All posts in book covers

Bruce Kennett on W. A. Dwiggins at The Arts and Letters Club of Toronto

On March 20th about 100 people turned out to hear Bruce Kennett talk about W. A. Dwiggins, book designer, type designer, calligrapher, and master of marionettes, and Kennett’s recently published biography entitled W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design. The Alcuin Society was a co-sponsor of the event along with The Typographic Hub at Sheridan College, the Association of Registered Graphic Designers, Canada Type, and Letterform Archive, the book’s publisher. Continue Reading…

Book collecting: Edward Gorey’s Doubleday Anchor paperbacks


In the 1950s, the Anchor imprint began publishing sturdy pocketbooks for an American literary and academic audience, eschewing the lurid and glossy style that dominated the mass-market for subtler, matte covers that had sensitive and artistic interpretations of the texts. Well-known visual artists Leo Lionni, Ben Shahn, and Antonio Frasconi provided brilliant and distinctive graphics, but the most prolific and memorable designer on payroll was certainly Edward Gorey, whose illustrations of either exquisite loneliness or apartness, usually against expansive skyscapes, captured a magical existential moodiness then disrupted by flashes of pink and yellow detail. The uniform lettering of title, price (U.S. and then slightly higher in Canadian dollars), serial number, and publisher lends a holistic feel to the composition (how jarring when you encounter a later printing, where the price has risen and Gorey’s hand-lettering is replaced by a soul-less numeral, as in Henry Green’s Loving). Continue Reading…

Book cover prizes

Every year we celebrate the Canadian book design with the Alcuin Society Awards for Excellence in Book Design. We appreciate the beauty and elegance of well made and well designed books. But many times, the first sign of an intriguing or accomplished design is the cover itself. While there are no Canadian awards that honour exceptional covers that I know of, there are such prizes elsewhere. So much for not judging the book by the cover, when the cover is all that is being judged.

In the United States, AIGA (the American Institute of Graphic Arts) organizes the “50 Books/50 Covers” competition. As the name implies, the Institute chooses 50 books worthy of being mentioned, and as well as 50 covers, which are independent from the books chosen. 50 covers are quite a few, and looking at the covers selected from among the 2013 nominations, one might think they could do with fewer mentions. The results for 2014 are not out yet.

UK has quite a few contests, in keeping with the British tradition of fine publishing. One of the major ones is organized by Peguin Random House UK, of course. It has three categories, Adult Fiction, Adult Non-Fiction, and Children’s. An interesting part of the competition is that the shortlisted entrants have the opportunity to modify their designs according to the feedback offered by the Penguin Art Directors and resubmit them. Due to the long process, the results will only be announced on June 24th, but you can view previous winners here.

Another competition is Kelpies Design and Illustration Prize organized by Floris Books. For this, contestants are asked to design a cover for a specific children’s book. This year’s book was The Hill of the Red Fox and the winner was Lewis Copland.


Finally, we badmouthed ebook covers a while ago, but of course there are also very successful cover designs among them. The Book Designer blog undertook the task of identifying the best of them, and every month Joel Friedlander selects the finest from hundreds of submissions. You can find the April winners here. Quite a difference from How to Deal with Hippo Encounter.

Unexpected downside of ebooks: bad covers

As an integral part of book design, covers are discussed a lot here. We particularly focus on remarkable covers and talented cover designers, but the emergence of the ebook has brought an entire new breed of covers, unlike any you have ever seen in a book store: those designed by nonprofessionals, most likely by the author or his niece. And this is when we are not so happy that Photoshop is so easily available. If you thought Photoshop Disasters is a hoot, wait till you see these gems.

There is an actual website dedicated to them, Kindle Cover Disasters. Also notice the startling titles that grace some of these covers. Please, hold your applause till the end!

Best covers of 2014 according to the New York Times

The cover is a crucial part of a book, especially for some of us, who revere a well-designed cover as much as the most exquisite painting in the world’s greatest museums. With the transition to the digital, covers retained their relevance, while layout, typography, and pages became more fluid and customized. (One thing that has become more difficult with e-readers is directing others to our favourite passages, as pages vary according to device and preference.)

Designed by Peter Mendelsund

Designed by Peter Mendelsund

Therefore the significance of the cover grew accordingly, and in 2014 we have been rewarded with some very creative covers. Silence Once Begun by Jesse Ball is among those singled out by the New York Times, and it is one of my favourite because of the original way of treating the title and author, not as primary visual elements, but as part of a simple label. The emphasis is on the red scribble over the words “A Novel” both as a metaphoric signifier for silence, and as a seemingly deconstructive device, a refusal to conform.

Designed by Charlotte Strick

Designed by Charlotte Strick

Can’t and Won’t by Lydia Davis comes a close second for me, although I must admit it can be a little challenging to say what is the title in the beginning. But it is different, intriguing, and it draws you in, doesn’t it? It makes me want to read the whole story.

When it comes to ebooks, the covers are still quite behind considering the potential of the digital medium — these covers should not just replicate their paper siblings, but become animated, flowing, bewitching. That should about compensate for the unfortunate typography inside.

