Judging Books by Their Covers

JBbTC 217.5: More Coming Soon!

Posted July 27, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers


You wouldn't know it, but we're working full-stop behind the scenes on a brand new Justseeds website—with an entirely new content management system. I'm sorry I haven't had time to post new Judging Books entries of late, I've been too busy migrating the JBbTC archive over to the new site. We'll be launching in the Fall, and lots of more book covers are forthcoming! (ps. I've been posting some covers on instagram: @jmacphee)

JBbTC 217: This—is Grenada

Posted June 8, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Kay_ThisIsGrenada.jpgNo in-depth analysis this week, but a peek at one really cool book, inside and out. Frances Kay's This—is Grenada is a beautiful self-published travel book from 1966. After skimming the book a couple times, I'm still unsure if Kay is from this small Caribbean island or is a long-time transplant. She definitely put an immense amount of love and care into this publication, writing and illustrating it, as well as compiling a classified directory in the back to help pay for the printing. The paperback book has a sewn binding and both the images and text are struck from plates, making it a really handsome object.

The book is nice guidebook with a home-spun feel, like Kay is taking us on a tour of her neighborhood, with all its quirks and unique facets. The illustrations that start each chapter are a highlight, riding the nice line between outsider imagery and simple drawings by someone with an amateur hand.

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JBbTC 216: A Little Bit o' Lenin

Posted June 1, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Lenin_Arabic.jpgFirst off, we've been hard at work on a brand new Justseeds website, which will vastly transform the experience of both the posting and reading of blog entries like these. That's been taking a lot of my time, which has made it harder to keep up with these book cover posts. I'm hoping to get back onto a more regular schedule once the new site launches in a month or two. Now back to our regularly scheduled program:

I've never been a huge Vladimir Ilyich enthusiast, and even less so of his contemporary fan base. Whether of the newspaper selling or Žižek-ian variety, most seem to oscillate between boring and annoying. Yet some how I have still ended up collecting a Lil' Lenin Library all my own, without any conscious effort. I was doing some cleaning, and found almost two dozen books with his pointy chin beard featured prominently on the covers. He's definitely a major trope of Left book publishing, so why not do a post about these covers?

I must admit, he looks good in Arabic. The bright red field of the cover is punctured by his name in long, precise script. His portrait—rendered in block print, or at least illustrated to look like it—is strong, his gaze looking leftward, off the cover and towards the content of the volume (Arabic reads right to left, so the covers open on the opposite side of English books). It's great propaganda, and intended as such. Although in Arabic, the book was produced by Progress Publishers, and printed in Moscow (in 1970).

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JBbTC 215: Artia Pocket Books

Posted April 27, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Lustig_Diamonds_Artia_front.jpgBack in 2012 I slide an eye-catching spine off the shelf at a bookstore in Boston and. It was an edition of Arnošt Lustig's Diamonds in the Night I had never seen before. 4.75" wide and 7.835" tall, it's a little wider than a mass market paperback, but way taller—a completely unique size. Turns out it was published by Artia, an old Czech publisher active in Prague in the 60s and 70s, and one of the Eastern Bloc publishers that had an export-wing for English-language books, like Progress Publishers in Moscow or Seven Seas in East Berlin (for more on Seven Seas, check out my posts about them HERE). Artia is most known for their children's books, but they also had this fiction wing under the title "Artia Pocket Books."

I spent three years keeping an eye out for more Artia books, with no luck until last week, where another one showed up at Human Relations in Brooklyn. Another unique spine called out, and I struck gold with a copy of Jan Otčenášek's Romeo and Juliet and the Darkness! Further search online found a small trail for a couple other Artia Pocket Books, but not a single image. Although two books hardly seems a big enough set for a post, who knows how long before I find another one!

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JBbTC 214: AK Press

Posted March 29, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Gilliland_TheFree_AK90.jpgToday I veer off from my regularly scheduled posting. 2015 is the 25 year anniversary of AK Press, one of the longest (maybe the longest?) running anarchist presses in the US (although founded in Scotland). This is an important and rare feat for an anarchist, collective, and worker-owned and operated project. We need to celebrate our counter-institutions, nurture them, critique them, help them evolve and grow. Unfortunately on March 21st, rather than get to have a birthday party, the AK Press crew found themselves grappling with a fire that destroyed the building behind their warehouse (killing two of their neighbors), and also seriously damaged their space (as well as 1984 Printing and other important projects).

AK is trying to raise serious capital to get themselves, their building, and their neighbors back on their feet, and you can help. Go to their funding site HERE, read the whole story, help out if you can, and spread the word. We need our counter-institutions strong and healthy for the struggles ahead!

So to support AK Press, and celebrate their birthday, I've picked out fifteen of my favorite covers from their output over the past twenty-five years. I hate ranking things like some sort of contest, so I've listed these by publication date, earliest to most recent, 1990–2015. And hopefully many more years and covers to come! Also, for transparency's sake, I should say I've designed covers for 15+ books in AK's catalog, but I didn't choose any of those here. I'm proud of some of them, but feel awkward posting them here. But what I will do is share (at the end of the post) a cover a recently designed for an upcoming title that I think is one of my best cover's yet!

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JBbTC 213: 1980s SWP Pamphlets

Posted March 16, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Binns_MissileMadness_SWP80_front.jpgIn November, while touring London with comrades from Interference Archive, we stopped at Bookmarks, a nice-sized bookshop run by the Socialist Workers Party (which is a sister organization to the International Socialist Organization in the the U.S.). They have a nice, cheap, used pamphlet section, with rows and rows of old leftist publications. I found some great stuff, including a small cluster of 1980s pamphlets put out by the SWP themselves. All were designed by Roger Huddle, who might have been their in-house designer for the decade. Huddle has a website now (HERE), and it looks like he still might be an SWP member. He was also part of a design group called Artworkers. The designs for the pamphlets are great examples of a neo-Constructivism, and appear to borrow heavily from the book designs of two other British leftist designers: David King and Richard Hollis. King is the more obvious influence, as Huddle shares with him a love for heavy black lines and sharp angles as dominant visual elements.

