Haruki Murakami’s New Novel and its Delightfully Designed Cover

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Talking cats? Strange moons? Brooding teenagers? Yep, it’s time for a new Haruki Murakami novel. Next week the English-speaking world will be treated to the Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, the long-awaited novel of Japan’s critically acclaimed author. Published by Knopf and Harvill Secker of the Penguin Random House Company, it’s been eagerly anticipated since the release of Murakami’s best selling epic, 1Q84, in 2011. In preparation of the launch, we’re treated to an excerpt of the new book, as well as a look at the cover’s design—in which there’s a lot more going on than meets the eye.

Murakami is a contemporary Japanese writer—born in Kyoto in 1949, he currently resides in Tokyo. His works have been translated into 50 languages and his best-selling books have been published in millions of copies. His most notable works include Norwegian Wood, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, and Kafka on the Shore. The Guardian praises Murakami as “among the world’s greatest living novelists.” He’s kind of a big deal and happens to be one of my favorite authors.

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Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage is the story of Tsukuru Tazaki, a young man haunted by a great loss; of dreams and nightmares that have unintended consequences for the world around us; and of a journey into the past that is necessary to mend the present. Newly released in Germany, Spain, and Holland, it has already topped the bestsellers in all three countries, and it sold over one million copies within its first week when originally released in Japan of April last year. You can read Slate’s excerpt from the new book, “Haida’s Story,” which is a story within a story that touches upon the nature of narration and how stories change the more we retell them.

“A return to the mood and subject matter of the acclaimed writer’s earlier work… A vintage Murakami struggle of coming to terms with buried emotions and missed opportunities, in which intentions and pent up desires can seemingly transcend time and space to bring both solace and desolation.” —Publishers Weekly

As with every Murakami release, I’m quite excited about the book cover’s design. If you’re also a fan of Murakami’s work then you’re familiar with the designs of either John Gall or Chip Kidd—who’ve been primarily responsible for the classic covers of previous Murakami western releases. Always beautiful and ever evoking the abstract, these works never fail to catch my eye, draw me into the novel, or give new meaning to the words on page.

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Unfortunately, neither designer was involved with Murakami’s newest release. But fret not; handling the new cover was Random House’s creative director, Suzanne Dean. She’s responsible for the fantastic work coming out of the publishing house’s Vintage Classics line, who previously commissioned the talented Noma Bar to redesign Murakami’s backlist. They’re some of the best-looking book covers in recent years. Under Dean’s guidance, the designs featured a circle motif, accompanied by a three-colored palette—in order to reflect the “seen and unseen” often portrayed in Murakami’s work. These covers were screen printed by hand to give a personal, softer edge, demonstrating the care that Dean puts into every piece under her guidance.

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A circular motif reappears for Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage. Dean states that the new cover is “an elegant abstract design, representing the five main characters.” The process began with her, as she recounts, “I cut out five circles and played with the position of each of them as physical elements away from the confines of a computer. I experimented with overlapping the circles to represent the interactions within the close friendship of the main characters. Gradually the design came together in a congruent and meaningful form.” Following the physical preliminaries, Dean transferred the design to Photoshop, where she could refine the color interactions and land on a look that quickly fell into place.

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Accompanying Dean’s cover is a set of stickers. Dean explains, “Tsukuru’s name means to make or build and this was a gift, a completely perfect match for an idea to include adult stickers for the book buyer to decorate the novel.” As a result, Dean commissioned five Japanese illustrators, who brought a uniquely Japanese style and knowledge of Japanese detail to the project. Each illustrator was given a character, and therefore a color, and asked to read the novel with that character in mind. They were then asked to create images reflecting their character, using their specific color.

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Mio Matsumoto: Colorless
“My drawing style here is very sharp and clean…Tsukuru is colour-less. But I thought he is influenced by the others so, based on the strong drawing line, I wanted to add all the other colours in his related objects.” Matsumoto graduated from the Royal College of Art and is currently living and working in Tokyo.

Fumio Obata: Blue
“I chose certain objects to illustrate from the text because of their noise, for instance Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas” was an inspiration for the first image I did.” Obata studied at the Glasgow School of Art and the Royal College of Art in London, where he worked in animation for some years before deciding to concentrate on comic books and illustration.

Ryu Itadani: Red
“In all my images I carefully chose other colors to highlight red, so (hopefully) viewers can imagine that the images have something to do with red.” Itadani currently lives and works in Berlin.

Natsko Seki: White
“All the items had to be beautiful as she was, and show fragility and sensitivity.” Seki lives and works in London.

Shinko Okuhara: Black
“I worked with the colour by considering how to express the difference between the image of her full name “Eri Kurono” and her nickname “black” and her character.” Okuhara lives and works in Tokyo.

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As you can see, what at first looks like a very simple and basic book cover turns out to be a well-thought and involved process between many artists. The result is an exceptionally designed cover that readers can customize, turning the book into an interactive experience. Its design harkens day’s past and evokes nostalgia, something that I hope will only further my attachment to Murakami’s newest work. You start putting stickers on your own copy next week, August 12th, which you can purchase here (or here if you want the stickers and Dean’s design). Check out Murakami’s Facebook for release events near you.

Nick Partyka

August 5, 2014 / By

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