For John Gall, one of the most revered book cover designers working today, it wasn’t a love of tomes and typography that led him to his first publishing house and his first professional jacket—he just needed a job. Put more eloquently, “It was a desire to be employed in some way,” he says.
Gall almost didn’t find his way to the field in the first place. Growing up in New Jersey, he took basic art courses, he drew, and he loved it. But he was raised in a blue-collar household, and as he got older he just didn’t see a future in fine art.
But there were hints at the prolific career that would follow, like when he had to do book reports for school. “I remember I would spend more time on the cover of the report than the actual report,” he recalls.
Gall went to Rutgers with the intention of studying architecture. Once there, he eventually took an introductory design course. He recalls an assignment in which he had to use letterforms to create a piece out of their positive and negative space. When all the student work was hung on the wall for the crit, the professor ripped everyone’s down but Gall’s.
It didn’t take him long after that to realize design could be a career.
After graduating, Gall made the rounds interviewing and dropping off his portfolio wherever he could. Eventually, he landed a job he found advertised in the paper for mass-market book publisher, New American Library, and he was soon churning out his first cover design for a Young Adult novel he can’t remember the title of. (“Oh God,” he recalls. “We should never speak about this.”)
A year later he went to Landor, but found his way back to publishing at Grove Atlantic press, where he worked as an art director, followed by 15 years at Vintage Books, and a creative director gig at Abrams, where he remains to this day—and where, beyond book covers, his work has expanded to include designing book interiors and even editing.
Here are five covers from Gall’s unexpected life in publishing—including two that showcase his passion (obsession?) for the art of collage.