The Legend of Conan: Book Cover Design Case Study

I thought this would make a good book cover design case study example, in addition to the one I have previously written about the Grammar Rules cover design, showing the design process of how I went about tackling the design brief for the front cover to The Legend of Conan collection for Hesperus Press.

I was quite excited when I was offered the brief to work on a cover design for a collection of Robert E. Howard’s short stories featuring Conan, his sword wielding barbarian hero. I enjoyed the Conan and the Red Sonja films from the 80s. The cover would be for a book of four stories collected under the banner The Legend of Conan. This would also capitalise on the upcoming film, again starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, of the same name.

The brief asked for a ‘masculine’ looking cover and something quite commercial. The client also wanted to include a strap line – ‘Now a major motion picture’ to tie in to the film release.

For the initial cover designs I provided to the client I included options featuring some different directions we could go in for the design. These included a strong-looking male warrior, landscapes with ruins, images featuring only weapons and different font options for the title and author name. My inspirations included the current cover designs for George R. R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire novels and Joe Abercrombie’s novels. I was particularly happy with the first option – the moody black and white image of the warrior with the sword with a splatter of red blood that I added to it.

The client was also happy with the image of the warrior but wanted to see some more options featuring either a weapon or shield on an isolated background. They liked the typography on the second option but also wanted to see a couple of more options with some alternative ‘stronger’ and ‘bolder’ fonts.

For the revised options I tried some different crops for the image of the male warrior. In one I cropped in a lot closer upon his the sword he is gripping. My favourite cover option is this one. For the cover featuring only a shield I chose an aged, pale, white leather pattern to use as a suitable background. I tried some different variations of shields, swords and both items together. The fourth option here includes a swords and round shield image supplied by the client.

Full cover design for The Legend of Conan showing the front, back, spine and flaps. The front cover features a shield and two swords on distressed white leather background. The back cover features some cover blur and a repeat of the shield and swords image. The back flap features an image of the author Robert E. Howard.

In the end the client decided to go with this option of the sword and shields on a background. Personally, I think they are wrong for the type of weapon used by main character but the client was happy with the image and preferred it to the alternatives I supplied.

Unfortunately though the book was placed on hold shortly before it was due to go to press. This was due to a copyright issue, apparently with the name ‘Conan’. While the Robert E. Howard stories are out of copyright and in the the public domain, Conan is a registered trademark.

It was shame, as it was a fun cover to work on and I had also typeset the inside pages of the book. Still, maybe, one day… I’ll be back.

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