Gene Brenek on Gene Brenek: “Well I had to put on a little ‘ABBA Gold’ to gear up for this. Let’s see, I was born in Houston many moons ago, but not as far back as when ABBA was still in heavy rotation. I was an 80’s kid, more Prince back before he changed his name to a hieroglyph and way before he went back to being Prince. Why is my bio suddenly full of old pop artist references? Dunno, I guess that’s what happens when I’m left to my own devices.
“Let’s move this ahead a few years shall we? I’m currently a creative director for a big ad agency in Austin, Texas. In my spare time, I’m working on a master’s in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College, which is truly a great program. I also have been illustrating dummies for my own picture book ideas. Let’s just say I don’t sleep. And I’m waiting, PATIENTLY, to be discovered. Ahem.”
Thanks so much for designing logos for Sanguini’s, the fictional vampire restaurant featured in my gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). What was your initial inspiration for the designs?
Designing a logo is a lot like creating a picture book in a way. You need a very simple idea. A logo can’t contain several different concepts at once and be effective. The ones with staying power are very iconic.
Certainly what separated the dead from the undead restaurants was the vampire mythology. So I started brainstorming and writing down anything that came to mind when I thought about vampires.
Usually I spend a fair amount of time trying out various color combinations but this assignment begged for two colors. Black, the color of night and red. Yes, black is the absence of color but when you’re talking to printers it’s still an ink color. Red seemed an obvious but essential choice: blood, wine, marinara.
One logo idea, that for better or worse got nicknamed “the girly one,” came out of Quincie’s, the protagonist’s, femininity. I loved the idea of blood draining off the gothic lettering and dripping down a flowering vine, as if elements of the restaurant were changing who she was.
I also kept coming back to puncture wounds. The other logo (see above) incorporated that idea. So thank you for coming up with a restaurant that had two i’s in the name, you made my job easy. If you ever write a book about a vampire-themed Ikea, I may have some leftover ideas for all those umlauted furniture names.
What considerations came into play when developing the logos?
I treated this project as I would any other design project. Before starting any sketches I had a few questions. What the owners were like? What was their vision for the restaurant? Who was their clientele? What cues could I get from the interior spaces? And while that may seem like a tough assignment, given that it’s a fictional place, I found that the writing was crafted in such a way that it was very easy for me to get a sense of all of these things.
I approached this as not a design project for author Cynthia Leitich Smith but for Quincie [the protagonist]. I tried to understand her as much as I could and what her sensibilities were. Now it could be argued that Cyn and Quincie are one in the same, certainly there are aspects of that, but they are different people.
What were the challenges in bringing them to life?
Honestly the biggest challenge was not getting to design the menu, interior, the matchbooks, the business cards –all the elements that go into shaping one’s identity.
I went with these two companies because they offer so much flexibility. They print on demand, meaning that rather than doing a run of say 100 shirts in every size that I then had to store and ship, when someone places an order then it gets printed and shipped. They take care of it all. And I like the quality of their merchandise.
What advice would you give to folks trying to design and produce book tie-in promotions?
Think outside the box. Why not create items for a fictional vampire themed restaurant? But know that your reader is smart. Just because a tie-in isn’t physically in the book, it’s a part of the book. Initially I had envisioned staying away from a gothic typeface. I was leaning toward something more modern. Then I read a passage about the gothic lettering on the menu and it guided me away from something slick and contemporary. I needed to remain faithful to the book. It wasn’t an entirely blank canvas.
Restaurant items made sense; to me Sanguini’s was a prominent character in Tantalize. Designing items based around where the protagonist had gone to school would’ve made no sense what so ever.
More personally, do you count yourself among fans of the fanged ones? If so, what do you think is the appeal?
Of course I’m a fan. Vampires seem to have all the smarts. They also have big personalities, charisma. You want to hang out with them. Imagine a book where someone opens a tax-attorney-themed restaurant. Yawn.
What do you do when you’re not working for the undead?
What do you mean? I’m an art director for an ad agency. I’m always working for the undead.
Actually, I’m writing and illustrating a couple of ideas of my own in the picture book arena. Depending on who you talk to that particular market is either dead or undead. For my sake, I’m hoping it’s undead.