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Under the covers
April 19, 2006 12:18 PM   Subscribe

Germano Facetti - who died recently - was art director at Penguin Books during the 1960s. He was responsible for some of the most striking book cover designs of the period. More here.
posted by greycap (37 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
I bought Penguin By Design for myself last Christmas - it's a beautiful book. Highly recommended for anyone who loves the design Penguin is rightfully renowned for. And for Mr. Facetti --

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posted by stinkycheese at 12:26 PM on April 19, 2006


Wonderful. I'm surprised by how many of these I remember. When I was 12 my family lived in England and I spent a lot of time browsing in bookstores.
posted by 327.ca at 12:33 PM on April 19, 2006


The 1984 cover is awesome.
posted by OmieWise at 12:45 PM on April 19, 2006


Huh. I kind of think those covers suck.
posted by mrnutty at 12:50 PM on April 19, 2006


Instant nostalgia! Takes me straight back to church hall jumble sales in the 70s ...
posted by carter at 12:52 PM on April 19, 2006


That's a very profound statement mrnutty thanks for keeping us up to date.

I, for one, quite enjoy his cover art. He shall be missed, despite the fact that I just met him.
posted by cloeburner at 1:03 PM on April 19, 2006


I'm surprised at how many of those covers I still have on my shelf.

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posted by NationalKato at 1:05 PM on April 19, 2006


Beautiful work -- and a great post. I actually own several of these editions --- cripes. Shit I've lugged around since high school. The Invisible Man cover is probably my favorite, and really, that's a unusually daring design. I don't think that'd be possible today. Jacket design seems to have standardized to some extent -- maybe just me? Probably just the invention of photoshop.
posted by undule at 1:10 PM on April 19, 2006


good post!
posted by kensanway at 1:14 PM on April 19, 2006


mrnutty: can you point us to some of your favourite book covers? I'm genuinely interested. I think Facetti's designs are fantastic. The whole Modern Classics series he did (the ones with duck-egg blue spines and backs, black fronts with modern art) were beautiful - I have loads at home. From Tschichold onwards, Penguin really knew how to present a whole, desirable package.
posted by nylon at 1:18 PM on April 19, 2006


this is a great post.
posted by tiamat at 1:21 PM on April 19, 2006


Wonderful post. Those covers bring me back to browsing through my library as a kid.
posted by CRM114 at 1:23 PM on April 19, 2006


Excellent post; lovely covers.
posted by adgnyc at 1:24 PM on April 19, 2006


nylon: well, no, i don't know that I have any favorite book covers, but these honestly make me feel icky. I'm afraid my analysis doesn't get any more sophisticated than that.
Actually, I like the Beowulf and Odyssey covers, but I think the colors on most of the other ones is, well, kind of repulsive.
No offense meant to anyone who like these, of course.
posted by mrnutty at 1:26 PM on April 19, 2006


A walk through my childhood library, too. I can smell the old paperbacks.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:34 PM on April 19, 2006


The covers are very indicative of the time period. They remind of browsing through my town's library in the 80's, and the smell of old books.
posted by zabuni at 1:35 PM on April 19, 2006


I'm afraid my analysis doesn't get any more sophisticated than that.

And yet, you thought your analysis was insightful enough for a comment. Fascinating.

While I think Chip Kidd's a heck of a designer, he's cast a long, tall shadow that designers nowadays seem unable to escape from. It's refreshing to see older tomes with design that holds up so well.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 1:37 PM on April 19, 2006


I'm afraid my analysis doesn't get any more sophisticated than that.

And yet, you thought your analysis was insightful enough for a comment. Fascinating.

While I think Chip Kidd's a heck of a designer, he's cast a long, tall shadow that designers nowadays seem unable to escape from. It's refreshing to see older tomes with design that holds up so well.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 1:37 PM on April 19, 2006


OmieWise writes "The 1984 cover is awesome."

mrnutty writes "Huh. I kind of think those covers suck."

adgnyc writes "Excellent post; lovely covers."

I disagree with mrnutty, but his comments is well within the general intellectual level of many of the responses. Lay off.
posted by OmieWise at 1:52 PM on April 19, 2006


Thanks for the post, greycap, and thanks for mentioning Penguin by Design, stinkycheese -- that went straight to my wishlist.

I'm a fan of 60s paperback cover art (though I only own a handful of Penguin paperbacks from the 60s), and it's a real pleasure to see Facetti's striking, beautiful covers. Most of my Penguins are (I assume?) from the 80s or 90s. I'm thinking of, for example, the Penguin Modern Classics with the pale lime spines and full-cover artwork; while they don't hold a candle to the designs featured in the post, I do appreciate their clean, understated look.

The recent (2003?) redesign of the Penguin Classics line, on the other hand, makes me want to cry.
posted by cobra libre at 2:04 PM on April 19, 2006


Thanks, OmieWise.
I was wondering why only positive comments were allowed.
posted by mrnutty at 2:06 PM on April 19, 2006


Having complained about the recent Penguin Classic redesigns, I'll just mention that the new Penguin Classics Deluxe Editions, with cover art by the likes of Anders Nilsen, Seth, and Art Spiegelman, are a real treat. To be honest, I think Chris Ware does Candide better than he does his own Jimmy Corrigan.
posted by cobra libre at 2:11 PM on April 19, 2006


How neat is this? I had no idea there was a single figure responsible for the "look" of Penguin in the 70's. I own a lot of these!
posted by bardic at 2:16 PM on April 19, 2006


Love the font and layout of the text. Ubiquitous with car boot sales and charity shops now, unfortunately.
posted by fire&wings at 2:22 PM on April 19, 2006


As a non-designer / non-artist, I don't understand what makes these covers great. Not that I dislike them, I just don't quite understand. Can someone with a greater artistic sensibility than I please explain a little?
posted by arcticwoman at 2:45 PM on April 19, 2006


They are gorgeous, subtle, understated and sophisticated. from tschichold onwards Penguin knew how to do covers - too bad the internal typography didn't always measure up.

