Thursday 22 May 2008

Nathan Burton does Pat Barker

Nathan Burton's appealing cover for Pat Barker's most recent WWI novel, Life Class, is shown here.

It's not a bad book, either, though not her best. The occasional anachronism would pull me up: the word 'robot' is used during the First World War by one of the characters, for example, even though Karel Čapek did not coin it with that meaning until his play Rossumovi univerzální roboti was published in 1920.

Getting back to the subject of covers, though, Penguin has decided to republish Barker's earlier WWI trilogy with new covers by Nathan Burton. For extra grooviness, the three covers fit together to form one image. (Click for a much bigger version.)

Nice stuff. My only criticism, and it's that of a design pedant, is that it would be nice if Pat Barker's name wasn't distressed identically on all four covers. For example:

1984 Then & Now

A very quick comparison of two covers for the Signet edition of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four.

As elegant as the newer version is, I can't help feeling something has been lost. Cleavage, mostly.

Faber Finds

One of the more interesting initiatives in publishing this year is the launch in June of Faber Finds. This is basically a print-on-demand offshoot from Faber & Faber whereby old books that might not support normal print runs, but which Faber folk want to see in print, are made available again in POD editions. They're also taking requests for potential titles, and I was thrilled to know that the brilliant Patrick Hamilton's first novel, Monday Morning, is scheduled for later in the year.

So what will the books look like? Nothing special, unfortunately. They have "automatically generated" covers, whatever that means, and they all basically look like this.

I'm not sure if they different colours indicate different genres, the way the original Penguin paperbacks did. I don't really like the typeface (it's very 1983) or the decorative doodads, either. They're inoffensive, I suppose, but nothing great.

Still, if it gets Patrick Hamilton and other writers like Roger Longrigg, Rex Warner and Lionel Davidson back into print, it's not all bad.

Suicide Foiled by Nuclear War

Have you been missing the end-of-the-world posts? Well, here's one for you. It's a rather good book by an author I can't find out anything much more about. The book itself is Few Were Left, a cheery story about a homeless depressive who is about to commit suicide by throwing himself under a New York subway train when total nuclear war erupts.

The would-be suicide ends up as de facto leader of a group of other survivors, all of them protected from the devastation by having been underground when the nuclear missiles went off. They crawl through the tunnels, looking for ways to sustain themselves, and meet up with others. Fights break out, and an already bleak state of affairs deteriorates further.

The cover of my (I think) first-edition Methuen hardback from 1955 is suitably grim and grimy. (Click to get a bigger version.)

The back has a melancholy effect on me, too--who were these authors, all of whom, like Rein, seem to have vanished into the past with their books, unread and unloved?

The cover of Few Were Left was done by John Minton (1917-1957). He was a painter, a very successful illustrator, a theatrical designer and an art teacher. He was also an alcoholic, and (appropriately enough for this post) committed suicide via drug overdose. Frances Spalding produced a biography (John Minton: Dance Till the Stars Come Down), which features this self-portrait on the cover.

Minton's face is probably best-known through a portrait by his close friend, Lucian Freud.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Tomer Hanuka and the Classics

Tomer Hanuka is an Israeli-born, London-based illustrator and comics artist whose work has started turning up on the covers of some classic books. Most recently, he did the covers for Vintage's two John O'Hara reprints...

On Hanuka's fascinating blog, he discusses his various assignments and shows the various stages involved in their creations. Here are some preliminary sketches for the O'Hara covers.

He also produced the sinister cover for the Penguin Graphic Classics edition of the Marquis de Sade's Philosophy in the Boudoir.

Here is a preliminary sketch for that cover...

..and here is the full, final artwork (click for bigger).

Finally, here is a piece Hanuka has done to illustrate an article about Cormac McCarthy's superb end-of-the-world novel The Road.

* * *

More soon, including more apocalyptica.

Thursday 15 May 2008

Brennan & Co.

Here we go again...

The first is the 2006 edition of Marge Piercy's Sex Wars. I've not read anything of hers, nor does this particular book appeal, though her science-fiction classic Woman on the Edge of Time has been lurking in my teetering stacks for a couple of years. The second is Maeve Brennan's wonderful novella, The Visitor, posthumously published in 2000.

There are a few things worth knowing about Brennan. First, she was a fantastic writer of short stories--see The Rose Garden and The Springs of Affection.

Secondly, she was quite a looker (as I hope you can see from the covers above and below). Thirdly, she had a very interesting life and ended up alone and mad in an asylum, convinced she was married to fellow ex-Dubliner James Joyce. You can find these and other alarming details in Angela Bourke's biography, Homesick at the New Yorker.

Fourthly, she is not the woman of the same name who was one of Philip Larkin's final girlfriends.

UPDATE: That first cover image can also be found on this third book...

A Brief Non-Book-Cover Post

I'm normally very reluctant to post about non-book items here, but anybody who has been following the end of the world book posts on this blog really, really needs to go and look at this site.

It's the collected work of a group of Russian photographers who roam the depopulated regions of the ex-USSR. They've found abandoned libraries, abandoned railways and stations, abandoned military complexes, even whole abandoned towns. The photographs are evocative and genuinely lovely: a real glimpse at what the world might look like if people disappeared.