We can actually see the style evolve by looking at the first and then second edition of Missile Madness by Peter Binns. The first, published in 1980 and here on the right, boxes the object of study—the mad missile— between two sets of titles. The top left frame is created by text in bold boxes, author and publisher; the bottom right is created by interlocking of the title and subtitle at a 90 degree angle. The title smartly nestles into the subtitle, rather than simply sitting on top, and then the two words of the title read away from each other. This is a nice touch, not effecting readability but adding to the sense of a topsy-turvy world. Finally, the use of color is great, the red and green merging to create the almost black of the missile.

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JBbTC 212: Latin America Mass Markets

Posted February 23, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

This past weekend was the big annual church book sale in neighborhood, and I found some great books, including a mini-collection of mass market paperbacks from the 1960s about Latin America. I'm behind on my research on the longer form posts I've got in the works, so I'm just going to share these four books this week. All are written or edited by Western writers, and like the content, the covers display different outsider perspectives on the nature of Latin America in the 60s. And although none are specifically about Cuba, they were all published in the wake of the Cuban Revolution, and display an attempt to either communicate or capitalize on the fear of revolution from the South that spread through North America at the time.

Bryson_LatinAmToday_Vintage.jpgFirst is the one on the right, the anthology Social Change in Latin America Today (Vintage, 1960). The cover is by veteran designer Paul Bacon, who has designed over 6,500 book covers! The type treatment does little for me, but I love the illustration. A map of South America (not exactly Latin America, but oh well...) is entirely composed of squiggly arrows, some spiraling inward, some shooting outward. It's extremely simple, but the red, green, and black add some complexity, as well as possible political and social overtones. One can imagine the red sections, all with arrows spreading out, as the export of communism.

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JBbTC 211: Spro-Cas

Posted February 9, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

SproCas_TowardSocialChange_SproCas.jpgBack to Africa this week. I've got a massive backlog of African publishers I want to cover, but tracking down information about them is often difficult, as most no longer exist, and very few have any internet presence at all. (I wish this was a project I could afford to run out to the library to do more hardcore research, but as a labor of love, it's tough to find the time!)

This week lets look at Spro-cas, founded in 1969 by the South African Council of Churches and the Christian Institute. Its initial form, Spro-cas 1, stood for Study Project on Christianity in an Apartheid Society, and it was directed by Peter Randall. Randall was a white liberal with strong anti-apartheid sympathies, and he pushed Spro-cas to struggle against the limits of apartheid society, but still attempted to stay within the realm of the "reasonable," and thus be taken seriously by white people in South Africa. Later, Spro-cas 2 was formed—Special Project on Christian Action in Society—which was intended as the action wing of the organization. One of the primary activities of both wings was publishing, and between 1969–1973 they collectively put out about two dozen publications. Half of those are here in this post.

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JBbTC 210: Little New World pt.2

Posted February 2, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Green_RevCuban_LNW.jpgThis week I'm going to go through the second half of Little New World Paperbacks, roughly in order of their issue number. The last number I've found is LNW-39, although it's possible there are more and I just haven't been able to track them down. This week and last I've shared cover images for 25 of the books, so at least fourteen more are out there. I've also been able to build close to complete bibliography, filling in the blanks from the book lists on some of the back covers. That's at the end of this post.

To the right is the cover for Gil Green's Revolution Cuban Style (LNW-21). It's one of the nicer covers, drawing graphic elements from multiple political posters of the time (this was released in 1970). The image of a Viet Cong in the background is drawn for an anti-Viet Nam war poster, and the image of Ché in the front is a variation on a image by one of Cuba's well-known poster artists, Raul Martínez. The use of the poster images is interesting, because it suggests a play on the word "style" in the title, although I doubt that was intentional. But typical of the Communist Party USA, they still botched the attempt to be culturally relevant, using Martínez's pop style, but in muddy browns and greys, instead of bright pinks and oranges.

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JBbTC 209: Little New World pt.1

Posted January 26, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Pomeroy_Guerilla_LNW64.jpgFrom the early 20th century through the early 1960s, one of the largest Left organizations in the US (if not the largest) was the Communist Party USA. The propaganda wing of the Party created multiple publishing arms, including New Century Publishers (which I featured HERE back in 2011) and the still-publishing International Publishers. International was by far the largest operation, and in the 1950s and 60s they spun off a paperback imprint called New World Paperbacks. I started looking at this on this blog way back in 2010 (see HERE and HERE). Well, in the four years since I've been collecting more New World books, and in particular have had an eye towards an imprint of that imprint: Little New World Paperbacks. In 1964, New World spun off its own series of mass market paperbacks, a format that at the time was hugely popular in publishing. Most US mass markets were sold at newstands and on racks in grocery stores, so they were designed to appeal to a broad audience of people that wouldn't go into a book store. Because of this, they tended to have lurid covers, with full-color paintings (which would eventually evolve to photographs) of crime, sex, romance, and early self-help. Giant titling fonts and eye catching graphics were also popular.

It's possible that's what Little New World (LNW) was going form but if so, they missed the mark, widely. The first title in the series, William J. Pomeroy's Guerrilla and Counter-Guerrilla Warfare has a very staid, almost clinical, cover. While the title is bold and yells out "GUERRILLA WARFARE!", the rest of the cover is so clean and precise that it almost takes away any potential edgy appeal of the giant type. The mechanical bulls eyes and full sans serif treatment make this look more like a government report than a pop expose. Sadly their is almost nothing about LNW I could find through basic research, so the motivations of the publishers remain pretty opaque. Was this an attempt to popularize Communist ideas to a broader audience? Was guerrilla warfare chosen as the topic of the first book because of its potential gritty, fringe appeal? Or did the publishers just want to make a book that fit in the reader's pocket?

