Publishing giant Penguin is a symbol of affordable, cornerstone literature. The famous black and white bird is now celebrating 75 years of being, and is marking the occasion with a book documenting the publisher’s history of design; Penguin 75.
Penguin 75 is a selection of 75 covers that represent “the best of what Penguin has produced over the course of the last decade.” (via Penguin 75). Curated by longstanding Art Director Paul Buckley (also one of Graphic Design USA’s People to watch in 2012) the collection gives book lovers a behind the scenes insight to how a book cover is created. The compendium includes comments from authors, agents, editors, designers and artists who worked on the titles. According to Penguin “this witty and irreverent journey into the book world will appeal to lovers of art, design, and, of course, books.”
Penguin books was founded by Sir Allen Lane in 1935. The story of it’s inception goes that Lane, then a director of The Bodley Head, was on a visit to the West Country to see author Agatha Christies, and found himself on a platform at Exeter station with nothing to read for his journey back to London bar popular magazines and reprints of Victorian novels. Lane was struck by the lack of literature on offer and determined that “good quality contemporary fiction should be made available at an attractive price and sold not just in traditional bookshops” (via bbc news). According to Penguin, “in 1935, if you wanted to read a good book, you needed either a lot of money or a library card. Cheap paperbacks were available, but their poor production generally tended to mirror the quality between the covers.”
The Penguin range began publishing books in 1935; the first 10 books were published under The Bodley Head, and were priced at 6 pence – a revolutionary approach when most books at the time cost around 8 shillings. The huge success of the first editions encouraged Lane to set up Penguin as a separate entity and the paperback boom was born. Lane’s Penguin incubator at Charing Cross station eventually became the real life answer to his Exeter quandary that begun the Penguin journey; a platform-side book dispenser for travelers to access affordably on the move.
Graphic design has always held a huge part in the legacy and story of Penguin. Those very first 10 books were color coded in bands of color; orange, blue and green denoted fiction, biography and crime respectively, and the Gill Sans-Serif Bold font has become synonymous with the brand. Over the years the design of the paperbacks have been the backdrop to modern Britain, an evolving portfolio of design history, and an archive of design and illustration that documents literature over the past 75 years.
Penguin books were a key part of soldiers lives when war broke out in 1939, as the lightweight and affordable book of choice; “A Penguin could fit into a soldier’s pocket or his kit bag … It was especially prized in prison camps” (via Penguin). Controversial books such as Lady Chatterley’s Lover in the 1960’s and Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses in the 1980’s have ensured a cutting edge approach for the publishers, and kept them at the forefront of publishing and popular culture.
Art Director Paul Buckley has worked at Penguin for 23 years. On his position at the company he says “like much in life, I just wound up here; but once I did, I very quickly realized what an amazing place I was in, and I was not leaving. No publishing house has the cachet that Penguin does, and that was very hard-earned on their part. We do the best books and embrace great art and design and the people working on this imprint are wonderful and smart and funny. I was simply extremely lucky.” (via Printmag).
His idea for Penguin 75 comes from an interest in the stories behind the covers, and “the psychology that created all the variables that led to this cover over the 20 other proposed covers.” “So with that in mind, I thought it would be a great idea to have the designer or artist and the author comment on the same cover and what they had to go through to get there.” The project allows design lovers and book lovers to have an art director’s view of what it takes to make a publishing giant’s stamp on design history, with a warning that “to be a book designer, you need a very thick skin or the rejections on work you are proud of can really wear you down.” (via Printmag)
The Penguin 75 celebratory website is also something to celebrate; as designer and UI expert Michelle Allen says, “The website is very lovely – it’s nice to see the traditional look being integrated with something so interactive and responsive. The 75th anniversary of the holy grail of book design: managing to remain popular and relevant for so long really is something to celebrate.”
Penguin 75 features work by Tara McPherson, Daniel Clowes, David Byrne, Elizabeth Gilbert , Joe Sacco, Tana French, T.C. Boyle , Seth, Tom Gauld , William T. Vollmann , Art Spiegelman, Kim Edwards, Melissa Bank , Ruben Toledo, Tomer Hanuka, Jamie Keenan , Roz Chast , Garrison Keillor, Yoshihiro Tatsumi , Sam Weber , Paul Sahre , Tony Millionaire and many others