Behind the Cover: A Look at “Every Day Is a Good Day”

This week, Fulcrum book designer Jack Lenzo offers a peek inside the process of designing the cover for a special reissue of Every Day Is a Good Day.

Memorial editions are tricky things. When I heard that we were going to do a memorial edition of Wilma Mankiller’s Every Day Is a Good Day, I was a little nervous. I had just started at Fulcrum when the first edition was in progress, and I remembered quite vividly that Wilma was really insistent that she not be on the cover. Her humility made her prefer that the emphasis be on the women whose experiences she collected for the volume, and therefore one of these women, Gail Small, was chosen to be featured.

first edition cover

For the memorial edition, however, the existing cover would be confusing, with many people assuming that this was Wilma. Of course, how respectful of a memorial is it if one insists on going against her wishes? Because of these factors, we decided to concentrate on a mood rather than a person.

Finding the right tone can be challenging. Our first try felt a little too focused on the spiritual. For better or worse, everyone could identify this style as quite familiar.

first idea

Our second was perhaps a little somber. And even in silhouette, would people wonder if it was Wilma?

Idea 2

In the end, we found what we felt was a balance of the natural, the spiritual, and the contemplative that resonates within the book.

Jack Lenzo is the designer at Fulcrum. He appreciates looking out his window and seeing mountains instead of cornfields and bumper stickers that are thoughtful enough to say Naive instead of Native. Some of his favorite projects have been ones that have overlapped with and informed his own experiences in the West.

Charlie Soap, Wilma’s husband, has started a foundation to celebrate Wilma’s great legacy. Fore more information on the Wilma Pearl Mankiller Foundation, visit the foundation’s home page.


Is Green Printing Possible?

A few years ago, green printing was the hot topic and pet project for production managers and print buyers throughout the publishing industry. This was fueled in large part by an announcement by Random House in May 2006 that they would go from 3 percent recycled content to 30 percent by 2010. Many publishers scoffed at this, because a lot of us had been printing with 30 percent recycled content or more for a few years, but we hadn’t been bragging about it. Now it appeared that we were going to have to start bragging or be left behind.

In 2006, I could bid almost every book with 30 percent recycled content (the minimum content required to use the sacred arrow triangle logo), and other printers even had sheets available with 50 or 100 percent PCW (post-consumer waste) content that were only a little bit more expensive than nonrecycled sheets. It was beautiful. And not only did many printers do right by us with the paper, they also worked with organizations like the Green Press Initiative, the Forest Stewardship Council, and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative.

These days, sustainability concerns have been pushed into the background by an economic downturn and the rise of digital content and e-books. But on Earth Day 2011, I would like to think that sustainable practices and green concerns haven’t been sent to the landfill or shelved in the archives. The publishing industry remains a greener place than it was less than 10 years ago. Green is still here; it’s just like the firstborn child who’s feeling left out after the new baby comes along. I still think green when I bid a book with a printer. If I can make the numbers work, or even get them close, the book is going to have recycled content. And if we can’t make a book with an environmental message work on a paper with recycled content, it doesn’t get printed.

There are those who say that the printed book should go by the wayside in the name of the environment, that the e-book eliminates the need for a physical product. More e-books means fewer printed books, to a certain extent, yes. But fewer printed books means less business for printers, which means they have to cut jobs and raise prices. I’d like instead to take the middle road. I believe print and digital should exist side-by-side, that certain content lends itself better to one format or the other, and that there will always be readers who prefer one over the other. From where I stand, the mills and printers who have done the work and raised the bar on environmental standards are the ones with the best business practices, the best quality, and the best service. So in this fantasy of mine, only the green will survive, and we’ll all get to keep making, buying, and reading books in whatever format we like.

To see proof that the sustainable publishing movement is still alive and kicking, visit the website of the Green Press Initiative. These guys know their stuff, and they come at every issue from every angle. I bet they’ve tracked the carbon footprint of several e-readers in comparison with the average hardcover or paperback (if they haven’t, they should). It’s also worth looking up Eco-Libris, a really cool green publishing incentive program that does more than sell a product.

Haley Berry is the editorial and production manager at Fulcrum Publishing.

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

Designing Fulcrum’s Book Covers: An Inside Look at ‘Endangered’

For those of you who follow a certain award-winning NBC show on Thursday nights  (or, I guess, if you work in an office yourself), you know just how unique and hilarious office environments can be. At Fulcrum, we have our own zany set of editors, designers, marketers, and salespeople, and this is never more telling than during our twice-yearly book covers meetings. In graphic designer Jack Lenzo’s perfectly light-calibrated office (the lighting and paint were chosen to create a color neutral proofing environment. Pretty cool, huh?) we battle for the perfect cover for each and every one of our books. To those outside the book publishing industry, this design process may be shrouded in mystery, but I think it’s time to lift our metaphoric skirts, if you will.

