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Friday Book Design Blog: Ultramarine by Malcolm Lowry

Jonathan Gibbs

ultramarine 2 1024x867 Friday Book Design Blog: Ultramarine by Malcolm Lowry



In lieu of a full post today, the cover of a book that I picked up in a secondhand shop a couple of weeks ago and have left on my desk, throwing admiring glances at it every now and then. The first novel from the author of the incredible ‘Under The Volcano’, it’s a semi-autobiographical work published at the age of 24, and based on his experiences working at sea before his studies at Cambridge. His second wife, Margerie Bonner Lowry, tells in her introduction how his father drove him to the docks for his first embarkation in the family Rolls. There’s a way to make a good impression.

It was published in 1933, but this Four Square cover is from 1965 – and what a classic of the genre it is. A pulpish, ‘modern’ cover for a ‘modernist’ work – the font for title and author (a compressed Eurostile?) is a total contrast with the puffing steam tramp of the illustration, as are the sleek, split-screen horizontal bars to the dangerous ocean waves. The colouring is sympathetic to the image, too, with the font of the blurb and ‘by the author of’ line fading into the background.

It has that wonderful vibe you get around mid 20th Century paperback versions of older books that you’re getting a double hit of nostalgia… an dated attempt at up-to-date… it makes me look afresh at new books, wondering how they will date. Just as architects must, book covers designers have to think about how their products will age, fail, fall apart. This is noble ruin indeed.


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