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JBbTC 208: Images of a Revolution

Posted January 12, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Sachs_ImagesOfRev_ZPH.jpgImages of a RevolutionOne of my favorite art books is Images of a Revolution, a oversized if slim volume on the murals of revolutionary Mozambique. It was published in 1983 by the Zimbabwe Publishing House, who were featured in last week's blog post (HERE). I found this book years back tucked into the used art section at Moe's in Berkeley, which is usually really picked over, but this is a real gem. I had no idea it even existed, and hits a total trifecta of my interests: Africa, politics, and street art. It was an especially great find as now it's hard to find a copy anywhere for less that $50-$100! Hopefully someone will unearth a case of them at some point soon and flood the market, making it cheap again, because it's a fabulous book.

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JBbTC 207: Zimbabwe Publishing House

Posted January 5, 2015 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Raeburn_BlackFire_ZPH.jpgAs many of you know, I'm a big collector of African paperbacks (and ones about Africa), and I've been slowing featuring different presses here on the blog. Past features include: Three Crowns Africa, Ghana Publishing House, Cambridge Africa, books by Amilcar Cabral, Fontana Africa, and the Penguin African Library, and more! Anyway, anyone that has read some of these knows that it's been difficult to track down info about any of the African publishing houses, as most went under in the 1980s or 90s, and have zero presence on the internet or through basic library research. I recently picked up a book by called Africa Writes Back by James Curry, one of the founders of Heinemann's African Writers Series, the foundational published collection of African writing, particularly fiction. Although not exactly a swift and exciting read, it is chock full of information, which has really helped pull together some contextual knowledge about my collection. All to say, keep an eye out over the next year for me to finally start putting up some posts about some of these great, sadly almost forgotten African publishers.

This week I'm going to focus on Zimbabwe Publishing House (ZPH), one of the major post-independence presses in Zimbabwe. I first discovered ZPH about a decade ago in Victoria, Canada of all places. I stopped in at Dark Horse Books, and found a copy of Black Fire, to the right. It has all the elements I love in this genre: duotone or limited colors, raw print quality, manually manipulated photography, and bold type treatments.

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JBbTC 206: Anvil Press

Posted December 29, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

IRAJailbreaks_Anvil.jpgOver the last couple years I've been finding old political mass market books about Ireland, and squirreling them away. Then I realized they're actually all published by the same press, Anvil. Like so many of the publishers I've been looking at over the past couple years, there is almost no evidence of them on the internet beyond book listings on Amazon and other sales sites. No history, no material on who was involved, how long they existed, etc. From what I can suss out, Anvil Books was an Irish Republican press that published books related to Irish history and culture from the early 1950s through the early 2000s, but with the core of the output in the 1960s and 70s. The majority of the books are heavily political, and don't shy away from Ireland's history of armed struggle.

Case in point, The Complete Book of IRA Jailbreaks 1918–1921, to the right. If the title wasn't enough to clarify the perspective of the book, the subtitle "Sworn to Be Free" does a pretty good job of it. This cover is a decent representative of Anvil's output in the 1970s: loosely modeled on Penguin's non-fiction Pelican imprint; powerful, singular images front and center; and bold sans serif titling. One of the main things that distinguishes these from Pelicans is the penchant for black to be the dominant cover color. It's difficult not to read into the black (and bleak imagery) an attempt to communicate how hard the struggle for Irish freedom has been. Here the solid black is broken up only by light coming in from a bank of windows, but the windows are high up, out of reach. Not only was life in prison for a Republican grim, the feat of escaping was that much more impressive because of it.

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JBbTC 205: Benia Krik

Posted December 15, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Babel_BeniaKrik.jpgA quick week, only one cover today. I recently found this amazing copy of Isaac Babel's play Benia Krik. The design is attributed to "Lloyd," the book published by Collet's in London in 1935. The tri-color scheme of rust, grey blue, and black is great and the tall sans serif titles command attention. Without prior knowledge, it's hard to clearly read the illustration as notice that this is a book about Jewish gangsters, although that might have been more obvious 80 years ago. Anyway, enjoy this gem!

JBbTC 204: Americanist Library

Posted December 8, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

This week we swing from left to far right, Africa to Belmont, Massachusetts. Sorry for the whiplash. The Americanist Library is a collection of almost 20 mass market paperbacks put out by Western Islands, the publishing wing of the extreme right-wing John Birch Society. Chronicling the book covers of the far right is not normally what I do here, but hell, they're interesting and they're political. I first stumbled on Western Islands at a used bookshop in Los Angeles (where else?), when I found the book to the right, The Web of Subversion. The cover is amazing, with the capital tangled up in a crazed set of intersecting lines and connections. The active illustration is offset by a classic frame, silver circle within silver rectangle, on a field of regal blue. Good stuff.

Turns out I stumbled on the tail end of a little gold mine, this being the 18th book in the series (all appear to be published in 1965), which includes volumes about strikes, anarchists, spies, communists, traitors, and so much other awesome stuff, all seen through the lens of fanatical anti-communist lunatics!

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JBbTC 203: Three Crowns Africa

Posted December 1, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Moore_7AfricanWriters_3Crowns.jpgThere were three major British publishers which began putting out books by African authors in the late 1950s and early 1960s, especially to the educational book market. The big two are Hienemann and Longman, and their African Writers' Series'. The other was Oxford University Press, and their Three Crowns Books imprint. There is little I can find about the history of the press, but the output of the imprint seems split between authors from African and South Asia. I'm going to focus on the African authors here.

The earliest book I found is from 1962, a survey and assessment of then contemporary African writing by Gerald Moore. The cover design (unattributed) is interesting, a series of shapes that reflect the modernist print strategy of using type blocks and spacers to create visual imagery. But it isn't composed as tightly or formally, and the core and petals of the flower are varied, off-center, and inexact. There's a tension here, between the crispness of European Modernism, and the rawness of African primitive-ism. The cover is striking, but one canread a subtle racism at work here—an implication that African writers are connected to a European tradition, but still potentially inferior.

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JBbTC 202: Leonard Baskin pt.2

Posted November 24, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Brod_FranzKafka_Schocken.jpgThe second half of Leonard Baskin's book cover output I've found is composed of facial portraits. The portrait of Kafka to the right is exceptional. The picture feels like it is a biography in and of itself, with the tight face, cropped hair, sense that the face is simultaneously both inward and outward looking. The direct stare and filling of the entire visual plain are commanding. The tight, tall Gothic titling at the top conveys what the reader needs to know, but doesn't get in the way of the image at all.

