Wednesday 29 April 2009

The Same, But Not As Good

For your edification: the cover of Natsume Sōseki's charming Kusamakura, from Penguin Classics last year...

..and the cover of Yukio Mishima's uneasily compelling Thirst for Love, from Vintage Classics UK next year.

The Sōseki cover is actually not obscured by that leaf pattern as the above scan suggests: it's done with spot varnish, so is visible only when the light hits the cover at a certain angle. (Though the Vintage does have one advantage: that 'New Translation' thing on the Penguin cover is printed on, not a removable sticker.)

The original image is Hashiguchi Goyô's woodblock print 'A Beauty in a Black Kimono with White Hanabashi Patterns Seated Before a Mirror'.

It's an appropriate artistic choice for the Sōseki, as Goyô worked with him on his peculiar comic 'novel, 'I Am A Cat'.

I actually saw 'A Beauty in a Black Kimono with White Hanabashi Patterns Seated Before a Mirror' in Sydney last year, as part of an ehibition called 'Taishô Chic': a fascinating but small collection of Art Deco/Jazz Age Japanese artworks full of images of kimonos, Rolls Royces, cocktails and bright red lipstick. A characterisitic sample from that show is Kiyoshi Kobayakawa's 'Tipsy':

Just to round things out, here's some more work by Goyô.

And if you want a song stuck in your head, try irresistably chirpy Japanese all-girl punk-rock legends Shonen Knife's 'I Am A Cat'.

UPDATE: 'A Beauty in a Black Kimono with White Hanabashi Patterns Seated Before a Mirror' spotted on another cover, this time from France...

Tuesday 28 April 2009


Some heart-warming father-son conversation:

"I'll take care of you when you get old."
"You can promise to be as sweet as you want, but picture this: the future is a hospital, packed with sick people, packed with hurt people, people on stretchers in the halls, and suddenly the lights go out, the water shuts off, and you know in your heart that they're never coming back on. That's the future."

It's from the opening story in Steven Amsterdam's Things We Didn't See Coming. Published a couple of weeks ago by Sleepers, a small Australian press, and written by a Melbourne-based American writer, it's another book looking at the end of the world.

I really like the cover (designed by Peter Mendelsund): an elegant use of text without graphics, it's surprisingly easy to read, despite its appropriate out-of-kilter arrangement. It reminds me of that much-emailed study (supposedly from Cambridge, but nobody can find it) about scrambled/fragmented word order: you don't need the whole word for comprehension. (More here.)

What's the book itself like? Well, it's... quite good. All of the stories are probably about the one man, from his childhood experience of heading for the hills with a survivalist father who expects the Millennium Bug to destroy everything, to his adult experiences of various world-ending tropes (endless rain, societal collapse, plague, global firestorms). It makes the mistake, though, of starting with its strongest story, finishing with probably its weakest, and arranging the rest in order of diminishing returns. All of this leads the reader understandably unsatisfied.

Getting back to the cover, it reminds me of an easily (and unfortunately) misread book jacket I saw recently. The title jumps out at you from a distance, but not for the right reason.

PS: If the two cover images aren't displaying properly, I apologise--Blogger is being peculiar, and the water mains on my street have exploded, cutting off the supply, so I am too tired and filthy to properly grapple with the vagaries of recalcitrant blogging platforms. So, basically, I'm not the sort of person who'd survive societal collapse.

Friday 24 April 2009

Annoying Housekeeping

I'm afraid there's nothing of great interest in this post, besides the token cover shown before. I woke up this morning to 589 Chinese porn spam comments littering the blog, and, because deleting each individual comment in Blogger is an annoying three-stage process, have a fun morning ahead. Obviously using the P-word in my last post drew the attention of their bastard robots. Because of these, I'm afraid I'm going to have to introduce that irritating "captcha" code-word thing for comments-leavers from now on. Sorry about that.

Thursday 23 April 2009


Anne Healey at the Thomas Riggs & Co blog found these via Première de Couverture. They're a series of collages done as covers for Les Éditions Les Allusifs, a Canadian publisher of literature translated into French.

