Thursday 6 November 2008

An Interview with Geoff Grandfield

After a recent series of posts looking at the gorgeous, film-noir-inflected book design and artwork of Geoff Grandfield, I have been lucky enough to interview the man himself!


CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: I know your work from the Folio Society Joe Simpson and Raymond Chandler, and the Folio and Penguin Graham Greenes. Are there other books have you done?

GEOFF GRANDFIELD: I've done book covers since 1987(!): about 10 for Serpent's Tail, such as five of the first Walter Mosley paperbacks, plus George Pelecanos and others.

Most of my work in the ‘90s was editorial for the Guardian and Times Supplements, and Radio Times, and that led to the BBC spoken word series of audio jackets: The Handmaid’s Tale, a series of John LeCarres, and Brideshead Revisited.

CCC: The interior paintings for the Folio books are printed in shades of grey: are the originals painted that way? Monochromatic painting is quite rare. What's it like to work with?

GG: I draw with chalk pastel, usually the German make Schminke, and sometimes Talens. When I work for black and white reproduction I use tones of grey. The tones have some 'colour' in them, but mostly I'm going by the weight and contrast between areas. Colour is another thing and I try to prioritise a particular set of colours for a result.

Since 2001 I've been using Photoshop to scan and prepare for reproduction, which in turn has changed the visual look of my work.

The influence/inspiration of 'noir' cinephotographers has been central to how I visualise a scene, but of course it’s an invented drawing, not a photographic capture.

CCC: The Penguin Graham Greene covers images are printed, by necessity, at quite a small scale--what size are the originals? Is this a size you prefer to work at?

GG: I used to work at a scale that was two-up: when it was scanned it tightens the image. Now I use pastel and Photoshop, so I'm scanning my originals at A4.

I do love making bigger pictures: I used to make A2 originals for drum-scanning. Now I just compose, and the end size isn't that critical—though, the bigger the better!

CCC: What would your dream book be to work on, from any era, if you could do all of the design, the covers and interior art?

GG: Well, it is a long list, so I'm not going to bore you with it, but predictably all the noir writers (Cornell Woolrich, Charles Willeford, [Jim] Thompson, etc.), but also Henri Barbusse, the Inferno, Fantomas, Professor Unrat, Celine... I'm sure you get the picture. If you have any suggestions, I would be very interested.

A series of Jim Steranko covers for books by Cornell Woolrich (click for bigger version).

CCC: Are there any other book designers do you admire?

GG: Modernists like McKnight Kauffer, Alvin Lustig and Paul Rand, but also popular visionists like Robert Jonas, Leo Manso, Gerald Gregg--so a lot of ‘40s pulp.

A book featuring the art of, and a book designed by, Edward McKnight Kauffer

Four covers by Alvin Lustig

Three covers by Paul Rand

Four early American Penguins by Robert Jonas

Three by Leo Manso

Four by Gerald Gregg for Dell

More contemporary: Jonny Hannah and Robert Ryan, Sara Fanelli, Jeff Fisher.

A book by Jonny Hannah

Four by Sara Fanelli

CCC: What are you working on now?

GG: I'm actually writing (visually) a wordless novel set in 1950s Austerity England.

CCC: Ever been asked to design/cover/illustrate a book you couldn't stand?

GG: Well, I do like the fact that illustration is a kind of gun-for-hire to tackle anything, but I did have a horrible experience with a romance novel that involved some swans.

CCC: Finally, from one film noir fan to another: name three films people have to see, that they might not know about!

GG: There are some films that I've never seen: ‘The Devil's Doorway’, ‘Desert Fury’, ‘Trapped’, ‘The Big Night’, ‘Pitfall’, ‘Fourteen Hours’, ‘No Man of her Own’, ‘Moonrise’, ‘He Ran All the Way’, ‘The High Wall’, ‘The Accused’. And then there are some I would recommend. Just three is difficult, but in a 'tight corner': ‘The Big Combo’, ‘Criss Cross’, ‘Detour’, and my original favourite, ‘Build My Gallows High (also known as 'Out of the Past')’. Whoops! That’s four. But basically, anything shot by John Alton. And I have a vague memory of seeing ‘Christmas Holiday’ with Danny Kaye as a serial killer...

CCC: Thank you, Mr Grandfield!


Anonymous said...

Is there any chance I could contact you... I have some questions about a cover you posted. Thanks!

Ricky Lee Grove said...

Brilliant! What a fantastic interview and cover post. BTW, try Eddie Brandt's Saturday Matinee here in North Hollywood, CA. for those lost noir films. They have everything.

JRSM said...

Jason - feel free - try jrsmorrison at yahoo dot com dot au

Ricky: Thanks! I've just looked at that site--what an amazing range of films. I'm deeply envious.

Ian Koviak said...

what an astounding array of work...

JRSM said...

Good stuff, isn't it?