On conceptualising book covers
Having graduated from the University of Dhaka's Faculty of Fine Arts, Sabyasachi Hazra's work first gained momentum in 2005 and today, is a mainstay during the Ekushey Boi Mela.
Most of the covers that Hazra designed this year are for poetry and research books. "I did the cover of Oshomapto Saanko by fiction writer Iftekhar Mahmud. I wanted a minimalistic design which would reflect his simplicity as a person", he said.
"Publishers release their own versions of classics and translated books every year", he adds. "The cover art for those is always a challenge, as I have to think about my own interpretations of stories that have been told and retold over generations".
An eminent architect and artist, Reesham Shahab Tirtho has worked on the covers of Romen Raihan's poetry books, Queen Kortobbo Bimuro and Ei Deshe Bhul Kore Eshe Chhilo Corona (Annesha Prokashon), and American author Samuel Jaffe's An Internal Matter, a nonfiction book on the US grassroots activism and the creation of Bangladesh. He has also designed his own book, Babuibela Volume 2 (Mayurpankhi), which portrays his journey as a new father and the everyday activities of his daughter through humorous illustrations.
"It is important for me to have fun while designing a book cover", Tirtho shares. "Most publishers and authors who approach me know my work well and give me plenty of freedom. I read the manuscripts and have multiple conversations with the authors about their expectations".
"For fiction, the author or publisher usually provides the book's synopsis. They share the manuscript if they have time to spare", says Razib Datta, who used to design covers for Little Magazine at Chittagong University. "I usually design poetry books more quickly. Nonfiction books about common topics, such as the Liberation War, are also simpler to work with".
"Many authors had the free time to write over the months of isolation in 2020", Datta adds. "So, they handed in the manuscripts much earlier this time".
Ahsana Angona has been designing book covers since 2017, when she was a second-year student at DU. "My father drew a portrait of my mother with graphite once. That inspired me to pursue my career in art", she shares. "I have designed several book covers for the Boi Mela this year, among which I was particularly drawn to Srishtir Jukti O Dorshon, a philosophy book by Mostofa Morshed, and Uttarer Kahini (2018), a book of short stories by Hasan Azizul Huq about people who have lost their homes. My process involves sitting with the author or publisher to get a general idea about the book. Then I start sketching and give them options to choose from".
On covers driving book sales
A contributing artist at Kishor Alo and Ikrimikri publishing house, Rehnuma Proshoon is quite new to cover design. She has worked on two books in this Ekushey Boi Mela: Wasee Ahmed Rafi's Hannan Botole Pori Atke Rakhe (Oboshor) is a black comedy in which Hannan—a young executive director—has failed four times to pass his HSC examinations while pretending to hold a "master's from Manchester'' at his uncle's multinational company; Dekhite Giyachi Chokkhu Meliya (Abosar Prokashana Sangstha) is a travel anthology in which seven authors share snippets from their trips to Bali, The Andaman Islands, Darjeeling, Pondicherry, Kenya, Spain, and Mexico.
"Readers may buy a book because of the cover, but a book's true merit lies in people reading it and liking it", Hazra comments when asked about the function of book covers.
However, as Proshoon explains, an attractive cover can increase book sales, because it is ultimately the face of the book and the first means of communication with readers.
An author's popularity and a book's target market also influence sales, explains Tirtho. "On the other hand, covers of children's books need to be pictorial and colourful to capture their attention. Those who make spontaneous decisions while browsing the stalls are indeed influenced by covers", he says.
On innovations and challenges in this field
"There have been times where I couldn't recognise my own covers because of the poor printing quality", shares Hazra.
As most of the cover artists explain, there is an overall lack of structure in the profession. "Cover designing as a full-time job is not an option for us yet", Datta says. "The payment is nominal. [We] need to have other sources of income or develop other skill sets to sustain".
He adds, "Cover artists do not receive any royalty for the work they do, even though their covers are [used] year after year. Often, publishers change the colours or the fonts of book covers without consulting the artist".
Ahsana Angona, however, is hopeful about the future. "Publishers tend to stick to trendy or formulaic ideas at times, but many young, talented artists have forayed into cover art now. They are pushing for their own, individual styles", she concludes.
Shababa Iqbal is trainee sub-editor, Arts & Entertainment and Star Youth, The Daily Star. Write to her at email@example.com.