Tuesday 13 May 2008

The Chop

Despite having won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction for one of his earlier books, Robert Olen Butler is relatively little-known outside of the US: his last few books haven't even been published in the UK/Commonwealth.

Between more conventional novels, he likes to set himself odd challenges for short story collections: each of the tales in Tabloid Dreams was inspired by a headline from one of America's weirder tablouids ('Ghost of Titanic Survivor Found in Waterbed'), while each story in Had a Good Time takes as its inspiration the message scribbled on one of the circa-1900 postcards Butler has been collecting over the years.

Severance was inspired by two "facts": that a cleanly severed head might remain alive and conscious for up to 90 seconds (though I believe in reality it's more like 30 seconds), and that in states of heightened anxiety, people speak at 160 words per minute. From this, Butler has written a number of stories narrated by the just-beheaded, each 240 words long.

The stories take in the range of human history, from 40,000 BC to Butler's own predicted decapitation in 2008, and the voices are from numerous eras and places (with two understandable clusters around the times of the Tudors and and the French Revolution).

It's a great idea which has produced a great collection of stories. Even better, the book itself (published by Chronicle Books, better known for both art and gift books than fiction) has been elegantly and appropriately designed: not just the cover but the interior as well. (Click for bigger images.)

Each story starts with slashed white text on black...

..and continues with the text itself shaped like a cleaver. Even the page numbers are designed appropriately (see the inner bottom corner).

The nice final touch is that the pages themselves have been very roughly guillotined, and the alternating black and white pages protrude raggedly as a result.

Credit where it's due: the cover photo is by Kevyan Behpour, while the the jacket and book design are by Brooke Johnson.

Monday 12 May 2008

Comic Bulgakov

Early in the life of this blog I looked at the numerous covers for the numerous editions of Mikhail Bulgakov's wonderful and bizarre The Master and Margarita, as well as his other books.

I've just discovered that this book has inspired a number of comics artists to attempt their own adaptations. This makes sense, given the vivid and sometimes hallucinatory effect of Bulgakov's prose.

Here is the cover to the newest version, by Andzej Klimowski and Danusia Schejbal.

I've not read this, so I can't comment on its fidelity, nor can I find any examples of the interior art online. I'll be interested to have a look once it appears in the shops.

Another version, three-quarters of which is available online, has been done by Russian cartoonist Rodion Tanaev. First printed in 1997, and now quite rare, you can find it here (the final quarter is due to come online soon).

Here's the cover, and some of the interior pages. Click for more detail.

Finally, there's Askold Akishine and Misha Zaslavsky, also Russian, whose adaptation has been published in French. Again, I haven't seen this one, but one review describes this version as lacking Bulgakov's narrative skills.

The only interior art I could find find online from this edition is a single panel.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Staring Pachyderms

Elephants are amazing (and amazing-looking) animals; when you look at their faces, their eyes are quite beautiful. Perhaps this is why the elephant eye is such a common book cover image, for elephants real and metaphorical.

Even when the elephant in question has, as the title suggests, vanished, the close-up-on-the-eye meme still persists.

007 Follow-Up

Last month I talked about the gorgeous new James Bond designs Penguin are putting out on May 29. Well, the useful Penguin Blog has now posted about them, so I can give you a bit more information.

They're the work of Michael Gillette, they're smallish hardbacks, and the niceness of the design applies to the backs and spines as well.

Wednesday 7 May 2008

The Bob and the Books

The above is an image of the actress Louise Brooks relaxing between takes and surrounded by books. This image, and Brooks herself, first came to my attention via the cover to the NYRB Classics edition of The Invention of Morel, by Adolfo Bioy Casares.
This is a fantastic (in both senses) and haunting book, inspired by Casares' obsession with Brooks, about a strange island, a weird invention, cinema, and hopeless love.

Intrigued by the image, I found out rather more about Brooks, including her most famous role as Lulu in Pandora's Box (1929), from the Frank Wedekind play.

Brooks had a unique, fascinating and mildly unsettling look; her haircut and pale features made her famous. A number of books about her all use photos of her from her 1920s heyday on their covers.

More interestingly, Brooks became an author herself. Her film career was cut short after she made rather too many enemies of powerful Hollywood producers. One of her books is aimed at a very specific niche...

..but rather more significant is her well-written and fascinating autobiography, which covers early Hollywood and the film world of Weimar Germany. Again, the cover images for this book's various editions use images from the 1920s.

That face and that hair are very distinctive, so the most recent edition of her memoirs stepped away from the photographic with an elegant bit of simple, evocative illustration.

UPDATE: The infinitely wise John Self noted in the comments that one of these Louise Brooks photos was also used on the cover of the Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics edition of the Scott Fitzgerald story collection, Bernice Bobs Her Hair.

This is not the only time Penguin have used a "difficult" actress of powerful sexuality on the cover of a Fitzgerald book--Tallulah Bankhead is on the current edition of The Beautiful and the Damned.

UPDATE 2: Jessie and Steve noted in the comments that Marj-Jo Bang's narrative poem collection Louise in Love also features Louise Brooks (and seems to have inspired the central character of the poems).