Tuesday 29 April 2008

I... WANT!

A quick look at a just-stumbled-upon lust object. It's Uncredited: Graphic Design and Opening Titles, a look at the design and history of movie titles and their typography.

Here's the publisher's blurb: "Credit sequences have packaged films for more than 100 years and although many people have seen them, few have considered this essential element of film from a graphic point of view. Designers and typographic artists such Saul Blass, Pablo Ferro, Maurice Binder or Kyle Cooper have all worked on film credit sequences, using their unique talents on the aesthetic and typographic principles of design. Uncover the work of prestigious designers such as Tibor Kalman, Milton Glaser, David Hillman, Juan Gatti or Simon Taylor who's work has contributed to the visual impact of some important works in film history."

The cover is nicely cluttered, and makes you want to play spot-the-movie or score how many you've seen, as well as bringing back (at least to design nerds like me) memories of especially effective opening titles--good to see Seven, James Bond and Alien there.

Here are some shots of the interior pages, all nicked from Amazon.

It also appears to come with a DVD showing all of the title sequences discussed.

Hmm, only £45? Time to take advantage of the astoundingly strong Australian dollar...

James Hanley's 'Boy'

Yesterday's post about the Obelisk Press showed their groovy but inapt cover for James Hanley's Boy. Here are a few of the other cover treatments this book has undergone.

Before continuing, I ought to say two things. First of all, this is one of the saddest, most depressing books I've read (and it's also great). Secondly, the discussion of the final cover below gives away the ending of the book, so stop reading now if that will bother you.

Here's the original cover from the 1931 Boriswood edition: this is the one that brought down the censor on Hanley's head.

The scandal and renown the book gathered drew the attention of Jack Kahane, who printed it in Paris as an Obelisk book (as shown at bottom here in an image from this).

The book was finally published in an unexpurgated form in the UK by Andre Deutsch, in 1990. As the story is that of a boy who stows away on a ship, and effectively becomes a slave on that ship, they chose an appropriate, if uninspired, image of roiling waves. Unfortunately the font chosen for the title makes it look more like a showbiz story.

Finally, there's the handsome new Oneworld Classics edition. Here's where I give the plot away: the victim-hero of the book ends up being murdered and thrown overboard. This image obviously fits that, but also nicely combines Boy's mixture of grimness and beauty. That the boy in the photo has a ribcage that looks fragile enough to break under the slightest pressure adds to the sadness.

Monday 28 April 2008

Obelisk Innards

Further to my earlier post about Neil Pearson's history of Obelisk Press and its creator, Jack Kahane, here are some of the book covers featured within that excellent volume. Aplogies for the less-than-perfect photographs, buyt if you want a better look, you have no excuse for not buying the book. Click on the pictures for more detail.

Richard Aldington's Death of a Hero, and a wildly inappropriate (yet cool) cover for James Hanley's Boy.

Cecil Barr was a psuedonym for Jack Kahane himself.

It's worth noting that many of Obelisk's covers were designed and illustrated by Kahane, his wife, Marcelle, and their son, later known as Maurice Girodias, founder of the Olympia Press.

Wednesday 23 April 2008

Book/Album Cover Cross-Over Madness

A similar category to the single image on multiple covers is the image that turns up on both book and CD album covers.

Here's an example (involving Ali Smith, who has had this done to her before):

Then there's this: not quite the same image, but presumably one from the same shoot (and an appropriate link for an Ibiza crime/sex/drugs novel):

There are others out there (any suggestions, anybody?), but I'd like to finish here with a different sort of example. It's a book that uses the cover image AND album title of a famous album:

This is from the 33 1/3 series published by Continuum--a series of books supposedly about the stories behind specific albums. Joe Pernice's Meat is Murder, however, is instead a really nifty little novella about growing up a Smiths fan in 1980s suburban America. I've reviewed it at greater length elsewhere. I just wanted another excuse to plug it, really.

