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Cover Designer Spotlight: Mel Four

By Juliette Tulloch, Maisie Jane Garvin, Giulia Caparrelli and Beccy Fish

Following our previous articles mentioning the likes of cover designers Yuko Shimsu and Jade Teo, for this issue we are shining a spotlight on designer Mel Four. As a cover designer for Pan Macmillan, Four has designed an array of fiction, non-fiction and illustrated children's books.

Jane Rawson’s From the Wreck, published by Transit Lounge Publishing in 2017, is an example of Four’s sometimes more practical approach to design. Based on the 1859 shipwreck of the SS Admella, the novel is a historical/science fiction story that follows the fictionalised account of its survivor, Rawson’s relative George Hills. Instead of taking the obvious digital approach to the cover design, she made a physical model that entwined around the title, which was then photographed and edited. The contrast of the slim white border, the hues of blue and purple and then the overlapping tentacles that look like they are reaching out to its reader, capture the dark yet bizarre nature of George Hill’s encounter with extra-terrestrial life.

Andrea Lawlor’s Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl is a revolutionary bildungsroman that mixes queerness, lust, music and fairy tales into one story, following Paul at the peak of the AIDS crisis. Published by Rescue Press in 2017 and a finalist for the Lambda Literary and CLMP Firecracker Awards, Lawlor’s writing asks important questions about gender boundaries, queerness and identity as Paul is able to shapeshift at will. Four’s eye-catching cover design, a face full of emotion against a bubblegum pink background, alongside the reviews “Tight,” “Hot” and “Smut,” capture the novel’s 1990s pop culture references and its sensual nature. The utilisation of reviews on book cover designs are becoming a striking theme in today’s commercial market, a recent example including the paperback proofs of Monica Ali’s Love Marriage, and it is great to see a non-binary author getting the recognition that they deserve.

Less than Zero is Bret Easton Ellis’s debut novel, first published when he was just twenty-one-years-old. Mel Four’s version of the cover was designed for Pan Macmillan’s Picador Classic edition in 2019. Following the life of eighteen-year-old college student Clay as he returns to Los Angeles for Christmas break, the narrative is a shocking adventure with glamorous nightclubs, intoxicated nights and extraordinary encounters. Four’s quirky cover design pictures half the face of what we can presume is Clay. With sunset colour such as blush pinks, pastel orange and light blues the design almost looks like it has been painted with water or oil colours, like a moment frozen in time. Four’s inclusion of the cigarette gives hints to the novel’s inclusion of drug abuse and the party scene. This is also furthered by the title of the novel which is presented in neon capital letters which makes it look like a nightclub sign that is perhaps reflected off the glasses. With this edition including an introduction from the novelist Ottessa Moshfegh, this is certainly a story and cover that you do not want to miss!

Among some of the non-fiction titles designed by Four, Crying in H Mart is probably one of the most popular and “instagrammed” books of 2021. Michelle Zauner, leader of experimental pop band Japanese Breakfast, crafted an emotional memoir about her experience growing up as a Korean-American in the US, interweaving honest reflections about identity, family, grief and food. The simple cover design exemplifies the theme of the book as it portrays a lone figure – that of a young Asian woman – who is struggling to keep food (and their related memories) close, while slowly disappearing into the background. The illustration is clever in the way it hints at the protagonist’s sense of loss and the efforts she’s making to cling onto something. Overall, the cover conveys a sense of honesty and realness – a great reflection of the narrative.

Mel Four’s talents also stretch into the world of children’s fiction, such as her work for the Time To series by Penny Tassoni which encourages children to learn life skills such as how to make friends, tidy, and share. The series has been published by Featherstone, an imprint of Bloomsbury, since 2019. The illustrations are simple yet effective with a youthful hand-drawn style which children are likely to gravitate towards, especially with the striking colours contrasting to the characters in the foreground which is a perfect design tool to capture the attention of children throughout the story. The series illustrations include multiple genders and ethnicities within the characters, allowing children from a range of backgrounds to find themselves represented within the stories which is an incredibly positive step. Mel Four’s style for these books is continued onto the covers of Nicola Call and Sally Featherstone’s children's series Dealing with Feelings.

You can find more examples of Mel Four’s work on her website and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.


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