Friday Book Design Blog: The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Pulp book covers are a kind of design nexus of many different, sometimes antagonistic concepts: cool, kitsch, even camp. What might have once seemed simply brash and dangerous, and supercharged with either sex or violence or both, can now seem laughable, political, offensive, twee – sometimes all at once. For all this, pulp book covers had to be two things only: cheap and eye-catching, a combination that usually played out as lurid.
Pulp fiction originated in the US between the wars, named for the cheap wood-pulp paper on which the books were printed, and had brightly coloured and suggestively illustrated covers to help them stand out on the newsstands where they were sold. Sad to say, the contemporary equivalent of the crime, erotica and science-fiction books that made up the pulp selection are far more tastefully presented than their forebears ever were. The pulp style is retro, and so ripe for parody.
Today’s cover comes from new imprint Pulp! The Classics, which bypasses the one-gag approach of the likes of Price and Prejudice and Zombies, in which classic books are rewritten along pulp lines (while looking more or less contemporary on the outside) to provide the complete, original text inside the book, while styling it as a hardboiled or exploitation shocker on the outside.
It’s a clever gambit – clearly, but honestly aimed at the gift book market – but some care and attention has gone into the product. (It is an imprint of Oldcastle Books, who also publish the well-regarded crime imprint No Exit Press.)
So, the colours are terrible, the page edges sprayed, and the images pre-distressed to give the books that ‘stuffed in a cardboard box outside the secondhand bookshop’ look. Most importantly the illustrations, by David Mann, are authentically blocky and arresting.
The only thing that holds me back from all-out adoration is the question of humour. Does Darcy (or Robinson Crusoe for that matter) really need a cigarette dangling from his mouth? Does the fiendish yellow-eyed Hound of the Baskervilles really need to be Chihuahua? It’s for that reason that, although it’s not actually out for a couple of months, my favourite from the imprint’s opening run of books is The Great Gatsby (“When it came to loving… he knew which Daisy to pick!”). Where the others can’t help tipping the wink to the reader, this one plays it pretty straight, giving us exactly the cover that a disreputable 1960s publisher might gone for, had they completely misunderstood the book, or – more likely – simply not cared, so long as they shifted a few copies.
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