Saturday, 29 December 2007

Casanova's Spines

The autobiography of Giacomo Casanova is one of the wonders of world literature. The man had an incredible life, as a seducer, student, gambler, poet, novelist, spy, political exile, political prisoner, con-man, musician, librettist, and more.

His 12-volume memoirs have been brilliantly translated into English by Willard Trask, and are published by Johns Hopkins University Press. What's particularly nice about this edition, the covers of which all look much like this... that the full set on the shelf look like this.

I think we can all agree that this is very nice.

A similar effect has been achieved by the current Vintage UK edition of Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu (which has a sketch of old Marcel himself spilling across all six spines) and the US editions of Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, which has the painting of that name across all four spines. Unfortunately I have nothing to show you of these, image-wise. My Proust is made of from 3 different editions, and my Powell is the classic-looking white version put out by Arrow in the UK.

What I can show you are two other Casanova covers. The first is for his short novel, The Duel, from Hesperus Press. It's a great little book, and rather more manageable than his thousands-of-pages-long science-fiction epic, Icosaméron ou Histoire d'Edouard, et d'Elisabeth qui passèrent quatre vingts un ans chez les Mégamicres, habitans aborigènes du Protocosme dans l'intérieur de notre globe.

The second is from the lovely-looking Penguin Great Loves series. These books are gorgeous, though some of them are merely extracts from bigger works. The Casanova is a case in point, being a few episodes lifted from the autobiography.

UPDATE: I forgot to mention that the painting in question is Venus in Repose by 17th-Century Dutch artist Dirk de Quade van Ravesteyn. More information on the choice of this painting for the spines can be found here.

Monday, 17 December 2007

Simenon! 2: The Retro Edition

Having looked at recent covers for some of Georges Simenon's numerous novels, I thought it might be interesting to show you some older covers. These various Simenons have been gathered in my trawls through the second-hand bookshops of Adelaide, Hobart, Sydney and Melbourne over the years.

First, here's the classic Penguin Crime look, from before they started including illustrations on their books (as always, click on the covers for higher-resolution images).

Here we have two covers drawn by Romek Marber, one of Penguin's great designers.

More on Marber can be found here.

At different times, Penguin went with illustrative covers...

..and photographic covers.

Finally, here are two different approaches to the one Simenon novel. The first is a photographic Penguin cover, while the second is an American edition with a rather more James-Bond-ish feel to it.

And cop a look at that irresistible blurb!

Bizarrely enough, that very blurb has been used by the great Ed Kuepper as the title of one of the instrumental pieces on his The Exotic Mail Order Moods of Ed Kuepper album.

It's also interesting to see on these and the newer covers I discussed earlier that sometimes Simenon loses his first name.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007


Some good ones here!

Georges Simenon (1903-1989) was one of the most prolific writers (and shaggers) in history, with almost 200 novels and 150 novellas (and perhaps 8,000 prostitutes) to his CV. Even more startling, most of these novels and novellas are actually very good, with a number of them being small masterpieces.

Simenon is probably best known for the Inspector Maigret novels, a series of low-key detective stories about a wise but not super-brilliant Parisian cop. One of the US covers to this series featured in my first proper post. When Penguin UK reissued 14 of the novels a few years ago, they went with a look that is clever and eye-catching. Here are 9 of those covers (click to see enlarged).

Each graphic element on each cover refers to something from the book--a clue, a red herring, and aspect of Maigret himself, or a location. They're brilliant. Unfortunately, they've also been recently replaced a much simpler, more boring covers.

Penguin also publish several of Simenon's non-Maigret novels as well. These covers have a nice Brassaï/film-noir feel.

Finally, there are the non-Maigret books being put out by NYRB Classics. A number of these also have a similar atmosphere (and you can see the rest here).

UPDATE: The set of 14 Maigret covers discussed above were designed by Jamie Keenan.

UPDATE 2: The redesigns I describe as "more boring" are actyually by the usually wonderful David Pearson.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Punctuation is Important

Oh yes indeedy, it really is.

Below is the cover of a book I have no intention of reading. It's "a powerful message for families and communities ... for people who are stuck because of feelings of low self-esteem, abandonment, anger, fearfulness, sadness, and feelings of being used, undefended and unprotected. The authors aim to help empower people make the daunting transition from victims to victors." And there's nothing wrong with that--it's just not my bag of beans.

