Author Neil Gaiman isn't just liked by his readers—he's adored by them. With a Twitter audience of more than 1,480,000, he has a daily following that hangs on his every word. But his writing strikes a chord that extends beyond fannish obsession. Its appeal has everything to do with Gaiman's uncanny grasp not simply of the mechanics of storytelling, but the spirit and joy of it.
Gaiman has a Jungian grasp of archetypes and an encyclopedic understanding of both mythology and the modern novel, from fairy tales to Wodehouse. He draws on that knowledge to write compelling stories that cross the divide between what are often blinkered categorizations of genre and age group.
Gaiman has a style that is hard to pin down. As a long time reader of his, I have what I consider a certain "Neil Gaiman voice" in my head. I was amazed to see that assumption undone as I revisited his body work—the comics, short stories, poetry and novels. Each effort, while obviously by Gaiman, is uniquely its own thing. He is a writer in a constant state of growth, experimentation, and restlessness.
Gaiman was one of the first names on my very long list of authors who I had hoped would contribute to this blog. As I’ve said before The Hypothetical Library was born from many of sources: Jorge Luis Borges, Stanislas Lem, cartoonist Dylan Horrocks, and many others, but most directly Neil Gaiman.
In Gaiman’s comic book series The Sandman, his main character has an entire library of books that were dreamed into existence by their authors, and which only exist in that library. I have a very specific memory from the late 90’s of reading an issue of The Sandman where the Dream Library is mentioned, and I thought that someone should design the covers of those books. The idea stuck with me for years, a blog waiting to happen.
Which brings us to this week's entry into the Hypothetical Library. It is going to be a little different from the previous ones, because author Mr. Gaiman provided a very different kind of proposal. Here it is as I received it.
"The trouble with imagining a book I would never write is that when I think of it, I think 'but I could WRITE that...'
So it would have to be a book of books I would never write. A book of ideas I would never have. A book of things I would never do in prose or in fiction. A book of things that should have remained unwritten, fragments and dreams and moments. Secrets too terrible to be learned. Things that would destroy me if I knew them, or hurt my friends. It would contain the secret name of God, and tell you how to pronounce that name.
It would be called IF YOU READ THIS BOOK THE WORLD WILL END."
At first I thought this email was a cleverly worded rejection note, but after the second reading I took it to be what it was—a challenge. How do you design a cover for a book that should never be read? The idea you will see below hit me right away, but knowing that the first idea is not always the best one, I kept sketching. Rather than get different cover ideas, my train of thought expanded into other places—what about an audio book (for which Mr. Gaiman’s dramatic readings are famous), or what would an eBook that you should never be able to open, be like?
So I decided to do a 3 part, 2 week long entry for If You Read This Book The World Will End. Todays entry is the book cover. On Thursday I will post the audio book, and on Monday the 23rd I will post a very special kind of e-book cover.
If You Read This Book The World Will End—the cover
How do you design a cover for a book that should never be read? You drive bolts through it, wrap it in steel, and put a padlock on it so it can never be opened, that's how. With the help of sculptor Kevin Johnson we did just that. The image above is a still life, taken by photographer Seth Kushner of the actual book that was fabricated for this post. The bolts are real, as is the metal band. The padlock is an antique from 1906, and has the perfect logo for this purpose—Raven.
It is the sincere hope of this blog—and Mr Gaiman—that this book never be opened. After the photography session, the book was moved to a secure and undisclosed location. Mr. Kushner is recovering nicely from what the good doctors at Bellevue referred to as an acute bout of "the nerves".
I couldn't have pulled this project off without the help of many talented people, so I will be giving credit where credit is due for each entry.
After I designed the cover art, the physical dust jacket was printed by Alex Rader and Kevin Mutch at POD Gallery (they also publish the comics anthology Blurred Vision). The book was then delivered to Brooklyn based metal artist and sculptor Kevin Johnson, who drove the bolts through and wrapped the metal around it.
Photographer Seth Kushner then captured the whole thing on film (actually, digital pixels), and we shared retouching duties. On a related note, the current author image of Mr. Gaiman now running in The Sandman books was shot by Seth, a fact that I was unaware of when I asked him to help out. You can see his work work at his official site, blog, and at Graphic NYC.
Finally, Ellen Lindner edited the text for these three blog entries. Ellen is a London, England based cartoonist and you can see her work here. Ellen is one of three editors that help keep me from sounding illerterate illiterate. Hypothetical Library pals Susanne Reece and Shanna Compton have also helped me in the past few months. Shanna is a poet and the publisher of Bloof Books.
Thursday May 20: If You Read This Book The World Will End—audio book