Dark Spell – Book Design

Dark Spell – Surviving The Sentence by Mara Leveritt

I am very fortunate to have been chosen to design Dark Spell – Surviving The Sentence, Mara Leveritt’s latest book on the West Memphis Three saga.

The basic parameters of the WM3 story are well known: In 1993, three young boys are convicted of murdering three even younger boys in West Memphis, Arkansas, in what was described as a satanic ritual.

The convictions of Damien Echols, Jessie Misskelley, Jr., and Jason Baldwin were based on astoundingly flimsy evidence amid the ‘satanic panic’ that gripped the nation at the time.

Mara’s previous book, Devil’s Knot, detailed the crime, investigation and convictions of the WM3. Echols received the death sentence. Misskelley and Baldwin received life sentences.

Echols, Misskelley and Baldwin were freed in August, 2011 on a Alford plea after having served more than 18 years in prison.

Dark Spell picks up the WM3 story where Devil’s Knot left off.

Click for a larger view

Click for a larger view

Dark Spell is mostly the story of the first 14 years that Jason Baldwin spent in prison.

In reading Jason’s story, I was deeply moved by the essential humanity, dignity and grace of a 16 year old boy sentenced to die in prison.

To maintain his faith, optimism and innocence in the teeth of the indifferent brutality of the Arkansas prison system is truly remarkable.

Dark Spell is a great read. Mara’s strong, clear voice shines but doesn’t distract from the narrative. I hope my book design has done justice to her words.

Deeply annotated and indexed, it gives a lot of detail without becoming tedious or wonky. I recommend it strongly.*

A third book detailing the efforts to both free the WM3, and the efforts to keep them in prison, is planned.



Not all of the projects I get involved in turn out as well as Dark Spell.

My two main goals as a designer are:

  1. Deliver work that the client is happy with
  2. Do work that I am proud of

I like to think that I have an excellent track record on the first goal. I have lots of long-term clients that I believe would agree.

The second goal is more hit-and-miss. Often as not, things go out the door that I am not completely happy with for a wide variety of reasons.

Time constraints, budget considerations, differences in taste, variances of opinion and conflicting goals all work against my happiness. And that’s fine. Ultimately, if the client is well pleased and it doesn’t completely suck, I’m good.

This project has hit both of my goals, and has been a joy to work on.

I am well pleased with the cover design. Working from a photo by Joe Berlinger, with layers of texture and a shadowy overlay of razor wire, Jason Baldwin looks out at the reader with unbroken directness.

With most of my work being web-based these days, I don’t often get a chance to do long-form typography. And I do love typesetting the occasional book-length document.

Here is a sample of the interior of the book.

Dark Spell - Pages 62 & 63

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The text face is set in Minion Pro, designed by Robert Slimbach. Minion Pro is inspired by classical, old style typefaces of the late Renaissance, a period of elegant, beautiful, and highly readable type designs.

The titles, quotes, running footers, etc., are set in the Gotham family. Gotham was designed by Tobias Frere-Jones. Gotham’s letterforms are inspired by a form of architectural signage that achieved popularity in the mid-twentieth century.

There are no widows, orphans or step-children to trip over, and the letter/word spacing variances are kept to the bare minimum. I was taught, and I believe, that book typography should be beautifully invisible, and I hope that I’ve accomplished that.

* Full disclosure: Mara Leveritt is a dear friend.