It has an ugly cover design, which earns it a place here in any case. There's something reminiscent of those annoying, allegedly 'inspirational' PowerPoint presentations that get emailed around workplaces to it. It must have taken 30 seconds of thought and perhaps 3 minutes of execution to produce.

And, finally, it really, really needs a comma after the second word of the title.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Perfect Title?

As an addendum to the look at Pulp, a question must be asked. Does this book not have the perfect pulp title? Perhaps even the perfect anything title?

Image nicked from here, which is well worth visiting.


A book I've had for a while but dug out for another look recently is Pulp: A collector's book of Australian pulp fiction covers, put out by the National Library of Australia in Canberra. It's by Toni Johnson-Woods.

It's a fun little collection, though neither in-depth enough to do more than scrape the surface, nor big enough to give more than a small selection of funky old pulp cover images.

Another missed opportunity is the cover. While it's nice enough, and fits the theme--menacing silhoutted figure in trenchcoat lurks behind femme fatale clutching book in library--it's too obviously a pastiche of the covers within, without looking convincingly like them.

Here are some of the internal spreads to give you an idea of the sorts of images I mean. Again, forgive the photographs, but this is another book I'm not crushing in my scanner.

And yes, that is Bettie Page at the bottom right there--it strikes me as odd that she should show up on the cover of an Australian crime novel, but there she be.

For an example of how an original pulp illustration might have been used on the cover of Pulp instead, here are two examples.

There's a good summary article about Australian pulps by Johnson-Woods here, and more here.


When I was a child, some of my favourite books were Tove Jansson's Moomin books. They tell the tale of the residents of Moominvalley, a gleefully, good-humouredly anarchic place somewhere in Scandinavia, inhabited by a vast array of peculiar but appealing creatures.

These books are a delight: there's no more appropriate word. So you can imagine my joy when Drawn & Quarterly, a Montreal-based comics publisher, last year began reprinting Jansson's Moomin comic strips. She drew these for five years in the 1950s for a British newspaper, and as far as I know they've not been collected in English before.

The second volume just came out, and I devoured it yesterday. They're beautifully produced over-sized books, with colourful cloth covers and thick, creamy pages.

As ever, click on an image for more detail.

These comics are just as wonderful as the novels and stories Jansson wrote (and while we're on the topic, seek out her for-adults work too: The Summer Book, A Winter Book and Fair Play have all been republished by Sort Of Books).

I've put up some individual panels here to give you the idea of the style and tone of the comics.

I apologise that the quality of reproduction is not quite as good as it could be: these come from photographs of the pages, as there was no way I was going to risk mauling these books' spines in my scanner.

Here's Moominmama explaining her family's domestic cleaning habits to the next-door neighbour...

And here's Moomintroll himself, having been driven into a short-lived rage when his girlfriend, the Snork Maiden, is drawn to another man (who is also a sports-obsessed lunatic)...

Sunday, 18 November 2007

Dangers of Stock Photography Continued

Here are some more examples of stock photography being overused.
First this...

..which features a recent UK edition of a very good book (the Neruda) and a recent US edition of a very bad book. Also note the mimsy American avoidance of nipple display on the second cover.

Then there's this, which is a bit different. It's the same chap in almost the same pose on both covers--presumably they're from the same photography session--but in the first he's a laconic Swedish policeman (from the brilliant Martin Beck series) and in the other he's a Turkish journalist.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

1250 Covers Arranged in a Spectrum

Just because I can, really (using AndreaMosaic).

Click to enlarge, though not as much as I'd like. I already had to shrink this down so that Blogger wouldn't have a breakdown.

Why They're Musicians, Not Visual Artists

The My Penguin series of blank-covered classics, for which you can design your own cover, are a fun idea (see here for details). Penguin themselves decided to promote the series by having a bunch of bands/musicians design covers for some of these seminal books. Sadly, they picked a bunch of (mostly) third-stringers, and some of them are even less inspired at visual design than they are at music.

Look at these, for example. The first is Razorlight's cover for The Great Gatsby, while the second is Ryan Adams' cover for Dracula.

