LITERARY BOND: Artist James Iacobelli Takes Us Inside the Cover Design of Horowitz’s ‘Forever and a Day’
By Matthew Chernov
December 20th 2018
In theory, the age-old idiom “don’t judge a book by its cover” makes perfect sense. After all, it’s the author’s language and storytelling skill that’s most important when you crack open a novel, not the outside wrapper. But when it comes to the James Bond books, a different adage springs to mind: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.”
Look at it this way. The jacket art on the original Bond novels was so important to Ian Fleming that he designed many of the stunning first editions himself. Today, the cover reveal of each new official Bond novel is met with excitement by fans around the world. From the concept to the font to the texture of the paper itself, every aspect is hotly debated by legions of 007 devotees as soon as it’s announced.
When Anthony Horowitz’s second Bond novel “Forever and a Day” was published in the UK on May 31, 2018, it featured a cover image of a massive pleasure ship racing across the ocean as though fired from a gun. Five months later, the American edition was published. This time, the jacket depicted a gorgeous view of the south of France and a speedboat rocketing away from shore.
Curious to find out more about the visually striking American jacket, I reached out to James Iacobelli, the artist who designed it. Currently the Art Director for Atria Books, Iacobelli received his design training at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan and worked at Harper Collins and St. Martin’s Press before joining the team at Atria. It was during his time at Harper that he designed the cover of “Forever and a Day.” Here are some highlights from our recent conversation.
JAMES BOND RADIO: Before we discuss the book jacket you designed, I’m wondering what your exposure to James Bond was like before this project came along. Were you a fan of the series?
JAMES IACOBELLI: My interest in Bond has mostly been casual. I’ve never been a super fan of the franchise, but it’s something that I’ve always found interesting and fun, whether it’s the movies or videogames like GoldenEye. Actually, I didn’t even realize that Harper Collins had the rights to the series that Anthony Horowitz was writing. So, it was a fun surprise to work on it.
JBR: Do you have a favorite Bond actor?
JAMES: I’m going to have to go with Daniel Craig, just because my wife really loves him.
JBR: Had you read any of the Ian Fleming novels before working on this book?
JAMES: No, I hadn’t. This was sort of new to me.
JBR: How did this particular job come about? Was it something you were assigned, or did you actively pursue it?
JAMES: It was a late add-on to our list at Harper, and I just took it on because it was something that I knew I could package really well. A book like this is in my skill set.
JBR: And what does your skill set entail?
JAMES: Oh, I’d say really big commercial titles, possibly leaning towards things that are more male in terms of design work.
JBR: When you work on a book like this, do you typically read it first, or is it summarized for you?
JAMES: There’s always a synopsis, which we call a jacket memo sheet or a tip sheet. It’s a big rundown of how the book is going to be positioned in the marketplace. It spells out what category the book is going to be placed in and what comparable titles there are. For this particular book, there wasn’t much time to read through the entire novel, because we needed to cover it very quickly.
JBR: Is that fairly common?
JAMES: Yes. Everything in publishing is always now-now-now, because if you don’t have a cover it’s hard to sell or position a book. So, we generally try to work as fast as we can and nail everything down as soon as possible.
JBR: Take me through the actual design process of “Forever and a Day.”
JAMES: Well, I hadn’t worked on Anthony Horowitz’s previous Bond book before. The Harper staff who worked on the first one wasn’t there anymore. First of all, everything we did on this title needed to be approved by Ian Fleming Publications. There can be a lot of approval processes with something like this. In terms of design, at first, I wasn’t sure about the direction they wanted to go in. It can be hard when someone says one thing and another person says something else. When you look at Horowitz’s previous book cover, it was very Bondian. But I just wasn’t sure what they wanted this time. Also, there was already a UK cover for the new book, with an aerial shot of a boat running through the type. So, not wanting to copy that, I did some preliminary covers that were oriented around Bond himself. There were figures and people on the cover. More James Bond-y, for lack of a better term. So, we presented those ideas, and they said “No, we don’t want Bond on there at all. We don’t want him on the cover.”
JBR: What did they want instead?
JAMES: The setting. They wanted to capture a vibe and some color. That’s the direction they were looking for. So, after including Bond at the very beginning, we went with a more setting-oriented approach.
