Monday, 31 May 2010

I Don't Think These Exist as Real Books...

..but by all that is good and pure they ought to (sadly, I think they're just promo posters). They're the work of designer Amy Fleisher, as part of the 75th anniversary of Penguin.

Much-Used Voyeur

Remember this image by Barnaby Hall?

Here it is again.

And again.

I mentioned before that I was amazed at how feeble a book The Graduate is. However, it's about to become a Penguin Modern Classic (with an introduction by the increasingly boring Hanif Kureishi), though at this moment there seems to be some confusion as to what the cover will be. Choose your favourite from these two.

To be honest, I prefer this old Essential Penguin cover from 1999 (artist unknown, as I don't have my copy to hand--yes, I've kept a book I don't like because of the cover, though this is foolishness).

While being a  good image, that cover picture also elegantly captures something of the vibe of affectless tedium experienced by the book's reader.

Finally, sorry for the non-posting over the last few days--I've been sick and unproductve. Read a lot of Wodehouse, as it seemed what the virus-addled brain needed. More, of more substance, soon.

Tuesday, 25 May 2010


I'm interviewed over at Flavorwire, talking about five great covers and three types of awful you know Tutis ends up in that second batch.

Monday, 24 May 2010

Behind the Scenes of Vintage Loves Film

Matthew Broughton, a senior designer who has been with Random House UK since 2001, was kind enough to get in touch about the Vintage Loves Film series, spotlighted here and here. For all images, click for nice, big versions.

"The ‘Vintage Loves Film’ series is a one-off Summer Promotion to highlight ten Vintage bestsellers whose films also became box-office successes. For the consumer who may have seen the film but not read the book, we would be offering a fresh way of viewing these literary classics. This presented the design team with a difficult problem – how to tie the concept of film and book together. We particularly wanted to avoid a film tie-in approach, or work with film stills – the visual conceit would lie in how we described the transition of typed word to spoken word.

 "It occurred that quotes would be the way forward for a number of reasons:

"1 – Most film fanatics can quote lines from their favourite films. For instance, we may not have seen, or know the story to the film Casablanca, but we remember the lines – ‘Here's looking at you, kid,’ ‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine’ , and even the misquote – ‘Play it again, Sam...’

"2 – We use quotes from critics to help sell books, so why not use a quote from the book to sell itself?

 "We made a point of selecting quotes that were relevant to both film and book whilst making sure we remained faithful to the wording of the novel. The author name and title were relegated to the spine so that the quotes would be read as the description of the book, and not as typographic window dressing. Our insistence to work only with quotes and forego the usual trade conventions was initially met with some concerns, but the positive reactions from authors and estates alike confirmed that it was a bold, but correct approach.

"Each designer took on two titles apiece, with the idea of choosing a type solution that would reflect the period or feel of the film (see below) and to complete the film connection we numbered the series with a motif inspired by the ten-to-one celluloid countdown on old black and white movies.

"The simple cover concept needed to be complemented by the production values, so we printed in two colour (black and PMS485) on a pearlescent stock (Curious Metallic Virtual Pearl) with the bookblock edges dipped in black."

Thank you, Mr Broughton!

Monday, 17 May 2010

Weird Fitzgeraldian Synchronicity

Two different publishers, one book by Fitzgerald, two different portraits of Tallulah Bankhead. Odd.

The Economic Necessity of Paying for Stock

Spotted over at Photoshop Disasters, this unfortunate book cover mistake.

The book preview at the Cambridge University Press website also features the same watermark. I'd hope the physical book does not, but even so this is a bit feeble.

Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Big & Bold

Having yesterday received a book which sounded both fascinating and the latest deliberate contender for the Great American Novel, The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall (the 650-page tale of a Mormon man with four wives, umpteen children and a failing business), I was delighted by the cover by Andy Smith.(Click for a nice big scan.)

Smith has a blog and a Flickr page where he shows some of his other work. Among these are a number of excellent book covers. Unlike many jackets, these work well at any size: the big, bold type, integral to the images, is clear and eye-catching even at online thumbnail image size, but I can also imagine them as beautiful, huge posters. Great stuff.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Filling Out Some Sets

Two more Penguin Great Ideas V covers have emerged...

