Penguin 75: An AIGANY Panel

As I’ve mentioned before, this year is a great time to join the Penguin team – it’s the 75th anniversary of the classic paperback publisher.  Since (of course!) I feel that Penguin’s greatest strength is its design and branding philosophy, I wasn’t going to miss the chance to hear about it from some of the best creative brains in the company at last Thursday’s AIGA panel.

First of all, can I just say that AIGA kicked off the event with some hilarious and heavily-accented (do those two things go together?) moderators!  Board member Matteo Bologna, founder and president of Mucca Design Corporation, introduced Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, an amazing book designer and creative director in his own right. You may know him as the creator of the children’s book Bembo’s Zoo (don’t miss the amazing online version!), which always reminds me of the best Type II project anyone could produce. I mean, it’s the same concept as your standard “play with letterforms” exercise, but blows every student out of the water.

Anyway, Bologna and de Cumptich got the crowd warmed up for what would continue to be a very witty discussion on the process of book cover design.

The featured guest of the evening was Paul Buckley, Executive VP and Creative Director of Penguin, not to mention editor of the featured Penguin 75 book.  Aside from jokes about his former ’90s mullet and current “Penguin-esque” bald look, Buckley had some seriously enlightening things to say about the evolution of covers.  Since Buckley was/is an illustrator as well (that’s his first love and original life plan), he’s passionate about integrating art and design, and pushing the limits of how the two can transform the surface of a book.  Although he oversees hundreds of titles per year, you can still see his mark on the direction of new and old classics, such as the mind-blowingly AWESOME Penguin Ink series featuring tattoo artists.

Bridget Jones’ Diary, illustrated by Tara McPherson

Moon Palace, illustrated by Grez at Kings Avenue Tattoo

Two of Paul’s designers also took the stage: Gregg Kulick, whose punk-rock meets kitsch sensibility is just as cool on book covers as it is on show posters, and Jim Tierney, whom you may recognize from my last post (um, what a coincidence! We’ve met! We started Penguin the same day! I really did not put any of it together until I got to this event!).  One of the most surprising things about their talks is that they showed a lot of their past work – what they did as a student, where they went after graduating, that sort of thing.  It’s both encouraging to see one’s style evolves after graduation, and intimidating that they were just as talented then.  I’m at home redo-ing my senior projects, but these dudes? Publication-ready from the start.

I spent most of the evening astounded by how many completely different versions of adult covers get made before the final is approved.  Penguin 75 showcases these shelved variations, with added commentary from the designers and authors involved. Interestingly, some of the essays are brutally honest, such as (the guru of Minnesota Lutherans) Garrison Keillor’s scathing review of his cover, Love Me.

So it was only appropriate that they brought up an author, A.M. Homes, to comment, improv-style, on the unseen covers of her novel, This Book Will Save Your Life.  I give her major props for going up in front of an auditorium of judgy discerning designers to talk about the subject they know most.  And she really held her own, keeping it light, funny and honest, and still sounding intelligent.  The panel added their “insider’s view” of the evolution of her cover, and while any number of the versions could have worked well, I think they ended up with a great result.

This Book Will Save Your Life, hardcover and paperback covers

I’m looking forward to reading the rest of Penguin 75 soon… can’t wait to hear what more authors have to say about their classics!

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