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 Heroes All, a historical fiction novel by D.M. Hanson. While this isn’t my usual genre to work with, as with most graphic designers, we love a good challenge. This assignment caught my eye because of my love of World War II Propaganda design and my background in art history.
The concept behind the novel comes from D.M. Hanson’s family serving during World War II. Using photographs and first-hand accounts, she constructed the story and its center, the LST 374. Hearing her talk about the book helped drive the tone of the project and how I handled the initial drafts. Eventually, we settled on a concept that put the ship at the center that relied heavily on tone to provide contextual clues for the reader.
This novel came with a host of challenges. The most important aspect of this cover is that, despite being fiction, it needed to draw from history and be accurate to the period. There are many accounts, both written and visual, detailing the beaches and military advances. But because of the technology of the time, the photographs weren’t usable. Finding stock photography of this specific ship would be near impossible. It would also be difficult to manipulate photographs at a crisp resolution and force the perspective for the overhead design.
The ship itself is referenced in the subtitle. It not only needed to be included, but had to be the focal point for the reader. However, the only reference images for the LST 374 are sepia tone photographs. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t translate into a graphic suitable for an audience looking for the tension and drama expected in a historical fiction cover. The ship is a composite of several World War II vessels, pieced together to mimic the rough shape of the amphibious vessel. Because of this technique, the ship had to stay at a size that allowed it to fool the reader’s eye. It also meant using subtle tricks to pull the eye away from the detail. This is done by creating a sense of movement in the water, forcing the reader’s eye toward the top of the design.
The book features accounts of soldiers aboard the ship during WWII, which comes with a specific tone. Hanson didn’t want to focus on the violence of the war and specifically requested no depictions of war in action. This allowed the setting to depict the calm before the proverbial storm. While many think of a beach with rippling waves as majestic or carefree, I wanted this setting to create a sense of isolation and impending dread. I achieved this by playing with scale, not only of the overall cover, but the ship itself. Giving it plenty of space on all sides evokes a sense of solitude. Even though the beach is in view, the ship itself is isolated in a vast space. The dark waters come with an ominous feeling that helps reinforce a sense of isolation about the ship.
While the reader’s eye enters the design through the ship, the waves in its wake direct the viewer’s eyes up to the gold of the beaches. But even on the beach, peppered with anti-tank hedgehogs, a dark narrative awaits the ship. Each of these items calls on the collective knowledge of the war and the difficulties of battle on the shoreline.
Because of the proportions of the background, the type had to be incorporated into the design of the book. Morton, a san serif typeface, was a logical choice because of its ability to create both thick and thin letters. The narrow counter in the center of the ‘O’ provided a letter wide enough to maintain its readability despite an overlaid object. This also allowed for an additional layer of tension, as the ship is slightly off center in the design. The white caps of the wake help ground the typography into the setting. To emphasize this, the letters are at eighty percent opacity, allowing the water’s texture to come forward. The layering effect, along with the opacity and color, pushes the type into the setting, providing cohesion and balance with the overall design.
And that is the concept behind D.M. Hanson’s, Heroes All, a novel inspired by the LST 374 and her crew. Even if a designer doesn’t work in an author’s genre, there is still potential for an outstanding partnership. If a designer catches your eye, whether it’s their execution or typography, there’s never harm in asking. Sometimes we want to add diversity to our portfolio or we want a chance to work with a new amazing author.