Wednesday, October 6, 2010

"My Jihad." My Most Well-Known Book, 2002

Photographed on a wooden background, this is the cover of a book I designed that really hit the big time back in 2002, My Jihad, by Aukai Collins.

M Y   B O O K   D E S I G N S — This book was a crash book, meaning that the time frame from finished manuscript to print date was a matter of days, not weeks or months. The text was late, the original cover, in my opinion, didn't really work with the searing and biting and frankly, bloody text. I know it had to be designed way before the book was actually finished, so the original designer just didn't have enough information. The author actually had to come to Guilford and put on a "lockdown" to finish the text, lol, and once it was done the book MOVED through all the paces at breakneck speed. I worked with the editor on a minute-by-minute basis, accessing dark, desperate and obscure European, Middle Eastern and Russian websites to find the images to build the 8-page color well photo section. These included photos of Chechen "rebels" who were in fact merely injured children. We found hospital photos of people counted by the outside world as terrorists, when they were actually blind, handicapped and homeless senior citizens. We found images of rockets being launched and Mujahideen dead and dying in a winter of hell.

The original cover was pinkish with a passport type image and motif. I didn't like the fonts, sort of an Arabic-looking one for the title. With a serious book like this, classic serif and sans serif fonts were really called for in my old opinion. My only "real" job on this book was the interior and color well, but I did a bad thing and redesigned the cover on my own at the very last minute. In a very poor political move, lol, I skipped two layers of managers and submitted my cover at about 11pm  to the publisher. He was awake, we went back and forth on some subtle changes, and by 3am the new cover was set. By 8am the next day everyone found out. Then we had to pull back files, "inform" the managers, redo working files of PR pieces, etc.  My doghouse for the next six months was tight and very well guarded, lol! I would do it again in an instant, though. I've never doubted any of my work decisions, and never really thought about things like office politics, time involved, etc. The job needs to be as perfect as possible and if it takes 40 hours to do a very low-budget project and you know the majority of your work is free, so be it. No possible book buyer knows about the budget when they see the book. All they see is your work and just like my fine art, I don't have a low-dollar look and a well-funded look. They all just look as good as I can make them.

The Cover
I chose a photo of the author to get those piercing, and steely, blue eyes. I used a cut of Garamond and Helvetica typefaces, the two classic fonts I use in most of my books, and I Photoshopped a second photo of the author and a buddy in the Middle East on the bottom of the cover. The author had lost a leg in a fierce firefight, had a prosthetic fitted and went back to war within a few weeks. I thought it was important to get that image on the cover—you can see his prosthetic leg silhouetted on the bottom. His eyes told ME the whole story—after all this is a book of his remembrances of his time in the Bin Laden training camps and of his subsequent "conversion" by the FBI and the CIA. 

The book went on to be covered on every major TV network news shows and all of the cables, CNN, Fox and I believe MSNBC. I saw my cover on seven or eight news shows. The author and the editor were on TV. Ann Coulter was side-by-side with the author on one show, scrawny far-right witch that she is, totally dissing the book and the writer, and Aukai is a scary dude! The book sold well, got so-so reviews for the writing, but was really well-known. I was proud, and totally gratified that once again, I had trusted my gut and had done the new cover when everyone had said not to. But, for some reason, we sold the rights to the paperback and the movie rights almost immediately. The paperback was redesigned by the new publisher and I never heard of it again, lol. The movie was never made. My third or fourth fifteen minutes of fame were over.

From Publisher's Weekly:

Collins, a former mujahid and Phoenix-based FBI informant, has recently been in the news for allegedly having warned the FBI to no avail about one of the September 11 hijackers. Here he focuses mostly on his experiences fighting along with an associate of Bin Laden's in Chechnya, as well as his bitter misadventures with the FBI. (Subtitle notwithstanding, he worked primarily for the FBI but did some joint missions with the CIA.) Collins, 28, converted to Islam while serving time as a teenager in a California prison for attempted robbery. After his release, he decided to make jihad in Bosnia in the early 1990s, and thus began an odyssey with the mujahideen that took him to training camps in Kashmir and Afghanistan and to the front lines in Chechnya. He became disillusioned, however, when some extremist factions began terrorizing civilians, and decided he could best preserve the sanctity of jihad by helping Americans rout the true terrorists. But his FBI gig wasn't much more fulfilling; Collins scathingly critiques what he casts as the Bureau's willful ignorance (they didn't understand, for instance, that mosques were the wrong places to look for extremists), their self-defeating rules (he was not allowed to go undercover to a camp actually run by Bin Laden himself) and their general bureaucratic bumbling. The book doesn't offer much historical or political background, but Collins is a vivid raconteur and his accounts of illegal border-crossings in lawless Afghanistan and Dagestan are as gripping as the descriptions of actual battles. His firsthand view of the FBI, though clearly one-sided, should interest readers as well.

Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

The Wiki on the author, here.
The Amazon link, here.


  1. What a great typography and design story (As a designer and type lover I can say that!) It's so true that great design avoids the obvious cliches that spring to marketing folks' mind first and conceptually communicates so much more than things like fake ethnic fonts.

    And PS I notice you posted this about 2 am. Maybe that's when you do your best work?

  2. That's a pretty cool book design. If I didn't see the title, I would think it was about the Blair Witch Hunt. They eyes looks fearsome and but kind of scared which may depict Collins double role as a fighter and informant. Well, that's what I see.

    Good job!

  3. Haven't had time to read this whole post yet, but seems I remember seeing this book and remembering it because of the eys! You're the BOMB! What a talent you have. I do have a the book one you took a picture of on wood for "US" OR is that the actual cover itself...?
    Have a good one everyone!

  4. Thanks, ish! you're observant. I really do my best work at night in most things, like design and writing-most of my blogs are done at night. My painted art though, while I might end up going late into the art, is usually a day thing. I don't know if it's the light, or the smell of paint that I find it better to work during the day and keep the windows wide open.

    Woody, that's a great observation, thanks!

    Mare: That's a scan of the actual book cover. If I remember correctly, there was a run with a matte cover, which is what I have, and there was a second run with a glossy varnish coating, a Marketing decision. I like matte finishes for the most part.

  5. Mare: re-reading your question, the actual book is just the wooden background isn't part of the book. Since my blog has a black background, I usually photoshop a black edge around everything so it fits better. In the case of scanning black items though, I put a different color background on them, In this case I used a piece of woodgrain for the background so the black book stood out more.

  6. I enjoyed the full story Casey, you mentioned this cover and gave me the link to the book when I did my "eyes" post. Our gut feel seldom lets us down. Sometimes the chain of command organization style actually gets in the way of accomplishment.

    Of course there are those times when my 'gut' tells me 'no' and I go ahead anyway, but I've learned to take my lumps when that happens, they usually heal fast.

    Everyone enjoy your day...

  7. Just finished watching John Waters film Cry-Baby for the umpteenth time and this has to be the first time I wondered who the car wrangler was for this film. lol Thanks Casey.

  8. Annie: I've never seen that movie, but I love John Waters. I just read today that your "boy" Johnny Depp is going to star as Barnabus Collins in a Tim Burton remake of Dark Shadows!!! I hope it's not TOO campy, and is gothic like the TV series.

  9. Thanks for the heads up news on Barnabus Collins. Burton/Depp are a great combo. Can't wait to see it.

    Put Cry-Baby on your list of to see's, you will love all the 50's cars.