Posters on the back covers

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One of the pleasures of collecting Penguin from the 1960s is discovering beautiful back covers. Normally the back was just a functional part of a cover design, a blurb in small print, but in the mid-1960s with Alan Adridge as art director, this area was given an overhaul. These examples were published in 1965-66.

Aldridge was a reformer who wanted to shake up what he saw as a stuffy brand image. Front covers were redesigned like posters, many of them were vivid and bold, but his influence was also felt on the back covers. Instead of the serviceable but quietly voiced text in small print, the back covers themselves became like posters, announcing the contents in full voice.

The examples here show sophisticated composition of type in the manner of the Swiss Typographic Style. They are similar to the work of maestro Josef Müller-Brockmann like these 1960s Opernhaus Zürich concert posters:

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No individual designer is recorded for the backs, but they demonstrate much skill in type design – there are only one or two typefaces and no images or decorative borders. The work of entertaining the eye is done purely through type design, colour and scale. They have a boldness and showmanship that must have echoed the mood beyond the studio, out in Swinging London.

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Pentagram’s photographic covers

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Michael Innes was not an idle man. He was the pseudonym of J.I.M. Stewart, an Oxford professor and author who wrote in three distinct genres: critical biographies, literary novels and popular crime novels. Under both the Innes and Stewart names he published a total of 86 books, 50 of which were the crime novels by Michael Innes. He was a man who liked to keep busy.

Penguin Books published the Innes novels over many decades and in various covers. In the 1970s, the new design studio Pentagram produced a series of photographic covers. The personnel of Pentagram included Colin Forbes and Alan Fletcher legendary names in British design who had a long connection with Penguin. In 2003 the studio was commissioned to create a new grid format for Penguin Classics which, slightly adjusted, is the one you see in every bookshop today.

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Photographic still life book covers became a thing in the 1960s and 70s, especially on crime and spy novels such as those by Len Deighton.

But despite first appearances these Michael Innes covers are not still life photographs but individual objects photographed separately and composited afterwards. Crammed together in different scales, they are presented as a series of clues or items of court evidence. Along with the headings, they have a peculiar frontal effect.

The photographs are matched by the Futura type, a geometric typeface known for its machine-like perfection and clarity; it’s a sort of analogy for the photographs, presenting the same message of factuality. And the large, extra bold letters have enough weight to balance the mass of the objects in the photos.

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The Case of the Coppola Covers

. //,,,img957Gianetta Coppola, original artwork and published Penguin cover, 1966

Gianetta Coppola was an Italian illustrator who worked in London for two decades. In the 1960s he did several stylish covers for Penguin during the short period when Alan Aldridge was art director. Some of his artworks, the original paste-ups used for printing the Penguin covers, can be seen at London’s Lever Gallery.

Original artworks by commercial illustrators, those sent to the publisher for repro and printing, are extremely rare. They were not considered to be “art” and were often discarded or lost along the way. Illustrators themselves frequently did not want them back to clutter up precious studio space, it was the finished product that mattered. These two examples, and many more you can see on the Lever Gallery website, are a welcome treat and they help you understand the process involved in commercial illustration.

coppola-2……/…..img955Gianetta Coppola, original artwork and published Penguin cover, 1966?

Coppola (1928-2015) had a long and varied career, working in book cover design (for Penguin, Pan, Corgi and Granada), illustrating comics, working for ad agencies and also for newspapers such as the The Sunday Times. He even contributed to Playboy and Penthouse.

His work for Penguin is a little unusual for that publisher. It has the polish of mainstream magazine or advertising illustration and thus it has a hint of soap opera in the presentation of characters. But it combines that quality with the look of British Pop Art by painters in the 1960s such as David Hockney or Michael Andrews. So it seems that Gianetta Coppola was a modern artist working in a commercial realm.

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Charles Raymond covers

img837                                                     Charles Raymond made these cover illustrations in 1962-65, the period of the Marber grid in Penguin fiction. Raymond was a very competent illustrator and they are good examples of the rather middle-of-the-road style of that period. But as covers they demonstrate some of the disadvantages of the Marber system.

