Mark Swan & The Man Who Died

Mark Swan is a designer for Kid-ethic, a studio specializing in print design for the publishing and film industries. Here Swan details his process for developing the cover to Antti Tuomainen's The Man Who Died, in his own words.

I have been working with Karen Sullivan since day one of Orenda's inception, around 3 years ago now. I have designed around 99 percent of the Orenda covers. During that time we have developed a fantastic working relationship and Karen has really made me feel an integral part of the company. As a designer it's a tremendously fortunate position to be in. All the books she publishes are top quality and the project are always hugely rewarding creatively and at times quite "seat of your pants," which can aid creativity as design instincts can really kick in and create better end results.

I had designed Antti’s previous Orenda published book, The Mine, which was more of a serious crime novel. This novel falls more into the genre of black comedy. The films by The Coen Brothers were sited as influence in the tone. The story itself centres on a mushroom farmer who is shocked to discover that he is dying at the age of 37. Most distressing is that it’s due to prolonged exposure to toxins. In other words, someone has been slowly poisoning him. Our hero then sets out on an adventure to discover the answer to the important question of who has done this and why.

The Mine cover AW.jpg

Design wise the whole project was relatively clear and painless. We wanted to keep some continuity with the previous design despite the slight change in the tone so I decided early on that the author font branding should be kept intact but the lines from the cover to The Mine threw this cover off-genre too much so those were ditched. 

The key to the book was poison and the "who done it" element to the story. I wanted to convey poison spreading somehow. I did several designs based on this idea which all had a similar mood and colour choice. A toxic green. Some feature a smiling skull from toxic warning signs which captured a mischievous threat but were maybe too obvious a route to go down.


One thing that was in my head when designing began was old 50’s horror movies. The invisible man was an influence in the design that was chosen. There was always something sinister about those films but they always knew that the comedic element was an essential ingredient to their success.

The-Invisible-Man-film-images-4f4f88e1-d13d-472f-b558-7f49b1e9f31 2.jpg

I started to think of this poison racing through the lead characters veins as it slowly kills him. Being able to look inside and seeing it fill him up. I have always been fascinated by anatomical illustrations and this in turn reminded me of Gunther von Hagens' Body Worlds exhibitions which featured real life corpses treated so you could see their inner workings. I did research into pictures of the system of veins in the human body and found one that wasn’t too complicated but was still easily recognisable as a human form and was aesthetically pleasing. 

THE MAN WHO DIED cover.jpg

From here the process of the design really did fall into place quite quickly. With the type cemented and the image found it was a question of crop and colouring, of which I was already quite wedded to the toxic green colour. This colour of sickness contrasting with the monochrome of the rest of the cover. During the design the veins enveloped the title, so image and type were integrated, seemed the natural route to go down. The only other thing that needs to be considered with Orenda designs is the placement of quotes as Karen does like a quote or 4 on a cover.

Over all the design was a clear and enjoyable experience. Karen was happy with the first round of visuals so my vision stayed very much intact. I had the pleasure of meeting the author face to face a few months later and he to seems very pleased with the end result. The final decision of adding a spot varnish to the veins really added to the design effect and made that toxic green much more punchy.

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Design Editor, Painter, Designer, Lifelong bibliophile.


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