..and the last two Vintage Love Film covers...

I quite like these two, if you can forgive the author neglect.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Melting My Brain

So I'm looking through a certain publisher's back catalogue, and I come across this book:

It took me a while to process what I was looking at. Is that really an image of a bottomless woman with enormous breasts and a failing bikini, squirting out an orbiting ring of biliously off-colour breast milk? Well, yes it is. Surely some hideously misguided Japanese action figure?*

No. It's a statue that last sold at Christie's for nearly half a million dollars.

And I thought some book collectors were odd.

*If you've been lucky enough to never have seen such things in the women-loathing hellholes that are the average comics shops, a visit to here, here or here will give you some idea of the sort of thing I'm talking about. Once seen, never unseen, however.

Wednesday, 5 May 2010


Late last year I jumped on the Dash Shaw bandwagon, posting about his marvellous graphic novel Bottomless Belly Button. Now Pantheon has released a paper edition of another novel by Shaw, originally published online: Bodyworld (or Body World, depending on which bit of the book you look at). Designed by Shaw, it's a beautifully put together book, with a number of odd features. CLick the images below for bigger versions.

The cover is printed on metallic foil...

..while the 'spine' as actually at the head of the book, as it opens like a laptop to create an unusually tall double page (hence the book title printed in fluorescent orange ink in the left-hand page edges).

The endpapers have character guides...

..which fold out to reveal maps of the story's setting.

As for the book itself, I really enjoyed it. The fact that it's something of a science-fiction satire means it will probably have less of a broad appeal than Bottomless Belly Button, but it does demonstrate Shaw's intriguing range and visual design sense.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

I like the idea of NOT defining what it is that I do: An Interview with Alice Smith

Alice Smith's beautiful collage work has been featured twice before on this blog, here and here. She was kind enough to agree to be interviewed about her background, her working methods, and the way she looks at the publishing and design worlds.

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 CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: You have a long and interesting history of design work: how did you first get into the field of book design?

ALICE SMITH: I studied book design, collage and philosophy at uni. I’ve always collected books, but growing up with the internet boom, I started studying web design then rebelled back to books in my final year, especially artists books, Lucy Schofield taught me bookbinding, and my dissertation was about ‘grotesque’ aesthetics and illustration.  A friend gave me his manuscript – I spent the year reading, ripping it apart and illustrating with imagery and photography.  

After graduating in 2005, I did a stint at a Manchester design studio, learnt a lot about paper and digital printing. Then I went freelance, moved to the outskirts of London, lived in an open house where I met a lot of writers and artists, a lot of projects happened from there. I moved back to Lancashire where I’ve got space and time to do what I want, and I’ve become more involved with Bracketpress. I also got to know Graham Moss and Kathy Whalen at Incline Press, they’ve given me a lot of insight into the making and publishing of hand printed books, and have been very inspiring. The same month that I moved back to Lancashire, I did my first mainstream book cover with Hamish Hamilton (the On Kindness cover); the editorial staff at HH have been a pleasure to work with, and projects keep happening.

The cover artwork and endpapers for On Kindness

CCC: What's your relationship with Bracketpress?
 ALICE SMITH: Bracketpress is Christian Brett, my partner; we met at uni, now we live and work together. He’s a typesetter, he’s got a fine eye for typography. We often help each other out on projects – a lot of the time we use each other as sounding boards, but sometimes we become properly involved in each others design projects. I sew a lot of the pamphlets that Christian puts out.

CCC: And how long have you been designing The Idler magazine?
ALICE SMITH: I don’t, Christian took over typesetting and design of the magazine three or four years ago. When The Idler returned to being self-published, he persuaded Tom Hodgkinson, the editor to make it more like a book; hardback, cloth bound with no book jacket, and printing it on a high-quality paper stock. I did my first illustration for The Idler about 4 years ago. 

