When a book designer takes on a client, there are certain expectations regarding research. The cover images and typography selections need to correspond to the subject of the book. As a book designer, my best client is a true crime author, which means I need to perform some interesting searches for graphics source material. A friend once asked what was new and interesting. When I told him I was searching for corpses and good looking dead bodies, he asked if he should be worried. I chucked and explained I was recreating a murder scene for a book cover.
Sometimes designing book covers results in curious Google searches for reference images (and I’d like to say “hello!” to my personal NSA observer as I type). True crime genre art involves gore! Blood! Corpses! Finding good looking deceased samples is difficult. Most accident victims are deformed in some sort of way, or the angle of perspective is wrong. Occasionally I find a treasure trove, such as a small collection of early 20th century forensic photography shot in New South Wales, Australia.
Once I find a decent corpse photograph, I decide what I like best about the image subject: good body parts to use in a collage, the lighting, position in repose… there are many good uses for one photograph. A good photograph can be revisited for different projects, so when researching photographs, keeping notes about where the photo was archived, what website exhibited it, copyright permissions, etc. is essential.
I consider myself lucky that some of my commissioned cover art came at the request of a friend and organized crime historian, since the subject matter is challenging to illustrate in a tasteful manner. Having said that, I’m open to working with romance novelists when I can search for handsome bodies instead of dead ones. But if you’re interested in reading about murder in Prohibition-era Cleveland, check out The Sly-Fanner Murders, by Allan R. May.