Hey kids,

Earlier in the week, I toldja about my friend Tom McKenzie and the release of his first novel, KnoWare Man.  (You did buy a copy, right?)

One thing I did forget to mention in the last post was, aside from from being a truly amazing book, it also has a great foreword written by our mutual friend, Justin “Wayne Chinsang” Shady.

Anyway, today I wanted to share with you my process for designing the KnoWare Man book cover.

When Tom first came to me, he told me that he wanted the cover design to feel aged, like it could have been some generic dusty old sci-fi paperback from the ’70s that you might have found for a quarter in a garage sale or thrift store.  We also discussed incorporating a stylized circuit board motif and keeping the color scheme simple: black, white, and red.

Yeeeeeah, so that didn’t exactly stick…

My first designs were pretty close to what we had discussed, simple circuit board and color scheme…


…which we both liked but, when we discussed the idea of a wraparound cover, found it hard to make the design interesting enough to carry over to the back cover and integrate a large block of text.

So back to the drawing board.

I started thinking about how to tie other elements of the book into the cover. 

The story is set in the future, sure, but it also takes place in a small neighborhood cul de sac.  Driving home from work, one day, I made a point of going through some small suburban neighborhoods, pausing briefly around areas with cul de sacs.  Then, I got an idea.

Seen from above – or on Google maps – I’ve always like how the streets of a city, driveways, houses could easily resemble – and be blended into – a simple circuit board.  I raced home to do a few sketches.

To present the idea to Tom, I snagged some images off of Google Earth and photoshopped several mockups of how we could get – not only the circuit board pattern – but also include the neighborhood theme…


…and don’t you think that, from above, a cul de sac looks a little like an Omega sign?  Easily plays in with the dark humor and threats of destruction in the book.

I told Tom that we could go with a photo cover, like in the sketches seen above, or a simple line drawing of the image.

Unfortunately, Tom thought – and I soon agreed – that the map cover had lost a lot of the edge we had in the earlier designs.

So back to the drawing board.

At some point, I played around with the idea of getting rid of the wraparound cover all together and running with the generic pocket-size paperback idea.  So I filled the cover with a large sci-fi font, gutting the interiors of the letters so circuit board would be seen inside.


I really dug this design but abandoned it before whipping up the spine and back cover, because it bordered on the edge of too generic.

So I went back to the drawing board but, by this time, I was a little burned out on circuit boards and city streets.  Tom and I had many late night phone calls and, eventually, we decided to throw out the circuit board idea and think about the other story elements in the book: cryogenics, the future, Japanese culture, blackmail, threats, neighborhoods, fighting, computers, bombs in the neck, and… cigarettes…

As soon as Tom said cigarettes, it was like fireworks exploding in my head.  I knew exactly how to design Tom’s book cover.

I asked Tom what brand of cigarettes he smoked, back when he smoked, and he said “Djarum Blacks, hand-rolled by the hipster devil himself.” 


Having never heard of Djarum Blacks — obviously because I’m just not cool enough, also, because they’ve been banned in the US for several years now — I did a little walking around through Google Images.  This is what came out of that stroll…


It was pretty basic, but it worked.  Or, at least, it could have worked.  The black cover would have even played nicely with the idea of the ARAHNA device in the book.

The only downside was that since there was not a lot of reference for the Djarums, I would have had to make up a lot for the spine and back cover and I wasn’t sure anyone would get the reference, since they weren’t a well-know brand of smokes.

So I chose a more well-know brand of smokes.

And, almost immediately, the design sprung fully formed from my forehead and onto my dirty computer screen. 


I swapped out the “Filtered Cigarettes” at the top of the original Marlboro package design for “Fa®si Cigarettes,” the futuristic cigarettes in the book that allow the smoker to speak any language, depending on which pack he was smoking.  I also replaced “20 cigarettes” with “20 Japanese Smartsmokes,” since most of the people in the book speak Japanese, and even added a little Japanese rising sun flag design where the Marlboro logo would have been.  I used the same font from the Marlboro logo for the title and “Ultra Smooth Thomas McKenzie Flavor” was a little inside joke that I through in there that Tom actually liked, so it stayed for the final draft.

Aside from some size alterations, there were only very few and very small changes made from the original sketch to the finished product.  

The spine and the back cover I completely made up.  Tom and I had the idea of making the back copy look like a Surgeon General’s Warning.  Aren’t we clever?  And, after one particularly long late-night phone call got the wording just right.


And here is the entire wraparound cover, completely finished.


It was kind of a bitch and, after every cover idea was rejected, I felt like a complete failure as a graphic designer.  But, once we opened up to new ideas, I think we fell into a cover that we can both be extremely proud of.

Hope you guys enjoyed the process.  Or thought it was vaguely interesting.  Or, at least, wasn’t completely bored out of your skull while I kept on yammering.

And, if you haven’t already, go order your own copy of Thomas McKenzie’s KnoWare Man.  It’s a hell of a ride.

Sitting in his KnoWare Land,