Last year Tom invited me to be 'Art Editor’, where I choose which essays I think ought to be illustrated and which illustrators to work with ... and I also get to fill in the gaps.  The Idler works on a very limited budget so can't afford to commission a great deal of illustrations. With the forthcoming issue (No.43, 'Back To The Land') I wanted just solid black and white line – engravings, woodcuts, linocuts and line drawings. I've managed to get some really fabulous artists to contribute work including: Stanley Donwood, Clifford Harper, Keiron Rhys Johnson, Joe Wilson, Sarah King, Matthew Green, John Lawrence and Abigail Rorer. The leading article in the new issue is a lengthy conversation with David Hockney, who has provided us with a couple of illustrations explaining his theory on perspective along with a self-portrait done especially for the issue!

 Two of Alice's illustrations from the current issue of The Idler

CCC: Is your collage work primarily digital these days, or do you prefer more traditional methods? How much 'new' illustration do you tend to use when creating a collage?
 ALICE SMITH: It’s mostly freefall and whatever works at that moment in time. I start with hand and eye, then gravitate to onscreen, and sometimes back again to working by hand. After sketching ideas, I make compositions using inks and pens to bring collages together, the pen marks might have disappeared in the finished composition, but it’s the pen marks and the rough sketch that helps bring it together. I use old imagery for ethereal effect, playing with visual alchemy and nostalgia. And the quality of printing pre 1950s, photoengravre and proper litho is so much nicer than the pixel fuzz and dots of newer digital printing.


The cover and the full collage for The Smell of the Continent

CCC: Collaging must require something of a magpie eye: where do you go to immerse yourself in images?
 ALICE SMITH: Our flat is lined with books, posters and prints, I’ve got an auto-pilot eye and know exactly where to sink my head for a specific element, or sometimes I just sit and wait til a spine and a memory of an image in a book leaps out at me.  Gardening’s good too, looking for weeds, shapes, textures, colours, compositions.  And there’s the old bookshop - that’s in the next town – the last proper bookshop here closed last year. I keep shopping at the independents, old bookshops and Oxfam shops, boycotting the big chains – Amazon, WH Smiths, Waterstone's. It's such is a racket how they operate and some of the nonsense publishers have to put up with dealing with them.

 Movie poster for Follow the Master

CCC: You work on books, films, musical projects, fashion designers and more: do you have a favourite field of art, or is it the mix that makes things more interesting?
 ALICE SMITH: Books are my favourite, but I am quite eclectic. Things keep happening, projects come out of the blue. I like the idea of not defining what it is that I do. No constraints, labels, predictability or routine with projects, means I can approach new projects with an open mind and play more.

CCC: What book, out of any ever written, would you love to completely design if you had no editorial or budgetary constraints?

 ALICE SMITH: Harold Pinter’s plays. J G Ballard’s work would be horrific and fantastic to create imagery from. Maybe The Female Eunuch, The Second Sex, would be a challenge.  I like bending my brain, illustrating philosophy and psychology/analysis.  I love working with poetry. Lolita would be a great one .  Alice in Wonderland and Through The Looking Glass.  I’d love to reinterpret any of the Grimms.
I‘ve been slowly working on illustrating Paradise Lost for a couple of years. Which I hope to eventually print letterpress. But above all, I love to work with brand new material, a manuscript that I’ve never heard of and has no visual obviousness about it.

CCC: Is there any forgotten or neglected book you'd like to press on the public?

ALICE SMITH: That manuscript that I mentioned earlier, is called This Crippled Flesh, by Penny Rimbaud. It altered my I-sight, it has been a really profound experience to work with that book, and I think it is a monumental read . It’s certainly not to everyone’s taste and over the past several years it’s been turned down by every mainstream publisher in the UK and a few American ones too, though there were a lot of replies saying it’s a great book, but they couldn’t possibly think of publishing it ... and don't know where it would sit in the market.... Anyway, we’re planning to publish it ourselves under the Bracketpress imprint later this year.

 The front and full covers to This Crippled Flesh, and some of the internal illustrations

CCC: Thank you, Ms Smith! 

* * *

Alice's blog is here, and her website/portfolio here.