Sometimes you get lucky. Like when you include an incredible book cover, SUICIDE NOTES FROM BEAUTIFUL GIRLS, as an example of the aesthetic you’d love for your book and then a few weeks later your editor tells you that book’s designer, Regina Flath, will be working on your cover.
So who is Regina Flath? She’s an award winning book designer and illustrator, with a BFA from the University of the Arts, and she is currently a Senior Designer at Random House Children’s. She’s also the-host of Which Witch is Witch, a podcast about witches in pop culture. Covers of hers that you may recognize include, among many others, THIS MORTAL COIL, DIARY OF A HAUNTING, WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI, and AFTERWORLDS.
And, fortunately enough for me, she’s agreed to answer some questions about her work, including how she approaches her design work, some of her favorite recent covers by other designers featuring protagonists of color, and who she’d want on her (hypothetical) heist team.
What impresses me the most about your work, is that not only are your covers stunning, they are in many cases wildly different from one another. How do you approach cover design for an individual title, and how do you keep expanding your design horizons?
Thank you! Each book is it’s own little world; when I get assigned a title, I try to dive in as much as possible, reading the early manuscript if it’s available, or the detailed synopsis. From there, how I approach concept differs depending on the genre and specific needs of the book. I may write out notes to myself as a read the manuscript for ideas of imagery or themes, I may jump right into looking at stock imagery, or I might sketch several thumbnails in sharpie to hash out an idea that would be executed by an artist or photographer or typographer. As far as expanding horizons, I’m always on the lookout for inspiration. It might be a movie I see or a subway poster or a random tumblr meme. My husband is also an artist who has vastly different tastes than I do, so I often find myself inspired by whatever art he’s looking at, since it’s usually not something that would be on my radar at all.
Recently you learned that someone literally got a tattoo of your cover art from the book WE ARE THE ANTS. Have there been other notable highwater marks in terms of fan or author reactions to your covers?
Probably the most moving fan reactions have been to WHEN DIMPLE MET RISHI. I got several emails from fans saying how important it was to them to see themselves on a cover and that really made me feel like I had made a difference. That said, author reactions always make my day. Once I had an author write to me that his cover was so exciting for him because it visually communicated a theme in the book that he hadn’t considered as a possible cover direction and we got to have a whole dialogue about the themes in the book. That made my overachieving, AP English teen self immensely happy!
In addition to designing covers, you’ve illustrated multiple children’s books. Which came first for you, illustration or design?
Definitely illustration. My degree is in illustration and for a while I planned to be a full time freelance children’s book illustrator. Once I realized I would lose my mind if I worked mostly by myself, I changed my plan to in-house design. I started designing picture books and middlegrade but YA quickly became my passion and I’ve been doing YA exclusively for over 5 years.
If you could design the cover for a special anniversary edition of your favorite book from childhood, which book would you choose and why?
Absolutely THE SECRET GARDEN. I have a British edition given to me by an aunt when I was 8 or 9 and I remember distinctly it was that hard bound, rough front, ribboned, and illustrated with color tip-ins book that made me decide I HAD to work on books for my profession. I still have my copy.
Your website bio mentions that you’re a friend to imaginary creatures everywhere, but let’s get specific. Which imaginary creature is your daemon/patronus and which one would you invite to your party only because its mom made you?
Well Buzzfeed just confirmed for me that my patronus is Manananggal, the Filipina vampire-like witch creature that feeds on blood and can separate her torso from her body and fly. As you do. The creature likely to end up at my party because MY mom made me invite it would likely the nuno sa punso. Growing up it was very important to establish good relationships with the nunos because otherwise they’d curse you.
You’ve designed a number of incredible covers for YA thrillers. The cover of my book, THE WINDOW, manages to be very striking, and also more than a little unnerving, without being at all violent or graphic. Did the concept and visuals for it evolve as you worked on it, or did you have this vision for it right from the start?
When I read THE WINDOW, it was a very early draft and I had a COMPLETELY different idea of how the book would end (lots of twists and turns in the story!) so I wanted to be sure whatever I had happening in the imagery wouldn’t give anything away. I knew I wanted to use window imagery and I knew I wanted to nest the window into the title and I didn’t want to show 2 girls. In my head it was important that the viewer didn’t know who was looking out the window. I did a lot of research to find the image that worked well for my vision and for the tone of the book. Initially, I had different windows and things happening with shadows and much more fleshed out imagery but as I played with the design I realized that a more spare approach would be more unsettling. So while I knew from the beginning the concept for the window in the title, the imagery changed as I worked quite a bit.
You have a short deadline and you have to power up. What snacks do you procur for during, and what is your celebration meal afterwards?
I’d definitely have smartfood popcorn and beef jerky; I’m a savory snack kind of girl. And cans of plain seltzer, lol! Celebration meal would be duck breast, mashed potatoes, and garlic green beans. And tiramisu for dessert!!
YA publishing is starting to try to move away from being so heavily weighted towards pasty people writing about other pasty people, and there have been some incredible covers over the last year or two featuring models/illustrations of protagonists of color. Do you have any personal favorites, and also any specific hopes for how representation will expand in publishing and cover design?
Yes! I love being a part of the movement toward more diversity on covers. As a mixed Filipina/American (or hapa), it’s been important to me morally as well as personally to make sure that diversity is represented well on covers. My current favorites are definitely DREAD NATION, THE HATE U GIVE (such clever type lock up as well!), and my top favorite right now is TYLER JOHNSON WAS HERE. It’s so beautiful and I’ve been trying to do the pattern-over-figure thing in a design for YEARS. I’m so jealous (in a good way) with how that cover was executed!
Your picture book debut was illustrating a book called EMILY GRACE AND THE WHAT-IFS: A STORY FOR CHILDREN ABOUT NIGHTTIME FEARS. What is the first and last movie or book that gave you nightmares, and what common source of fear leaves you “meh”?
First nightmare books were definitely RL Stine, though I continued to read them constantly. I actually designed several bind ups for RL Stine and that was one of my career highlights. Last nightmare movie was Quarantine. There’s a weird attic scene that messed me up for weeks!! In general, most common fears are meh to me but I get freaked by a jump scare every time. Also, I spend a lot of my life seeking out ways to face my fears. For instance, I’m terrified of falling, which is how I started doing aerial arts like lyra and silks. Rolls, drops, and tricks that require all my body weight on one arm, leg, or whatever are still scary but I do them often enough that I’ve gotten comfortable in the fear place. I find it helps me to be less panicked when I’m scared because I’m just so used to being uncomfortable in that way.
Last, but not least, Ocean’s 8 is coming out soon. Who would be on your heist team, and what role would you yourself play?
That’s a BIG question and depends a lot on what we’re heisting. But if we narrow the scope to casting from my officemates, I would say Alison, our art director, is definitely the mastermind. Ray, the other senior designer is the hacker/gadget guy (he’s always optimizing our systems at work, lol). Angela, the associate art director would be the femme fatale/distraction. And I would probably be the roper or the conman since I tend to have the most success talking editors into my crazier ideas, ha!
Thanks, Regina! This was a lot of fun!