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JBbTC 201: Leonard Baskin pt.1

Posted November 17, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Ortega_Dehumanization_Anchor_Raskin.jpgIn my mind, three of the most significant social realist printmakers that were working in the US in the second half of the 20th Century were Leonard Baskin, Antonio Frasconi, and Ben Shahn. While all three largely existed within an art world context, each also had a career doing commercial illustration work within the publishing world, and each racked up quite a collection of book cover credits. While a huge favorite of many Justseeds members, Baskin (more HERE) is the one I know the least of, and I only really began to look at his work quite recently.

I started noticing his work on book covers a year ago or so with this striking cover for Ortega y Gasset's The Dehumanization of Art (1956). A basic drawing of a column sits in a black field, squeezed between two white stripes. The lone column aches of alienation, yet the human hand visible in the drawing's details belay the "dehumanization" of the title. This tension gives the design a level of strength unexpected for its simplicity. This is one of five covers of 1950s and early 60s Doubleday Anchor mass markets I've found designed by Baskin.

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JBbTC 200: Two Hundred!!!

Posted November 10, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

The first "Judging Books by Their Covers" post was on April 12, 2010. Four and half years and over 2,000 book covers later, I've reached the two hundred post mark. I've been trying to learn how to appreciate accomplishments, and not just roll through and over them, so I took a day off and designed myself five fake book covers for my 200th post. They're all originals, except the last one—I couldn't resist making a fake Penguin/Pelican. Enjoy! Next week we're back to our regular programming, with the first of two posts about the covers of printmaker Leonard Baskin.

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JBbTC 199: Ronald Clyne

Posted November 3, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Horowitz_EmpireAndRev_Vintage.jpgRonald Clyne is best known as the brilliant designer of most of the Folkways label record covers, over 500 from the 1950s through the early 1980s (for more on that, check HERE). I was surprised when I started finding covers he designed on used book racks. Turns out he started as a book designer, mostly of sci-fi and horror books published by Arkham House in the 1940s. These books are highly collectable, and you rarely find one with a dust jacket for less than $50. Needless to say, I'm no focusing on those, but instead on his cover work (mostly with Vintage mass market paperbacks) in the 1960s and 70s.

The Horowitz cover to the right is archetypal of this period of Clyne's design work. Almost all of the books come from a Marxist, or at least left, perspective, and all he designs are exclusively typographical. Much of the type is sans serif, and as you can see on the Horowitz, the only graphic elements are color switches and framing boxes for the type.

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JBbTC 198: stage1

Posted October 27, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Pesquet_SovietsAtSaclay_stage1.jpgIn honor of my upcoming trip to London, I thought I'd do a feature on a little known lefty publisher from the UK. For awhile now I've been running into some handsomely designed lefty books from England in the 1970s. It took picking up a couple to make the connection that they were all put out by by stage 1, a small London-based publisher which apparently ran for about a decade from the late 1960s until 1979 (the lowercase name appears to be intentional). In this internet age it often feels that information about just about anything is always at our fingertips, but stage 1 is a ghost online. I can find almost nothing about them. Politically they appear to fellow travelers of US independent socialist publishers Monthly Review. Like MR, their catalog is heavy with both Third World revolution and dense political economy. Rather than being particularly Trotskyist, Maoist, or Stalinist, they seem more ecumenical. They also have similarities to two other UK leftist publishers, Pluto and Zed, but appear to pre-date both.

While their design aesthetic is in someways as ecumenical as their politics, the core of their output does follow a simple convention, which is wrap-around covers which are largely graphic or photographic, with all of the titling bound within a small square box which sits top center on both the front and back. The Pesquet cover to the right is one of my favorites, with the May 68 factory repeated over and over to create wallpaper, nicely broken up by the boxed titling convention. One of the nice things about this format is that their are no limitations on font usage, so this cover features an ultra-thin Helvetica in all capitals, while other covers use wildly different type faces.

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JBbTC 197: New Century Publishers pt.3

Posted October 20, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Aptheker_JohnBrown_NCP60.jpgBack in 2011 I published a couple posts looking at the covers of New Century Publishers, a Communist Party-run press that published from the 1940s into the 1960s, and appears to have been the progenitor of the more recent and still existent New World Paperbacks. While much of their output is standard Stalinist muck, there are some gems in the pile (check out my earlier looks at NCP HERE and HERE). The well-known labor historian Herbert Aptheker wrote a number of pamphlets for the press, I've found three of them. The nicest cover is on John Brown: American Martyr, a pamphlet published on the hundredth anniversary of John Brown's death. The unattributed image is taken from the cover of a 1959 edition of Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, which in turn was based on an 1859 daguerreotype attributed to Martin M. Lawrence. The designer smartly uses red, white, and blue, as well as a border of small stars, to conjure the American flag, and thus paint Brown as both a patriot and deeply American. This publication is from 1960, showing just how long the Communist Party-USA kept promoting the idea that Communism and the Left were fundamentally centrist and patriotic positions.

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JBbTC 196: Ghana Publishing House

Posted October 13, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Johnevi_ValleyOfTheDead_GPH.jpgFor the past decade I've slowly been collecting all kinds of paperbacks published about and within Africa. Last year at the Haunted Bookshop in Iowa City I ran across a selection of books by a small publisher in Tema (just east of Accra), Ghana—Ghana Publishing House (GPH). GPH barely exists online, there is almost no information about them, but I suspect they were founded in the 1960s, post-Independence, like many similar sub-Saharan publishing projects such as East African Publishing House in Nairobi, Mbari in Ibadan, or Tanzania Publishing House in Dar es Salaam. Like much of the output of African publishers, part of what attracts me to these books is how much they do with limited means. The covers are rarely full color, but complex constructions in duotone or tritone; the registration is often done by hand, and thus imperfect; the type is limited by creatively deployed; and photographs are rare, with unique illustrations far more common. All these things add up to unique, strange, and powerful covers.

