Sunday, 7 February 2010

John Squire's 1980s Penguins

In the 1980s, Penguin's usually high design standards seemed to desert them for a while. Even the company's official design history, Phil Baines's Penguin by Design, admits this, noting of management directives at the time that "their effect on the cover designs might best be described as 'varied'. By the early 1980s many Penguin books, with their insensitive combinations of type and image, looked like the cheapest in the bookshop."

For the final five books in the Penguin Decades series (see the 1950s here, the 1960s here and the 1970s here), artist John Squire (once of the Stone Roses) was approached to do the covers. I mentioned before that I was a bit trepidatious as to what he might come up with, given that I'm no fan of his art (which often seemed to desperately ape Pollock and the like, without adding anything new). But these covers are actually very nice. The have the feel of earlier Penguins, while also suiting the 1980s as well--they're what Penguin books of that decade might have looked like in an alternative universe of wiser design choices.

 
  
  
  
 

As an example, here are a couple of the original '80s paperbacks.

 
 

11 comments:

pedromarquesdg said...

Ah the 80s... Not even in PENGUIN BY DESIGNERS (a terrific little book containing lectures by Penguin's most influential designers from the 1950s on) were there any testimonials on that decade's graphic work: they jump from Pelham (who resigned in 1980) to Stoddart. They seem to have pretty much considered it a lost decade (and they are quite right, considering the "quality" of some of their output then) and closed the case.
Note: the only fault on that terrific little book was that Alan Aldridge was not invited (or did not want) to give his lecture, so I guess Penguin still has a few open wounds...

JRSM said...

I need that book! I was buying a copy on ebay, but it fell through, and then I forgot about it until you reminded me. But, yes, the '80s was not their best time.

pedromarquesdg said...

Buy it straight from their publishers, the Penguin Collectors Society (I paid 15 GBP, money well spent: it's a JUICY book!). Birdsall's chapter, for example, tops his own too-big-and-glossy NOTES ON BOOK DESIGN.

Christy Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

God, that one with the Cherub on the cover is simply AWFUL!

I knew "trepidatious" was a real word!!! You are only the second person I have ever seen use that word... the first was my author-friend Carol Leonard.

jem said...

These are nice. And thankfully he hasn't fallen into using the more eye-offending 80's day-glo palette. I'm not familiar with the stories themselves, so wonder how the covers suit the contents.

Brian Busby said...

To truly appreciate the awfulness of Paradise Postponed it needs be recognized that the author's name was presented in foil embossed letters.

Too shiny? Not to worry... the simple act of placing it in one's bookcase was enough to scuff it up.

Horrible.

Hence72 said...

very nice well done

JRSM said...

Christy: I was quite tired when I posted, so it took a few tries to get the spelling right, I have to admit, and even then Blogger kept telling me I had it wrong.

Jem: A couple of them very much suit, but I'm informed that the Ice Cream War cover, at least, is actually an already existing Squire painting unconnected with the book.

Brian: It's just wrong. He doesn't really seem the big foil letter type of writer, does he?

John Self said...

Yes, if you look at 'Bathers' on Squire's website:

http://www.johnsquire.com

(under 'Work for Sale' > 'Latest Work')

you'll see that the background is the cover for An Ice-Cream War. I suppose this means he might have designed the cover first, and then used it as the basis for a larger painting.

Also the Ackroyd cover is very similar to 'Clothes Shoes Hair Luggage' from his 2009 sub-menu.

Robert Hanks said...

I really, really like the Squires - they're how the covers might been if Penguin had evolved steadily from the Marber grid in the Sixties, rather than chucking it out. Beautiful clean lines, lovely typography (I'm not great at this stuff - is that just basic Helvetica, or some exotic variant?). The Hawksmoor cover gets the atmosphere of that book far better than the old hardback I've got, with a kind of cut-up of Hawksmoor churches. BTW, what are the criteria for 1980s Penguins? Penguins published in the 1980s, or any books published then? Because I'm pretty sure Penguin didn't publish Ackroyd until the 1990s, and the paperbacks of Hawksmoor were done by Abacus, or somesuch.

JRSM said...

I think you're right about the font--it's Helvetica, but slightly wider than usual. And it seems to be 1980s books, but not necessarily 1980s Penguins--as you say, Ackroyd wasn't Penguined until later.