Designing Fulcrum’s Book Covers: An Inside Look at the ‘Trickster’ Cover Process

Book covers. The truth is, most people probably do not buy a book solely for its cover; but let’s face it, books do get judged by their covers. A book cover can impact a reader in many ways, and depending on the type of emotions a cover conveys, a reader may or may not pick up the book.

Last week, we gave our readers a behind the scenes glimpse at the discussions that helped shape the cover for the book Endangered. We had so much fun looking back on the cover process and divulging top-secret information, that we thought we would do it again this week. We caught up with the talented Matt Dembicki, author and editor of Trickster: Native American Tales. Matt and Fulcrum’s book designer Jack Lenzo had some very interesting things to say about what went into the Trickster cover process.

JACK LENZO, Designer: It was, well, tricky…

Okay, that’s a pretty terrible way to start. But this blog brings back much the same feeling I had when working on the cover. I didn’t know where to start. Matt Dembicki had brought us this amazing collection of stories, and with it he had this really interesting illustration that could be used for the cover. Easy peasy. Maybe not.

MATT DEMBICKI, Author/Editor: The initial cover was designed and illustrated by Peter Kuper (Spy v. Spy, World War III), who is well known for using stencils and spray paint to render his illustrations. I asked Peter if he would be interested in illustrating one of the stories for the book, but his schedule was full at the time. He did say he could do a cover, though. Getting the right image for the cover was going to be a challenge. I told Peter about the various trickster beings in the book—coyote, rabbit, crayfish, etc. I didn’t want just a coyote or rabbit on the cover; I wanted something that would convey that this is a collection of a range of trickster beings. Peter took that and crafted a wonderful image, combining all those animals in an ingenious way to create another image. Although the illustration was wonderful, it was a little tight in terms of adding title text and such, and there wasn’t much room for a bleed area.

JACK: Designing books for a living has changed the way I look at art. Rarely am I looking at what is in the piece as much as what is not in the piece. Where are the gaps, the pauses, the room for type. Fans of Exit Through the Gift Shop might appreciate this idea as it is much the same as when Banksy talks about going through museums looking at the spaces in between the paintings for places to put his paintings. Type is like art; it wants attention. And to get attention it needs proper spacing.

The illustration was great, but where could a title go? The image was just so incredibly dense with action. I know, I know. Just put a translucent bar across the middle and call it a day—my all-time favorite design solution. Check your bookshelf. Look familiar? Trying to avoid that trap, I attempted to give the type some space.

JACK: It just wasn’t making anyone, including me, happy. Could we simplify the image? Maybe. So we tried a few things like removing the background. Not terrible.

MATT: I asked my friend comic artist Rafer Roberts (Plastic Farm) to help with a design for the book, both the outside and inside. (The initial plan was to either self-publish Trickster or at least to present it as a full package to a potential publisher). On the cover, Rafer added a finely detailed image of actual fur from a red fox. (When I asked him where he got the fur, he said “Don’t ask.” I didn’t press it.) I really liked this detailing because it felt like a marriage of the cartoony mythical and real-world elements of the trickster.

MATT: The editors at Fulcrum weren’t as crazy about the fur part. I was willing to compromise on that, but I really wanted to retain Kuper’s image for the cover. Jack drafted a few sample covers, but the size of the image was again creating some issues. It was making it difficult to develop an outstanding presentation. That’s when Fulcrum asked if they could use another image, perhaps something from one of the stories. I agreed to it, but I was skeptical. I didn’t think there was one image in the book that could capture the essence of the book like the Kuper cover. I was wrong.

JACK: And then we wondered if anything from the interior might accomplish this same idea. The book was so full of amusing characters, but we kept coming back to the bunny. The interplay between the image and the title really adds a dynamic that the others lacked. I can’t help but feel for him and wonder what is in the works. Is he the trickster or the tricked?

MATT: When Jack presented a few more samples using images from the book, I think we all zeroed in on the one with the rabbit drawn by Jacob Warrenfeltz. It was truly a perfect combination of illustration and presentation, with a little mischief thrown in.

JACK: In the story, the art is predominantly black and white. In the end we gave it a bit of a twist for the cover by making it more of a midnight blue. It just adds a little ambiance.

MATT: I hated to let the Kuper cover go, but I agreed that this was the better image, given the circumstances. Any lingering doubts were quashed when I was at Book Expo America 2010, where the book debuted. Several folks stopped by the Fulcrum booth to thumb through the book simply because they were drawn in by the cover.

About Trickster: Native American Tales: The first graphic anthology of Native American trickster tales, Trickster brings together Native American folklore and the world of comics. More than twenty Native American tales are cleverly adapted into comic form. Each story is written by a different Native American storyteller who worked closely with a selected illustrator, a combination that gives each tale a unique and powerful voice and look. Ranging from serious and dramatic to funny and sometimes downright fiendish, these tales bring tricksters back into popular culture in a very vivid form.

About Matt Dembicki: Along with compiling and editing the book, artist Matt Dembicki illustrated one of the featured trickster tales. Dembicki is the founder of DC Conspiracy, a comic creators’ collaborative in Washington, DC, and has won acclaim for his nature graphic novel, Mr. Big. He currently works as an editor for a higher-education association. Visit his author blog at