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JBbTC 195: ESP

Posted October 6, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Smith_ESP_Pyramid.jpgA brief break from the longer entries, I wanted to share this amazing cover from Susy Smith's ESP (Pyramid Books, 1962). I can mostly let it speak for itself, but there is just something so infinitely creepy about the single eye through the hair on the back of the head of a crudely drawn naked woman, as if we are supposed to be allured in by the sexiness and then shocked by the eye. Blech. I love this cover because it must have been so weird and fun to design (by T. H. Chibbaro, by the way). Enjoy!

JBbTC 194: Ramparts Press

Posted September 29, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Heins_StrictlyGhetto_Ramparts.jpgI'm going to try to be a little less complete-ist than I've been in the past, hopefully making these posts a bit easier to compile. To that end, this is hardly the complete output of Ramparts Press, but a dozen covers I've found over the years. They published at least double this amount, likely even more. While a fair amount of information about the Ramparts magazine is available (see HERE), I've found very little about the book publishing wing, and I have little knowledge about who the editors were, who decided on design, etc, etc.

Before I was noticing publishers much, I stumbled upon a copy of Majorie Heins' Strictly Ghetto Property, which is a great, and possibly the only, history of Los Siete de la Raza. Los Siete were a group of seven Chicano youth, mostly activist college students, framed for the shooting of a police officer in San Francisco. As far as I can tell, the book has long been out of print, and although you can find copies online, the only one I've ever seen in a used bookstore is the one I bought a decade ago in SF (at Dog Eared I believe, back when they were cheap!). I've always loved the cover, designed by someone using the pseudonym MEAT (!), which falls right into the visual trajectory of Chicano printmaking. I have no idea who MEAT is, but the graphic could sit comfortably next to early work by Rubert Garcia, Malaquias Montoya, Juan Fuentes, or any of the Bay Area printmakers of that era.

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JBbTC 193: Scanlan's

Posted September 22, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

scanlans1.jpgScanlan's Monthly was a New Left political/counter-cultural magazine that ran for eight issues and less than a year, March 1970 to January 1971. It was co-founded and co-edited by Warren Hinckle III and Sidney Zion. Hinckle had been an editor at Ramparts, an extremely influential New Left monthly that grew out of the Catholic left in the early 60s, and went on to become the Time or Newsweek of the 60s and 70s social movements. I'll be discussing Ramparts more next week, when I start looking at the covers for their publishing imprint.

Like Ramparts, Scanlan's was intended to be a relatively slick and cleanly designed magazine, as opposed to the much scrappier underground press that was dominant at the time. There is not a lot of info online, and the old issues are difficult to track down at any affordable price. The focus was on muck-raking journalism rather than the music and drugs that were at the core of many other publications. Supposedly the title comes from a pig farmer, and Scanlan's was one of the first places to publish Hunter S. Thompson's more "gonzo" stories.

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JBbTC 192: Curbstone Press pt.5

Posted September 15, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Schaaf_Revolut_Curbstone75.jpgFor the first four weeks of looking at the output of Curbstone Press, I broke the books into semi-distinct categories: Roque Dalton and Curbstone's origins, Claribel Alegría and other Latin American Literature, the Art on The Line series, and the crossover with Danish artists and writers. This final week is everything that fell through the cracks.

While the above makes up 80% or so of Curbstones early output (I'm really only looking at 1975-1995 in these posts, but Curbstone continued to publish, and still nominally exists as an imprint of Nortwestern University Press), there were other interests as well. I assume because of physical proximity, it appears that the editors were in close contact with socially-engaged poets who taught at the University of Connecticut. Richard Schaaf was one of those, and his 1975 poetry collection Revolutionary at Home must have been one of Curbstone's first books. The cover is really charming, with Schaaf pictured up on a later tuckpointing a building (maybe his home?). The image brings forward the multiple possible meanings of the words in the title, both "revolutionary" and what that entails, and "at home."

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JBbTC 191: Curbstone Press pt.4

Posted September 8, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Malinowski_Fugue_Curb_front.jpgSomewhere in the late 1970s the editors at Curbstone must have crossed paths with a figure involved in political culture in Denmark. A series of poetry chapbooks by Danish authors co-published by Copenhagen's Augustinus Press came out from around 1979 into the early 1980s. However little info online there is about Curbstone, there is even less about Augustinus. I do know that Curbstone at certain points received funding from the Danish Augustinus Foundation, but I can find no evidence of a press connected to the foundation. Whatever the Danish intersection, it must have lead to an overlap with the Danish Left, as important political and cultural figures such as Palle Nielsen (one of Nielsen's projects was discussed in depth in Realizing the Impossible, the book I co-edited with Erik Reuland about art and anarchism) and Dea Trier Mørch, who was discussed in the first blog entry about Curbstone (HERE), and had her own post back in 2010 (HERE). She was also a key member of Rode Mør, the Danish communist print collective which is featured in Signal:02 (HERE).

In 1986, Curbstone published a translation of Ivan Malinowski's poetry volume Fugue. It is designed and illustrated by Trier Mørch, and her work is an integral part of the book. The titling on the cover is in classic Trier Mørch "font," as this is how she often hand writes text. Her images on the inside fill almost as many pages as the poetry, and although mostly small print/sketches of quotidian things, they carry a sincerity, weight, and beauty.

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JBbTC 190: Curbstone Press pt.3

Posted September 1, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

AOTL1_Dalton_PoetryMilitancy_Curb.jpgIn 1981, Curbstone Press began publishing a series of small pamphlets of critical non-fiction writing by international practitioners of political art. This series, entitled Art on the Line, ran for seven years and consisted of six booklets. The first in the series is Roque Dalton's Poetry and Militancy in Latin America. The basic design is the same as the following five publications: medium weight Helvetica type announces the title in black, and the author in a spot color (in this case, orange); the series title/logo runs along the bottom along with the issue number; and the only graphic element is an unattributed illustration of a cartoon man exhorting through a bullhorn. The books are small, 4.125" wide by 6" tall, thin, and easily slip into a pocket. They all have french folded flaps, the front flap blank except for the call "To the song of resistance only revolution does justice." The back flap lists other titles in the series.

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JBbTC 189: Curbstone Press pt.2

Posted August 25, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Scully_QuechuaPeoples_Curb_front.jpgCurbstone was not just an independent poetry press, but it's core mission was political, to publish and bring awareness to culture as a tool of struggle in Latin America. One of the most beautiful covers published was to an anthology entitled Quechua Peoples Poetry, translations of dozens of poems originally composed in the language of the Indigenous peoples of the Andes. The cover is a wrap around set of images and texts designed by Judy Doyle and James Scully, with strong photo-based illustrations of Andean life offset by the title in bold, powerful red type. The long-format French Folds make for a long, landscape surface, which looks great when completely unfolded.

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JBbTC 188: Curbstone Press pt.1

Posted August 18, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Dalton_Poems_Curb_front.jpgI was in a used bookshop in Denver in 1995 and I was looking in the poetry section for some reason. I have no memory as to why, I had never really read poetry, and had the same general ignorance of it as most of my youthful U.S. peers. In middle school everyone in my class had to memorize and publicly recite a poem, and while some industrious students reached for Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe, I accepted my limitations and committed a five line Shel Silverstein ditty to memory (I still remember it!). So, yeah, I have no idea what I was doing in the poetry section, but a shiny silver spine caught my attention. And then the red flags on the cover cinched it. What a cool idea, covering a book with images of May Day posters! If the wrap around photo of a wall of posters wasn't enough, the simple, clean, tall sans serif of Roque Dalton's name sealed it. Plus there was more than one poem inside about leftist guerrilla struggle, something quite exciting to my 20 year old brain.

It turned out that Dalton was familiar to my then roommates, as was the press that translated and published all of his work, Curbstone. Curbstone was a small press which began publishing poetry in 1975. The founders were Alexander Taylor and Judy Doyle, and their first book was Santiago Poems by James Scully (see below)

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JBbTC 187: Foreign Languages Press pt.3

Posted August 11, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

ExploringTheSecrets_Cover_FLP.jpgHere's my final entry in the Foreign Languages Press series (not that there aren't plenty more books put out by FLP—thousands, actually). You can see the other posters HERE. I saved my favorite for last: Exploring the Secrets of Treating Deaf-Mutes. The cover is stunning, a stylized portrait of a young Red Guard puncturing himself in the back of the neck with an acupuncture needle. The concept behind the pamphlet is just as stunning: Chao Pu-yu, an acupuncturist with the Chinese People's Liberation Army, has discovered how to cure deafness through his earnest study of the works of Chairman Mao! I think this publication can speak for itself, so I've scanned the entire Publisher's Note for you to be able to read, and included multiple page spreads. Read on, and learn how Chao Pu-yu stuck it to the imperialist doctors and "authorities."

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JBbTC 186: Foreign Languages Press pt.2

Posted August 4, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

TaChing_FLP.jpgOne of the main things that Foreign Languages Press books have in common is covers that attempt to meld the pastoral (peasants and peasant society) with the industrial (and technological), brought together through a third force, the Chinese Communist Party. The heft given to each of these elements changes with each title, but the formula is basically the same. Taching: Red Banner on China's Industrial Front focuses on industrial progress, but the fields in the foreground of the cover design remind us of the peasant origins of contemporary China, and the glowing red sun rising on the horizon reminds us who is responsible for this great technological feat—the Communist Party. The author of this pamphlet is anonymous, and if that wasn't enough of an indication of its clear roll as propaganda, the initial dozen pages of photographs illustrating happy workers making glorious progress seals the deal.

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JBbTC 185: Foreign Languages Press pt.1

Posted July 28, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Yunlan_AnnalsProvincial_front.jpgFounded in 1952, three years after the Communist Revolution, Foreign Languages Press is one of the external propaganda arms of the Chinese Communist Party. They supposedly have published over 30,000 titles in a total of 43 languages (according to Wikipedia). Their books, booklets, and pamphlets must have been produced in huge numbers, as it is no uncommon to find them kicking around used bookshops, flea markets, and thrift stores. I've pulled together a small collection of a dozen titles, and I don't think I've paid more than $4 or $5 for any of them, most them were in $1 bins or a quarter at a yard sale.

This is some of the most common Communist literature kicking around the U.S., and one of the things that's really interesting, is that none of seems to have been designed with a clear U.S. audience in mind. The aesthetic and sentiment of all the covers appears deeply part and parcel of the logic of the Chinese government, in a way that seems so much more foreign than most Soviet or Cuban propaganda. Most of the books feature either happy workers/soldiers or a bizarre combination of the pastoral and industrial functioning together, side-by-side. The Gao Yunlan book to the right is one of the few exceptions, where the cover is more abstract, the narrative of a prison escape illustrated by broken bars and a high brick wall.

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JBbTC 184: Two from the Philippines

Posted July 21, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

SionilJose_GodStealer_Garcia68.jpgOver the past year I stumbled upon these two handsome books from the Philippines. Although they were published by different companies almost fifteen years apart, they both share a really strong hand-rendered design. F. Sionil Jose's The God Stealer and others stories (Quezon City, Philippines: R. P. Garcia Publishing Co., 1968) is a real gem. The expressionist line-drawing on the cover strikes a great balance between "naive" imagery and a strong Modernist/Cubist sense. The yellow background is subtle, but adds necessary depth. Although from 1968, the cover evokes contemporary street art imagery from artists like Doze Green, or even fellow-Justseeds artist Favianna Rodriguez.

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JBbTC 183: The Hobo

Posted July 14, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Anderson_TheHobo_Phoenix_front.jpgI found this great book on a dollar rack here in New York City. It's a 1961 edition (Phoenix Books, a division of the University of Chicago Press) of a Nels Anderson's sociological study of The Hobo, originally published in 1923. The cover, designed by Sarah Delozier, is a nice montage of photography, geometrics, and hand-drawn lines. A hobo "tough" strolls into the frame in front of a freight car. He looks casual, but once you open the book, and absorb the back cover, you can see he's on the look out for a train yard security guard, or "bull." The black and white figures contrast strongly against the colors of the train.

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JBbTC 182: The Conflict Between Capital & Labor

Posted July 7, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Russell_ConflictCapital.jpgThis week I present you this "Fair, Candid, and Impartial Treatment of the Subject [of the conflict between Capital and Labor] from a Non-partisan and Christian Standpoint"!! E.T. Russell's 1905 The Conflict between Capital and Labor may be kooky, but sure has a great cover. The visual field is split into four boxes, the top one containing the title, the side panels representing industry and urban life, the central panel containing the author's name and concurrent torch of truth. Published just as the first Russian Revolution was unfolding, Russell tries to articulate why both big business and unions need to be checked, and how we all just need to get along.

This book is in amazing shape considering it's over 100 years old, and the insides are just as ornate and attractive as the cover. Many small accents and visual highlights offset the text, as well as a series of full-page illustrations. The best I scanned for you (click the "Read the rest of entry" link below—an overwrought drawing of a riot scene in Chicago.

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JBbTC 181: The Golden Fleece

Posted June 30, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Seldin_GoldenFleece.jpgI've got a lot of longer-format book cover series in the works for the blog, but they are taking much longer than the one-week chunks I have been trying to post these in for the past couple years. While that's going on in the background, I'm going to post some shorter entries, just looking at a book or two at a time.

This week I dug out a copy of Joseph Seldin's The Golden Fleece: Advertising in American Life (New York: Marzani & Munsell, 1963). It's a lefty critique of advertising, with a funny, spot-on cover design by Christian Ohser. The simplicity and color scheme successfully uses the then-contemporary advertising aesthetic, and turns it on its head.

JBbTC 180: Modern Arabic Writing pt.2

Posted June 16, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Back in November 2013 I did a post on the cover designs of the American University in Cairo's Modern Arabic Writing series circa 1990s (you can see it HERE). I thought I had dug up most of the covers from the series, but since then I've found another have dozen, so I thought I'd post this follow-up. Like the initial eleven I shared, these all have a common overall design by Naim Atef, although the contents of the frame he created are filled by a much more diverse set of visual ingredients. But we can start with Yusuf Idris' The Cheapest Nights, a companion volume to Rings of Burnished Brass. It also features an intricately detailed illustration by Atef, yet this drawing is much more loose and unfinished feeling. This works given the subject matter, with the loose line paralleling the sense of impromptu building, scaling it's way up a hillside in the background of the image. Like most of the covers I showed in November, and that are featured below, what is so striking to me about this is how unlike contemporary book design it feels. The illustration has the sense that it exists in it's own right, and it's need to sell the book to a reader is secondary to it's own composition.

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JBbTC 179: Dover Science pt.3

Posted June 2, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Russell_FoundatrionsGeometry_Dover_front.jpgThis week's covers are from Dover Math books I've found over the past 6 months at Book Thug Nation bookstore. You can see the last two posts about Dover books HERE. Many have strong geometrical patterns on the covers, extremely eye catching, but I don't have much else to say about them, so I'll stay out of the way this week, and let the cover's speak for themselves...

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JBbTC 178: Dover Science pt.2

Posted May 26, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Campbell_WhatIsScience_Dover.jpgI keep running into more and more cool covers on Dover books about science and math (and some art...) from the 1950s/60s. I first looked at these almost a year ago, when I highlighted six covers in JBbTC 147 (HERE). Now I've found nineteen more. This week I'll look at the science and art books, next week at the math (and next week I'll publish a full bibliography, including what little designer information I've been able to glean). And where would be better to start than Norman Campbell's What is Science? from 1952? Which begs the next question, what are those scattered floating v's on the cover? They're perfect for the book because they are "science-y" but also impenetrable. They could be slices of images of a virus from a microscope, or pieces of meteor trajectory, or concrete blocks from some sort of building project. Science is just filled with all kinds of mysteries.

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JBbTC 177: Quebec Authors

Posted May 12, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Morency_Nord.jpgWhile I was in Québec City two weeks ago I found some nice examples of book covers from Québécois authors. I know very little about the Québec book trade, but it seems like it has as much or more connection to France and Europe than to the rest of Canada or North America. Early examples look similar to French books, with very basic text design, maybe a small graphic element, but no pictures. By the 60s covers are pictorial, but rarely photographic or full color. I found this cool cache of covers in a small bookshop on Rue Saint Jean. These are just quick cellphone photos in bookshops, so I don't have any additional info about any of these books, unfortunately.

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JBbTC 176: Abstract Science Fiction

Posted May 5, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Eddison_WormOuroboros_Xanadu.jpgFinding the Science Fiction Book Club covers (see last week's post HERE) got me thinking about abstraction as a representation of Sci Fi, and I started digging around for other abstract science fiction covers. I have yet to find almost any gracing US books. I found the E.R. Eddison book to the right in Pittsburgh back in early February and I thought I had discovered a string I could pull on to find a treasure trove, but almost nothing else has come along. The Eddison book is part of a small set of Sci Fi/Fantasy novels published in the 1950s (thorugh the 70s) by Crown Publishing under the "Xanadu Library" imprint. The early books (this one is from 1952) have this very cool repetitive circle pattern on the cover. Unfortunately they all have the same pattern in the same color combination. Later books have pictorial covers, but nothing worth looking at. There is surprisingly little about the Xanadu Library online, where you can seem to find volumes on the minutiae of all things Sci Fi.

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JBbTC 175: Science Fiction Book Club

Posted April 28, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Tucker_LincolnHunters_SFBookClub_front.jpgI recently stumbled upon a small handsome science fiction hardback at a used book sale. The cover of Wilson Tucker’s The Lincoln Hunters is entirely abstract, but still manages to provoke a sense of motion, as if the cover itself is in flux. The bulbous shapes that make up the cover gesture towards arrows, plasma, and a general outer-space-ness. It turns out that this is just one of at least five dozen titles in this particular Science Fiction Book Club series, running from the mid-1950s into the early 60s. All share the same shapes on the cover, but the colors change and evolve, and the type treatment also transformed over time.

