Tuesday 29 September 2009

American Earth and de Vicq de Cumptich

A beautiful recent purchase is the Library of America's American Earth: a cornucopia (1000 pages) of  writing about the environment, the American wilderness, and the future of the planet. Any anthology which includes both Rachel Carson and Robert Crumb is doing something right, and this thing is gorgeous.

It has a dustjacket (designed by the wondrously named Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich) which does not quite cover the boards beneath, letting you know that there is something more going on under there.

And there is.

(Click for bigger versions of both.)

The painting is 'A Lake Twilight' by landscape artist Sanford Robinson Gifford, and is exactly right for the book: the human element in the painting is right to the forefront, and yet dwarfed by the natural world around it.

Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich has designed a lot of other beautiful covers, shown to good effect at his website. I could post dozens of them, but I'll limit myself to his picture book, Bembo's Zoo.

This book is a work of design genius. An alphabet book, with an animal for each letter, is a straightforward idea. However, this book constructs each animal entirely from the letter forms in its name, using only the Bembo typeface. As an example, here are B for Bison and P for Peacock.


An elegant (and noisy) website promoting the book also features animations for each illustration, showing how the animals were constructed.

Sunday 27 September 2009

More Margot Neville

About six months ago, I wrote briefly about two of my father's great-aunts, the sisters Ann "Nev" Neville Goyder Joske and Margot Goyder, who wrote crime fiction together as ‘Margot Neville'. Over the weekend, while cleaning out a room full of boxes of books, I came across two more of their books, and so thought I'd put the covers up here, since they don't seem to exist anywhere else on the net. They're both Fontana paperbacks, from that publishers pulp painting era, before they decided the solution to every cover was to slap a nude on it.

From 1957...

..and from 1961...

Thursday 24 September 2009

Count the Flaws

Here's a book cover that reaches startling levels of wrongness. It's a new edition of the last book by American food writer/TV person Julia Child, who is currently the subject of a much-promoted movie.

Here's the cover:

Here are my whinges (and I've never read Child, so there may be more here to offend those of you who have):

1. It's cluttered to buggery.
2. We have yet another case of a memoir with the actor who plays the person rather than the actual person on the cover...
3. ..even though it's not even the book that said actor's movie is based on...
4. ..but it does feature a plug for that film (again, not the film of this book) that takes up 1/3 of the cover...
5. ..and another actor playing a real person, rather than the real person, and who's not even in this book, yet still manages to appear on the cover.
6. It also contains dead pig heads.

Wednesday 23 September 2009

German Dreams of Flying

German Aerospace Book Covers, 1884-1957...













Tuesday 22 September 2009

Vegetables for Genitals

Four covers taking a similar approach to a similar topic.


I have to say, I think the ladies emerge better from these comparisons.

Monday 21 September 2009

Jump into the World of the Story and Rummage Around: An Interview with Jonathan Burton

Jonathan Burton is an extremely talented illustrator who recently completed designed and  illustrating the Folio Society edition of PD James's Cover Her Face. He was kind enough to agree to be interviewed about this project, his own history, and his ambitions. You can see more of his work at his website and at his blog (with more information on the Cover Her Face process collected here).

CAUSTIC COVER CRITIC: What's your background in design and illustration? How did you get into the field?

JONATHAN BURTON: I studied general Art & Design at three colleges in the North of England which were in Scunthorpe, Blackpool and Bradford. I then specialized in Illustration to do an MA at Kingston University, London, which was the course that really motivated me and made me fall in love with image making. Too many years at college though, too poor for too long.

CCC: Folio work with a wide variety of artists, not just a few regulars. How did you being the designer/illustrator for this book come about?

JONATHAN BURTON: I'd sent the Art Director several mailshots over the years so when they called I assumed they had found me that way, but that wasn't the case. The Art Director had found me by chance at www.aoiportfolios.com. They called and asked if I'd like to illustrate Birdsong which I got very excited about so spent that Christmas immersing myself in the book. The first image I sent was refused by the novels author Sebastian Faulks who had the final say, the second one was refused too. I was really disappointed but in retrospect I think my drawings were too descriptive for the tone of the book and I should have taken a step back. A softer feel may have been more appropriate.

