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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

A Mirrored Marvel

Sometimes the cover of a book is so amazing that you just can’t walk past it and find yourself needing to pick it up. Welcome to The Publishing Post’s Cover Design feature! Here you’ll find us fawning over our favourite book covers and unpacking their designs in production terms. This issue, we’re excited to be admiring and analysing the beautiful and detailed cover of The Marvels by Brian Selznick.

Photo by @marque_pages on Instagram

Published by Scholastic in 2015, Selznick’s The Marvels is a children’s book with nearly 600 pages of a mixture of prose and beautiful illustrations by the author. The book is split into two stand-alone stories, the first in illustrations telling the life of the Marvel family from a devastating shipwreck to generations of brilliant actors. The second in prose, a century later, telling the life of Joseph Jervis, a runaway, seeking refuge with his Uncle Albert in London. From the strange but beautiful house, with its ships and theatre programs, haunting portraits and ghostly presences, Joseph is lured on a search for clues about the house and his own life. Readers must piece together the mystery of the beguiling narrative puzzle in this gripping adventure.

The most striking parts of the book’s production are the use of gold foil on the cover and its sprayed edges. In a comment addressing the book with us, Selznick suggested he discussed sprayed edges with his publisher, stating he wanted to make the book “feel almost like a bible” due to its tome quality. The gold foil on the cover was used to help create a sense of beauty in the book, which Selznick feels is very important; he wants children who pick up his books “to feel that something special was created for them.” When designing his books for children, Selznick noted that “there are so many distractions these days when it comes to books and reading”, which made him to “want to create an object that reminds children that not only are books worthy of being treated in this special way, but so are they.”

The front cover is mystical, with a symmetrical nautical design. Selznick created this design after completing his research for The Marvels in London, where he found his favourite shop, Marchpane, in Cecil Court, which specialises in antique children’s books. While there, a gold-embossed spine from the 19th century novel Peter Simple, by Captain Marryat, caught his eye. The book has a strong symmetrical design featuring a boat, dolphins and seagulls.

Photo by @omulfoloditor on Instagram

Selznick drew the cover to match his story but aimed to stick closely to the original. He made the sailing ship centre stage, replaced the dolphins with the sea monsters that appear in the story and the flag at the top of the mast was expanded with the line: “You either see it or you don’t.” The small flag motif is also gilded in the centre of the inner cover to highlight the repetition of the phrase written in the book. The phrase comes from Dennis Severs, who created the house The Marvels is inspired by. Severs would say the phrase to anyone who didn’t “get” his house before kicking them out.

It is interesting and worth noting that a paperback edition of The Marvels does not exist. Anyone wishing to enter into the magical world Selznick has created must do so through the hardback edition. It harks back to the idea of The Marvels as a bible of sorts, a sacred text deserving of beauty and respect. Selznick’s care and attention to detail regarding production are also evident on the spine of the book, which shows a close-up drawing of the main character’s face. This is a signature element of Selznick’s cover design and is also found on the spines of his previous books: The Invention of Hugo Cabret and Wonderstruck. This consistency creates, what Selznick refers to on the Scholastic Media Room website, a “thematic trilogy”, so, when placed side by side on a bookshelf, his three stories create an intriguing and aesthetically pleasing effect. It is almost as if his three main characters are peering out of their respective novels at passers-by.

Pick up your copy of The Marvels at Waterstones for £16.99, WHSmith for £13.59 and Blackwell’s for £12.99.

A special thank you to Brian Selznick for sharing his inspired insights with us.



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