Razorlight's singer says: "I was running a book on the grand national in Tokyo and I was writing out a betting slip for everyone, and decided that my bookie's name was going to be Gatsby. The cover of this book is a betting slip." Oh, good. So you didn't just throw together a piece of crap in 30 seconds, then. And Adams has produced a something that looks as though it was made by a 3-year-old out of poo.

As an example of how this might be done right, see Beck's contribution.

For another good example of My Penguin cover art, see the great Eddie Campbell's take on Aurelius' Meditations and Austen's Emma.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Fashionable Contrasts

Here we have another case of the one image popping up on recent multiple covers (see this post for background). The image is the cartoon 'Fashionable Contrasts' by the great James Gillray (1757-1815).

And here it is again (and again, and again)...

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

Gentlemen of the Road

Michael Chabon is one of my favourite writers (and if you haven't seen the wonderful movie version of his Wonder Boys, you must). He also recently has been on a bit of a mission to revitalise genre fiction (mystery, science-fiction, even pulp adventure).

His newest book, originally published as a newspaper serial, was provisionally entitled Jews with Swords. It's the story of two amoral yet good-hearted Jewish thieves and adventurers in the Caucasus around 950AD.

Chabon's books usually have wonderful covers on the American versions (usually by the great Chip Kidd), and dull, unimaginative covers on the Commonwealth editions. This time, though, for once it's the British edition that has the good cover.

It's just right, like an Edwardian adventures storybooks for children. I'd have peeled that annoying white sticker off, too, if bitter experience didn't tell me that it would tear off some of the cover with it. A shame, because it's the only thing that spoils the illusion.

This edition also comes with a tipped-in bookplate, possibly signed by Chabon himself. At least, it's his signature, but I'm buggered if I can work out whether it's been hand-signed or simply printed onto the bookplate. I'd love to know which it is.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Matt Kindt's Super Spy

Yesterday I read a wonderful book: a graphic novel/big comic by Matt Kindt called Super Spy. It consists of some 52 inter-related stories about spies in Europe during World War II, and both the writing and art are excellent, perfectly suiting the subject matter (apart from occasional inappropriate fonts on newspapers and the like seen in a few panels).

But it's not just the contents that make this book wonderful. Matt Kindt has designed the whole thing as a beautiful artifact. The pages are off-white and printed to show old stains and creases, giving the whole thing a patina of age that suits the era of its setting. The images themselves are mostly printed in 2 or at most 3 colours, limited to a palette of subdued greens, blues and browns, with the occasional flash of red blood.

The design of the covers is also lovely (and covers are what we're all about here, after all). The tiny text bubbles and see-through elements of the drawing tell a whole story on their own. The inside covers offer X-rays of the artwork on the outside...

..and the red letters picked out in the text even spell out a secret spy message to the reader ('Get out now!'). The back cover does something similar.

Matt Kindt's website features more of his intriguing work, including a series of prints showing images from several of his favourite books, printed onto pages from those same books. There are also some other clever, non-book bits of design (special cyanide mints!). It's great.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Eve, the Apple & Temptation

Without much in the way of commentary, a number of recentish covers on a theme...

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Caspar David Friedrich

Caspar David Friedrich (1774-1840) was one of the greats, a German Romantic artist whose works you probably know even if his name is unfamiliar to you. There's a fine gallery of his works online here.

Some of his more famous paintings are shown here: Der Wanderer über dem Nebelmeer (The Wanderer Above the Sea of Clouds)

The Abbey in the Oakwood

Moonrise by the Sea

He's also the go-to artist for many books with a Gothic or Romantic atmosphere (especially the classics).

Looking at all of this effective gloom, it's perhaps significant to remember Friedrich's family background. His mother died when he was seven and his sister died of typhoid. Even worse, his brother drowned while trying to save the young Friedrich when the ice on a frozen lake broke up under his weight. His own career was ended by a stroke which left him paralysed and unable to paint. Sadly, not all of his work has survived, some of it destroyed in the fire-bombing of Dresden and the arson attack on the Munich Glaspalast.

UPDATE: The tremendously wise John Self of Asylum points out in the comments that The Wanderer Above the Sea of Clouds was also used on the original hardback (and this US paperback) of Patrick McGrath's Dr Haggard's Disease.

UPDATE 2: Stewart of the excellent BookLit blog has kindly donated his scan of the original cover to Dr Haggard's Disease, which also uses this image.