Saturday, November 27, 2010

Book-A-Day 2010 # 297 (11/27) -- Penguin 75 edited by Paul Buckley

It certainly makes sense to publish a book of great covers to celebrate the 75th anniversary of a famous publishing imprint. It makes slightly less sense to focus on the covers of the last decade, though, and it makes only the tiniest bit of sense not to date any of those covers.

Penguin 75 is a well-designed collection of some great covers -- 75 of them, to be precise -- and it also has commentary from the various people involved in those covers (designers, art directors, editors, publishers, authors, translators), which is a great window into the cover process for design students, those of us at other publishing houses, and nosy parkers everywhere. It doesn't explain at any time how the covers were chose for the book, what the scope of the book is, or any niggling little details like that -- it's just a collection of 75 relatively recent covers for Penguin paperbacks [1], with commentary from two or three interested parties.

Penguin has had a great decade, though -- with an exciting relaunch of the venerable Penguin Classics series and, possibly because of that success, quirkier, art-driven sub-series of Penguin backlist like Penguin Ink (cover designs by tattoo artists) and Graphic Classics (cover designs by contemporary indy-comics creators), plus lots of excellent single titles. So Penguin 75 may be trying to ride the anniversary's coat-tails [2], but it's a great book full of lots of excellent covers. All three of those series I just mentioned are covered here -- including commentary from Jason, Julie Doucet, Seth, Joe Sacco, and Dan Clowes -- plus iconic covers like Eat, Pray, Love; The Memory Keeper's Daughter; and On Beauty. And I only just realized at this moment, while looking at the Table of Contents again, that the covers are arranged alphabetically by title (with a few oddities), running from 100 Facts About Pandas to Zero.

Since I'm in the trenches myself, I would have liked to see more details -- more of the discarded comps, more of the middle stages, just more of the process. But Penguin 75 is only partially a book about process; it's also presenting the finished covers as works of art in themselves, and the general audience will be much more interested in that than in the minutia of the creation of these covers, so that's a smart choice. The book that actually exists is one of wider interest than the one I might have wanted to see, which is only to be expected.

Anyone interested in product packaging as art, or in industrial design in general, will want to take a look at Penguin 75, besides the usual book-industry folks (who almost certainly already know about it.). If you're not interested in the packaging of books, or in cover art (outside, perhaps of certain genre ghettos), you can pass it by.

But, before I'm done, let me pass on the single most important piece of advice about book covers (which is mentioned at least once here). Never, ever show a cover that you can't live with -- whether you're the designer, the editor, the marketer, the publisher, or whoever. If there's a possible design you just can't stand, take it out of the mix...or it will end up being the final.

[1] Those of us in the industry figured that out already, since Penguin is traditionally a paperback imprint.

[2] There's a book called Penguin by Design: A Cover Story 1935-2005 that's the actual history-of-Penguin-cover-art that this book intermittently pretends to be.

Book-A-Day 2010: The Epic Index

1 comment:

Tim Roast said...

I think it's ironic that a book about great covers has a cover that is so ugly looking.

Post a Comment