JBR: How many different sketches or designs did you go through on this book?
JAMES: We went through a bunch, but not crazy amounts. Probably about thirty variations.
JAMES: Yeah, it’s a lot. But they’re all necessary. Again, we began with the Bondian covers, and then moved on to the settings cover, and we were trying to figure out what was working and what wasn’t. Eventually we found the current image that’s on there now. And once that was generally agreed upon and liked by everyone, then we began to fix the photo’s color, which was quite rich. I wanted it to look more retro and worn in terms of color, so we pulled it back some. Then we pulled it back too far and had to correct it again. In general, the biggest challenge on this job was nailing down the color and tone of the art. We explored a lot of options with that.
JBR: Once you had that part where you want it, what came next?
JAMES: At that point, we started exploring a bunch of different type options. Anthony Horowitz has a specific look for the literary novels that he writes, so we had to decide if we wanted to import his type layout and sensibility from those other novels into this one, in order to connect them. But ultimately, we didn’t do that because this is a different series. I really wanted it to have a Bondian element, though, so I came up with the shattered ‘O’ in title. It’s a way to riff on the iconic world of James Bond without actually showing him.
JBR: That title font is very striking. Did you design it yourself, or did you add the shattered bullet hole effect?
JAMES: No, I didn’t design the font. It’s preexisting. But I manipulated and altered it. For example, instead of using the letter ‘O,’ I actually used a circle graphic, and I found elements to replicate that cracked effect. I really love manipulating type. That’s sort of a big thing in my design work. I love to make type into more than just words that you read. My goal is to make type that captures a feeling or some kind of movement. My covers sometimes resemble posters, and this book was a great opportunity to do that.
JBR: The book’s back cover has four circles of different sizes, each with a line of text in it. Am I right in assuming that those circles are a reference to the classic gun barrel that we see at the start of almost every Bond movie?
JAMES: Yes, it was a deliberate theme involving circles and highly graphic work. Back covers are hard, because they’re normally so boring. You throw some quotes on there and that’s about it. But since this was a Bond book, I saw it as an opportunity to do something a little bit different. So, I incorporated some of the energy from the front cover onto the back.
JBR: Where did the image on the front cover come from?
JAMES: In my work, I really love collaging. I enjoy taking elements from different images or sources and marrying them together. For this particular cover, the speedboat was a separate image, and I created the trail in the water behind it. I added an overlaying texture as another element. There are quite a few things that we put together to get that cover. It’s not just a matter of finding one perfect image. It’s a process.
JBR: The book’s spine bears the Ian Fleming Publications logo, and you mentioned them earlier. Were they very hands-on during the creation of the cover?
JAMES: We needed their approval over everything we ended up doing. In general, though, it was a pretty easy process. When we finally had a cover that we were all happy with, we digitally mocked it up for them, with their logo on the spine, so they could look at it and tell us what they thought. And they said it was great, and signed off on it. There was no back and forth at all. It was just a matter of getting their seal of approval. After that, we were good to go!
JBR: Did you hear anything from Anthony Horowitz once the jacket was finished?
JAMES: No, we didn’t. But it’s not very often that you hear directly from the author.
JBR: I asked because Horowitz teased the reveal of the book’s title in the days leading up to its announcement.
JAMES: Oh, really!
JBR: Yes, he whetted everyone’s appetite and created a lot of excitement around the event. In fact, the reveal of the cover you designed was big news among the Bond community as well. It was hotly debated for a while.
JAMES: I had no idea! But I can imagine.
JBR: Were you familiar at all with the classic Bond covers drawn by artist Richard Chopping in the ‘50s and ‘60s? His work really defined the literary Bond during those important decades.
JAMES: Honestly, I’m not familiar with his work. In general, I try not to look at a lot of that stuff, because I don’t want it to influence me. And especially in this case, where they didn’t want anything that resembled traditional Bond. So, it really made no sense to research the early Bond look when they didn’t want that world represented.
JBR: After your experience on this project, would you be interested in designing the cover to the next book in the 007 series?
JAMES: If I was asked, I’d love to! It’s a great honor to work on them.
For additional information about James Iacobelli, and to see examples of his work, visit him at his website.
Article and interview by Matthew Chernov