The Phantom Tollbooth Book Cover
Our culminating project in Typography class was designing a typographic book cover. We were encouraged to use unique materials and processes to create distinctive typography. The book I chose was “The Phantom Tollbooth.” It was one of my favorite books growing up, and I remember how excited it made me about learning and going to school. The book is about a boy named Milo, who is bored with his life and isn’t interested in school. One day he enters the Lands Beyond through a magic tollbooth, and befriends Tock the watchdog and a curious creature called Humbug. The three of them explore Dictionopolis, a land ruled by warring sovereigns King Azaz (ruler of letters) and The Mathemagician (ruler of numbers), and discover what a fantastic adventure learning can be.
The existing book cover for The Phantom Tollbooth feels dated and only appeals to a younger audience. I wanted to go in a different direction that could attract adult readers. The title “The Phantom Tollbooth” doesn’t explain much about the book, so I tried to lean into the mystery of it.
For my initial sketches, I was drawn to lines as a design element because I thought they could represent the threshold between the real world and the Land Beyond. I was also inspired by geometric shapes, numbers, and images of tollbooths.
While I was doing my initial ten sketches, I spotted a red netted bag that was used to hold avocados in my kitchen. I was attracted to the depth and interesting shapes all the lines made. I cut the netting up and made some scans of it to play with in Photoshop. Then, I printed out several sheets of paper with the title of the book title typed in Franklin Gothic, then cut out each letter for later use.
My original plan was to take pictures of the letters caught in the netting, but when I noticed the shadows that were being cast by the sun, I decided to make them a focal point. I glued the letters to the netting and took photos of the shadow that it cast on different surfaces - the wall, a blanket, a window, and clock. The clock felt the most fitting because it references Tock, the watchdog from the book.
I decided to move forward with the image of the shadow cast on the clock. I liked the juxtaposition of the blurry, shadowed letters with the bold, black numbers, and I thought it played well into the numbers versus letters theme in the book with King Azaz and The Mathemagician. To add the author’s name, used a similar process and cut out each letter individually, then placed them on a curled piece of paper. My first attempt (top left) made the author’s name illegible, and my second attempt (top right) felt too bold. In the end, I decided to keep the author’s name simple, centered at the bottom in a different variation of Franklin Gothic. ♦