Monday, November 5, 2012

Brain on Fire

Brain on Fire is an inspiring memoir by Susannah Cahalan, a New York based journalist. Here is an excerpt from the author's site:

My memoir Brain on Fire chronicles the swift path of my illness and the lucky, last-minute intervention led by one of the few doctors capable of saving my life. As weeks ticked by and I moved inexplicably from violence to catatonia, $1 million worth of blood tests and brain scans revealed nothing. The exhausted doctors were ready to commit me to the psychiatric ward, in effect condemning me to a lifetime of institutions, or death, until Dr. Souhel Najjar—nicknamed Dr. House—joined my team. He asked me to draw one simple sketch, which became key to diagnosing me with a newly discovered autoimmune disease in which my body was attacking my brain, an illness now thought to be the cause of “demonic possessions” throughout history.

The original direction on this cover was for it to be warm, clean, and evocative—something that may allude to the medical aspect of the writing but still look approachable and human. The publisher nixed the idea of a photo of the author on the cover, so these were to be type driven comps.

Here are a few of the 1st round comps:

--> I wanted this comp to have a graphic pattern that might be mistaken for flowers, when in fact the elements are small icons of antibodies. The author explained that her condition meant that the antibodies began attacking her body, so in this case I have them attacking (in a beautiful, non-scary way) the title.    

The author speaks of chronicling her illness through her journal entries (and her father's own entries), so this is a nod to that important writing which was a crucial key to piecing her story together.

A more straightforward illustration....which is developed upon below in the 2nd round.


The initial feedback was that these comps were too clinical, so my art director asked me to try a new angle. They wanted me to not use the brain or make this look more like a memoir, focusing on the survival story and the personal aspect of the book, as opposed to the brain science.

Here, I created a more intimate version of the silhouette. The title is trapped in her head and the painted background alludes to fire. The scattered sunflower petals also show a "burst," such as flames, but are softened in this context.

The author explains how her speech and writing became increasingly incoherent during her illness. I used the title as though the author had written it out over and over, showing the progression of the title growing more and more illegible and then recovering at the end.

I also wanted to try something that would suggest the inner functioning of a brain without being too literal. This image really struck me. I think it evokes a network of neurons without showing anything clinical or technical. It’s amazing how items from nature can call to mind completely unrelated phenomena. I also liked how the hand is reaching up and starting to lift. The one lone flower stretches through the top of the title in a hopeful way.

In the end, none of these comps worked and the publisher chose another designer’s more straightforward approach with an author photo on the cover. I'm happy I had the opportunity to read this inspiring book and design comps for it, despite not having one chosen.

Free Press, Art Director: Eric Fuentecilla


Anne said...

Lovely work. Ironic how the direction was not to use a photo of the author on the cover and then they ultimately used a photo of the author on the cover.

Megan said...

I absolutely love the first 2 options.
The cover they chose does not make me want to pick up the book. Wish they chose any of yours!

Anonymous said...

I like the photo approach. It gives humanity to the subject behind the story. There are many legitimate questions asked, by the first person and family of Susannah Cahalan in Brain on Fire. The story is not solely in a person's face, but in a person's courage to face a malady or funk of a gripping descent, the many complex dilemmas one presents when they "loose touch" due to illness/imbalance and then in time, question how the medical community sometimes gets a diagnosis wrong (which only compounds the problem occurring in the person and family) and it can be imperiling to the individual or family, as they search for more meaningful answers.

Having said that, there is something powerful in seeing the face of a person who has ENDURED a lot of mis-diagnosis, and is victorious in writing about it. Later, taking up the mission of the one Doctor who did not want to "let people slip through the cracks," denoting a universal capacity of human beings: to be inhumane.

She is a survivor and a victory and that deserves a face. She is the beloved daughter of people who have known the person, and the friend and family member who have been shaken and moved, and yet, did not forget what talents and abilities she ALSO manifested in prior years.

We have fighter and a family who loved her. These are powerfully humane and grounded images beyond artwork.

The account is told in words. Words that are uniquely humane.

The picture is grounding.

I find it to be cherished and celebrated in light of the events behind the portrait. Lovely also to see eyes opening through her account.

Many eyes opening. Yes: Her eyes are a doorway opening.

We see similar themes in film, drama and literature and sometimes these accounts are compelling. Film, drama and literature tie into fine artwork. I could name two or three prominent film and literary adaptations portrayed in recent film, which give a modern spin and some notoriety, depicting women struggling through identity crisis, and making it back to help others.

These are heroines. Let us see their faces. Why not. Let us be encouraged by their eyes and their vision for a better future.

There is strength in this. And such strength when captured well, is some of the most beautiful cover art of our times.


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Megashare9 Movies said...

popcornflix - Wow. This is a great case that psychiatry is basically a pseudoscience from a prior century, and unfortunately it's still a fallback for medical doctors when they can't explain a neurological problem -- much like in even prior eras when natural phenomenon that were unexplained would be chalked up to supernatural causes. Brain on Fire was nerve wracking and suspenseful. Maybe it wasn't quite as artful as A Beautiful Mind, but the acting was at least good enough and I agree with the other reviews: important subject matter.
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