UPDATE: Following on from the update to this post, I should note that the Ali Smith/Primal Scream covers use a William Eggleston photo.

Christopher Priest, Collapsing Societies, Inappropriate Covers & Shitty Movers

Christopher Priest is an extremely talented science-fiction writer who is probably never going to get the recognition he deserves. The wider public best knows his work through the film of The Prestige, the cover of the trade paperback of which is shown here. I have this edition, and it's lovely, printed in sepia tones on a parchment-style paper stock; the images well-match the magic/mysterious-science ideas of the story. Unfortunately my copy is also badly damaged, due to the fuckwittedness of a pair of house-movers who managed to leave the box which contained this book in the rain. They also managed to drive partway to the new house with the back doors of their truck hanging open, water-damage some of our furniture, and to stink of smoke so much they set off the smoke alarms in the new house just by standing in the corridor without cigarettes.

But back to the topic at hand: Priest has written a number of unusual and thought-provoking novels which explore a dazzling array of ideas: exotic geography, time travel, politics, virtual reality, illusions and alternative history among them. A common denominator is a chilly authorial voice, like Ballard's but without the repetitive self-limitations.

His second novel was Fugue for a Darkening Island (1972), unusual for the fact that it is a fairly straightforward story that doesn't play with the concepts of space, time or literature. It was also an end-of-the-world novel, which is where we come in.

My edition is from the long-gone and lamented Pan Science Fiction series, a wide-ranging set of novels and story collections whose covers made them instantly attractive to young science-fiction fans in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

The first blurb there shows you why it's of interest to apocalypse fans, and the Wyndham comparison is not far-off. The cover, by horror comics artist Mike Ploog, is wildly misleading, however. The bawling man clutching the nude woman may as well be wearing a loincloth and waving a sword rather than a rifle, given the style of the picture and the fantasy world background. It makes the book look like macho survivalist nonsense, rather than a (admittedly exciting) well-written examination of the betrayals and compromises someone might need to make to thrive in a terrible situation. Fugue is also reminiscent of John Christopher's The World in Winter.

Here are a couple of other editions: the first is (I think) the original hardback, and the second is from an omnibus which combines Fugue with the rather more mind-boggling (and also excellent) Inverted World.

Speaking of Inverted World, it's about to be reissued by NYRB Classics, so you have no excuse for not reading it. Here are two versions of the proposed cover design: the final choice is the second one, which is a lot better than the first.

Thursday 17 April 2008

London's Scarlet Plague

Adventurer, gold-hunter, sailor, writer and incompetent suicide, Jack London is one of those writers (like Kipling) better-known for the non-science-fiction work, but who still produced several classics of the genre.

He wrote an early "superhero" story, 'The Shadow and the Flash'; a time-travel/prehistoric-man novella, Before Adam; a political dystopia, The Scarlet Heel; and a number of other SF short stories. Importantly, for the purposes of this site's obsession with end-of-the-world stories, he also wrote The Scarlet Plague.

Here's the first book edition, from Macmillan in 1916 (it was originally published in the London Magazine).

Here's the edition I have, from 1946.

Here are a few other versions: a dullish version with a London portrait on the front, a pulp magazine reprint from 1949, and a Dodo Press cheapo print-on-demand version.

The Scarlet Plague is set in 2072, some six decades after a disease outbreak which killed almost everybody on the planet. One of the few survivors, now near death, tries to pass on some of his pre-disaster knowledge to his grandchildren. He reminisces about the time of the plague, recalling the rioting, the social collapse, the fleeing from the cities, the murder--all the staples of a good apocalyptic tale. Despite the pulp magazine cover above, there are no women in golden metal bikinis. You can read the whole thing online here, and also see the original illustrations by Gordon Grant, one of which is at the top of this post.

One of the nicest covers for this book I have seen is that on the new Hesperus edition. I have no idea what this image is, but it conjures associations of blood and broken bone without actually being in any way grisly.

