Designer and Illustrator M.S. Corley Talks His Favourite Horror Covers
Only in M.S. Corley’s world do Jesus, folklore, marginal fiction, video games, monsters, and all things 19th century converge and construct the ultimate creative environment. In this space, he concocts book covers design that convey and conceal the darkness on the page. A designer and illustrator with an expansive portfolio, Corley credits his haunting, unique cover designs to a lifelong affinity for the spooky, the supernatural, and the unexplained. “Prior to working on book covers, I've done a lot of other illustration work both personal and for clients that could be classified as horror,” Corley remarked. “My interests generally fall into the line of ghosts, monsters and the supernatural, so drawing spooky imagery was always my thing. And it ended up bleeding into my book cover work too.”
Corley’s hexagonal personal logo features a star, a raven, and his own name in a font that evokes one word and one word only: Poe. Although his design portfolio is expansive and his skills far surpass the horror genre alone, Corley’s predilection for the spooky is no secret. “The bulk of my horror covers came when I started working with Valancourt Books a few years ago,”
Corley said. Even though he has designed for clients like Simon & Schuster, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Penguin Random House, and and Henry Holt MacMillan, Corley began designing horror covers during a particularly liberating stint at Valancourt books. “[Valancourt] gave me pretty much free reign to design for classic horror novels and once I started publishing those online clients seemed to come out of their graves looking for similar spooky images from me, so while horror/supernatural books are not the only types of covers I work on, they certainly fit my interests quite well,” Corley said. Come out of their graves. In Corley’s world, there is no other way to say that.
Halloween is approaching. October is in full swing. It’s time to celebrate books and book covers that aren’t afraid to scare us. Who better, then, than M.S. Corley (whose cryptically shortened name evokes the same dusty organ riff as H.P. Lovecraft) to share with us a few of his favorite horror book covers? Corley, whose work spans from book covers to comic books to video game concept art, chose covers that reveal the many, often unexpected, faces of horror. Here are his creepiest picks, some of which he claims “can’t be classified as the standard idea of horror covers.”
1. Bram Stoker’s Dracula (Illustrated by Becky Cloonan)
Notice how Corley’s experience with, and love for, comic book design makes itself evident in his first choice. The partial panel of Dracula’s bloodstained face suggests not only evil, but downright villainy. A modern take on an old Gothic favorite.
2. William Hope Hodgson’s Night Shade Covers
“The picture doesn’t do it justice,” Corley claims, “but this is a great hardcover with a foil silver design.” The elaborate etchings here, and the prominent placement of a menacing skull, give us a map to somewhere deep and dark, a tempestuous narrative that just might swallow unwitting readers up.
3. Zachary Thomas Dodson’s Bats of the Republic
Corley praises this book for its “great design all around.” Nothing says ‘horror’ like a dour bat mid-flight, and nothing invites intrigue like an envelope marked DO NOT OPEN.
4. Robert Lory’s Dracula Returns
We can all agree with Corley that this cover possesses a “lovely campy feel.” While this Dracula won’t inspire nightmares, he will certainly awaken the urge to hold a flashlight to one’s face. Horror for softies is still horror
5. H.P. Lovecraft’s The Complete Fiction (Barnes and Noble Edition)
Corley says this cover isn’t “visually horror per se, but [it is] my favorite rendition of a Lovecraft collection. Perhaps it is precisely the nondescript, even futuristic, spookiness of this cover that reminds us that Lovecraft needs no concretely visual introduction to conjure impressions of horror.