Covered Up Blog

Where you will find interviews, company news, and more

Design on the other side of the world…

I came across the work of Indonesian designer Sandy Karman while vacationing in Hawaii. I am sure there is a more reliable site for his work out there, but this was all I found. The work is very modern and I would say follows a strong modernist design aesthetic with an obvious Asian flare. But above all I am attracted to the unique type treatments and playfulness of the illustrations. From his profile I pulled this list of his favorite designers/artists and presumably influences:

Favorite designers: Ralph Schraivogel, Kazumasa Nagai, Wim Crouwel, Wolfgang Weingart, Niklaus Troxler, Cyan, M/M

Favorite artists: Piet Mondrian, Gustav Klimt, Pablo Picasso, Robert Rauschenberg, Damien Hirst, Agus Suwage

Also, an interesting article on the History of Graphic Design in Indonesia.

 

There are certainly countries that are known for producing great graphic works. And then there are those places that fall into a rutt design-wise. Being in Hawaii for 15 days, I have to say that there is a design rutt going on. Everything looks the same graphically. And every other piece of graphic design seems to be a bad copy of the previous. I started my career in Hawaii at Clarence Lee Design and Associates. At the time, and I would say even today, they are probably ahead of the curve of most of the design firms on the Islands. Clarence himself got his start with legend Lester Beall. and design this poster at the time:

 

I think what I like most about Sandy Karman’s work is that there is that strong underlying modernist set of rules governing his approach, but then there is the obvious indonesian playfulness in the work that makes it fresh for me. Utilty with a strong sense of personality and place. I think that is important, esspecially in poster work. I think it’s what many cover designers struggle with: content and utility vs. personal artistic expression. How do you make something beautiful and original and artistically expressive while fullfilling a very commercial need in an increasingly conservitive market? I am sure for many book cover designers out there this industry is proving to be a boring outlet for their creative side.

Speaking of posters, a nice piece on the Polish Poster here.

On Editing the Novel (a Primer): Laura Warholic by Alexander Theroux

This an essay that my friend Mark Burstein, a book editor, wrote a while back on the much anticipated Fantagraphics release of Alexander Theroux’s notorious (unedited) work, Laura Warholic.



“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” —Michelangelo

I cannot overstate with what excitement I saw, at the end of a Fantagraphics catalog last year, an announcement for Laura Warholic, or The Sexual Intellectual, the first novel by the inordinately talented Alexander Theroux in two decades, although I confess to a bit of bewilderment at the time as to why it was coming out from a publisher known exclusively for comics and graphic novels, rather than one of the Big Guns in New York. As you will see, there are no mysteries.

Theroux’s preternaturally grandiloquent, prolix masterpiece, Darconville’s Cat (1981), stands for me as one of five most significant and thoroughly enjoyable word-drunk novels of the twentieth century (for the record, the others are Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow, Nabokov’s Ada, Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, and Durrell’s Alexandria Quartet), and Theroux’s Three Wogs contains three extraordinarily enjoyable novellas. Having now read Laura, I weep for the masterwork so obviously contained therein, had Theroux the courage to allow the conventional editorial process to shape it. Instead, in a self-defeating act of extraordinary hubris, he contracted with the one publisher who was, as he stated, “willing to publish the full manuscript without carping or cozy abridgements,” in other words, any editing at all (save for a mediocre copyedit).

But why? Laura’s character Ratnaster self-referentially laments that he had “written a masterpiece of novel, later published to high acclaim, that had been notoriously mishandled for years by several perfectly stupid literary agents, trollops of Gothic ignorance, and then a series of bird-witted editors.” Is that so?