Finally, for your benefit, here are a few more of those Gordon Grant illustrations. Click for bigger versions.

UPDATE: Katya from Hesperus Press has kindly informed me (see the comments) that the image for their edition of The Scarlet Plague was a specially commissioned photo from Jill Auville. You kind more of Jill's work here and here, and it's well worth taking a look--beautiful stuff.

15 Perennials

I recently bought a couple of novels with rather nice covers: Ballard's Empire of the Sun and Susan Fletcher's Eve Green.

They're excellent examples of the effectiveness of black-and-white illustration, in each case highlighted with a patch of metallic ink.

What I didn't know until I got the books and looked at the back is that they're part of a series of 15 reissues by Harper Perennial UK, all with covers by Petra Borner. What's more the 15 covers, when placed side-by-side, create one large illustration. You'll need to click for a proper look.

This is a great idea, and a good way to unify a series that otherwise seems fairly arbitrary in terms of the books included.

Here are the spines, showing the metallic inks to better effect.

Petra Borner has done a number of other lovely book covers, shown at her portfolio linked to above. I can't display them all here, but I couldn't resist those she did for the recent Penguin Poets series. Again, click for a bigger version.

Sunday 13 April 2008


One of the best TV drama series of the 1990s (the original Cracker aside) was Between the Lines, about a trio of police officers involved in internal investigation, with all of the proeblems and conflicts of interest that entails. The main character, pants-man Detective Superintendent Tony Clark, was played very well indeed by the actor Neil Pearson.

Pearson has done a lot of great work since (including a memorable role in Drop the Dead Donkey), and he has also turned his hand to writing with great results. Liverpool University Press has recently published his Obelisk: A History of Jack Kahane and the Obelisk Press.

Mancunian Kahane set up Obelisk in Paris in 1929. The basic plan was to release excellent and controversial literature in English that took full advantage of France's liberal censorship laws, literature that would have been suppressed in the UK and America. This literature was funded by a series of pornographic pulp works which Obelisk also produced. Among the writers Obelisk published were Richard Aldington, Cyril Connolly, Henry Miller, Anais Nin, James Joyce, Lawrence Durrell and Frank Harris.

Obelisk books were bought by English and American tourists, ex-pats and soldiers, and then smuggled or posted home under plain wrappers. Hence this simple but effective cover design, as though uncovered by some sharp-eyed customs officer:

Here are a couple of lovely-looking Henry Millers that Obelisk put out.

Note the warning at the bottom of the Tropic of Cancer cover.

UPDATE: Pedro Marques of the fascinating Montag points out that "Tropic"'s cover is by Kahane's son, the 15 year-old Maurice Girodias, the very same who would become famous as Olympia's (and "Lolita"'s) publisher.

Thursday 10 April 2008

Great Ideas Round 3

When the first two sets of Penguin Great Ideas were released, book design devotees swooned unanimously, as they did to the follow-up Great Loves and Great Journeys series.

Well, Penguin are planning a third Great Ideas series to appear in August 2008, and some of the covers have been shown online. The first two series used red/black and cyan/black colour schemes. This series uses green and black. Click for more detail.

The colour scheme and the titles of the middle two shown above (Concerning Violence and The Spectacle of the Scaffold) make me think of the old Penguin Crime paperbacks (see some here).

A few I'm not quite sure about yet, but on the whole this looks to be another wonderful-looking set of books. I'm not certain who designed them, but I suspect it was David Pearson.

By the way, the Great Ideas series seems also to have been taken up in Germany, with some different titles. David Pearson shows his covers for that series here.

Wednesday 9 April 2008

Just Too Sad

I've recently been on a bit of a short story binge, working my way through the brilliant work of Alice Munro with side-excursions into the work other writers. One of these excursions led me to Cressida Connolly's The Happiest Days. Here's the cover of the (Picador US) edition I have.

It's a collection of stories about, involving or told from the viewpoint of young children. The cover image is at first glance a slightly ironic appropriation of what I assume, from the colour reproduction, is an image from an old magazine or knitting catalogue. It's quite sweet and faintly daggy.

