Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hey do you ever look at books?

I'm pretty sure I can assume with some degree of accuracy that if you're reading this blog you have an interest in literature, read novels, poetry, history, etc. Aside from reading though, do you ever take a good long look at the book you're actually holding in your hand? What's on the cover? How is it bound? Is it embossed? Is its viewing pleasure increased with the addition 3D glasses? What?

Five days a week I pass truckloads of books through my hands at Green Apple, and as I move them about I can't help but be taken from time to time with some of the creative, occasionally downright strange things printed on them. Now I could prattle on for ages about what strikes me as an effective cover, but that topic can be stretched so broad it could probably fill a book itself. So to the point I'll write a bit on a trend that excites me very much right now, publishers who are calling on underground comic artists to do cover designs. It seems like such a no-brainer to me, but if you know much about the comic artist's long struggle for recognition in the American literary/art world then it really does become clear as to why we're only just now seeing this.

Since we're long past the "ten cent plague" years of the comic world, and even a little beyond Dan Clowes' (brilliant in my opinion) 1997 Modern Cartoonist essay, great publishers like Penguin and Random House have been calling upon many of the giants of the underground. Above is Sammy Harkham's design for the most recent reprint of Kafka's stories. Now what's great about knowing who the cover artist of this particular edition is, is finding that Harkham also edits the critically acclaimed Kramer's Ergot compilations, which features works by several little known (and some a lot known) comic artists (and yes we are carrying it).

I suppose my point is this: You may not be able to judge a book by it's cover, but if you choose to, if something is particularly striking about it, I implore that you track down it's origin. One great piece of literature can lead to another and the clues may not merely lie in the words themselves.

On the fly I've come up with a short list of book covers which I can readily supply you with the name and career of the brilliant artist(s) behind them.

Cover design by Peter Bagge.

Cover design by Charles Burns.

Cover Design by Jason.

Cover design by Dan Clowes.
(extra points if you can tell me the pseudonym Daniel Handler uses for his young adult series)

And lastly here's a little gem by Chris Ware for the upcoming edition of Voltaire's Candide. I just can't do this one justice by shrinking it down for the blog.

Of course comic artists aren't the only ones out there coming up with great designs, and if you don't like comic art I'm cool with that (sort of). Check out the New York Times Book Design Review if you're looking for a aesthetic that suits you better.


Seth Christenfeld said...

The Ware Candide is the only time that I can recall that I bought a book solely on account of its cover--I didn't need another copy of Candide, but the cover was too awesome to pass up.

shopworker said...

Great post! I love the Kafka cover, hadn't seen that one.