There are three stages to the editorial process (I am abridging significantly). First, what is conventionally thought of as the editor (also known as the structural, substantive, or literary editor) suggests where fat can be trimmed, sections expanded or taken away, and how the novel can flow better; in other words, becoming that “ideal reader,” and working alongside the author and the manuscript to reveal the “lovely apparition” Michelangelo spoke of within. In this case, dozens of pages of mind-numbing redundancy of near-identical descriptions of Laura’s personality flaws could easily go; in fact, many portrayals of the bizarre nature of his characters, rather than inducing gales of laughter as did Darconville’s mad eunuch, Crucifer, become gratuitous, ugly, and simply boring. Furthermore:

Lewis Carroll, explaining in the introduction to Sylvie and Bruno (1889) how the book came to be written, says, “As the years went on, I jotted down, at odd moments, all sorts of odd ideas, and fragments of dialogue, that occurred to me—who knows how?—with a transitory suddenness that left me no choice but either to record them then and there, or to abandon them to oblivion…And thus it came to pass that I found myself at last in possession of a huge unwieldy mass of litter-ature—if the reader will kindly excuse the spelling—which only needed stringing together, upon the thread of a consecutive story, to constitute the book I had hoped to write.” Theroux’s execrable habit of taking his own “little darlings”—fragments of dialog from movies, jokes passed along the Internet (for goodness sake!), passages from books, lists, half-remembered witty remarks, apocryphal lore, etc.—and inserting them into the dialog in this case often justifies Carroll’s spelling. This indolent and self-indulgent practice of the author’s very much marred his The Primary Colors (1994) and The Secondary Colors (1996), making them sound like student research rather than writing, and resulting in his being busted for several instances of outright plagiarism. It’s all so unnecessary. And in Laura, a distraction and a complete waste of space.

In the second editorial stage, once the manuscript is ready, a competent copyeditor takes it and corrects spelling, grammar, unreadable sentence structure, infelicitous phrases, and so on. Here, for a few quick examples out of hundreds, the copyeditor didn’t seem to be able to distinguish “complement” from “compliment,” “principle” from “principal,” nor realize how many “o”s are in “Virginia Wolf,” as she is referred to in the novel. Irritating, at best, and a plethora of such errors exist between Laura’s covers.

Finally, once it has been set in type, a proofreader notices things like “widows” (a short last line from a previous page appearing at the top of the next), orphans (a single line at the bottom of a page), bad breaks (words improperly hyphenated), extraneous paragraph breaks, wrong fonts, and other layout problems. Obviously, this stage was not deemed necessary by the oh-so-wise heads at Fantagraphics, doing their first text novel. Many such ugly blemishes are sighted herein. Pfui.

Even the cover of the book betrays the fragility of Theroux’s ego. Portraying the unutterably gorgeous Evelyn Nesbit, but never identified as to either subject or photographer—it only says “Cover design: Alexander Theroux”—it makes one wonder what she is doing there (yes, there is an internal reference to her, but her beauty is as far from the cartoon grotesqueries of the novel as one can possibly get). Not to mention that the subtitle, The Sexual Intellectual, refers to an unfortunate newspaper column the male protagonist writes, not to Ms. Nesbit nor, more significantly, to the novel’s titular character. Misleading at best.

Laura stands at a weighty 878 pages. A sympathetic editor is an author’s best friend, not adversary. Had Theroux only allowed one to “to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition,” readers would be treated to the taut, elegant, exuberant, exhilarating 700-page beauty lying within. Ah, but nay.

Such a shame.

You authors out there: be not afraid of your allies.

Marc J. Cohen has a soft spot for book publishing

Marc J. Cohen is a book design icon. There was a time, in the 1980s and ’90s, when it seemed like every other cover on the shelf was created by Marc Cohen and art directed by Susan Mitchell.

Growing up in Manhattan, I have fond memories of my father and I running around New York in a blue pickup truck, delivering proofs to clients. I remember stopping by various studios to show clients silkscreen proofs of their art. They would critique or accept the proof, and we’d be on our way back to the studio.

The studio was Rosepoint in the Dumbo district of Brooklyn. And unbeknownst to me, Cohen’s office was downstairs. My father did book-cover work for Cohen for a brief time, and my father and I often scoured the bookstore shelves looking for my father’s covers. In the process, we’d come upon a million other covers done by Cohen, and my dad would quickly point them out.

So perhaps there exists a bias in my perception of the sheer volume of Cohen covers I have come upon in my life, but nonetheless, the man has had a prolific book-design career.

All silly stories aside, I have always enjoyed the various recognizable aspects of those covers. They seemed quickly produced - and I mean that in a good way. They had all the elements of a good cover: great image, strong type and composition, etc. But above all, they were interesting to look at. They often contained hand-done type, cascading letter forms, collage-like picture arrangements, and so many other wonderful nuances that publishers no longer seem to take chances with.

