As I’m sure you’re all very excited about, my book Party Members will be released in a few weeks time. It promises to be the best China-related book since Xi Jinping’s blockbuster On The Governance of China.
During the publication process, both myself and my publisher Camphor Press toyed around with a few ideas for the book to make it as eye-grabbing as possible. The end product is done by the extremely talented dissident Chinese artist Badiucao who is a virtual one-man factory of fantastic anti-CCP artwork. However, before we got to the final cover, we had a few interesting ideas that I’m going to share with you now.
One important thing to note about Party Members before looking at these covers, is that penises play a large part of the story. That’s right: penises. Without giving too much away, the main character Yang Wei goes through some interesting adventures with his penis and so the covers are meant to reflect that.
The first cover attempt – which was a photoshop knock-up done by myself – is still my personal favourite because of its subtlety. It features the seal of the People’s Republic of China but with one cheeky alteration done to the Tiananmen Gate.
If you look carefully, the middle entrance of the Tiananmen Gate has been made to look like a cock. I loved the simple red and yellow motif of this cover, but we ultimately rejected it because it made the book look too political rather than a work of fiction. The cover made it look more like Richard McGregor’s The Party rather than Arthur Meursault’s Party Members.
It was then that I tried my hand at drawing a draft of a cover design by hand. I’m a mediocre artist at best as evidenced by my attempts on this very blog, and heavily influenced by the British comics I read as a kid like The Beano and (in later life) Viz. This effort was done with a thin marker pen and contains a lot of the themes found within Party Members. You’ll also notice that the penis shadow behind Yang Wei is a total rip-off from the famous Anakin Skywalker/Darth Vadar shadow from The Phantom Menace.
I had a couple of more attempts along this line. I thought of having Yang Wei sat in front of a dystopian polluted cityscape with his cock-like shadow hanging over the ruined skyscrapers behind him. However, that proved too much for my drawing ability so I used photos instead for the background. Here are three attempts I did with paper cut outs of Yang Wei imposed over photos of urban decay. The buildings in the first photo are actually made from mouldy bread believe it or not.
After taking a look at some of my drawing efforts, mercifully my publisher decided to get a proper artist on board. Badiucao was given a brief of what we were looking for. After discussion, we decided to go for images that hinted at the content of the book rather than showing it explicitly. We asked Badiucao to come up with some ideas that highlighted the greed and corruption so prevalent within the Chinese Communist Party. Badiucao came back with these images of 1989 Tiananmen Square style tanks but with the turrets removed and replaced with rubber stamps, cash and sexy legs to demonstrate the abuse of power, money and sex. We played around with these images a lot too, trying them out in different volumes.
The rubber stamp tank was a little unclear to readers unfamiliar with Asia in my opinion. I love the “Tank Man” in the pictures below. I suggested to try one where the Tank Man could be bent over and a tank with a huge dildo on its turret could be about to ram him from behind, but thankfully I was overuled.
That last one is just so monstrous. I love it.
We didn’t go for these pictures in the end, though the legs tank is going to be used still on the back cover. After the tanks we tossed around the idea of combining the image of Chairman Mao and a trouser zipper. This was the result. It still gives me nightmares.
We all agreed that the fly-Mao was a bit too creepy, which is when we finalised on instead having the good Chairman perhaps pop out of a trouser zipper instead (the reasons for this will become clear if you read the book). Badiucao was on the case and here was his first attempt. In case you are wondering what the object in Mao’s left hand is, it’s a drumstick of KFC chicken.
There was something not quite right though. Mao looked too formal, too statesmanlike for what I was wanting to achieve. We wanted Mao to look more crazed and terrifying than his standard portrait. Voila!
We were almost there: we all loved the image of Mao poking out of the trousers, and the use of seal script to display the book’s title. All that was missing was to put the KFC back in.
Badiucao is a truly talented artist and I do recommend anyone reading this to check out some of his artwork. He also writes on Twitter and is well worth following.
If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy my book Party Members – a dark comic fantasy that exposes the corrupt underbelly of modern China.