Designing Debuts: How Matthew Revert created Greg Mania’s book cover

Greg Mania‘s debut memoir Born to Be Public won’t be released until later this summer. Earlier this winter his publisher CLASH Books revealed the punk-rock cover that fits the writer’s big personality.

The book was designed by Australian graphic designer Matthew Revert. I caught up with Revert about his design work as well as working on Mania’s book for the first interview in the series Designing Debuts.

How did you get into designing book covers?

It was actually quite by accident. My best friend informed me of a desire to start a small press back in about 2008. The idea excited me so I offered to help in any way I could and became a co-owner. The press (LegumeMan Books) is now defunct, but it was responsible for any of the success I have had. No one involved with LegumeMan had graphic design experience, but we were also pretty sure if we were going to release books, they would need to have covers. While I had no direct experience, I’ve always been very interest in graphic design. This interest paired with the fact I was the only one who knew how to open Photoshop formed the basis of the decision to leave me responsible for making covers. My path toward being a more established designer was the result of me fumbling my way through something I was ignorant about until I formed workable techniques, which I still use today.

What was your first book cover to be published? How would you say you’ve changed as a designer since then?

Spare Key, by my best friend R. Frederick Hamilton. I was the title that launched LegumeMan Books. While that cover is quite basic, it got the job done and the book went on to sell far more copies than we could have anticipated. The main way I have changed as a designer since Spare Key is that I now have some basic understanding of what I’m doing.

In as little words as possible, how would you describe a Matthew Revert book cover (or your art in general)?

It’s a hard question to answer because my covers are always influenced by the needs of a client, but in short, I try to marry precision with gut feeling. While graphic design necessitates commercial outcomes, I still believe in the raw art of it and will lean into the artistic expression of it as much as a client will allow.

Are there particular things you like to learn about an author when designing their cover? Especially a debut author whose first book is going to be their introduction to the world.

I usually like to have as little information as possible, which maybe seems counterintuitive, but the less concrete information I know, the more my gut is able to speak up. Many of my most successful designs have occurred this way. Sometimes a single sentence description of the book is all I work with. It should be noted that this usually occurs more often with presses I work with a lot. When I’ve already been designing for a press for several years, I know who they are and how to have a design not just speak for the book itself, but the rest of that publisher’s catalogue. I believe that a press can use the designs of their books to form a dialogue about who that press is. If I have a new client, I will spend more time reading through manuscripts and talking about various cover prompts because I am still determining what the bigger dialogue is.

With Greg Mania’s book, he has a pretty distinct POV. Did he have a lot to say during the design process? What was it like working on his book specifically?

Greg’s book was an absolute joy to design. We talked for a while beforehand and it became quickly apparent, we shared very similar aesthetics. The only concern throughout the process was the fact I knew I was going to deliver something he wasn’t sure he wanted. During early conversations, he mentioned not really wanting himself on the cover – meanwhile my brain kept telling me, “I’m putting him on the cover. I’m putting him on the cover”. Anyone familiar with Greg’s work knows that his personality is an enormous part of it. It would have felt disingenuous not to reflect that personality with the design. The final product is almost identical to my first draft. After Greg saw it, his response was so overwhelmingly positive. Any anxiety I had about presenting him with a cover that maybe didn’t align with his expectations was blown away. It’s situations like this that help me see that a designer’s growth isn’t really measured by improved technique, but rather when to ignore what you’ve been asked to do. The more you do it, the more attuned you become to knowing what sort of clothes a book wants to wear and you have to be prepared to be the only one who thinks that until you can convince others involved with the final product.

What were the early designs for that book and how do they compare to the finished product?

As mentioned in the previous answer, Greg’s final product was about 95% of what the first draft was. It was one of those beautiful examples of the stars aligning perfectly. I wish I could claim this was the case with all (or most ((or even a lot)) of my designs.

You also recently released an art book with CLASH. Outside of book design, what inspires and informs your art?

Book design is something I compartmentalize into its own little space as far as my other artistic pursuits are concerned. With design, at the end of the day, I am providing a product for a client and at least part of that product needs to be mindful of its commercial concerns. I am enormously lucky I am permitted to design such idiosyncratic books. Some of the things I have gotten away with amaze me, but this is still very different from my other art. When it comes to my visual art, music or writing, it becomes purely an expression of me. My art book is among my proudest achievements. When Clash approached me about releasing a book of my art, I couldn’t believe it. The year I spent producing the pieces for the book was exhausting but utterly liberating. The response I’ve had to the art has also been amazing. I know I’ve side skipped the question of inspiration here, but the answer would be too long. I am inspired by so much from all mediums and experiences.

Greg informed me your royalties are going to the brushfire relief in your native Australia. I don’t really have a question, but I wanted readers to know how amazing you are and just wanted to say thank you for that.

Thank you! I only wish I were more ‘famous’ so that I could generate more money to send the various charities doing amazing work providing relief to victims of the horrific fires.

Please subscribe to Debutiful’s brand-new podcast, which releases once a month with an in-depth interview with one debut author.

Adam Vitcavage is the founder of Debutiful. His interviews and criticism have also appeared in Electric Literature, The Millions, Paste Magazine, and more.

Visit Matthew Revert at his website.

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