And that saddens me, because I look at that “old” work and I feel as if a certain innocence has been lost. These days, designers and publishers tend to over-think the book-cover design process. Too many people are involved in the creation, and the end result is that many book covers wind up looking calculated. They lose their charm as pieces of art and become perhaps what they have had to become in today’s economy: commercial books. The need to have all of the elements follow a certain template or prescribed look has made the bookstore shelf a bland mirage of sameness.

Alas, I digress. My primary desire in conducting this interview was to get a glimpse of what made that Cohen/Mitchell combo such a powerhouse. Because even today, as I browse the bookstore shelf, I find myself staring hard at a Cohen cover.

Give us a little background on how you started doing book-cover design. Where did you study? Name some of your design inspirations and influences. What were some defining first jobs?
I received a B.S. in biology from the University of Pittsburgh, with a minor in chemistry. My intention was to go to medical school. But I had always taken art courses and did a lot of sculpture. In my senior year I decided to apply to med school and art school, figuring the decision would be made for me. I was accepted to both, and after much soul-searching, art school won out. I completed my degree at the Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia in two-and-a-half years while working as a medical illustrator. Medical illustration quickly became boring, so I returned to New York.

At Tyler, my biggest influence was one of my professors, Stanislaw Zagorski. He was a great illustrator and a Time Magazine cover contributor. He forced me to think and rethink everything I worked on. Busted my butt.

One time, he was critiquing my work and with a sweep of his hand, my project - a book cover - fell from the board and hit the floor. It lay there as he continued his negative commentary. It might still be there.

I started shopping my portfolio around and received my first assignment from Bob Ciano, an art director at The New York Times. I got the job at 11 a.m. on Wednesday and had to have concepts to discuss four hours later. The finished art was due by noon Thursday for the Sunday edition. And this was my first job!

Now for the juicy stuff. Tell us what led to your amazing working relationship with legendery designer Susan Mitchell. How did it happen, what were the highlights and how did it end?
After freelancing for a two-and-a-half years, I got a call from Barbara Bertoli at Avon Books. I don’t remember meeting her, but I must’ve dropped off some of my work. At that time I was doing a lot of hand lettering for magazines, along with illustrations. She offered me a designer’s job over the phone. So I went to work for Avon Books, my first (and last) staff job.

After about 10 months, I left Avon with a couple of art directors - Carol Inoue and Lem Rauk - and we opened a design studio called Visible Ink. We had different viewpoints, but we were all focused on book-cover design and we worked well together. It was at this time that I met Sarah Eisenman at the publishing house Knopf. She was a wonderful art director who always seemed to give me the right projects. Through Sarah I met Susan Mitchell, who was three doors down the hall.

Working with Susan was one of the most amazing, intense, difficult and creative times of my life. I once described our relationship as Siamese twins constantly yelling at each other. She called me to work on a new line of books that Vintage wanted to produce that would be an imprint called Vintage International. The authors included Albert Camus, Thomas Mann, Vladimir Nabokov, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Marcel Proust, V. S. Naipaul and many more.

Susan and I put an enormous amount of effort into trying to create a flexible design that worked within a branded identity. Each author had to have a strong sense of individuality without compromising the Vintage International look and feel. We explored the use of subtle textures and patterns as backgrounds or within the illustrations themselves. I remember Susan and I showing a printer comps of the tone-on-tone techniques we’d developed. At first all he said was, “You can’t get that on press!” But he did.

What was the developmental process behind the various cover designs? Obviously you worked with illustrators, designers, etc., but the covers all have a certain sensibility about them. In no other way can I describe it than, “Looks like a Cohen cover.” There was a time when it seemed that every other cover on the shelf was done by your studio. Did you manage every title that came through, or did you give a lot of freedom to the designers you worked with?
We tried to find and create art that had never been used on books before. We used copy machines to make many of the illustrations. Photographer Barnaby Hall became a tremendous asset - and a hell of a lot of fun to work with.

Remember, there were no computers to create these looks back then. Everything was done by hand - and educated guesswork. Susan was relentless. Each cover had to be part of the series but still allow the author his or her unique quality. We produced 56 covers for the first list, and 20-something for the next and future lists.