The Art Director and Editor at Folio were really enthusiastic about the work I'd done though and straight after offered me Cover Her Face. PD James accepted the first image (hooray) and it went from there.

CCC: Often cover designers don't even have the full manuscript to work from, but you had lots of detailed internal artwork to do, and the posts on your blog show lots of close reading to get the scenes and characters right. What was that experience like?

JONATHAN BURTON: It was so interesting to jump into the world of that story and rummage around. I imagined I was making a film where I was casting director, costume designer, prop collector, continuity checker.... the lot. Everything was noted down - characters age, clothes, hairstyle, what was where in each room and even as to where the light was coming from for each scene in particular for the overhead 'crime scene' which became the most complex illustration. PD James is so descriptive of her environments that I couldn't stop myself putting every item and person in their correct place. All of that research into detail became incidental only serving to make the settings more authentic as the most important thing to get across was the sense of drama.

CCC: Do you have any interest in sequential art/comics? I can imagine how cool Burton's Lives of the Composers would be!

JONATHAN BURTON: I love Chris Ware, Seth, Daniel Clowes, Charles Burns, the Blab comic... all the Fantagraphics books basically.

I've always felt intimidated by the huge amount of work that must be involved in creating a comic book but recently, after working with Folio and now trying to wrestle a children's book to the ground, I've discovered that it's the background work where the fun is at, so I think that if I could devote myself to it I'd really love it. Lives of the Composers, I could get into that.

[NB: Jonathan has created illustrations of many of the great composers for Classic FM in the UK. Here are  Dvorak...



..and Beethoven.]

I moved to France a few years ago and the Bande Dessinée is taken very seriously here, and seeing the festival of BD at Angoulême has shown me that the market for comics is enormous. Likewise the amount of competition.

CCC: Dream job: Folio ask you to choose any book at all to work your magic on--what would you choose?

JONATHAN BURTON: Lady Chatterley's Lover is such a great book and the 1920s setting would be interesting to explore. I've also recently read the epic The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber, set in a sleazy Victorian London. That would be a huge project.... I'm drooling now. Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four, too, while I'm at it.

CCC: Is there any neglected book you'd love to draw to people's attention as something they should seek out?

JONATHAN BURTON: I'm not sure this is neglected as every Art student in the UK would have had it rammed down their throat but I've recently got back into Ways of Seeing by John Berger. It accompanied a 1970s BBC TV series which is now available on Youtube. The 70's style of programme has really dated but the ideas are still very interesting. With you being a critic of book design though I should point out that it's also a very ugly book! All the text in large bold type with black and white photos haphazardly placed throughout. Strange that it's about how we see images yet it's so carelessly designed. Never mind, the ideas are good.

CCC: Thank you, Mr Burton!

* * *

Further reading from the archives: for another take on Cover Her Face, see here, and for more on Ways of Seeing, see here

Wednesday 16 September 2009

Folios to Come

Coming up is an interview with Jonathan Burton, who has beautifully illustrated the new Folio Society edition of P. D. James' Cover Her Face. To get you in the mood, here are some other upcoming Folio highlights.

Edith Wharton's The Age of Innocence, cover and illustrations by Matthew Woodson:


William Golding's Lord of the Flies, cover and illustrations by Sam Weber (last seen in this post):


John le Carré's Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, cover and illustrations by  Tim Laing:

And here's George Psychoundakis's The Cretan Runner, last seen here, cover by Neil Gower:

See? These are all good covers! This blog hasn't degenerated into a freakshow of horrors!

Monday 14 September 2009

Running the Risk of Turning One's Blog into a Freakshow

Some books surely cannot live up to the promise of their covers. Nor, in some cases, would you even begin to want them to...


I dare not post more in case I break your brain.