10 best Penguin covers

October 25, 2010 § 1 Comment

Leafing through this rather nifty collection of the best Penguin covers I got from the college library it occurred to me that good book covers work much like ads. The relationship between the visual and ‘headline’ (title) is particularly interesting. Judging a book by its cover is fair game if you ask me, so in no particular order here are my 10 favourites from the collection with notes on why I think they’re effective.

Justin Todd, 1975

To my shame I’ve never read any Updike, but for some reason I feel like I’ve got a decent handle on what he’s about. As well as just being a striking (and creepy) image, the message here seems clear: this is about a man who’s defined by his desire for women. I think that if you told any illustrator “Draw me a man’s head constructed entirely from naked blonde ladies” they couldn’t do a much better job than this.

1966, Lou Klein

This just a really neat visual device. It makes me want to read the book, which is the point. Great air of mystery about the¬†silhouetted face(s). There’s something very atmospheric about using the smoke from a blown out match. It obviously suggests darkness and confusion, which I expect is the vibe of the book judging by the title. Great simplicity.

1980, Neil Curtis

Pretty simple relationship between title and visual here, but I like it because stylistically it seems spot on. I like the over fussy typography too, with the crossed ascenders. Overall it suggests wistful nostalgia.

1975, Derek Birdsall

Possibly my favourite here. Simplicity that makes me green from head to toe, and a beautiful harmonious relationship between title and visual. I love the fact that it humanises the coldness of statistics, which is no mean feat. Great shade of blue, too. It has the air of an extremely swish company handbook, but with a sense of humour.

1979, Omnific/Martin Causer

A wonderfully ingenious way of visualising something extremely abstract, i.e. the social status inherent in how people speak. Immediately gets me intrigued thinking about what my speech bubble would look like…

1979, Jones Thompson

A simple and relevant way of illustrating the title’s concept. But what I really like about this cover is the subtext at work in the image about society as a game with set rules that must be followed. Some are pawns, perhaps – but in chess a pawn has the potential to become any other piece if it is able to reach the other side of the board. Hence the subtitle’s “possible solutions” I suppose.

1973, Bengt Nystrom

I really wish I’d been there when the illustrator pitched this cover: “OK, so it’s an egg, right, with a skin that’s being peeled back to reveal, like, a woman giving birth. But she’s made out of hedge. On the skin of this egg that’s being peeled there’s a guy wearing a gas mask, yeah, which is a bit skull-y on one side. Behind him is all this cloud that looks like a mushroom thing, like from a warhead or something.” Excellent. No real idea what’s going on here at all, other than that it’s brilliantly weird and intriguing. The illustrator just took the word “random” from the title and ran with it I think.

1972, Ralph Steadman

Anyone who reworks Munch’s ‘Scream’ this well is all right with me. Bold, striking, compelling colour palette, and really evokes the sense of isolation inherent in living in a busy urban environment.

1972, Germano Facetti, detail from a Gustave Dore engraving

This is precisely the right kind of image to set the scene prompted by the title. Dark, brooding, vaguely sinister and unmistakably Victorian.

1966, Franmento di testa by Enrico Colombotto Rosso

Never heard of the painter but I think this image is fantastic. There’s a huge amount of depth in the eyes despite the deceptive simplicity of the face, and the flame-like swathe of red wreathing it adds an ethereal quality. Perversely though it doesn’t incline me to read the book because I doubt it could live up to the cover image.



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