expectations, but to the brand’s marketing. This emphasises the importance of having candid conversations not only about the book itself, but an author’s goal with their series, brand, and platforms.