Art director Peter Dyer created the cover for this year’s Booker Prize winner, drawing inspiration from “Sri Lankan devil masks” known as Raksha masks.
Shehan Karunatilaka is the second Sri Lankan author to win the prize with his book The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida. Set during the height of the Sri Lankan civil war, the book follows the afterlife of photographer, gambler and closeted gay man Maali Almeida who has “seven moons” to find out who killed him and to lead his loved ones to a hidden cache of photos.
According to Dyer, the brief arrived in the form of “a short summary of the book, the manuscript” and possible image suggestions from the editor.
Ideas for “possible image and directions” and choosing whether to go with an “illustrative, photographic or type-led” cover usually occurs when reading the manuscript, says Dyer. He adds, “If I’m designing a work of fiction its crucial for me to have the manuscript because I want to capture some of the mood and voice of the author on the cover.”
As a starting point, Natania Jansz and Mark Ellingham of publisher Sort of Books suggested a Sri Lankan photographer for Dyer to “reference”, he says. Once he had begun reading the novel, he decided that the photos “were too grounded in reality” and failed to capture “the magic realism of the book”, Dyer explains.
After deciding that an illustrative cover was “the right direction to pursue”, Dyer says he came across the masks normally used during Sri Lankan festivals with the intention of “warding off evil”. Starting with a simple stock image of a Raksha mask as the base for his design, Dyer says he looked for way of “abstracting it”.
Further inspiration came from “Jean-Michel Basquiat’s painted heads”, he adds, explaining that he wanted to capture the “dark and funny” mood of the book.
Taking to Photoshop, Dyer says he started to “overlay different abstract paint textures”, which is when the image “came to life, giving it the light and shade [he] was looking for”. The circles on the cover represent the seven moons of the story.
Dyer says he looked at a lot of different fonts, originally choosing “a stencil serif font”. He later decided that it was “too decorative” and did not work cohesively with the long title and author name, eventually choosing the TT Chocolates typeface “for clarity and readability”, he adds.
The usual method of choosing a cover design would involve “presenting several initial ideas” but Dyer explains that this cover “came together very quickly”. The publisher’s “only proviso” was that the colours were “too bright”, he adds. Dyer says Karunatilaka’s response “could not have been more positive”.
Banner image: Winning author Shehan Karunatilaka with the judges at the Booker Prize 2022 winner ceremony at the Roundhouse, London. Photo credit: David Parry/PA Wire