Orange was the brand colour for general fiction at Penguin, going back to the first ten Penguins of 1935. When pictorial covers arrived with the Marber grid in 1962, a problem arose when its top section, reserved for the typographic information , was filled with the orange. This made the cover top heavy and over-coloured. Illustrations fought for attention with the dominant warm  hue.

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In this selection you can see Raymond trying different variations to solve this problem. Three of these covers use a full orange background to make a continuous colour theme, but the result, though unified, is heavy. Two retain the orange only in the top section, but the illustration struggles to balance it.

Only with the white backgrounds do the covers achieve balance. The text itself is set in orange, putting this too-active colour in its place. This is best seen in A Morning at the Office where the elements come into balance. In this cover, the background is in the background, whereas others have the background coming forward due to the active effect of the orange.

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How the Marber grid was made

father-brown                                                                      The Marber grid – this is so wonderful I don’t even know how to talk about it.” David Pearson

The famous Marber grid is one of the foundation stones of Penguin mythology, a design so clever that it is still studied half a century after it was made.

Romek Marber was a well-trained Polish designer working in London. He had done two covers for Penguin when the new art director Germano Facetti invited him and two other Penguin illustrators, John Sewell and Derk Birdsall, to propose a design grid for the crime imprint. Marber won. His approach was very methodical, reflecting his interest in symmetry and proportion:

To retain the unity of the series, the freedom of where to place the title, the logotype and price and in what colour, is controlled by the grid, and routine readers of crime fiction will be able to pinpoint without difficulty the title and author’s name. (Romek Marber)

grid                                                                     This is the design Marber presented to Penguin in 1961. He based his development of the grid on the Golden Section, the ancient formula for well-proportioned designs, especially in architecture. Since the A-format paperback is made in the Golden Section proportions (1 : 1.618) it was a logical starting point.

But how did he develop it? The following panels show my analysis of the steps that Marber may have taken in developing the grid.

a1….11….3   1  The golden section. Marber uses its main cross line to begin his grid             2  Diagonal lines are drawn to the opposite corner and to the top midpoint     3  Corner-to-corner diagonals and the vertical centre line are added

9…..14….13   4  Diagonal lines intersect (marked by a red spot)                                                     5  From these intersections, horizontal lines are drawn                                          6  A diagonal line from the left corner is drawn to a horizontal line

10…..87  7  A new intersection generates a new horizontal line                                            8  This new horizontal line creates a further intersection (top left)                     9  Some of the intersections are used to create vertical lines

6…..grid..   father-brown   10  The completed grid uses horizontal and vertical lines for text placement 11  The grid as it was presented by Romek Marber in 1961                                     12  An early crime cover using the grid, with illustration also by Marber

 

Colette in the Belle Epoque

colette-1                                                              Colette was a society beauty in the 1890s and wrote the Claudine series of novels about a young girl’s growth to maturity. They were hugely popular for many years but, incredibly, they were published under her husband’s name and he received the royalties. This caused her much hardship, but she continued as a writer and was eventually nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1948. I guess that counts as getting the last laugh.

The covers of these Penguins show engravings from late 19th century magazines or fashion catalogues. They are tinted in mostly warm tones and set in a decorative border that evokes the Art Nouveau designs of Hector Guimard. The Colette designs capture the flavour of Belle Epoque Paris with great simplicity.

The covers, from 1972,  are credited to Crosby Fletcher Forbes, then a leading design studio in London. It expanded to become Pentagram in the same year and is now the “world’s largest independent design agency.” The partnership had a long connection to Penguin.

The series is typical of the stylish and polished aesthetic that prevailed under Penguin’s art director, David Pelham.

colette-6 ……colette-7colette-10…….colette-2 colette-4 …. colette-9 colette-12…….colette-8

Swiss Mini Modern

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The influence of the Swiss Typographic Style has had a long reign at Penguin. Bursting out in 1961 with Romek Marber’s famous grid, it has reappeared in different forms ever since.

Briefly, the Swiss style is characterized by sans serif type set in grids with alignments of text and image (see grid below). It is an emotionally neutral style employed especially in corporate design since the 1940s.

