In 1956, Penguin's Head of Design Hans Schmoller asked Abram Games to come on board as a Consultant Art Director. The publisher was about to embark on its first foray into the world of the full colour pictorial cover. A bold and ill-fated move; the experiment was short-lived as the public were confused by such unnatural work.
Strange to think that mere full colour covers could have caused such controversy, but they did so Allen Lane pulled the plug. But not before Games had designed a new cover grid and rolled out thirty two editions; some designed by himself and others out-sourced to a select number of illustrators.
This whole episode in Penguin's rich history has now been captured by Games' own daughter Naomi; Abram Games and Penguin Books has been published by the Penguin Collectors Society and includes reproductions of the entire series of covers. It's available to non-members for a mere £9 from the Society's online shop – along side a whole load of other great publications from the PCS.
We all love him don't we? David Gentleman is a national treasure, like Searle or Steadman or Blake. His work is woven into the fabric of the UK, it's part of the country's DNA. Hardly surprising that Penguin got him to illustrate Shakespeare's entire works back in the sixties/seventies.
I recently picked up a copy of the Gentleman covered edition of Macbeth and it struck me that I haven't been looking closely enough. You need to scrutinise these covers at super-close-quarters to really appreciate their beauty I think; to really appreciate his workmanship; the way the line work interacts with the colour work. It's masterful.
It's an interesting fact that artist/illustrator Paul Hogarth was an actual decendant (albeit a distant one) of more historically noteworthy artist William Hogarth. In a way, it's such an obvious idea that you might think in actual fact that it's unlikely. But there it is. It's true. I looked it up.
Until recently, that's about all I did know despite being an admirer of Hogarth The Younger's compelling artwork; largely because my admiration of his work has been such a slow burner. You see for once, the first Hogarth covered books I bought were actually purchased for their content; I've been a Graham Greene fan for many years and Hogey was Greene's illustrator of choice. It took me a while to work that out.
Once I got that and once I caught the Hogarth bug, I looked out for more. There's obviously just a few here, you'll find more on Flickr. Some are "conventional"; straightforward scenes inspired buy the text and some feel more "designed"; the construction of the work hinting at a draughtsman-like approach coupled with something not unlike collage – only using drawn fragments.
I've hardly scratched the surface of Paul Hogarth, I suspect someone better qualified and equipped will capture a more fitting record of the man's life and work at some point. His obituary from 2001 reveals much about his fascinating life.
It's a striking and slightly strange cover from the little heard of Grant Grimbly for the 1968 edition of Huxley's last novel. A couple of years later, Grimbly re-visited the cover. I can't help suspect the Sales and Marketing boys applied a little pressure to snazz it up a bit…Grimbly also did this one.
I think it's kind of interesting that this was published at around the same time as that new Bowie album cover design appeared. They're clearly not really connected but they do have obvious things in common.
I'll be totally up front: I think they're both fantastic. Great, brave, strong ideas. Both feel radical in a time when it seems everything has been done. Not that blacking out text or regurgitating old artwork haven't been done before, of course they have. But when considered in context (and context is so important isn't it?) I do think both are challenging ideas. They are, it's undeniable. If they weren't, they wouldn't have triggered such discourse. Love them or hate them, in their contexts they're challenging - and in their contexts, challenging is good.
David Pearson's book cover is the antithesis of conventional book cover design and, perhaps, could only have been achieved with a book like this. Unless the cover is laughably unsuitable 1984 will sell. As it is, I have a suspicion that this cover will create new, invigorated interest and ultimately greater sales than if a more conventional approach had been taken. Why? Partly because of what I just said: 1984 will sell anyway but mostly because of the times we live in. Dare I believe that "good design" is recognised and embraced more than ever? Pearson's design has certainly caused a stir.
I remember my gut response to seeing the cover for the first time on Dan's blog. I immediately thought, "That would never have happened if it wasn't for the Great Ideas covers". Those series', in my humble opinion, shifted the perception of not only what you could get away with but how intelligent, considered, restrained design could actually sell books. Particularly at Penguin, I imagine those series' proved something. Perhaps a "something" that could only apply to re-issued older volumes but a new something nevertheless.
I can easily believe that this new cover may be an outcome of what was learned: innovate and people will buy. And Penguin deserve to be aplauded accordingly.
But what about Barnbrook's Bowie cover? The album's not even out yet but the debate is ferocious. Again: loved and hated, the big and simple question is: Is the design any good?
I think there's plently being said about it so I'm not going to spark another fight here. I don't think whether you love or hate the aethetics is really the point. What's important about it is that an artist like Bowie, at his age and position, opts for a design that shakes things up; that pisses people off. In one discussion I've been involved in we speculated over whether the re-hashing of an old album cover had been done before; Massive Attack was mentioned. But it's not just any old cover being re-hashed is it? It's an iconic album cover, provocatively bastardised. Vialated. Imagine doing that to Sgt Pepper or Revolver or Pet Sounds (OK, perhaps Heroes isn't quite up there with those but you get the idea).
Again, I feel that wouldn't have happened a few years ago. For some reason, and I'm not totally sure why, it feels like both the Bowie cover and the Orwell cover are products of our time. Is it a post-post-post-modern thing? I don't really know what that means. Is it because we live in a mashed-up digital world where "design" is embracing so many new things (3D printing, digital/print colaborations, craft/digital assimilations, lots of other stuff)?
I know I haven't got any real answers and this post is little more than my ramblings but I felt moved to put thoughts down because I think both covers are, if nothing else, provocative and it seems that it's been a while since we enjoyed such goading.
We have a mystery on our hands. OK, a pretty small mystery but nevertheless, it's a mystery that begs answers. Path buddy Tim Fowler, from here, here and here, sent his copy of Forster's 1908 classic (well, actually, the 1955 Penguin edition).
But look at the title. Odd "A"s.
Now you can imagine how this might happen. Way back in 1955, Penguin's jobbing typesetter, momentarily distracted by thoughts of lunch and a rather tasty swan sandwich his wife had lovingly prepared for him the evening before, lifted a Gill Sans "A" out of the type tray and slipped it into position, not noticing that it didn't match the other he'd slotted into place just a few seconds earlier.
Hardly his fault. His job was to assemble the lead, he didn't put the wrong "A" into the tray. Perhaps a cleaner had found it kicking around the floor and thinking he was being very helpful and thinking that there's nothing to this type matching lark, dropped it into the little wooden compartment along with all the other "A"'s. They looked the same. An "A" is, after all, an "A".
Fast forward fifty seven years and there's a bunch of saddoes (myself and Tim inlcuded) scratching their typographically interested heads wondering about the anomaly. Of course, identifying the rogue "A", the second one, is one challenge.
What I would really like to know is whether this error really went unnoticed. It must have been printed in its thousands. Curiously, the peculiarity has been reproduced on modern deck chairs and canvas prints - perhaps it was never corrected.