Meet the half-eaten brains behind the cover of “Zombie Economics”

Without a doubt, one of our most hotly anticipated titles of this fall is  Zombie Economics: How Dead Ideas Still Walk Among Us.  In this new book, fittingly scheduled for a Halloween release date, Australian economist John Quiggin combines a comprehensive explanation of the “dead ideas” that must be eradicated in order to avoid another financial crisis with our fascination with the living dead, producing a magnetic page-turner.

Zombie Economics‘s lighthearted yet grave message is not only apparent in his writing – it literally spans from cover to cover.  As you can see on the right (click all images to enlarge), the synthesis of humor and severity of the content is represented perfectly by the cover design, and many of you have asked us via the Zombie Economics Facebook Page who is responsible for this incredible cover.  Well, you’re about to find out.

Here at PUP, we have a very talented production department, and our book designers are the crème de la crème – Junior Book Designer Karl Spurzem and Illustration Manager Dimitri Karetnikov worked in tandem on this project to create the awesome (and gruesome) cover you see before you.   We asked them a few questions about how this cover came to life (note: while Karl said that he would avoid  “cheesey jokes about ‘bringing it to life,’ I couldn’t help myself)

First up is Karl:

We’ve all heard the phrase “never judge a book by its cover,” but we know that that’s impossible. That being said, what first impression are we supposed to get from this design? How should we interpret it?

It’s a different kind of economics book. The author and editor saw to that from the beginning, it’s in the whole spirit of the text, so it’s only natural for the cover to broadcast that. It’s serious, a little morbid even, but fun. The worst thing this book could have is a humorless or dull cover.

Where did you find the image for the cover? What is its significance?

We commissioned the artwork from Dimitri Karetnikov, our in-house illustration specialist (most of his usual work doesn’t involve zombies). The significance is mainly an aesthetic one: once we decided to make this resemble a retro, horror comic book, we had to make every part fit visually. My part of that was roughly sketching it out, Dimitri really made it work.

How many different versions of the book jacket did you design?

I juggled two or three other ideas, but the comic design was the first one we had and easily the strongest. One rejected cover involved a bloodthirsty version of Washington’s portrait from the $1 bill.

Why did this particular design stand out from the rest?

Many reasons. It had the right tone and was a lot more exciting than the others. We hold a lot of meetings about important books and book covers, and when all the stars align or some other magical force takes hold, everyone in the meeting agrees almost immediately. Not to sound cynical, design is complex process with many people involved, but this was one of those magical agreements.

Did the idea for this design immediately come to you, or was designing this cover particularly challenging?

The idea came from Seth, the editor. He showed up with a printout of an old Tales From The Crypt comic with that dark, pulp artwork and twisted text. The challenge was translating that to an economics book, which is easier than you might think.

How does this cover encompass and express your vision, the author’s vision, and the overall aesthetic of the press?

That’s a big question. Hmmm. I guess it’s all about fitting the book correctly: what the book is and what shelf it’s going to sit on. We work in many different fields and markets, so there’s a broad range of aesthetics at play here. Sober math monographs mostly aren’t going to look like comic books. It would be a disservice to them, no matter how fun it would be to put them together. Zombie Economics is different, so it gets to look different. I’m just the guy lucky enough to work on it.

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Next, we talked to Dimitri:

It seems like Zombie Economics was a really fun project to work on.  What was the illustration process like?

The overall idea for the cover from Seth and Karl seemed unusual and promising. It was fun to flesh it out… (bad pun on zombies). The most difficult part was finding just the right angle for the hand holding the money. I ended up posing with a bunch of bills in my left hand exactly the way I wanted. My daughter took a photo of my hand, which I then used for reference to draw the main image on the cover.

The cover of the book is humorous yet incredibly unsettling.  How/where did you find inspiration? Was it easy or difficult to come up with ideas?

I like dark humor. Though I was not brought up reading horror comic books, growing up in Moscow during Soviet era provided sufficient gory material (plus some comedy). I knew that humor in Zombie Economics cover would come from the overall context, but my images had to be serious and unsettling.

Were you familiar with this “retro, horror comic book” feel prior to doing the artwork?

Before I started working on the cover I perused a few Tales from the Crypt and similar publications. They looked wonderful and inspiring.

Could you briefly describe the four images on the cover?

The main image shows a zombie hand grasping a stack of bills, as though appearing from beneath the ground. In the background we see a crowd of ghouls in a dark moonscape (I photo of a wolf pack at night I saw once provided the inspiration). A strip of three thumbnail images accompanies the main image: a zombie version of a senior citizen, dripping blood and a dilapidated bank building.


Your official title is “Illustration Manager.” What exactly does this entail? What other types or genres of illustration do you do?

Occasionally I have to create images for PUP covers, but my main responsibility, as the Illustration Manager is to review, and to fix, if necessary, most of the illustrations before they appear in PUP books. I help our authors with illustrations by advising them, by hiring freelance illustrators and sometimes by redrawing/ fixing the figures myself. Since PUP publishes a very wide spectrum of books, I have to deal with completely different genres, types and styles of illustrations on daily basis. I enjoy this variety of challenges.

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As you can see, creating a book cover that stands out and perfectly encapsulates the essence of the book involves both inspiration and inspirational people – Many thanks go to Karl and Dimitri both for the cover and for answering our questions!

What do you think about the cover and interviews? Visit us on Facebook to become a fan and weigh in!




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