The studio consisted of a mechanical artist and me. Some of the mechanicals were extraordinary pieces of art themselves. We also worked closely with a silkscreen company called Rosepoint for color comping. I moved the studio to be downstairs from their office so I could manage the jobs more efficiently.

There are way too many incredible covers that came out of that relationship. What are your three top covers, and why?
We did many covers for what we called “The Black Cloud List.” These remain some of my favorite covers: The Stranger by Albert Camus, the Yukio Mishima series, Lolita and Look at the Harlequins by Vladimir Nabokov, Confessions of Zeno by Italo Svevo, Nobody Know My Name by James Baldwin, and The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison.

What are you up to these days? One of my hopes for this interview is to get a good sense of your career trajectory.
Although I got my start in book-cover design, I have since worked in many areas of design and corporate marketing. I’ve created sales and marketing programs for magazines, financial services companies, and industrial firms. I produced all of the introduction marketing materials and video for The Sunday Wall Street Journal, as well as the AXA financial materials when AXA took over Equitable Life. I’ve also developed pharmaceutical communications and designed theatrical posters.

I still have a soft spot for book publishing, and I still design many covers. Sometimes I miss the complexity and detail of the old ways of working, but it’s certainly easier to make changes these days. Sometimes it’s too easy, but that’s another story.

Your time is quite appreciated, as are your mind-blowing contributions to book art and design. You will not fade from our memories anytime soon. Thanks most sincerely, Marc.

Carin Goldberg: Problem Solver

We will be doing a set of interviews on this blog, so who better to start with than Carin Goldberg? Looking at Carin’s work is like owning my own Euphio (a fictional happiness-inducing device in a 1951 short story by Kurt Vonnegut). It makes me giddy. There are so many nuances of pleasure to be found in the way she solves her design problems it’s maddening.

Although Carin has been interviewed many times over the years and I am sure Debbie Millman has had her online on
Design Matters, it’s been a while. I occasionally come upon her old work and recently, a few new book covers for Other Press. But I was curious, I wanted to know first hand. I also feel that knowing the career trajectory, and being familiar with the work of prominent designers is our duty and obligation as young guns on the scene. It helps put our work in perspective and obviously provides a treasure trove of visual information for us to take examples from and try our best to apply in our work, in an informed, appropriate context. Somewhere along the line, we start to “get” what these designers were trying to do, whether that be in relation to a particular project/client relationship, in context of the socio-political climate, or simply as personal explorations of pushing the limits of visual communication.

We hope you enjoy this pilot interview and official launch point for our blog.
Bon appétit!

 

 
 

 

Where did you study and who were some of your influences/design heroes?
I studied at The Cooper Union and majored in painting. There wasn’t much of a design department during the years I attended. I didn’t know much about graphic design so it wasn’t until much later that I began to have heroes. I did have a class with Herb Lubalin and Seymour Chwast but I was too naive to know I should be genuflecting at the time.

What was your first design-related job and what are some fond memories from that time?
My first real job was for a horny middle-aged guy who liked to tell me that he liked to swim naked and “feel the water rushing through his balls”. Not necessarily a fond memory but it prepared me for what was yet to come. My first legitimate job was amazing and changed my life: I was hired by Lou Dorfsman at CBS Television Network. He was one of my heroes. Still is.

What was the climate at CBS Records when you worked there (late 1970s)? What were some key projects you worked on and when did you leave and why?
Exciting, extreme, exhilarating wildly creative, chauvinistic, hedonistic, hilarious, fun as hell, mean, nuts. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll. I started in the advertising department and worked on great projects with great people. Patti LaBelle and Kenny Loggins were artists I worked with on a regular basis. I left for a year to design covers for Atlantic Records and then came back to the CBS packaging department and designed classical and jazz covers under the brilliant tutelage of Henrietta Condak, an unsung design hero.


About what time did you start design book covers and what led up to this decision?

