Thursday, 4 August 2011

Art of darkness: Cover design for The Message


Tariq Goddard's fifth novel, The Message is his best yet; he gave me the manuscript to read after very kindly suggesting I have a go at the cover. It's a fast, rich and violent story set in an African country that's going off the rails and sliding into bloody mayhem. So it's pretty topical.

The tale, like Tariq's others, has its quota of memorable maniacs, mercenaries and madness. It's like The Wild Geese given a twist, or as Goddard says, it's redolent of Conrad with just the slightest nod to Chuck Norris. And at the centre of this tale of realpolitik and various betrayals, is the Mahdi, the new Chosen One, a pretender to the leadership of the Islamic world, happily making war on his own people,

I thought of all the characters. The SAS squad, the Iranian advisors, the Kalashnikov-toting children in their colourful flip-flops, the comically sinister family (Dad, nipper and girlfriend) of mercenaries straight from Come Dine With Me. Would it be a film poster, like The Wild Geese, brought up to date?

I didn't think of anything until one morning I woke really early having dreamt about the book for most of the night. I had this image of Africa basically as you see it on the cover, with the calligraphy as the rictus grin, but I also remembered a poster done by Grapus, one of the world's most resourceful design groups, about 20 years ago, that dealt with the map as a skull, but as a bleak, silk-screened image to carry the Aids warning. So I decided to do the map, but keep it loose (as Paul Motian used to say).

After doodling a shape a few times, then scanning my favourite, I found it worked better than I expected, then I added an Islamic moon, and it was there: giving me a nasty look and a lovely warm feeling of achievement.


  1. Thanks so much Jo and John; my most courteous and encouraging of bloggeratti. I'm going to attempt a bit of a mail-out of this on MailChimp – don't be offended if you have to see it again – so I'm apologising in advance...