How many times have you heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover?” and thought about its complex meanings? And how many times have you bought a book only because you were attracted by its cover, knowing nothing or very little about the author or the novel’s subject and storyline?
In today’s fiercely competitive publishing industry, getting the best book cover design for your books is sometimes just as important as writing a good story and since the last years were marked by a real boom of self – publishing authors, competition just got more intense and more aggressive. Here on TenMania we’ve already discussed the steps necessary to publishing a book, and one of them mentioned getting a good artist to capture in a single image the entire essence of your story, in order to make it a selling success.
But if decades ago novelists would hire artists, painters and graphic designers to represent in images what they intended to transmit into words, many writers today opt for photo manipulations and digital artworks in order to get their book covers done. There are, of course, grandiose modern book designers that can make miracles and draw photo-like images and history will remember them as it should. But it is also true that history tends to speak more of the author and less of the cover designer and it is a pity, since many such designers were and are in truth real artists who left us with an incredible legacy. Let’s meet ten of these incredible artists who are also book cover design masters and see what immortal masterpieces the history of arts, literature and cinematography has to thank them for.
1. S. Neil Fujita
Million dollar question: what was the origin of the artist who designed bot the covers of “The Godfather” by Italian American author Mario Puzo and “In Cold Blood” by American author Truman Capote? Correct answer: Japanese. Sadamitsu Fujita is considered one of the greatest illustrators of our times, and his works did not stop at book covers. He was an avant-garde artist, drawing his inspiration from the Abstract Expressionist movement, while he left humanity with extraordinary masterpieces: Dave Brubek’s album cover Time Out, Miles Davis’s album cover Round About Midnight, considered by the New York Times one of the most memorable jazz covers of the era, and Charles Mingus’s Mingus Ah Um album cover.
But Fujita’s works are closely related to writers too. Besides The Godfather, a masterpiece that marked not only the literary world forever, but became one of the world’s best movies ever made, and In Cold Blood, Fujita’s talent and intricate views also imprinted forever in our memory John Updike’s 1962 short-story collection cover, Pigeon Feathers. You can admire Fujita’s works on Mid Centuria and be amazed by the skills he lent to some of the most iconic artistic expressions in the world.
2. E. Michael Mitchell
E. Michael Mitchell passed away in September 6th, 2009, at the age of 89, but the world of art will always cherish his memory, as he was indeed a great artist, a great scholar and a very modest individual, who left his talent and his name on a few very famous (and surprising) works. He was an illustrator and his name is tightly linked to some of the major New York magazines and animated television shows featuring Daffy Duck, Flash Gordon and Mighty Mouse.
But when it comes to book cover design, he will be always recognized as the man behind J.D. Salinger’s iconic novel The Catcher in the Rye. Rumors say that he was friends with Salinger and the latter, known for being very strict on his novel covers, is said to have liked Mitchell’s drawing, but refused to offer him a signed copy of the published book.
Some fun facts about Mitchell also include the fact that he apparently shared a studio with Francis Bacon and that he taught at the Royal College of Art in London, England, Parson’s School of Design in New York City and at CalArts from 1994 until his death. The articles on CalArts website commemorating the life and art of E. Michael Mitchell are truly emotional.
3. Marshall Arisman
This legendary figure of the art world left us first and foremost with the book cover design of Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho. Ellis has been worked before with an illustrator on his previous novels, but this one declared himself “disgusted” with Ellis’s works. So for this iconic literary masterpiece, Marshal Arisman took artist George Corsillo’s place and offering his own interpretation over the novel’s character, the demonic Patrick Bateman.
But Arisman wasn’t just another book cover design artist. If you take a look over his biography, you will learn that he was the first American invited to exhibit his artwork in mainland China. His works are permanent in exhibitions held in the National Museum of American Art, the Smithsonian Institute and other public and private collections. Both Bret Easton Ellis and Marshall Arisman continue to create masterpieces even today, but their works will long be remembered by all future generations.
4. David Pelham
His name in the literary (and cinema) world is known from writer to editor, from filmmakers to marketers. As for 11 years, he was the Art Director at Penguin Books (1968 to 1979) and he is behind some of the most important book cover designs of the famous publishing house in that era. We said that not only the literary world appraised Pelham’s famous works, but the cinema too will always be grateful to the artist for offering his vision and his inspiration to a work that still gives us shivers on our spines even today: A Clockwork Orange. He designed not the original book cover, but the movie poster and while the motion picture is still considered one of the most controversial book adaptations that reached the silver screen, the movie poster will remain without a doubt just as famous as the novel and the movie.
Pelham is known for his artistic skills displayed on a large number of book covers, but together with author Anthony Burgess and director Stanley Kubrick, he truly made history. You can read and interview with Pelham on The Ballardian and if you have a little patience, you can enjoy the story of the cog-eyed droog movie poster taking life (and becoming immortal since then) in only one night.
