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The Alluring Art of Book Covers

By Terri Stone

Conventional wisdom says we’re absorbed in our phones, not in books, and the people who do read books consume them on digital devices. An art-focused startup called Rock Paper Books is determined to prove that conventional wisdom is wrong.

Every book that Rock Paper Books (RPB for short) prints has an original artwork on the cover, commissioned by RPB founders Patrick Phillips and David Mautz for that volume. The books are classics: They’ve been around so long that their copyrights have expired. While that simplifies one part of the publishing process (no need to license the content), it also means there’s no novelty hook. The cover art must be the bait to lure potential buyers. 

The Jungle Book with fresh cover art.

Despite that kind of marketing pressure, Mautz and Phillips are relaxed when it comes to working with the artists. For the titles in their current Kickstarter campaign, they let the artists choose the books they most wanted to illustrate. “We put a premium on artists bringing their personal style,” Phillips explains. “We give them as little direction as possible. But we do share initial drafts with the community and get feedback.” While community feedback could go wrong—talk about design by committee!—in RPB’s hands, it works. For example, the initial cover of The Art of War incorporated a katana, which is a Japanese sword. When the RPB community pointed out that The Art of War is a Chinese treatise, the illustrator drew a historically accurate Chinese sword instead. 

The Wind in the Willows with new cover art.

Mautz and Phillips find their illustrators in several ways. They browse Instagram, Reddit, Deviantart, and online art galleries; meet illustrators in person at conventions; and accept proposals on the company’s website or in email (write to artists@rockpaperbooks.com). Most of the existing covers and those featured in the current Kickstarter campaign are vector art. “We like vector art. A lot has to do with our personal taste,” Mautz says. “We choose people whose work we enjoy and who we think will do a good, professional job.”

You can buy 24 books on RPB’s online store now. Mike Mahle created their covers. Prices range from $10.99 to $14.99, and titles include The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, Dracula, Frankenstein, Moby Dick, Peter Pan, The Time Machine, and the War of the Worlds. RPB also sells the cover art as 11”x17” prints that cost $14.99. 

Print of the cover art for The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
Print of the cover art for The Time Machine
Print of the cover art for The Odyssey
Art for the cover of Mysterious Island.

 

New titles with cover illustrations by up to 30 artists will join the library if the current Kickstarter campaign is successful. The new books may include The Jungle Book, illustrated by Michael Keliher; The Mysterious Island, illustrated by Brian Yap; Tarzan of the Apes, illustrated by Adrian Fernandez; and The Wind in the Willows, illustrated by Dave Perillo. RPB’s first two Kickstarter campaigns were hits, so hopes are high for this one, too. 

Are you a fan of printed books? Tell us about your favorite covers in the comments section below.