DW: And were you familiar with Peter Mendelsund’s design work before this book?
TMcC: When I learnt he was designing it, I looked at his other books and was very excited. It strikes you straight away how encyclopaedically visually literate he is. For example, he makes use of all these Constructivist and Bauhaus and generally high-Modernist motifs, but overhauls them and gives them a whole new life in the transformation: it’s the exact visual correlative of what I think contemporary literature should be (but usually isn’t) doing....
After discussing the book with Tom I felt like I had a pretty solid grasp of what should happen cover-wise. But the conversation with Sonny put the insta-freeze on that direction. Basically I started to think about what kind of cover I would make for this book if it were what the publishing industry felt like it was. So I thought about character. And I thought about setting, and I though about big typography.
I started to wonder, “so, who, after all, IS this Serge fellow” aside from his various meanings? I found this incredible painting…it’s in the Russell-Cotes Art Gallery in Bournemouth of all places. It’s by Frank Brooks, a classic turn of the century English School painter from Salisbury. His dates would have been roughly similar to Serge’s. And he made lots of portraits of Whitehall luminaries and WWI brass — which also seemed fitting.
So here’s this boy with this haunted gaze. I printed him out lo-res and wrapped him around a book and then affixed these black plastic bands and dot things to it, and it just sat on my desk tormenting me for a while.