Packaging 'After God'


From The Record (March 6, 1994)

by Laurence Chollett

The book jacket of Doug Coupland's latest work of fiction -- "Life After God" (Pocket, $17), is a masterpiece of hip marketing.

It features the photograph of a small baby floating with a life preserver in a chlorine-blue swimming pool. It's trimmed in hot pink and bright yellow.

"The image is very striking," said Paolo Pepe, the executive art director of Pocket Books, this past week from his office in Manhattan. "It is the kind of thing that makes you take a second look -- and pick it up."

Coupland, who coined the term "Generation X" (see the cover story in Sunday Living), has set a new standard for glitzy covers. His first novel, "Generation X" (1991) was a large-format paperback that featured an exploding mushroom cloud -- in neon green.

His next novel, "Shampoo Planet" (1992), had not one but two covers: One featured a young man's head, with immaculately combed hair; the other featured a similar shot of a woman's head.

Coupland, who was trained as a sculptor, has participated in the design of all his book covers.

"Usually, authors of Doug's stature will have approval on the cover, but they never have any clear ideas of what they want," Pepe said. "Doug, by contrast, was very involved in the process from the start. ... And that was really good."

Coupland's first idea for "Life After God" was to use a friend's sculpture -- a death's head made out of Lego blocks. The next idea was to put some of his own line drawings (they illustrate the short stories) on the cover. That didn't pan out either.

"At a certain point, one of the stories [in the book] makes reference to macaroni and cheese, and we were toying with the idea of making the book like a Kraft American Cheese box," Pepe said. "But that didn't fly because by the time we got done with the cover, it really did look like a Kraft box."

It was around then that Coupland sent a photograph taken by a friend of his: It featured a baby floating serenely in the swimming pool. The image resonated -- the title story deals with a group of young adults who first formed their friendship as kids in a backyard swimming pool. It also contrasted strikingly with the seriousness of the title -- "Life After God." In short, it worked.

"I was so caught up in the process that I didn't realize until recently how powerful the combination really was," Pepe said. "I was walking into a bookstore on the Upper West Side to hear Doug read and there was a window display of books, featuring the cover. It really jumped out at me."