When it comes to choosing the year’s best book covers, it seems that everyone is at it these days…
Against Everything by Mark Greif; design by Kelly Blair (Pantheon / 2016)
Private Novelist by Nell Zink; design by Sara Wood, art by Evgenia Loli (Ecco / 2016)
“These covers are challenging without being impenetrable and playful without being precious — none of which is an easy task for a designer. If good design might lure us into an experience that makes us smarter, then we’ve hit the jackpot when the book allows us to spend time within the head space of a stranger.”
I always look forward to Matt Dorfmann’s selections for the New York Times Book Review. Matt is the NYTBR‘s art director and a cover designer in his own right so he knows what he’s talking about, and his choices are always interesting. If I am honest, I think this is the list the designers (American designers at least) really pay attention to. And it’s worth noting that half of Matt’s choices this year were designed by women.
Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple; design by Kelly Blair; cover art by Geoff McFetridge (Little Brown & Co / October 2016)
I’m Supposed to Protect You From All This by Nadja Spiegelman; design by Grace Han (Riverhead / August 2016)
Some of the most interesting and innovative book covers in the last few years have been designed as part of a series — designers and art directors seem to have more leeway with backlist titles (especially so if the author is no longer in the picture!) — and 2016 was no exception. Here are some of my favourite series designs from past year…
The Angelus Trilogy by John Steele; designed by Jason Booher (Blue Rider Press / 2016)
Inspector Littlejohn Mysteries by George Bellairs; design Stuart Bache (IPSO Books / 2016)
Hot on the heels of my annual covers post, here is my look back at the year’s young adult book covers. As in previous years, this list is a somewhat crowd-sourced affair, so I must thank all the designers and Twitter-folk who made suggestions and helped in various others ways. I’ve tried my best to credit the designs as fully as possible, but please let me know if there are any errors or omissions.
Aluta by Adwoa Badoe; design Michael Solomon; cover art Shonagh Rae (Groundwood / September 2016)
It is that wonderful/awful time of year. Wonderful because we get to look back at some of the amazing work people have done over the past 12 months. Awful because lists are arbitrary and someone always misses out.
I’m not going to say these are the ‘best’ covers of year. I don’t think it’s fair, and I don’t feel qualified to make that kind of judgement. This post is more an attempt to reflect the year in covers as I saw it — the covers I liked; the covers I thought were well done; the covers I thought were interesting; the covers that I thought were a bit different.
Like last year, I’ve clustered my selections around designers. Not only does this allow me to post more covers, it means I can show a greater diversity of work.
I am truly sorry to all the hardworking and talented designers (and art directors) whose work I have overlooked this year. I do my best. It is not enough. Bring on 2017.
Rauschenberg started visiting in 1962, before moving to Captiva nine years later, describing it as “the foundation of my life and my work… the source and reserve of my energies”. His work by then had become ambitious and complicated; Captiva forced a return to simplicity, and the first things he produced were a selection of wall sculptures made from battered cardboard boxes.
For the world beyond Captiva’s white sands, however, a reacquaintance with Robert Rauschenberg is long overdue. In Britain, there has been no major retrospective of his work since 1981, while the last big US survey, at the Guggenheim in New York, took place in 1997. That will change next month, when Tate Modern opens a London retrospective; it will then move to Moma in New York next May, and after that to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Rauschenberg left a bold and indelible mark on the 20th century. His combines, which integrated the flotsam and trash of everyday life, including the artist’s own duvet in Bed (1955), were neither painting nor sculpture, and proved that anything could be the material of art. At Tate Modern, pride of place will be given to Monogram 1955–59, a horizontal canvas on which perches a stuffed goat with a tyre around its midriff; the work thrilled and scandalised when it was first shown at Castelli’s gallery in New York, and rapidly became synonymous with the artist’s iconoclasm. Since then, his relevance has only increased, says Leah Dickerman, co-curator of the new retrospective: “When you open a gallery and see the art that’s made out of the stuff of the real world, that’s coming off the walls, that’s interdisciplinary in its approach, all that is the legacy of Rauschenberg.”
Making the combines, Rauschenberg felt he was cracking “the secret language of junk”. They could be composed of anything: a goat corseted by a tire; a stuffed bald eagle. One of the very first, Untitled (Man with White Shoes), contained – deep breath – fabric, newspaper, a photograph of Jasper Johns, a handwritten letter from Rauschenberg’s son, a drawing by Twombly, glass, mirror, tin, cork, a pair of the artist’s socks and painted leather shoes, dried grass and a taxidermied Plymouth Rock hen.
All the same, there’s a limit to how much world you can cram into a sculpture, and as Rauschenberg’s success grew he became increasingly fascinated by replication. Back in 1952, he’d experimented with transfer drawing, and in 1958 he embarked on a grand project of illustrating Dante’s Inferno using lighter fluid to transfer images on to paper. In 1962, Andy Warhol introduced him to a far more sophisticated technique: the wizardry of using photographic images on silkscreen canvases.
Now he could reuse and resize his own photos and those he snipped from newspapers and magazines, giving him an unprecedented power of composition. Anything could be incorporated: John F Kennedy; a water tower; Bonnie and Clyde. As he gleefully observed of the silkscreen paintings: “It’s as much like Christmas to me as using objects I pick up on the street.” He was giddy for them, until in 1964 he was awarded the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale. Terrified of stasis, the next day he called his New York studio and asked his assistant to burn all the screens.
These Jason Booher covers for the paperback editions of Jon Steele’s The Angelus Trilogy, published by Blue Rider Press in August, bring a whole new meaning to ‘side eye’1 I love that they use Albrecht Dürer etchings as part of the design…
I’m not sure anyone is paying too much attention to book design this week, but if you’re looking for a few minutes diversion from the awfulness of almost everything, here’s this month’s selection of quirky, beautiful, and otherwise interesting book covers…