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Prima facie

The eyes of the skull lit up red. And that was more than enough for an eight-year-old to grab a copy of Goosebumps, a series of children's horror fiction novels. Underneath its front cover, which portrayed a vividly drawn human skull, was a tiny switch which, when turned on, lit up the eyes. Complicated 'wiring' for a book, you may muse, but that cover introduced me to the pleasure of reading horror stories.

The bottom line of book covers is packaging. The key purpose of a book cover is to bind the book and to woo readers into buying the book, just like any other product. It doesn't feel right, does it? That a matter of creativity and art is sunk down to something as simple as packaging?

The book designers themselves are very modest and humble about their profession. “It's marketing. I just design an attractive packaging for the product,” says Dhruba Esh, a prominent book cover designer, who has done numerous covers for many famous writers like Humayun Ahmed, Muhammad Zafar Iqbal and Anisul Haq.

The process is simple enough. The publisher (or sometimes the writer) briefs the book cover artist about the book the theme, the storyline. The cover designer is also given the book to read. However, whether the book cover designer reads the whole book depends on a few things.

“We don't always read the whole book. Sometimes, the workload is so much that I would personally ask the writer to send a synopsis of the story. And also we, like all people, have different tastes in books,” admitted Mobarak Hossain Liton, another prominent book cover artist.

People say, “Don't judge a book by its cover.” However, interestingly, book cover designing seems to be a profession based on the opposite of this statement. Dhruba Esh answers, “I agree that books shouldn't be judged by their covers. I think a good book, no matter what the cover, will sell itself. I simply make the packet.”

Liton sees this from another perspective. “Book covers are like product containers. I think of the publishing business as any other business that has the core aim of raising public demand. The cover of a book plays an important role here. Do we judge a product by its packaging? If yes, then why should the market for books be any different?”

Thus, book cover art, one may argue, has a huge commercial aspect to it. So much so that last year a book was launched in China that contained an advertisement of a textile manufacturer on the back cover! Quite an innovative and good idea if you think about it. The Guardian has probably put it the best way. “Don't judge a book by the ad on its cover”, the headline ran.

Book cover designing is commercial art. But art it is, no doubt. The book cover can tempt you into buying the book. No matter how simple or complicated a cover is, the artist has the challenging job of bringing out the overall theme or idea of the book.

Although it's commercial art, the scope and liberty is high. A lot of different media are used and experimented with. The book cover can consist of a painting (with sub-categories of media under it), a pencil sketch, a photograph et al. The theme is vital. For example, one shade of a colour may be great for a love story, whilst a different shade of the same colour can work wonders for an adventure novel. Huge, digitised photo archives and editing and graphics tools are also used. Sometimes, different media or different subjects from the same media are merged and fit into place after undergoing significant editing.

And all these have to be done in good time. For some book cover designers, there are times of the year when you have to do more than one book cover per day.

Technology plays a huge role in many book cover designs. “With technology, things are pretty fast. In this digital era where so many people have access to the Internet, we have to strive for a certain standard. We are bound to use modern technology to fulfil this demand,” Liton informed.

How can someone be creative consistently throughout the year? “I do this for a living. I have no other option. But of course, there are days when creative block bars you and makes your job difficult,” Esh said.

“Well, if one of those days falls in February, the month of the book fair, you just have to struggle and get it out of your system,” he grins.

“This is my passion. My world is all about book covers. Perhaps that helps in some manner.”

On that note, it's hard to resist describing the living room of Dhruba Esh. It totally fits with the common picture of the room occupied by a creative genius: innumerable books lie haphazardly everywhere on the floor with very random and curious objects accompanying them, a collection of painting brushes rest on a jar in one corner, a book cover sits on the floor since the day he actually painted it right there while a few scribbling and another small sketch (may be a draft!) rests on the wall.

What will happen to that living room when e-books become popular? “I don't think e-book readers pose any threat. Did popularity of photography make paintings extinct? Also, I think E-books do not provide a good substitute for the joy of holding a book in your hand and reading it,” Dhruba Esh opines.

Mobarak Hossain too is optimistic. “I believe it will not affect the publishing industry and thus the cover artists. Moreover, e-books also require good presentation, an artistic approach.” Therefore he believes that publishers and artists may be actually able to explore new horizons.

Book-cover designers bear a lot of responsibility. The artist must do justice to the book and author. Somewhere down the line, between art and marketing, the book cover artist must ensure that the book attains the proper first impression, prima facie.

