How Super Came to Be

The cover of Super, by Aaron Dietz, from Emergency Press; cover design by Charlie PotterCharlie Potter is the extraordinarily talented book designer behind the novel Super, from Emergency Press. The novel’s storyline is presented as a series of varied county-level government documents, and so the book contains over 40 different layout styles. Potter also produced numerous illustrations that appear in the book, as well as supporting logos and documents that will be used in trailers, costumes for events, and other promotional materials.

In the following interview with Charlie Potter, the designer of Super elaborates on how the book’s design came to be.

First of all, how did you come up with the cover concept? It’s very catchy!

I love signs. I love danger signs the most, like the one with the truck almost tipping over on a tight corner or that guy being horribly struck by lightning. So the icon is basically taken from the sign that would indicate that there are Superheroes working nearby.

What parts of the inside of the book are you most excited about?

I’m most excited about the bits I had more creative input on. For example, the detective notes (I chose to present them in a visually-connected way, rather than as a straight-forward list of notes), the stick-figure diagram (I can’t look at it without laughing–I really can draw better than that), and the Superhero signage document.

A small part of the stick figure diagram from Super, created by Charlie Potter

The signage document was originally supposed to be a patrol map that tells Superheroes things like how far of a jump it is between buildings, how high up the roof is, and so on. I told Aaron, the author, that it would be odd for a hero to have a map in their pocket. When a driver first hits the street, the DMV doesn’t give you a map, but they will give you a rule book and a guide to signs. So that’s what we made: a driver’s guide for the Superhero.

But honestly, Aaron had some very visual ideas with clear direction, which is rare when working with a writer. I just had to dress them up mostly. At the same time, I had a lot of freedom with the project so I’m excited about the whole book.

This was obviously a much more complicated book to put together compared to the average novel. How did you manage that complexity, and how did you communicate with the author, Aaron Dietz, to complete the project?

Communication was pretty smooth between us–smoother than any project I’ve worked on. At the beginning, I set up a Google site with file deposit pages for inspirations, design previews, resources, and so on. We’re still using it for promotional stuff. I submitted design ideas through it and he and I commented on them or he would create Word docs with lists of edits.

The site was also good because it versions uploads, so we could revert to an old design easily if need be. At times there were a few print-outs when it was necessary to draw out an idea, but overall the process was very green. We rarely met in person about the project even though we see each other almost every day.

But the thing that helped the most was that we had a clear idea of how the book was going to be, and what it could do. This is something that was established very early and continues even now. It was a very cooperative and supportive process.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in doing this design?

The biggest challenge of this book was that I wanted it to look like an accumulation of government-made documents and logos but still make it look good, trying to ride that line of terrible and awesome.

Did you do any research to help you prepare for creating these “government-made documents”?

People can tell if you are drawing from memory or if you’re drawing from real life. So, I did a ton of research for this to make this look believable. But this wasn’t too difficult and I had a lot of help and suggestions on where to look. There is just so much! In fact, I have enough material now that if there were a second book I wouldn’t be drawing from any of the same sources.

What other things are you creating to help with the book’s release?

Currently, I’m designing a series of posters that would encourage Superheroes from other counties to move to and work in Pike County, the setting of the novel. Most Superheroes think it’s more dangerous in Pike County and would rather live and work where their average life expectancy is higher.

Also, I created some stickers that we’ll use to turn people’s outfits into Superhero costumes during the book release party (this November).

What other kinds of work do you do, and is there a specific focus in your art?

I have no focus, but there are some things I’m better at than others.

I enjoy illustrating and have done a few books for a friend of the family. I would love to do more of that.

At my day job, though, I work as an instructional graphic designer; which is not too far off from what I was for this book.

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