Everything nowadays is faux-historical, or overly complicated, or relies on fancy technology - coatings, embossing, die-cutting, etc. These pieces are about the whole package - not just an image or a fancy typeface.
posted by luriete at 2:55 PM on April 19, 2006


As a non-designer / non-artist, I don't understand what makes these covers great.

Well, simply compare the more recent examples to Mr. Facetti's choice.
posted by undule at 3:15 PM on April 19, 2006


I think my response to these has a lot to do with my own age and history. I grew up in a college town in the 80s and 90s; these old Penguins were staples on my parents' bookshelf, and on the bargain shelf at the used bookstore. I read a lot of them when I was too broke to get my hands on anything else.

So it's very easy for me to see these old cover designs as quaint, nostalgic, and a little kitschy. It's a lot harder for me to see them as the modern, innovative designs they must have been when they were first printed.
posted by nebulawindphone at 3:24 PM on April 19, 2006


I haven't read all the books in the examples, but for the ones I have, the cover is evocative of the content without clubbing you over the head with the Obvious Hammer.

New paperbacks usually annoy me -- as luriete pointed out, the geegaws are taking over. I can't stand holding books with embossed covers. It feels gross, and it looks tacky. I much prefer these -- simple, but still individual.
posted by Marit at 4:02 PM on April 19, 2006


As a non-designer / non-artist, I don't understand what makes these covers great.

For me, the appeal is similar to that of the classic Blue Note albums. "Making the most of what you have" is the best way I can sum it up--keep in mind that these designers were working pre-Photoshop, so manipulating images and text was far more time-consuming than it is now. (Altering text significantly, as you might see in a logo, would've meant drawing it out by hand.) I've heard anecdotes about Blue Note designers turning out several covers a day. It'd be challenging to do that now, and we've got freakishly powerful graphics editing programs at our disposal.

So picture it: you've got some publicity photos, maybe an in-house illustrator if you're lucky, a limited library of type for your phototypesetter, a pitiful budget (like a two-color run, as opposed to the four required for full color), and a deadline of six hours or so. What the hell do you do? Both Blue Note and Facetti dealt with the challenge those limitations presented and still came up with iconic, clever, eye-catching designs.

Along with undule's then-and-now "The Invisible Man" example, compare the Facetti 1984 with a modern 1984, then with yet another modern 1984 that borrows heavily from the Facetti cover. (I bet that last one's embossed, too. Ew.)
posted by Vervain at 4:29 PM on April 19, 2006


(it's not.)

excellent post. soon enough I'm going to have to give up the delightful proportions and trippy typography of the 50's-era Random House Modern Library hardcovers in favor of these at the bookstore. thanks a lot.
posted by carsonb at 6:23 PM on April 19, 2006


I like the (2nd) current 1984 better. The blue eye on the white is very striking.
posted by smackfu at 7:19 PM on April 19, 2006


Hey--I'm glad someone posted a link to the new Penguin covers w/ the comic book covers. I was pretty impressed when I saw that on the fantagraphics blog. Someone should post a link to the Tsichold Penguin redesign. The Thames and Hudson book of type has a comparison between the old Penguins and his design.

I think one of the great things about learning about graphic design and its history is that all designs are automatically historicized, obviously created, and stop seeming like period items. One thing to realize about most book covers is that there really is very little sense of composition or originality: the predominance of photography and photoshop has meant that it's very easy to generate competant-looking, but banal or uncomplicated images. That second 1984 cover is a good example of that, as it's striking, but not very deep or subtle; it's also not very technically difficult to create. To make this more accessible: think of those old Indiana Jones and Star Wars illustration posters and think of how many movie posters you've seen illustrated lately.

What makes these Facetti images striking is, I think, two things: first, they're very diverse. Chip Kidd (the designer of pretty much every book cover around and the period style of our time) is really very simple and the same general: mid-nineties type on top of a cropped photo almost every time. Facetti, on the other hand, changes his style with each book: there's illustration, photograph, abstraction, and so on. The second thing that impresses me is that they very formalistically mix photographic images with illustrations: this one reminds me of bradbury thomson.

I don't love all of these covers and could understand why a non-designer wouldn't get why they're interesting. One thing to keep in mind is that we're working under a fundamentally different paradigm than they were. While our book covers are often photographic, Facetti comes from an earlier period when a modernist, geometric, abstract style dominated graphic design. (Hello helvetica!)
posted by kensanway at 9:35 PM on April 19, 2006


I'm so pleased that others share my enthusiasm for these covers. I would have tried to sum up exactly what it is that makes me like them so much, but others (vervain, kensanway) have expressed it much better than I could.

Also, Penguin By Design is going straight onto my amazon wishlist!
posted by greycap at 11:26 PM on April 19, 2006


They should re-release some of those covers as posters. Quite beautiful.

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posted by quadog at 11:44 PM on April 19, 2006


Nice post. Some very striking work here, but even the admirers I think will admit he didn't much earn his money with The Catcher in the Rye.
posted by LeLiLo at 9:08 AM on April 21, 2006


Or — come to think of it — is the gray nothingness really a brilliant statement of teenage ennui?
posted by LeLiLo at 9:16 AM on April 21, 2006


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