THE RETURN OF
August 17, 2009
By Michael Doret

I've been waiting a few months to be able to talk about this-and I have talked about it to some degree in a few online interviews, but not really in any detail. Back in April of this year I received a telephone call from out of the blue-from somewhere in South America. At the other end of the line was KISS' Paul Stanley. It'd been more years than I cared to remember since we last spoke. That was when I had done the cover art for "Rock and Roll Over"-KISS' 5th album and their 2nd to go Platinum. So you can understand my surprise when Paul asked if I'd be interested in designing the cover art for KISS' first studio album in 11 years-which Paul himself was producing.

That's when I started remembering how exciting it was the first time around, to have been involved in that fast-paced world of entertainment and music. For me it had been a far cry from doing the corporate logos, magazine and book covers I had been working on at the time. An "edgy" job for me then was doing a spread for High Times (yep, they've been around for a while)! I've always enjoyed the fact that doing what I do has enabled me to straddle many different design worlds, from the fairly straight to the totally off-the-wall. I always tried to say "yes" to just about anyone who was adventurous enough, and had the vision to see how having me design for them could work to their advantage. At any rate I had said "yes"to KISS the first time around (even though I had no idea what I was doing), so of course I again said yes to Paul. We agreed to meet when he returned at the conclusion of their South American tour.

Much to my surprise the "Rock and Roll Over" cover had in recent years become one of the most-if not the most-talked about piece of art in my portfolio. It was a little bewildering to me how over the years that cover had become an icon for this iconic group. I've been contacted by more people about my KISS artwork in the past 6 or 7 years than in all the years prior, and more than any other piece I've ever done including the New York Knicks logo. So the expectations for this new art I was to work on were quite high.

When Paul Stanley came by my studio to discuss how to proceed on the art for the cover of their upcoming CD/DVD package "Sonic Boom", I had no idea what to expect. I hadn't met with him since working on Rock and Roll Over, and had very little memory of what that had been like. Any anxiety I had melted away when we started talking. Paul is a "gentlemen's gentleman" and I immediately felt at ease talking with him-as if all those years had not intervened since the last time we had spoken. After some small talk he explained what he was after with the new cover art. His vision for this album was to make it as vital and raw as it had been when they did RaRO. He felt that that had been some of the best work that they had ever done, and wanted the new album to recreate that energy both musically and visually. While he didn't want me to reprise what I had done with my art for the earlier cover, he did want me to try to capture some of the same spirit, attitude, energy, and look that I had instilled in that piece. Also one of his stipulations was that unlike RaRO (where I had created abstract, graphic versions of the KISS personas) this time he wanted photographic representations of the four group members in full makeup.

When I did RaRO I had a 12" canvas to work on. Now with CD covers and digital booklets that canvas had been reduced to less than 40% of its original size. Designing in a 4 3/4" space poses some very different problems from what I faced while working on covers for vinyl releases. In fact the older cover design would not have worked at that size, it's many elements would have felt crowded into a small space. So the elements of Sonic Boom had to be bigger, bolder-and fewer. I made the decision to make the title the main focus of the graphics, moving the other elements (faces, KISS logo) into prominent-but subordinate-roles.

So I set about putting pencil to paper and trying to solve this the way I solve any other design problem. I did not want to get psyched-out by thinking too much about how the new design would compare with RaRO. That cover had taken on a life of its own and had become a pop culture icon. Creating an iconic cover could not have been one of my goals. All I was capable of doing was to try to create the most compelling graphics possible within the parameters and limitations that had been set out for me. So I started out at the core of this design by creating what I call a "word constellation" out of the title. I tried to make it communicate its meaning visually by not only making it angular and "explosive", but also by creating a shape that was somewhat suggestive of flight-a "flying wing", if you will. Bearing in mind the symmetrical, mandala-like layout of RaRO I started designing the new piece as a field growing out of the center of the square, with the four members faces moving outwards from the center, and capped with my version of the ubiquitous KISS logo.

It took about a week for me to develop my sketch to the point where I felt confident in what I had come up with. As I had done with RaRO, I felt so strongly about this cover design that I decided to not present any other options-I wanted this to be the ONE.