I have always known what the book cover needed to be.
One of my writerly peers starts each new project by writing the blurb that will appear on its back cover. I start with the cover itself. Of the various aspects of my graphic novels, text is the most exacting. The artwork inside is more freewheeling but needs much more downtime to realise. The covers, however, reveal their true face immediately, well before the books get written, with a certitude that can only be described as ‘gut-know’.
Somewhere in the margins of whatever journal is at hand, my future book’s cover will appear, a scribble no more than 2 inches high, akin to a foetal ultrasound—a book must surely follow. There will be nonstop working, culling and editing in subsequent months, but I have never known those margin scribbles to be wrong when it comes to deciding the book’s public face.
The curve of the fractal serpent’s hood (Adi Parva: Churning of the Ocean) corresponds with the golden ratio mathematicians know so well; the effect is primordially compelling because primary red sits adjacent to primary blue. The flow of Draupadi’s white saree pallu against a redpink-orange backdrop (Sauptik: Blood and Flowers) forces the eye to glide to the back cover where a vajra bolt promises dissolution. The eyes of Kari, their whites spotlaminated, call from a bookshelf, their angle and placement forcing you to look at the book’s title. The dense foliage on the cover of my forthcoming book will seduce and daunt in equal measure. As with all storytelling, persuasion and subtle manipulation are implicit in cover design—but rationalising and deconstruction appear as aftermath, the planning stage is all instinct.
My friend Christian Mostefai has an old jeweller’s table in his garage on which he crafts bold, imperfect one-of-a-kind bijoux for people about whom he has what the French refer to as ‘le feeling’. Commerce has nothing to do with these projects, and Christian is too crabby to be cajoled into making things that don’t stab him with le feeling. In similar spirit, I do the occasional cover for special-themed magazines or other writers (I’m currently working on one for Qurratulain Hyder’s Chandni Begum and am disproportionately chuffed about it). Commerce has little to do with any of this either, given the miniscule budgets publishers allot. All my book covers have been for writers who happen to be women. Completely unrelated in preoccupation and spirit, each book struck a personal chord. Giving it a public face was an act of affection and solidarity. An imperfect jewel-gift, lovingly crafted on my table.