In Search of Harry Christmas

Designing Jasper Gibson’s A Bright Moon for Fools

Last year I had the pleasure of being introduced to Harry Christmas - an atrocious bastard, bloated in body and mind, consumed by a compelling and pathetic mix of egocentrism and crippling self-hatred - who was in the process of wheezing ethanol vapour across Venezuela in a doomed bid to scrabble back whatever dusty remains of meaning hid in the cavernous walk-in skeleton cupboard of his existence.

I was an immediate fan. He made me roar with laughter within the first few minutes, impressed by the singular mode of attack he employed to escape legitimate accusations of a personal plot long lost.

Christmas looked at the taxi driver. They both looked at the road.
"Your trousers, Señor - they are on the wrong way round.”
Christmas looked down. “Correct,” he said. A further silence ensued. Night fell.

Ideally, I would be drawing Christmas every inch of the way as he pursued his picaresque and increasingly horrific tryst with fate. He is a gift to the illustrator, arriving uninvited and fully-formed in the mind’s eye looking, sounding and smelling like Henry Rawlinson playing Oliver Reed playing Ignatius J. Reilly. As it was, though, my task was to begin and end solely with the dust jacket encasing him.  

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The author of A Bright Moon For Fools, Jasper Gibson, and the team at the newly-founded Inside the Dog Press had apparently known of my Sofrito posters for a while, and this formed the basis of the brief: they wanted something that echoed my Night of the Dead poster, specifically. This kind of brief offers the relief of familiarity paired with the panic of requisite originality, and the process becomes the forum for their negotiation.

As soon as I’d read the book, I began scratching out some quick impressions of the man that drives the plot. I wanted to formulate an essence of character without overworking it - something I could bury into the cover to help give it life.

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Once I felt acclimatised to Harry, I began drafting some colour sketches to play with hand-drawn type (which needed to feel unrefined and unhinged) and start working the character in the style specified in the brief.

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The left character felt like Harry at his most dispondant, but compositionally it wasn’t too strong. The right felt stronger overall but it was a bit… odd. Hiding elements of the story in the image was a fun idea, but I decided we needed more humour and context.

So, for the final stage, we agreed on developing the pencil sketch depicting Harry’s face as the moon, ‘hiding’ conspicuously behind either Caracas’ Cerro El Ávila mountain range, or his moustache. In the foreground, Caracas under Christmas’ gaze became a landscape of bottles, either empty or about to be. On the reverse, we see him at the bar, a dead man drinking…

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Once this was approved, Inside the Dog discussed some other aspects of the hardback that they had decided to develop in order to take advantage of the format and make it something really worth treasuring. They wanted to play on the classic use of marbling for the endpapers on the inside panels of the cover, but twist it to reflect the contents of the book somehow. They sourced a selection from a traditional hand-marbling company from which we chose a design that echoed the front cover:

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There was something visceral about this one, sightly unsettling, with the added bonus that it used colours that echoed the jacket.

Taking the earlier idea of hiding plot details in the image, I then worked a few of them into it, a kind of visual rendering of this semi-functioning alcoholic’s surreal episodic experience…

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…only a couple of which I’ll show here, so you can enjoy looking for the other two if you get your hands on a copy.

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Massive thanks to Jasper, Crispin and all involved for recruiting me to fight on this front in the war against The Rot.

Keep up to date with book readings and other movements from Jasper at the book’s Facebook page: facebook.com/abrightmoonforfools

A Bright Moon For Fools by Jasper Gibson is available now from your local bookshop and Amazon.co.uk

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