I started my own studio in 1982. I continued designing record covers for a few clients. The J. Geils Band was a steady client and it was around then that I designed/art directed the cover for Madonna’s debut album. During that time I designed all of the covers for Nonesuch Records. Designing book jackets wasn’t necessarily a decision. It just seemed like a natural transition. Plus, the work was there to be had. I will say though that it took about a year to convince book jacket art director’s to give me work. They couldn’t make the leap from album covers to book jackets. Thankfully, Louise Fili, Judy Loeser and Lydia Ferrara, all art directors at Random House, were good enough to jump-start my career as a book jacket designer. From then on the work poured in for over fifteen years from every publisher in the country. I designed over 125 covers a year.

You have been called many things in your design career pertaining to your knack at breaking the rules and bending stylistic integrity. Tibor Kalman attributed the terms “Pillaging History” and “jive Modernism” to your work. In retrospect and perhaps at the time, did you take this as a compliment or did you have theoretical opinions as to what you were trying to explore with your work?
This whole thing has been dragged through the mud up, down, left and right! At the time I was oblivious to what Tibor Kalman said about me and my colleagues. I wasn’t at the conference. I was too busy working my ass off. It wasn’t until much later when all anyone could ask me was how I felt about the matter. That’s how I became acutely aware of this never-ending drama. (I just sent a fairly curt note to Armin Vit chiding/begging him to  please give this thing a rest too. In his most recent book, the ONLY mention of my 30-year career is that damn “post-modern” Ulysses cover. It’s insulting and infuriating. I’ve talked about this ad nauseum. I’m done.




How much of your work would you describe as being a personal statement and testament about design and how often do you try to make your clients understand things from your perspective and fight for your design?

I solve problems. Period. Of course my “personal” statements are there. Sometimes more overt or prominent. No accident. It all depends on the specific situation. But form and ideas are always in tandem. I believe in “fighting” for the work when appropriate and when I have the opportunity. But “fight” is really not an accurate word. It’s much more dignified and intelligent than that. I’m good at it. I have been teaching for 27 years. I know how to talk about design, intent, ideas…

Not that quantity matters, but about how many book covers have you done in your career?
A zillion..

What genre of books do you enjoy working on most?
Good, smart books written by smart, thoughtful, responsible thinkers. I’ve designed covers for every genre.

Your treatment of type, image, composition and color is at times very characteristic. Was there ever a time when you consciously tried for a style—a look—in your work?
I never thought consciously about creating a style. The content drives the style when style is obvious or necessary. Again, it depends on the circumstances, the brief, the medium, the social/political/cultural climate.


You have had the fortune of working on some amazing titles. Who were some of your top clients over the years who truly served up a good meal?

Kurt Vonnegut is one good example.


Name three titles that you have designed covers for that you feel define you, or in the least, are your favorite…

Can’t. Won’t.

You have owned your own studio for many years now. Do you have a routine to get into your work everyday?
I have been operating my studio since 1982. I get to work at a normal hour. I’m pretty disciplined. I like working. I love designing, thinking, working with smart, inspired people. I hate all the inane, enervating crap in-between.

Who would you name as some of the best book cover designers working in today’s publishing world?
Paul Sahre, John Gall, Peter Mendelsund, Rodrigo Corral, Dave Eggers, Barbara DeWilde. Lot’s of new kids on the block are doing some nice work too. The bar has been set very high by the last few generations of book cover designers.

What are you working on these days? Some of your recent were for Other Press; are you still working on book covers much? Do you outsource much work or is it a one-gal show?
Yes, I have done several jackets for Other Press over that last couple of years. I enjoyed working with them and designed a few winners for them. I don’t design too many book jackets in general unless it’s a great project with a great art director behind it. I designed the re-issue of Miss Lonelyhearts recently for Rodrigo Corral at New Directions. I recently participated in the Nabokov series masterminded by John Gall at Vintage. Both great projects with strong, supportive art directors at the helm. I do an assortment of work: magazine prototypes, branding, editorial illustration, posters, books, etc. I don’t outsource anything. I’m a small operation and design everything with the help of young interns/designers, many who have been my students at SVA [New York’s School of Visual Arts].

 

 


I may be wrong, but I think that many young designers today lack the historical reference in their approach to their work. Do you feel the same way and what are some of the things that you feel are lacking in design education these days?
It’s a huge problem. Most young designers know nothing about those who came before them. It’s a huge hole in their education. It’s crazy since there are hundreds of books, lectures and websites that provide a reference to this work. I can’t imagine pursuing anything I design without looking at my books. Not necessarily only graphic design books but all forms of art, design, craft, photography, architecture… all the arts. That includes theater, film, television, fashion. A graphic designer has to covet and respect all of it.

What do you feel is the future of the book and the role of the book designer in the next ten years?
I’m not a sentimentalist. The e-book is inevitable. And they make sense. The publishing industry can’t sustain the old/current model for making/selling books. It’s wasteful and unsustainable. They have to embrace change. Good content will continue to be created whether it’s represented on paper or on a screen.  And there will always be a market.albeit small, for beautiful picture books. The role of the graphic designer is shrinking but it’s in our court to get involved in the next wave of imagery and ideas. Good designers waited too long to get in there early on. We let geeks design websites and now we are stuck with badly designed, uninspired ones with a bogus philosophy behind it. Hopefully, we won’t miss the boat and relinquish the opportunity, again, to the wrong people.
 


Thank you kindly for your time—and, of course, your historical contribution to book cover design. This was a very informative interview.

Another book (design) related blog?

To start things off, we would like to point our fingers in the direction of those who are doing amazing work out there and have some really great book design blogs already in place. On the right, we have FaceOut Studios with their FaceOut Books blog. At our left we have the queen of the comp: Kimberly Glyder at ShelvedBooks blog. Up the block and over the hill we have Mr. Christopher Tobias with the Group Thinkery where designers talk… a lot… especially on Thursdays. And then down in the valley; down the dirt road, we have the lovely group of houses: Covers.Fwis, BCA, David Drummond, David Gee, Ingrid Paulson and the fine folks at Caustic Covers Critic blog, The Casual Optimist and Journey Round My Skull. As we make our way to the City, we start to see the skyline featuring John Gall’s Spine Out blog, Henry Sene Yee’s blog and the wonderful Jacket Mechanical blog by Peter Mendelsund. That about ends our voyage of what’s out there in the book design blogasphere (there is a lot lot more, but these are the top blogs discussing quality book design). Sadly the BDR (Book Design Review) has been boarded up until further notice. You can still find it up the block.

So why have we taken you on a virtual journey of other blogs? Well, for one, it’s blogs that we enjoy and visit regularly to keep in shape. It’s nice to see how other designers solve design issues and where they have failed, succeeded, or how they have been inspired. It helps us be better in our own work as we are pushed to think differently about our appraoch and the process of design in general. Because no matter how long you have been designing books or how familiar you are with publishing, you have to admit that it is a ever-changing landscape. These days, more than ever before, book designers are doing absolutely stunning work. And we can’t figure out if it’s because designers feel “the end” of publishing as we have known it is coming and they want to fill the world with as much good books as possible before everyone has a Kindle, or if they are trying to save something they truly believe in: Beautiful books, on shelves, in peoples homes… But good work abounds, and these blogs paint a good picture of what that looks like.

Without further ado, we will start this particular blog off with a series of interviews. i think we’ll start with Carin Goldberg here in a few days and take it from there. Also, look for regular posts of projects we are working on, articles from some cool book cats we know, and your regular garden variety book design related posts, that are hopefully unique to this here blog.

Enjoy responsibly.

  • “ Thank you for such quick turn-arounds, wonderful organization, your professionalism, and most of all your great ideas and solutions.”

    — Tracy Cunningham
  • “ The cover and layout are so professionally done and compelling. The whole design speaks to a high level of quality and style and I think that has a huge impact on book sales. ”

    — Cynthia Morris
  • “You guys are great. It will be my pleasure to recommend you to fellow authors. I’m particularly impressed with your prompt turn-arounds, and your ability to effectively capture my concepts.”

    — Richard Bard
  • “ I honestly couldn’t imagine a better cover. I get people telling how much they love the cover on a regular basis. ”

    — S.C. Barrus
  • “Thank you so much for your great work and incredible speediness!”

    — Laura Williams, Algonquin Press
  • “ Better than professional! Every time I asked to tweak this or that detail, they did it with both alacrity and creativity. Very friendly and helpful throughout the process. ”

    — Ira Berkowitz

By The Numbers

  • 11
    Years in Business
  • 138
    Trade publishers served
  • 952
    Indie publishers served
  • 14
    Awards