It is rare to pass a commute without catching a flash of bright blue or yellow amidst sleepy faces and monochrome suits. Such is the success of Jonas Jonasson’s runaway hit, The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared and the recently published The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden. We are all familiar with the iconic result, but what of the inspiration behind these quirky and charming covers? Designer Jonathan Pelham talks us through the creative process:
The cover of The Hundred-Year-Old Man who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared is comprised of three basic elements: a plucky little character, a bold framing device and an unpayable debt to Saul Bass. Typically I always try to avoid illustrating characters from books because I believe a cover designer should give the reader’s imagination as much room to work as possible. But after a few false starts on The Hundred-Year-Old Man… I broke this self-imposed rule because it seemed like the best way to convey Jonasson’s knack for writing heart-warmingly defiant protagonists.
I’d only been given thirty pages of The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden when I began work on the cover (it was still being translated into English at the time) but even in those few pages Nombeko had become so real in my mind that drawing her felt effortless. It took me longer to figure out how to echo the look of the window frame from The Hundred-Year-Old Man…. Eventually it dawned on me that the window is where Allan starts his journey and that the real adventure lies beyond. Book covers serve a similar function as the window – it is where the reader ‘climbs into’ the story, so in an attempt to follow that logic I surrounded Nombeko with pipes because her story begins at Soweto’s sanitation works, the humblest of beginnings and the start of a wonderful story.
Listen to or download an extract of The Girl Who Saved The King of Sweden: