James Paul Jones‘s unused covers for The Cycling Anthology (pictured above) were some of my favourite designs from 2015. Based on famous cycling jerseys, I liked that they were a nod to insiders, but that you that didn’t need to be a cycling fan to appreciate the stylish minimalism of the designs.
When I learnt that they were passed over in favour of a more traditional, illustrative approach, I asked James about his work on cycling books, and why the jersey covers didn’t go to press.
“I’ve always loved sports but I didn’t count myself a cycling enthusiast until my last year working at Orion Publishing where I was given the job of art directing the photo shoot for David Millar’s book Racing through the Dark,” he told me. “Working with David opened my eyes to the cycling world, and I was lucky enough to work on Sir Bradley Wiggins’ book a couple of years later.”
“Coincidentally David Millar writes beautifully about cycling and has a few essays as part of the Cycling Anthology,” James continued. “I also just finished designing his latest book, The Racer a few months back — all cycling enthusiasts should grab a copy! The contact sheet of ‘tour scars’ is one of my favourite plate sections we’ve ever done, and the back cover features one of the final jerseys he ever wore. Complete with rips, holes and bloody marks from one of his most brutal crashes. As soon as we saw it we knew it had to be featured somewhere, and the photographer captured it brilliantly.”
The Cycling Anthology presented a different kind of challenge, however. Originally self-published, it collects original writing by some of the world’s best writers on the sport, as well as cyclists themselves. Now published by Yellow Jersey Press (an imprint of Penguin Random House), the new volumes of the anthology presented James with an opportunity to repackage the series as a whole, and to experiment with a new look for the covers.
“I wanted to present the editors and authors with two options. A more traditional route, and an option that would hopefully resonate with the cycling community. The jerseys were the latter, and one of the first things I researched. I really wanted to make that connection with the cycling community, and the target market is very design conscious which helps. They are so iconic in the cycling world it just seemed to make perfect sense.”
The design of the first volume was inspired by the world champion rainbow jersey. The second by the famous blue and white Bianchi jersey. Volume three was based on the ‘King of the Mountains’ polka dot jersey and the fourth on the Molteni jersey worn by the great Eddy Merckx. The fifth volume was inspired by the chequered shirt of the French cycling team Peugeot. “There were so many jerseys I wanted to include,” said James. “I also recommend David Sparshott’s poster of Cycling Jerseys for anyone wanting to admire the greats in his signature illustration style. Just gorgeous.”
Despite the obvious appeal of these new designs, the publisher decided to stay with a familiar look to the series. “I think the authors wanted to retain some elements from the original designs, which we did on the final covers with the illustrations, and I’m happy with how they turned out,” James told me. “The illustrations are by the talented Simon Scarsbrook. Volumes 1-3 used the original artwork, and we commissioned Simon to come up with two more illustrations for volumes four and five. He was great to work with and they work really well as a series.”
James kept the stripes from the world champion jersey and used them across all the final covers to help unify the series. “The jersey covers will forever by one of my favourite ‘killed covers’ and I really wish they would have taken a chance on them as I’m sure they would have done the job and more.” Agreed.
I haven’t seen Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and I’ve been surprised by my own ambivalence towards it. But as someone who was almost exactly the right age for the original trilogy (give or take a year or two) — and still has a slightly morbid fascination with Star Wars as a cultural phenomenon — I’ve managed to read rather a lot about it.
I particularly enjoyed two articles specifically about The Force Awakens. First off, there’s Aaron Bady’s essay Our Star Wars Holiday Special for The New Inquiry:
Every beat in The Force Awakens reminds you that you are watching fan service. It recycles the original Star Wars with the same shameless and joyous abandon that the original trilogy “recycled” chanbara samurai movies, WWII movies, pulp sci-fi, and anything else that George Lucas happened to come across and devour. And this point is worth underscoring: Lucas gobbled up and digested so many different pop cultural predecessors, and did it so directly and shamelessly, that to subject any of the resulting crap to standards of originality is to fundamentally misunderstand how it works, or why. The man literally cut together footage from WWII fighter pilot films and then re-shot it as space battles; his first treatment actually plagiarizes Donald Richie’s description of The Hidden Fortress. But to accuse him of “plagiarism” is like accusing him of making a movie. If it felt good, he released it, and that’s Star Wars: sensation and feeling without thought or coherence. Star Wars is the indescribable goodness of the images and sounds, and the way that goodness overwhelms and digests the rest of it. Star Wars misses the target if it aims. Just let go, Luke. Trust yourself.
Critics have blamed J.J. Abrams, or George Lucas, or Disney (as Lucas and Michael Hitzlik have) for the film’s lack of novelty, but whomever they’ve singled out, the range of causes has been far too narrow, locating responsibility within the production narrative of The Force Awakens. That’s typical. For decades Star Wars has inspired a strangely blinkered sort of criticism that leans on the franchise’s unique success and Lucas’s unique authority to justify treating it as somehow apart from Hollywood as a whole. It has been seen as responsible for the end of The ’70s, but somehow not the product of that ending. Worse, Lucas’s own cod-Jungian narrative theory has governed the understanding of the films’ stories to the exclusion of changes in Hollywood storytelling over the same period.
As a result, criticisms — or defenses — of Star Wars’s narrative retreading are misguided, not because the film is narratively innovative, but because critics continue to regard it as far more immune to the broad tendencies in big-budget Hollywood filmmaking than it is now or ever was.
Both articles probably contain spoilers (if that matters to you), and although neither one convinced me that I must actually go see The Force Awakens, they seem to be clear-eyed assessments of where it sits vis a vis the original film.
[O]ne premise of the jerk theory is that any one of us might be a jerk at almost any time, given the right conditions—a bad day at work, cramped travelling conditions, too much humidity—there is more to the failures here than cases of what we might call Excessive Entitlement Disorder, or EED. Presumably, most of us do not suffer from this condition; such people are merely the bellwethers of the system, the perverse canaries in the coal mine of plutocratic society. Of course, we must allow here for the fact that such people’s behaviour does not strike them as unseemly.
When the asshole is comprehensively reified—or when EED is well advanced—there is little sense on his own part that there is anything wrong with the picture except that he’s still waiting for that damn martini. Did you send down the street for it, or what? Such blindness is part of the true asshole. The jerk, again by contrast, may come to perceive that his behaviour has been bad, that he has failed his fellow citizens in not treating them as peers. This may happen soon after the behaviour, especially when the immediate circumstances change (I get that cool drink, we get out of the small car, the air clears); or perhaps when, relating the event to a friend in search of validation, he instead receives a rebuke.
Regret may be rare and hard to come by, but the general sense that jerkiness is associated with perceived and maybe temporary superiority, rather than with entrenched entitlement, offers at least the chance of asking oneself: Hey, was I being a jerk?
Oof. Hello, January. This is all rather soon isn’t it? But here we are, a new month, and another selection of new book covers (with a few ‘old’ ones that I missed in the excitement at the end of 2015). Happy New Year…
“The art on this book’s cover is unsigned and was created for a romance novella published in Mexico City in the 1960s that appeared in serial form. This piece was produced using collage and gouache overpainting on illustration board, and the back reads “El Angel No. 64.” The printer of these covers held on to the originals for decades, and the entire collection was recently purchased from his warehouse. Works are available from the Pardee Collection Gallery of Iowa City, and ‘El Angel’ is provided courtesy of Diane Williams and Wolfgang Neumann.”
This looks absolutely beautiful, but I’ve seen very little about it online, much less seen it in person. Apparently Sanna Annukka has also illustrated an edition of Hans Christian Andersen’s The Fir Tree. It looks wonderful too.
Storytelling, at least from my experience of it… I think it’s a stand-in for day to day life. So, when you come to a story with this attitude we’ve been talking about, which is kind of hopeful, generous, not to pushy. It’s like ‘well, what are you? I don’t know.’ You know, when you try to leave your ideas about the story at the door… those things are so much like what you do with the person in your life that you love. You come back to them again and again and try to intuit their real expansiveness, and you try to keep them close to you, you try to give them the benefit of the doubt. So in that sense you could see revision as a form of active love. It’s actually love in progress, I guess.
Author George Saunders on story:
These unadorned outtakes of Saunders just talking direct to camera about his writing process are even better:
Although the early reviews have not been especially kind to the Ben Wheatley film adaptation of J.G. Ballard’s High-Rise, the trailer looks amazing. The Anthony Royal Architecture website is also a nice touch.
As my 2014 post was such a hit, here is my second annual look at the past year’s young adult book covers. This isn’t my speciality, so this list is a lot more of a crowd-sourced effort than my very personal adult list. A special thank you to all the designers who have made suggestions in the past couple of weeks — you know who you are! — and if there are any burning omissions, please let me know in the comments!
Back in 2014, there were signs that book cover design was maybe, just maybe, having a moment. Suzanne Dean was on the BBC. Peter Mendelsund was on… well, everything. But if 2015 has felt a little quiet by comparison, there were still plenty of reasons to be cheerful. This year’s list includes over 120 covers by 60 designers, and there is little doubt in my mind that this really is a golden time for book design.
Thank you to all the art directors, designers, and publicists who have supported the blog this year, and who make posts like this possible. Thanks too, to my local bookstore TYPE for letting me browse their shelves.