Son of blotches and drips: Book jacket look-alikes

Is a new novel's jacket design a coincidence or a rip-off?

By Craig Offman
Published August 10, 1999 8:00PM (UTC)
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Nathan Englander's debut collection, "For the Relief of Unbearable Urges," had a lot going for it when it came out last April: a six-figure advance, tremendous critical reaction and, not least, a distinctive cover created by jacket designer Barbara de Wilde, a 12-year veteran of Alfred A. Knopf. Paul Griner's new Random House novel, "Collectors," may not have entered the world with quite the same fanfare -- but at least it looks similar.

Rodrigo Corral designed the Griner jacket utilizing the same blotch-and-drip technique de Wilde used on the cover of "Urges." Corral's jacket is made from the same kind of rough, uncoated paper stock, and while the hue is slightly different, the grainy texture feels the same. There is the same outlying blank space, and the title even appears in a similar typeface.


Did Corral have an unbearable urge to copy de Wilde's jacket? "I would think not," Corral responded when Salon Books posed the question. "A few people have mentioned it, but I don't agree." An associate designer at Farrar, Straus and Giroux who also freelances, Corral has designed some outstanding FS&G jackets, most recently for Geoff Dyer's "Paris Trance." He said his idea for the blotch-stained jacket came from the novel's maritime theme: It's a story about a woman's obsessive love for a sailor, and it involves a drowning.

As it turns out, de Wilde actually taught Corral four years ago at New York's School of Visual Arts. "He's a sweet kid," she recalled with genuine warmth when Salon Books contacted her. Does she think his jacket may have been inspired by her work? "What can I say? It's completely derivative," she replied. "It's a direct rip-off."

Notwithstanding the sexual innuendo of Englander's title, de Wilde said it was the notion of tears on paper that gave her the concept for the "Urges" jacket. The title story is about a frustrated man who yearns helplessly to sleep with his wife: "It's what a good marriage is all about. The cover's not about, you know, semen."


De Wilde, who also designed Knopf's jackets for Lorrie Moore's "Birds of America" and Allegra Goodman's "Kaaterskill Falls," said she isn't angry. "On one level, it hurts really badly. I like this kid. He's really talented. But on another level, at least I didn't rip someone off."

Craig Offman

Craig Offman is the New York correspondent for Salon Books.

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