5. Leslie Holland
An artists, nonetheless, but an artist little known by the general public, as apparently he liked more to sketch strangers in trains and give them the drawings for free than accepting a job at Disney. And yet, this free spirit left us in 2005 still amazed by his legacy: the iconic book cover of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. The book cover is still as disturbing now as it was 80 years ago and it really doesn’t matter that it got new covers since then, this original one is still considered by many publishers as being one of the most iconic book covers of all times.
The story of Leslie Holland took an interesting turn when Bookish Design UK displayed the poster representing the book cover Holland drew for Huxley, mentioning that they couldn’t identify the artist. Imagine Leslie Holland’s niece surprise when she saw and recognized her grandfather’s work and the puzzlement she must have felt when she realized nobody was giving the artist any credit. Things got cleared up and stirred in a positive direction with the help of the Holland family and you can read their fascinating story in this UK journal.
6. Joseph Hirsch
Joseph Hirsch is a reputed American artist who died in 1981. Influenced by the Social Realism movement, he left the world an impressive collection of art works displayed nationally in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, Library of Congress, Washington DC, just to name only a few.
As a book cover design artist, Hirsch imprinted his personal views and his painting style on the cover of Arthur Miller’s Pulitzer Prize and Tony Award winning drama Death of a Salesman. Just as the description on Amazon states, the play describing the tragic shortcomings of an American dreamer has been recognized as a milestone of the theater. Hirsch’s cover does justice to the 1949 released volume, as there is nothing more than social realism painted with just a few lines to transmit tenfold of emotions.
7. Paul Bacon
A legend in the book cover design world, Bacon did not only illustrated books, but also jazz cover albums and played some jazz. If you missed some of his jazz performances, although he released two personal albums in 1996 – Swing Me A Song and in 2002 – Things Are Looking Up, you should know that until today, he designed about 6,500 book jackets and more than 200 jazz record covers. But this is not all he did.
Starting with the beginning, if you ever heard about The Big Book Look, you must know that Paul Bacon dwells behind the concept, which made him world-wide known. The Big Book Look means a book cover that features a large, bold title, a prominent author’s name, and a small conceptual image. And if famous Catch – 22 pops up your mind, you are right. Paul Bacon will remain in history not only for designing the cover of Joseph Heller’s bestseller. Well, it took him 11 trials to get the final cover done, but nobody said it wasn’t worth it.
Paul Bacon also “borrowed” his conceptual vision over the big book to other big books and authors, such as Jack Kerouac and his Vision of Cody and to John Cheever for his Bullet Park, among others. If you study Paul Bacon’s art and music, you will understand a great personality of our contemporary world and a visionary artist like no other. And if you don’t forget, you can wish him “Happy Birthday!” this Christmas, as he is born December 25, 1923.
8. Tony Palladino
How to begin to describe who exactly is and what exactly does Tony Palladino? Let’s try resuming his career in just a few words: one of the Art Directors Hall of Fame members, a permanent collection of various museums, the recipient of the 1999 SVA Master Series Award, teacher at the School of Visual Arts for over 30 years, painter, designer, advertiser, book cover design artist, director, you name it. Tony Palladino is a man of the arts, of all arts, and a talent that marked the last decades while adding brilliance to everything he touched.
And because we are still in the world of book designs, let’s give Tony Palladino a round of applause for his vision on Robert Bloch’s Psycho! And furthermore, he changed the world of cinema and literature forever. Let’s read carefully this extract from the Art Directors Club: In 1956, Tony designed the book jacket for Robert Bloch’s novel Psycho. Three years later Alfred Hitchcock bought the movie rights and J. Walter Thompson, Universal’s advertising agency, bought Tony’s original collage design. His logo appeared in all the film’s advertising. More notably, it inspired Saul Bass to create his visually disturbing animated title sequence. Subliminal as it may be, Palladino’s initial design helped make Psycho a motion picture classic. What else can we say more?
9. Isaac Tobin
Another legendary designer, known for his minimalist tastes when it comes to book cover design, Isaac Tobin never ceased to amaze with his creations. It is hard to choose one book cover among so many that Tobin created, but we will stop our attention on one of them: Michael Skerker’s An Ethics of Interrogation (2010, University of Chicago Press), considered by many as one of the most interesting book covers in the last years.
You can take a look over Tobin’s great masterpieces on The Book Cover Archive and you can find out more about his most preferred works, challenges and sources of inspiration from this 2009 interview for the Casual Optimist, including the artist’s views on current trends in book cover design.
10. Catherine Casalino
Catherine Casalino is a young and promising book designer with such an impressive resume in book cover design, it is hard to believe that you didn’t stumble upon one of her signature covers so far. She is an Art Director for Grand Central Publishing – New York, and her name is well established in the publishing industry, as she worked with the big houses, including Random House and Simon & Schuster Publishing. Her views, talent and hand are behind appraised book covers such as Darren Shan’s Procession of the Dead, Barry Miles’s Call Me Burroughs and Craig Davidson’s Rust and Bone, among others.
On Talking Covers, you can find out more of Catherine’s views on book cover design, photography, vision and inspiration and you can see more of her works on her personal website.
What other book cover design artists do you know and are impressed about? What are your favorite book covers? But your favorite novels?