Penguin 75: Designers, Authors, Commentary
An Interview with the Creative Director, Paul Buckley
Authors, writers, designers and readers alike will find points of interest in this insider-look behind the cover design process at Penguin Books. I must warn that at times the comments in the book are brutally honest and may induce small fits of laughter. Despite the occasional design missteps, the book is a celebration of many beautiful book covers. We had the pleasure to speak with Paul Buckley about his editorial debut and learn more about his background, inspiration, and insights.
cover design by Paul Buckley
book design by Chris Brand
Throughout the book there is a heavy dose of humor and sarcasm. How much of the text was edited down from the originally submitted commentary from editors, illustrators, and designers? What was your first reaction after reading Chris Ware's foreword?
Everyone was asked to keep their comments to 100 words or less, and though there are a few exceptions that I let run long, my own included, most contributors stuck to my request. As to the sarcasm, there are plenty of good natured jabs throughout the book as I was very clear with the participants that this was a true opportunity to let it all out – if you hate your cover, please by all means tell us about it; that is the point of this book. My first reaction after reading Chris Ware's intro was holy crap, he writes as well as he draws – I'll be forever grateful to Chris for entertaining me on this venture.
cover design for 100 Facts About Pandas by Gregg Kulick, Art Direction by Paul Buckley
How much autonomy did you retain as editor of the book Penguin 75? Did you have a hard sell with a book that at times carries a self-deprecating tone toward the Penguin brand?
My publisher Kathryn Court and I have been working together for well over a decade now, so her letting me run with my ideas was not a total shot in the dark for her. As the book became more complete she of course read every page of it, as it is after all, a huge part of our 75th anniversary celebration for the Penguin imprint, which she oversees – but Kathryn enjoys a bit of fun and does not shy away from things having an edge... and by this point, she's well aware of how I like to poke fun at our industry taking itself too seriously. At the end of the day, other than your usual editorial corrections, she let the book stand as I presented it – though she did strongly request that I put in two pieces of big women's fiction in there that I was not so keen on doing; her thinking that it would flesh out the book in a way that might appeal to a broader audience – I did not love this idea, but she turned out to be correct on this. So I'd say that was the only time I was a bit muscled into doing something I did not want to do, and I do believe the book is better for it.
What challenges did you and Penguin editor Rebecca Hunt encounter throughout the duration of the project?
Tracking down authors, getting them to agree to write a piece for us, to turn it in on time, to not worry about being too polite with what they had to say and to truly believe we really do want to hear the dirt, to get editors to ask their more high profile authors, to ask a second and third time if need be – there are so many little pieces that come together to make this book.
cover design and illustration for Everything Matters! by Isaac Tobin, Art Direction by Roseanne Serra and Paul Buckley
Through the process of pitching and editing the book, did you find new appreciation for the editorial side of publishing?
Yes, unbelievably so. Writing and editing is incredibly hard work, and painstaking in its detail. I was the first to find a typo in my book, and it was a pretty big one. My heart sank when I found it – I would have handled a bad art separation much better. Early in my career, I was surrounded by designers and art directors that acted as though they worked so much harder than editors, who were apparently at lunch all day and in the Hamptons all weekend. I'm sure I believed this myself, and I still see that attitude today from time to time. It's just not true.
Was it extra difficult to resolve the cover design for your own book? Where there other ideas that didn't make the cut?
Well, it's a book of covers that I pitched and would ultimately have my name on it, so I assumed I'd do a million covers for it – I had no time. I did one cover during one afternoon, and it's the cover you see on the book. Most of what I wrote was the same story, as Chris Brand and I pulled this book together in a mere few months, and I still had to oversee my large staff and many imprints. I'd design or write something and just keep moving onto the next thing, and even then with 14-hour days being the norm, we barely got this book on time. There was just no opportunity to fuss or over-think anything.
The colors of the cover have a great vibrancy. Was it a no-brainer to proceed with the iconic Penguin orange?
Not to get all rara over it, but I love the orange and black and white Penguin color combo, and this is a celebratory Penguin book, so yes, an absolute no brainer.
Penguin Ink cover for Waiting for the Barbarians by C.C. Askew
Penguin Ink cover for The Broom of the System by Duke Riley
Penguin Ink cover for Money by cover by Bert Krak, Art direction by Paul Buckley
Penguin Ink cover for Bridget Jones's Diary by Tara McPherson
Penguin Ink cover for The Tortilla Curtain by Gonzalo
Penguin Ink cover for The Bloody Chamber by Jen Munford
Can you provide a few examples of how you pitch a new concept for a book or a repackaged series? Does this include storyboards and/or mock-ups?