No, this is not a transcript of one of our meetings (if those were shared, I’d have to kill you), but instead a peek inside the mind of Jack and our featured author, Mitch Tobin, author of Endangered: Biodiversity on the Brink. This is one of our most controversial covers. Read on to see why.

JACK LENZO: Before we get too far, let’s consider the value of a title. We started with the title Legislating Noah’s Ark. What does that evoke in your mind? Probably something very different than Endangered.

No one ever saw my first ideas, but it’s fun to reflect on what came to mind. Where on earth did I find this picture?

JACK LENZO: Obviously Endangered didn’t fit the imagery I had been collecting for the original title, so we turned to the author for a new perspective. He had a photographer friend. Nice!

The humpback chub plays a role in the book, and it just so happened that Mitch and his friend hiked to the floor of the Grand Canyon on a research mission and came home with this photo. Perfect.

But apparently not everyone empathizes with a fish. What!?!? This fish made me cry, at least on the inside. His eyes scream, “The cold water from the dam is killing me!”

No? You can’t hear it?

The Southwest doesn’t have polar bears stranded on melting ice or cute penguins with nowhere to go…

JACK LENZO: How about cats? Cats are cute. After looking up the list of endangered species in the Southwest, I found a picture of an ocelot. Think mini leopard. Everybody loved it. Yeah! We’re done.

We send it to Mitch to hear his enthusiasm. Mitch is a nice guy…and he seems to be holding something back. Well, ocelots are endangered, but climate change, oddly enough, is likely to increase their range and chance at survival. We picked the one animal that is an outlier to the narrative. Seriously?

MITCH TOBIN: One of the first covers that Jack produced showed a cat perched on a ledge. Aesthetically, I loved that cover, but there was a slight problem. The species depicted, an ocelot, is one that I only mention in passing. It’s true that ocelots are listed as endangered and they once occupied the American Southwest, where my book is set. But I chose instead to focus on another borderlands cat, the jaguar. I figured the ocelot would be mistaken for a jaguar (in parts of South America, ocelots are called jaguaretes), and because many people associate both cats with the tropics, I thought the cover would suggest the book was about endangered species in some exotic, far-flung jungle, not their own backyards.

I was still tempted to go with the ocelot cover because it was so beautiful, but what sealed it for me was the fact that no one had seen an ocelot in Arizona or New Mexico in recent memory. Sure enough, a few months after the cover was finalized, two ocelots turned up in southern Arizona—one dead and one filmed by a remote camera—marking the first time the species had been recorded in the state since 1964.

JACK LENZO: Well then, what would be more relevant? I know what you’re thinking. He should have read the book. That’s why covers often make no connection to the story. I hate designers!

Keep in mind that the cat was a knee-jerk reaction to the lack of love for my fish. I still love that fish. I read the manuscript, thank you very much, and the section on condors was pretty darn compelling.

But if you don’t feel anything for a fish, what are the chances that a condor tugs at your heartstrings. Talk about fugly…

JACK LENZO: What to do, what to do? I went through the images I had been collecting along the way. I’m not sure the average person is ever going to think a condor is cute, but they are intriguing.

This shot of a condor with his head down turned out to be just what we needed. It’s unexpected, colorful, visually interesting…and it doesn’t hurt that the expression is kind of a downer in that projecting-human-emotions kind of way. Book it!

MITCH TOBIN: People often question me about the cover for Endangered. “What is that thing?” they ask. “And why is it upside down?”

Despite the occasional confusion, I’m a big fan of the cover depicting the California condor. Endangered begins and ends with the story of one such bird, condor 134, and the species has become emblematic of our attempts to protect biodiversity through the Endangered Species Act. When you see a condor in person, one of the most striking things about its appearance (aside from its nearly ten-foot wingspan) is the rainbow-colored gooseflesh that covers its neck and head. That featherless head isn’t exactly pretty, but neither is the story of our endangered species. I especially like that the photo is a close-up and the bird’s eye is so prominent on the page. As I write in Endangered, “When I could see the birds, bats, fish, and frogs eye to eye, I felt farthest from the tired talking points I was transcribing on deadline and closest to the truth.”


Since 1973, the Endangered Species Act has served as our nation’s legislative ark for imperiled wildlife. But our toughest and most controversial environmental law has failed to recover all but a handful of the 1,300 species under its protection. In Endangered: Biodiversity on the Brink, award-winning journalist Mitch Tobin uses firsthand accounts to show why so many species are at risk of extinction. For nearly seven years, Tobin reported from the front lines of Endangered Species Act battles. He crisscrossed the Southwest in search of wildlife driven to the brink of extinction and solutions to the crisis. Tobin discovered that this region, with its urban sprawl, wasteful water use, and vulnerability to climate change provides a snapshot of the issues facing species throughout the world. Tobin also found compelling examples of collaboration. Mitch Tobin’s year-long series on Arizona’s endangered species was a finalist for the John B. Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism. Today, Tobin serves as a consultant to leading conservation groups and foundations.