Book Cover Analysis: Classic

Title: A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Bad Beginning
Author: Lemony Snicket
Jacket Design and illustrations: Brett Helquist
Publisher: Egmont
Date: 2003
Format: hardback
Cover finish: clothbound
ISBN: 1-4052-0725-6
Extent: 160
Spine Width: 1 inch
Age Range: 8+

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The front cover of this classic is black clothbound and die-cut to show a picture of Count Olaf illustrated by Brett Helquist which is in the shape of the cut-out. The font of the writing is embossed gold . This sets very well against the black. It really stands out from the dark texture. I think that this is one of the best things about the design. There are two different fonts used (I think that this seems to be a recurring feature on book covers to distinguish between the title/author/tagline/subtitle) which work well together – a sketchy font for the titles and a hand-written style font for The Bad Beginning which again gives the impression of this being written by hand.

The back cover is just plain black which I think works well. The front cover already does enough for the book and anything major done with the back cover would take away from the front cover. This balances the cover out quite well.

Even though the gold font and die-cut seems fancy, it is done in a way that isn’t too over-stated – the balance is just right and even seems simple.

The picture is printed on the endpapers which are patterned black and burgundy – a pattern which fits into the theme of the book:

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Close-up of the endpapers

After the endpapers there is more content – including another illustration:

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The illustrations match that of inside the book:


These take up the whole page. The typesetting of the text is quite large on the page which can be seen above. The text seems approximately 14pt which is appropriate for the age – this makes for easy reading. If the text was too small, it would be too difficult to read.

The overall design of the book cover reflects the story very well. The colour palettes used and the deep shades of red, brown and blues works very well to reflect the darkness, authenticity and originality of the story and illustrations which accompany it. The die-cut feature is very prominent and attracts the right demographic.  It adds a little something which is unusual and not seen on the typcial book cover and that just reflects the novel – a little unusual. I think the designer has definitely used this to his advantage and took his design that little bit further and it works!

Die-cut books are certainly not cheap to print and are therefore priced a little higher once they hit retail. For a classic like this book, that little extra price will be pain by a customer who really loves this book – perhaps a self-purchase or a gift for someone who has not yet read the book. The feature makes the design stand out on your shelf and I think that this is one of those designs that you will remember a few years on.

Similar Designs:

More of Brett Helquist on his website:


He has worked on many books and book covers and he also has an online portfolio which shows his other Series of Unfortunate Events work.

I have noticed that die-cut designs are given to classic books which are being re-designed – such as this one. There are many which are positioned in Waterstones with the front cover facing outwards to attract attention and it certainly does.

More interesting things:

Books to Die For: Five Fantastic Die-Cut Books Brain Pickings

Die Cut Books – Design of the Picture Book

Die-cuts To Die For: Books With Holes – Abe Books


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