Penguin art director Jim Stoddart employed a version of Swiss in his layouts for the Mini Modern series. The formula is very simple: no illustration and just serif type in black & white with a silvery-grey background. The covers have a minimalist aesthetic – achieving the maximum with the minimum, but with elegance.                                                                           borges-mini-modern///../updike-mini-modern//////james-mini-modern.   ..james-mini-modern-2///////mini-modern-stoddart-grid                 The Mini Moderns were published as a “memorial” to the Penguin Modern Classics which started in 1961:  “In 2011, on the fiftieth anniversary of the modern classics, we’re publishing fifty mini modern classics: the very best short fiction…”

One of the most successful of all Penguin Modern Classics was JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, published with this elegant minimalist cover in the late 1960s. Is this what inspired what Stoddart?

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Hogarth in Greeneland

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In 1962, Paul Hogarth was an established artist with a distinctive watercolour style. He had worked in collaboration with literary artists, including Brendan Behan, so it was natural for him to illustrate the covers of a new edition of sixteen Graham Greene novels.

The Hogarth Greenes are a notable series in Penguin history and were one of the early successes of the Marber grid. This new design layout enabled Penguin to maintain its typographic branding while introducing eye-catching cover art. Hundreds of thousands of the Greenes were were sold.

The choice of Hogarth for Greene was an interesting one. Both came from an ideological background that permeated their work, communism for Hogarth and catholicism for Greene. Both were inveterate travellers and both had seen the best and worst of humanity in their travels. They shared a jaundiced if hopeful view of mankind, and on top of that, they got on well.                   “There are writers who are immensely sympathetic towards artists and certainly he was one of them. He was easy to work with, but very exacting.”

The series started an association between Penguin, Greene and Hogarth that lasted for many years. Despite his long career and considerable reputation Hogarth is possibly still best remembered for his Penguins Graham Greenes of the 1960s.  

They are characteristically simple colour drawings which manage to capture a mood – whether of menace or anxiety or general seediness and invariably set in an exotic location – true to the writer’s work.  (hogarth.org.uk)

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In the mid 1980s, Hogarth travelled 50,000 miles to draw the locations of Greene’s novels. His pen and ink watercolours were published in this impressive book published by Pavilion in 1986.                      hogarth-graham-greene-country

Swiss Pelicans

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The subjects of these 1960s Pelicans are serious social issues so it’s natural that the cover designs employ a typographic solution. The heavy bold titles act like headlines in a magazine article.

These covers show the pervasive influence of the Swiss Typographic Style on Pelican cover design in the 1960s and 70s. The Swiss style was the offspring of the Bauhaus, its ideas refined and adapted to the postwar world. Swiss became the dominant philosophy of graphic design, especially in the corporate sphere, for several decades right up to the present.

The Swiss style offers order and rationality through a simple set of tools: grids to control space, alignments to create unity, and sans serif type to provide clarity. The aim is a functional, emotionally neutral communication.

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In Martin Bassett’s designs above, notice how the grid of horizontal panels locks the space, giving clearly defined areas for text. These panels have the flavour of Hard Edge painting which was then a current trend and appeared on Pelican covers elsewhere.

The alignments provide a tautness to the layouts: notice on Venereal Diseases how the circle, author, title and Pelican brand all align vertically and give the layout a feeling of orderliness. Graphic design in the Swiss style is not “artistic”. The aim is always an “engineered” design.

The beautiful library

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One of the more ambitious series produced at Penguin in recent years is the Penguin English Library of 2012, a presentation of 100 classics in beautiful patterned covers.

The art director was Jim Stoddart, but the design work was done by twenty two artists who worked on the project over a period of nine months. They were led by Coralie Bickford-Smith, an in-house designer at Penguin and a rising star in international design. Her book covers have been recognised by AIGA in New York and D&AD in the UK as well as featuring in the New York Times and Vogue. You can see why.

The books are firmly planted in Penguin tradition, the vertical stripes and centred text echo the Penguin covers of the 1950s. The pattern of each cover is made out of symbols that cleverly sum up the book – see the cutthroat razors in the Edgar Allan Poe cover below.