By Zane
Special thanks to Mobarak Hossain Liton and Dhruba Esh


The dawn of a new tomorrow

On 5 February, 2013 a whisper turned into a revolution. United we now stand, under one umbrella, a single goal -- Razakar er fashi chai (gallows for war criminals). Of all post-1952 struggles, this unique movement has so far remained apolitical; a warning to those who engage in polarised and partisan politics.

Operation Searchlight put the final nail on the dysfunctional political entity of Pakistan; Bangladesh became independent and throughout the struggle of 266 days we chanted, “Joy Bangla”. Fast forwarding to the sequence of events in the present time, we once again find the youth unite in a common platform, chanting the same dictum “Joy Bangla”.

At Shahbagh, political thoughts differ but the taste of political liberation and social emancipation remains above all else. The taste of a newfound freedom has already soaked the air, the new taste bewildering the one hundred and sixty million Bengalis.

Walls around the Shahbagh area are now glorified with propaganda graffiti, posters of defiance drawn by men, and women and rebel youths. Their sole plea has shaken the foundation of the incumbent government; the message is even clear to the opposition. They now chant, “BNP, Awami Leage maani na; Amra odhikar chhari na.”

42 years have passed since we celebrated 16 December. 23 since the fall of autocratic Ershad. 2013 has given us “Projonmo Chottor”, a ray of hope in what appears to be hard times ahead of us. The Bangladeshi youth was vigilant in 1971, and they are not frightened to take up vigil once again. In the words of Tracy Chapman.

Don't you know
They're talkin' bout a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Don't you know
They're talkin' about a revolution
It sounds like a whisper
Finally the tables are starting to turn
Talkin' bout a revolution.

By Mannan Mashhur Zarif

Lucky Akter: Of politics and beyond

Apetite girl with long flowing hair, she is studying English at Jagannath University. A very ordinary portfolio, but if you put the spotlight on her you would realise that she is far from being any random girl from her generation. Lucky Akter, who is the Organizing Secretary of Welfare and Environmental Committee, Chatra Union, Jagannath University, has become one of the key actors in bringing the energy that now grips Shahbagh.

Her fiery voice, which has gained her the nickname “Agnikonthi” says it all. For days, she had been screaming slogans to bring razakars to justice. If chanting slogans is an art, then Lucky Akter is the maestro. Slogans -- the words you say and how you say them -- make all the difference. And slogans are one of the key ingredients of an energetic and passionate movement.

"We are using slogans used in the Liberation War of 1971," she informed. "Also, we have some new, creative slogans as well. Many of them are written by the members of the general public."

And this is what makes this movement different from many of the numerous 'movements' of our country in recent times: it is a people's movement. It is not an agenda of any one political party. It is a realisation, a rising of the people of Bangladesh. These people don't lower themselves to the level of shallow politics. They want to build a new Bangladesh, based on those very values that helped its birth.

Akter believes the modality of the movement, such as a nationwide three-minute silence, are noteworthy and different, and more importantly, reflect the solidarity of the people, and this solidarity is important.

"I do politics because I want to change society. And if I don't do politics the prevalence of bad politics will remain," she asserted.

By Zane


monochrome magic

As if staring back in time, hues of black and white hark in the emotions of February 21. Bibi Russell's bold new designs and choice of colours serve to celebrate the timelessness of both the occasion and her creations. The latest line boasts innovation in its simplicity, blending and fusing ethnicity with modernity and invoking the emotions the day calls for. There's black for the despair once faced and white for the purity of a stronger, never-forgotten and untainted movement. The new line brings street fashion to the ramps and adds flash to the classic tinges. This is what making a style statement is all about.

Bibi Russell's new line boasts saris, shalwar kameez sets, panjabis and dresses with twists of novelty in designs and style statements. Conventional cotton saris in the usual black, white and grey stripes and motifs printed on the paar with a twist in the form of a long layer of white ruffle accommodated between the paar and the rest of the body. Hybrids of panjabis and fatuas in horizontal stripes of two tones of white with vertical holes punched throughout are also mirrored in the pants that come along with it. There is also a mix of a T-shirts and panjabis in black fishnet accompanied by fitting pants for those men who are fearless in experimenting with fashion.

Also available are short dresses -- like kameezes with a sash tied at the side of the neck teamed with a pyjama and long dresses, with the grey and white combining to form the upper body fusing into a black skirt that complements the warm spring day.

Photo: Sazzad Ibne Sayed
Model: Zamshad, Airin, Tamanna, Asif
Styling: Bibi Russell
Wardrobe: Bibi Productions


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