I just go into my packaging meeting or my publisher's office and simply start talking about it. For this book, it was just a "hey I'd like to do a book showing our covers and have both the authors and designers comment on what it took to get to this package"... it was that simple. When I pitched the Penguin Ink series, I came into my packaging meeting with some tattoo artists who do amazing work, and said "wouldn't it be great to do a series with these guys?" Penguin has an incredibly supportive team and ideas get bounced around quite naturally.
In terms of aesthetics, what are core values that you think differentiate Penguin from many other trade publishing houses?
We commission more illustration than anyone else, and I populate my staff with designers who illustrate. While a few houses might have the odd person who can also draw, no other imprint does it to the extent we do.
Penguin Graphic Classics cover for Candide Chris Ware, Art direction by Helen Yentus
Penguin Graphic Classics cover for Philosophy in the Boudoir by Tomer Hanuka, design by Paul Buckley and Tomer Hanuka
Penguin Graphic Classics cover for We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Thomas Ott, Art Direction by Herb Thornby
Penguin Graphic Classics cover for The New York Trilogy by Art Spiegleman, Art Direction by Paul Buckley
Penguin Graphic Classics cover for The Portable Dorothy Parker by Seth, Art Direction by Paul Buckley
Penguin Graphic Classics cover for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Lilli Carré, design by Paul Buckley
Penguin Graphic Classics cover for Ethan Fromm by Jeffrey Brown, Art Direction by Paul Buckley
Is it usually a conscious decision at the beginning of a project to avoid more conventional stock photography? For titles with a small print run, is it difficult to make the case to hire an established illustrator?
I don't know if it is so much a consideration, as it's just not what we ever really want to do. Bad stock looks like bad stock, and no author or book deserves that. Yes, for small print runs it is hard to get a decent illustration budget. Sometimes if it's a nice project, someone will accept a lesser fee.
Do you believe your cover designs can make a seamless transition and be as effective means of communication in digital forms? Are there considerations your team is starting to make in regards to books being converted to e-books?
I like a physical object; to see my designs in someone's hands... so it will bother me a bit if the day ever comes when everything we're working on is just to be seen on your screen and is never actually printed. Better for the environment though! But yes, I believe it can be a fairly seamless transition – one where the bells and whistles will not be spot gloss, foil, and emboss, but type that flies across the page carried on the wings of skylarks; that sort of thing – moving bits.
Are design blogs devoted to book covers helping to further perpetuate the notion that book cover designers are petty, ego-hungry, with an overinflated perception of their cover design's importance? Or, do you believe this kind of forum for dialogue adds to the appreciation and that a certain level of after-the-fact critique is healthy?
A few folks come to mind! To answer your question, I think blogs are very healthy places that balance the playing field, whereas before it was fairly one note – a designer can't force you to put their work on your blog – you do it because you like the work or you have something else to say about it. With the rise of design blogs, I've seen so much great work, by people I'd never have heard of had I not run into post x y or z. I don't notice much ego and most seem extremely thankful to those who post their work – so without further ado: Karen, thank you! It is a real honor to be talking here on Design Related.
Have you ever left your credit off one of your Penguin designs after not feeling happy with the final outcome?
All the time.
How did you father's career as an art director and illustrator influence your style as an art director and designer today?
My father was my single largest artistic influence. My parents had 5 children but I was the only one who at an early age showed an interest in creating visual art as well, so my father really ran with this and fostered my growth from the get go. There were times where he'd be painting a grounded boat or a log pile and I'd be right next to him painting my own wonky 6 year old version while he'd be helping us both along. I had his advertising campaigns hanging on my wall as decoration, and Yamaha moto cross ads hung alongside DuPont ads. So growing up with a father who'd rather talk about how the colors of things look on overcast days as compared to sunny days (they are truer on overcast) was normal – we never watched sports and all my pleas of "can't we just go camping and fishing for one lousy weekend" fell on deaf ears. To this day, I see my father's influence in just about every visual I create.
below are scans Paul Buckley shared with us of his father's artwork:
below illustrations "I'd say are heavily influenced stylistically by my father" —Paul Buckley
Of Mice and Men illustration by Paul Buckley
Halloween Indignities Polaroid illustration by Paul Buckley
The World According to Garp illustration by Paul Buckley
Nurturing Small Farmyards illustration by Paul Buckley
In contrast to earning a BFA in Graphic Design, do you believe that a strong foundation in illustration can be a better path toward starting a career in book cover design?
It can be but it's only one way, and there are many. I could name so many amazing designers who cannot draw. I have a degree in illustration but am pretty rusty at it right now, and there are many on my staff whose work daily shows me what real illustration talent looks like. Gregg Kulick, Jaya Miceli, Jim Tierney, Jen Wang – big big drawing talents. Chris Brand is another one.
What excites you about the future of the book and the changing publishing climate?
That there will be some sort of growth in a way that has yet to fully reveal itself that all of us can have a hand in shaping.
Edited with an introduction by: Paul Buckley
Foreword by: Chris Ware
Book design by: Christopher Brand