Once you've read the book, though, especially the story 'Granville Hill', the cover takes on a very different implication. It's a story about a teenaged girl whose younger sister is dying of cancer, and who is troubled by the shifting attentions and traumas this induces in her parents. It's very, very good, and perfectly captures the awful way in which little kids seem to have an almost infinite capacity for hurt and the pain the world can inflict on them. To read that story, and then look at the cover again, seeing the two girls as the story's sisters, may well break your heart.

A Brief Stay with the First Person

Yes, it's another one of these posts. What's interesting here is not only the same image being used (the first on a 2004 Faber paperback, the second on a yet-to-be-released Hamish Hamilton hardback), but the arrangement of white space and text placement is pretty similar too. To be fair, the Ali Smith cover may change between now and publication date (October 2008): we'll see.

Irritatingly, I know I've also seen this image on the cover of a third book, and even said as much in the comments to someone else's blog, but for the life of me I can't remember what it was.

UPDATE: The infinitely perceptive Sara of NYRB notes in the comments that it was a Sigrid Nunez book, The Last of Her Kind, which also uses this cover image (on both the hardback and paperback editions published by FSG and Picador US respectively).

It's also worth noting that the photograph is 'Memphis, Tennessee, 1974' by William Eggleston. It is also his photo of the girl outstretched on the lawn with a camera that turns up in this post.

Monday 7 April 2008


Now that, with the 'proper' Casino Royale, all of the James Bond novels have been filmed, the movie-makers are obviously scratching around for titles for the revitalised movie franchise. Some of Ian Fleming's Bond short stories have been mined for titles before ('The Living Daylights', 'From a View to a Kill', 'For Your Eyes Only' and 'Octopussy'), and now they're using one more, 'Quantum of Solace', as the next Bond movie title. Penguin UK, who already have all the Bond books in their Modern Classics series, have repackaged all of the short stories under a nifty cover that looks very much like a still from one of those famous opening credits sequences.

After this, though, they're going to have to think up some new titles, as the remaining Bond story names don't exactly seem right: 'Risico', 'The Hildebrand Rarity', 'The Property of a Lady' and '007 in New York' aren't likely to be used, I suspect.

In any case, Penguin UK are also reissuing all of the original Bond books as hardcovers later this year, and they've done a fantastic job on the covers. I want to see one of these in the flesh, so to speak, to see how the artwork continues around the spine and onto the back. In the meantime, though, cock a snook at these wonderfully retro images, which include hand-drawn typography and each book's best-known Bond girl. You'll want to click for bigger versions, if you've any sense at all.

Fan-bloody-tastic, I says.

PS: Also, note the nicely incorporated Penguin logo. I know I go on a lot about Penguins on this site. I hasten to state that I don't work for them (more's the pity); they just have a solid and continuing history of interesting book design.


Joseph Heller is one of those writers whose first novel is so good and so effective at worming its way into people's minds that they never manage to top it. Certainly everything else he produced has seemed somewhat disappointing in comparison. It's also a book with an interesting set of covers. The one to the left is the edition I have, a typical-for-its-time painted cover on a Corgi paperback. I'd like it more if it didn't look as though he was shouting, "Ste-lla!"

The original Simon & Schuster US edition looked like this...

..a look which has been retained for the current US paperback and commemorative hardbacks. It's quite unusual for old book covers to be revived like this, but it's nice when the original is a simple, effective bit of graphic design.

Here are a couple of other old paperback versions--the first is another Corgi edition, while I can't find the publisher of the second. They're not bad, either.

On the other hand, the UK/Commonwealth editions in recent years have been a bit so-so. They're perfectly adequate at communicating the fact that the books are about an air force in war-time, but don't really get across the fact that there's any humour or satirical intent.

Now, though, the UK version's getting another redesign. I don't know who's responsible for this version of the cover, but now you're talking.