FUEL designs David Foster Wallace biography

The UK edition of DT Max’s biography of the late US writer David Foster Wallace has a type-heavy cover designed by studio Murray & Sorrell FUEL. And as is often the case, it’s quite different to that of the American edition of the same book

The UK edition of DT Max’s biography of the late US writer David Foster Wallace has a type-heavy cover designed by studio Murray & Sorrell FUEL. And as is often the case, it’s quite different to that of the American edition of the same book…

The Granta (UK) and Viking covers highlight two distinct approaches to selling a biography: making use of the subject’s name, or the face behind the name. In the case of a posthumous biography the task becomes even more delicate; perhaps even more so when the subject is a lauded literary giant who committed suicide aged 46.

For Fuel, the Wallace name was the selling point of the book so it needed to be conveyed prominently. “The title of the book is unusually long: Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace’,” says the studio’s Damon Murray.

“We decided the most efficient way of communicating the name and title was to combine them, so visually one ‘sits’ in the other. We also wanted something that felt very straightforward and definite, that had a finality as an image, to convey that it was the authoritative account of his life and work.

“We experimented with several typefaces, achieving the best result using the plainest font, the DFW name is clearly readable at a distance, and it also allows the viewer to perceive that there is something going on inside the text itself. This was also the reason for limiting the colour.”

The idea of placing one form of text inside another is something that chimes with Wallace’s work – he often wrote in sentences containing multiple clauses, and made use of extensive footnotes and endnotes.

As an afterthought, it’s interesting then that the US Viking edition has gone for a portrait shot of Wallace on the cover (above); his name given equal billing with the title proper and the author’s name. (Wallace’s, in red, is perhaps the least visibile element.) It seems to want to present a warmer, perhaps more touching picture of Wallace.

Wrapping themselves around the same content, these covers each create quite a different impression of their subject, and may even give the reader cause to remember Wallace’s story differently, too.

The David Foster Wallace biography is the third book for Granta that FUEL has designed this year (the other two can be seen here). DT Max’s Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace is out now, published by Granta; £20.

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