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One member of the team was  Viki Ottewill who designed one of the covers and was  responsible for artworking all the designs following the detailed layout guidelines. (click here to see instructions for the spines). She then had the technical job of making the designs ready for press. You get a sense of the sheer labour involved in a project of this size.

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The project has been very successful, especially in the UK where they are everywhere in bookshops. And they have attracted much publicity and many prizes. The Penguin English Library cements the tradition of intelligent, classy design in highly collectable series.

Robert Jonas and the American Penguins

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Allen Lane, the founder of Penguin, hated illustrated book covers and fought against them at Penguin. He feared that introducing illustrations would infect the dignified Penguin brand with “bosoms and bottoms.”

In the US, paperbacks were sold on news stands and had to compete with  newspapers and magazines so typographic covers like Penguins would be lost in the riot of colour and sensation.

The director of the fledgling American Penguin operation, Ian Ballantine, hired a young artist called Robert Jonas to design some early covers. He soon became a regular and eventually gave the US brand its characteristic colourful look.

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Jonas had been deeply involved in the New York avant-garde in the 1930s, just before it burst on the international scene. He was editor of an art journal and was a friend of Willem de Kooning and Arshile Gorky, both to become leading Abstract-Expressionist painters in the 1940s.

In the 1940s he made his living as a commercial artist for Penguin and stayed on when it became New American Library, publishers of Signet and Mentor paperbacks. He designed many covers for these imprints until 1955 when he left to design for hardcovers.

Jonas was a dominant and successful cover artist. He developed an idea and projected it powerfully without getting trapped in compromise. His designs worked year after year.”  (Bantam art director Gobin Stair)

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Though he was a flexible commercial artist and could work in many styles, his most recognizable work has a flavour of modern art, showing the influence of Surrealism and Cubism. Each cover has a striking visual idea which is quickly grasped, as in a poster. Colleague James Avati stated that  his covers were very simple technically speaking, but they had an enormous psychological power.”

The artistry of Jonas’ covers gave American Penguin a degree of modernity when compared to other more populist US brands such as Dell or Pocket Books. They must have played some small part in explaining modern art aesthetics to the conservative American population.

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David Pearson’s Great Loves

pearson-great-loves-6                                                               “Penguin brings you the most seductive, inspiring and surprising writing on love in all its infinite variety”. So runs the blurb on the back of the Great Loves series of 2007. These small, beautifully packaged books were art directed by David Pearson who also made made several of the illustrations.

This series of twenty books continues the tactile quality achieved in the Great Ideas series, also by Pearson. The white panels are slightly debossed and the card has a soft matte feel. “They’re riding on the back of Great Ideas…become a bit of a franchise to be honest. We just made the illustration the hero in these, flipped everything round.”

Pearson made eight of the illustrations (including The Seducer’s Diary and Mary presented here), Victoria Sawdon eleven (A Russian Affair, A Mere Interlude, Something Childish), and Claire Scully one.

To achieve the handcraft quality of the covers Pearson used rubber stamping, a variant of letterpress printing using rubber relief plates instead of wood or steel. I’m obsessed with rubber stamps. I’m quite uptight as a designer so I need help to make things a bit loose and fractured. By rubber stamping it everything gets levelled out to the same layer. The lines start to break, the ink bulges, everything becomes much more convincing”

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The Balkan Trilogy

olivia-manning-balkan-fortune                                                                British author Olivia Manning wrote the three novels that comprise the Balkan trilogy during 1956-64. They cover the wartime experiences of an English couple in wartime Romania.

Penguin released the three novels in 1974 in a clever triptych. The designer Humphrey Sutton uses a layered collage across the three covers incorporating a map of Romania, the Times newspaper and a photograph of a Stuka dive-bomber. It gave the books a palpable sense of urgency and danger.balkan-trilogy    Olivia Manning was in Romania during the war, escaping the Nazi onslaught with her husband, first to Greece, then Egypt and later Palestine. She led a full life.

With her subsequent series, the Levant trilogy, they make up the Fortunes of War cycle, described as “the most underrated novels of the twentieth century.” In 1987 they were made into a television miniseries starring Emma Thompson and Kenneth Branagh.