In search of the Beast – designing the cover for Paul Kingsnorth’s new novel

Following on from his work on the author’s remarkable first novel, The Wake, Mark Ecob talks us through his cover design for Kingsnorth’s new book, Beast – a dark, existential tale of one man’s subjugation to the wild elements of the moor.

After the success of The Wake, Paul Kingsnorth’s unusual and brilliant first novel written in a ‘shadow-tongue’ evocative of 11th-century English, the author’s second arrives amid a wave of anticipation this July.

Published by Faber, Beast brings forth a distinctive first-person voice once again: that of Edward Buckmaster, a man who has detached himself from the modern world, in an attempt to reconnect with it.

His aims – not least his body and mind – are subject to the elements, his own gradual starvation and the appearance of a mysterious animal with bright yellow eyes. The man’s deterioration amid the moorland of the West Country is vividly portrayed.

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Photo by Niriksha Bharadia (and one at top of post)

The book’s cover is designed by Mark Ecob of Mecob and incorporates a series of folkloric linocut illustrations by Alan Rogerson. As simply constructed as it is, it goes some way to suggest the character’s state of mind – and also his environment.

Ecob explains that while Beast is “quite a different animal to The Wake”, which was crowd-funded and published by Unbound in 2014, long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and won the Bookseller’s Book of the Year Award, it made sense to establish “a family resemblance” between the two. “The prize wins also meant Paul’s name had to feature strongly,” says Ecob. “He’d arrived as a fiction author and this cover needed to show that pedigree”.

Briefed by Faber senior designer Luke Bird, Ecob says he was given what was available of Kingsnorth’s text at the time (93 pages) and reading this gave him more than enough material to go on. “The writing is just incredible,” he says. “The catch was time; the cover had to be included in a sales catalogue in just a few weeks”.

The process for The Wake had lent itself to working quickly, Ecob explains, and had come together when the co-founder of Unbound, John Mitchinson, suggested using an image of a ‘green man’ figure on the cover. Ecob came across a suitable illustration by Rogerson (below), which was then used on the hardback edition, while a redrawn version with leaves bleeding off the cover became the paperback in 2015.

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Alan Rogerson’s original ‘green man’ linocut
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Ecob says that, with the new book still unfinished at the time of the design commission, he decided to concentrate on simple themes that hinted at its content: the amnesiac male character who complains of a constant itch or pain, and the eponymous ‘beast’ of the story.

“The man descends into degradation as you read, as does the writing itself,” says Ecob. “After looking through Alan’s portfolio for anything linking to these themes, I found a few options that could work, or inform a very swift commission”.

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“A couple of visuals got attention from Faber,” Ecob continues. “The first was typographic, characterising the title which was set very big over the cover – eyes, teeth and fire all adorned the simple typeface used on the paperback of The Wake (above).

“After a few iterations, another visual took the lead. It was actually the first one I did, and used a detail from one of Alan’s linocuts, entitled And the Dragon (both shown below).

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Alan Rogerson’s original And the Dragon linocut

“The fire coming out the man reflects his constant internal pain,” Ecob explains. “The first person narrative has such weight, you almost feel like you’re there with him, searching aimlessly for this beast or some memory of why.

“His descent is also a constant feature, so positioning this crop of Alan’s print as if he’s falling down the cover made a lot of sense. He sits below Paul’s name, which is unusually split on to two lines. After some doubts, cropping ‘KINGSNORTH’ into two, so that the two parts of the word read naturally, started to work. It even informed the rest of the package”.

Once the design was approved, Ecob says he just “had a ball”. As the cover met the initial deadline using found material, which made things timely and economic, after approval Ecob “could sit with the hardback jacket design and just enjoy myself.

“The split of the author name made me cast aside most of the usual rules, and just go for broke with the type around the cover”.

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“The copy haphazardly fills the design, allowing interesting emphasis on certain phrases and use of the rest of Alan’s fantastic illustration elements,” the designer continues.

“Another ‘man-on-fire’ splits paragraphs in the text; a beast-like tail winds its way on to the back cover; and a repeat of the ‘green man’ linocut from Paul’s first book on the back flap provides an interesting link, rather than slapping on a thumbnail.

“Printed in two Pantones on unfinished stock, with endpapers looking out at you, the packaging has some real teeth. I loved the book, and hopefully the design is just as original”.

Beast by Paul Kingsnorth is published by Faber on July 7 (£12.99). See faber.co.uk. Mecob’s site is at mecob.co.uk. More of Alan Rogerson’s work is at baggelboy.wordpress.com

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