Preview of Murakami’s The Strange Library

The Strange Library was published in Japanese in 2008, but it is yet to be released in English. On December 2, 2014, the English edition will be released by Harvill Secker. The book is translated from Japanese by Ted Goossen and it is a special edition that features outstanding illustrations.

"A key turned in the lock, and in came a girl pushing a teacart." Illustration from The Strange Library

“A key turned in the lock, and in came a girl pushing a teacart.” Illustration from The Strange Library

The eerie tale is an account of a boy’s adventures in a library, which involves a number of unusual characters, just what we would expect from Murakami’s wonderful imagination. The Guardian offers a peek into a few more illustrations from The Strange Library. What an odd Christmas gift this would make, but why not?

New Harry Potter covers from Bloomsbury

Since the publication of its first volume in 1997, the Harry Potter  series created a new hero and a magic world that conquered hearts, young and old, became a household name, and hauled in its wake a multi-million dollar business in books, movies and memorabilia. Bloomsbury, the original publisher (fun fact: the initial run of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone was of only 500 copies), released a new set of covers at the beginning of September 2014. Here is Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone:


What is remarkable about the new cover? The fact that it was illustrated by Jonny Duddle, award-winning Welsh character developer and illustrator. Is it very original compared to the previous iterations? Not tremendously, but the characters are adorable in a Disney animation kind of way. But I believe there are other covers that stand out more.

harry potter covers
But wait! Why do some covers read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone? Because upon publication in the United States in 1998, Scholastic Corporation lobbied for changing the name as they thought children would not be interested in reading a book that has the word “philosopher” in the title. Which was quite an unfortunate change in my opinion, since the whole connection to alchemy was lost. Maybe children should be given a little more credit: if they can understand the customs and peculiarities of Hogwarts and its colourful faculty, they can digest a common word as “philosopher”.

Here are the other Harry Potter covers.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory: new cover from Penguin

Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory introduces us to one of the most eccentric and fantastic worlds of the childhood, seemed to have sparked from the wishful thinking imagination of a child: colourful characters with bizarre manners, rivers of sweets, and an unconventional take on manufacturing chocolate. For its 50th anniversary, Penguin decided to launch a new cover for the book, which is meant to highlight “the way Roald Dahl’s writing manages to embrace both the light and the dark aspects of life, ready for Charlie’s debut among the adult titles in the Penguin Modern Classics series.”

penguin charlie and the chocolate factory

It is certainly a departure from the more traditional covers, many of them illustrated by Quentin Blake.

charlie and the chocolate factory

While it is commendable that Penguin tried to go into a new direction, the updated cover seems macabre and disturbing, and it does not do the story justice. While browsing through a history of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory covers shows that publishers mainly favoured one style, the image of the new pink doll with psycho stare may not have the desired effect. Could a children’s book be transferred to the adult category just by designing a disquieting cover? What about the reverse? Could Stephen King’s books be targeted at children by offering them with colourful Charles van Sandwyk covers?


Moby Dick covers found at Chapters

Moby Dick book covers

A visit to your friendly neighbourhood Indigo Chapters will reveal not only a wealth of books (classics, best sellers, cookbooks, trend setters), but also a number of different editions, particularly for the classic titles. As I drifted in the M section, I noticed that there were no less that eight different versions of Moby Dick, and I got curious to see how book designers and illustrators chose to visually reinterpret the story of the big white whale.

Moby Dick covers found at Chapters

And here are the results: with one exception, in which the typographic treatment was preferred (part of the Penguins Drop Caps collection, cover designed by Jessica Hische), all the others feature whales in various positions and interpretations. Even Nathan Burton, who designed the other beautiful typographic cover in the bottom right corner, could not resist inserting a little whale tail.

It made me wonder: if I was commissioned to design a cover for Moby Dick, would I take the challenge of illustrating yet another whale, or I would go for a design that is not so obvious? So curious was I that I went to the old World Wide Web to find out what other book designers did. And I was overwhelmed by the sheer number of whales and whale body parts (eyes, tails, humps) that stared at me from my browser window. After sifting through dozens of covers I was able to find no more than five that focused on another element of the well-known story. Because there are other elements in this story: the sea, the boat, Captain Ahab, even the harpoon. But at the end of the day, I guess we all have to bow to the whale. Or do we?

Moby Dick covers found online

Book covers: Haruki Murakami

Sooner or later, we all find ourselves irresistibly drawn to a book cover. Be it through an unexpected colour palette, creative illustration, or unusual texture, the book cover is one place where the book designer can fully express his interpretation of the book, without worrying about functionality, legibility, or accuracy. Sometimes, this is how the same book can become edgy, sophisticated, eccentric, or anything in between. And while some designers prefer to play it safe, some of them really embrace the possibilities and do not miss the chance to experiment, as it can be seen in this article in The Guardian.

But not all book covers have to involve an extraordinary process to be appealing. Sometimes some good old high-quality artwork can hit the right spot, as in these covers for Haruki Murakami’s novels produced by the Spanish illustrator Celia Arellano who lives in Manchester. The exquisite attention to detail in the illustrations complements Murakami’s style, the pastel colour choices convey a pensive mood, and the simple but elegant typographical treatment of the title and author’s name do not detract from the rest of the composition. As a bonus feature, have a peek at Celia’s sketchbook; spying on the creative process is always an indulgence.