They're the work of Alain Pilon, who has a whole mess of stuff at his website. Here are some more of his Allusifs.

Again I find myself wishing I could speak French, so that I could justify buying a few of these suckers.

UPDATE: The multi-talented Ian Shimkoviak informs me that the design agency responsible for putting these together has an excellent website here. And he's right!

Penguins, Black American Activists and Pornography

As promised yesterday, here's a post that cunningly combines the three things in the title through the work of one artist. That artist is Ho Che Anderson, UK-born but now Canadian, named by his father for both Ho Chi Minh and Che Guevara, and thus probably more justified than even Joseph McCarthy in being annoyed by Communism.

Anderson's work is soon to be seen on the cover of yet another Penguin Deluxe Classic, this one being Huey P. Newton's Revolutionary Suicide.

Newton was co-founder of the Black Panthers, and their 'Minister of Defense'. A militant Maoist, acquitted of one murder and charged with another before the trial collapsed, a friend and supporter of Jim Jones, a convicted embezzler, a scholar and eventually a murder victim himself, he seems a fascinating and infuriating character. You have to admire a man who, upon earning his PhD, said, "My foes have called me bum, hoodlum, criminal. Some have even called me nigger. I imagine now they'll at least have to call me Doctor Nigger."

As for Anderson, his most famous work is probably his comic-form biography of Martin Luther King Jr, King. Here are the covers of the original 3 parts, the collected edition, and some interior pages (click for readable versions).

I first encountered Anderson's work in his collection of crime/gutter-life stories, Young Hoods in Love.

It's probably still his best work, aside from King. The reason for this is that, a short book called Scream Queen aside...

..most of the rest of his available comics stuff (at least the work that is still in print) is unashamed pornography in comic-book form.

I have to say that I find this vaguely depressing. I don't know whether it's a genuine commitment to porn as an artform, or just a need to pay the bills, but it seems a bit of a waste of talent. I know that porn will always be with us, and that there are a few examples of it that might also qualify as great literature or art, and that at least no actual human beings need to degrade themselves for drawn sex scenes. It's just that, given how long it takes to produce a page of decent comics art, and given that the same readers' needs could presumably be met by 10 seconds of Googling, it seems a shame that Anderson isn't turning more of his energies to work that's more worthwhile.

Wednesday 22 April 2009

Lilli, Hans and Anders

Lilli Carré is a Chicagoan comics writer and artist who has produced the cover for another of those beautiful Penguin Classics editions which, well, are designed by comics artists. (For others, see here, here, here, here and here.) She has tackled Mark Twain's most famous book.

This edition comes out in October. Carré has a few other books of her own work available, showcasing a drawing style that has elements of the cartoonish and of children's book illustrations, as well as darker, eerier overtones. It doesn't hurt that she shows hints of Tove Jansson's influence, either. Compare Carré's work shown below with this representative Jansson illustration:

Carré's most recent is The Lagoon, shown here with some of the interior pages. (Click for bigger versions of these and those below.)

Before that she produced Tales of Woodsman Pete, a series of somewhat absurdist stories about a gentleman of that name... well as the short-story collection Nine Ways to Disappear.

In addition, she has provided covers for a couple of comic anthologies.

Carré's next project is an illustrated version of Hans Christian Andersen's The Fir Tree, which should be out in time for Christmas. Here are three pages stolen from her blog:

This leads me neatly to another of the Penguin Deluxe Classics that I should have discussed a couple of years ago (which is when I got my copy), because it's a beautiful little book. As well as featuring all of Andersen's fairy tales, translated by Tiina Nunnally (one of those translators, like Anthea Bell and Michael Hofmann, from whom I will read anything they bring into the English language), it includes a number of Andersen's paper-cut illustrations, and this gorgeous cover artwork (with flaps) by Anders Nilsen.

Here, pilfered from the amazing archives of A Journey Round My Skull, is one of Andersen's cut-outs illustrations.

Next, a single post about a single artist that cunningly combines Penguins, black American activists and pornography.