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JBbTC 174: Zamyatin's We pt.2

Posted March 31, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Zamyatin_We_Chekhov52_NYC.jpgThis week back to Zamyatin's We, and a look at all the non-English editions. (You can check out all the English-language covers HERE.) When first written, the book was not allowed to be published in the Soviet Union. But I found an image of a copy online from the Russian-language Chekhov Press in New York City, which published it in the US in 1952 (cover to the right). It's clean and very European looking, the only real adornment being the press logo, the Statue of Liberty emerging from an open book!

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JBbTC 173: Zamyatin's We pt.1

Posted March 24, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

zamiatin_we_Dutton52.jpgI'm slightly embarrassed that I only read Yevgeny Zamyatin's (Eugene Zamiatin) We for the first time about two months ago. Not embarrassed because it's something everyone should read, but embarrassed at myself for having first got a copy in high school, and taking over twenty years to finally read it. And it is well worth reading. It is the original blueprint for the dystopian novel, written in the Soviet Union in 1921—as the reality of Bolshevik authoritarianism was sinking in. Through the narrator, an engineer known only as D-503, and his journal, we learn about a future world known as the One State. Everyone lives and works in transparent cubes, and all individuality is suppressed in the name of collective Freedom. Orwell clearly read We before penning 1984, and Huxley's Brave New World also owes Zamyatin a debt. Probably the crudest rewriting of We is Ayn Rand's Anthem, an poorly written attempt to turn a nuanced and satirical challenge to central authority of all types into a vulgar equation of individual freedom and free market capitalism.

Because We is now outside of copyright, there have been many editions and many different translations. The first copy I found was at a school yard sale when I was 16, and it was the 1952 Dutton mass market paperback version to the right. It's got a powerful Seymour Chwast cover, the four hands featured making up a collective "we," which is part message conductor, part monster. The image is bold and, would be even more striking without the white bar and text at the top. In 1952 the book likely needed to be explained, now it speaks for itself, and the hand logo could carry the entire cover.

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JBbTC 172: Cambridge Africa

Posted February 24, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Kingsnorth_IntroEastAfrica_Cambridge_front.jpgJust a quick look today at a couple of 1960s academic history books about Africa. I found these on the cheap at the great West Philly bookstore A House of Our Own—one of the last shops in the country which is both deeply literary and completely non-sectarian Leftist. G. W. Kingsnorth is the author (or co-author) of both, and they have been published by Cambridge University Press. The attraction to me is clear: these are books about Africa with non-pictorial covers that carry very little of the stink of primitivism which clings to so many such attempts.

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JBbTC 171: Amilcar Cabral pt.3

Posted February 3, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

urdang_revolution_nefp.jpgAlthough much respected, Amilcar Cabral didn't actually write that much beyond speeches and lectures. But there is a large body of literature about Cabral, and the struggle in Portuguese Guinea. This week I'm going to take a look at the covers of this secondary material. It's a combination of pamphlets, like the one to the right—published by the New England Free Press in the 1970s, to books about Cabral and the PAIGC (the liberation organization he led against the Portuguese).

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JBbTC 170: Amilcar Cabral pt.2

Posted January 27, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Cabral_Cultura_EscuelaNacional81.jpgLast week I looked at the covers of books by African revolutionary and theorist Amilcar Cabral that were in English. This week lets take a peek at his books published in other languages. Cabral wrote and spoke Portuguese, but the Portuguese book trade is quite small, so his works in his native language aren't particularly easy to find. I haven't been able to track any down, but I have found one of his books in Spanish, Cultura y liberacíon nacional (Culture and National Liberation) published in 1981 by the Escuela Nacional. It doesn't seem that the contents of the non-English books graft directly onto any of the English titles.

This book has the most distinct cover of any of the Cabral books, forgoing photographs or likenesses of Cabral himself. Instead we have a highly stylized—and highly cryptic—female figure, kneeling in a prayer position, face and palms upturned. Extending from her fingers are a series of marks which could either reference motion, energy leaving her hands, or simply extremely long fingernails. Even though there is nothing special about the typography or the rest of the design, ultimately the figure is unique enough (the fingers, the patterned spine, the striped dress, sharp mohawk-like hair) to carry the cover.

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JBbTC 169: Amilcar Cabral pt.1

Posted January 20, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Cabral_Return_AIS73_front.jpgI was introduced to Amilcar Cabral when I was in college. His name popped up along with other African and Caribbean revolutionaries I was reading like Frantz Fanon, Walter Rodney, and Kwame Nkrumah. He was the leader of the PAIGC, the national liberation movement of Guinea Bissau and the Cape Verde Islands, or "Portuguese Guinea." Like other African revolutionaries, he combined a sharp intellect with a knack for military strategy, but unlike many of his contemporaries, he was extremely attuned to culture as not simply a tool, but the heart of revolutionary struggle. His most accessible writing can be found in Return to the Source, which contains his important essay "Culture and National Liberation." To the right is the first edition of the book (in English), published by Africa Information Service in 1973.

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JBbTC 168: Seven Seas pt.6

Posted January 13, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Aptiz_NakedAmongWolves_7Seas.jpgContinuing with my cleaning up and filling in the gaps in old posts, here's nine more covers from the East German, English-language publisher Seven Seas. You can check out the first five posts, thirty or so covers, and another couple dozen images HERE. Half of these new books I've found in my travels and hunting, the other half come from my friend Aaron, a fellow-traveler in collecting things strange, political, and book.

To the right is Naked Among Wolves by Bruno Aptiz. At first glance it's a simple black cover with white and yellow type, but on a second look, a face emerges from the darkness. My eyes can't figure out whether to read the face as threatening or threatened, which makes it that much more creepy.

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JBbTC 167: Collier's Af/Am Library pt.4

Posted January 6, 2014 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Armah_Fragments_Collier2.jpgI had originally hoped that once I posted a series of covers here on the blog, I'd be able to move on to new book explorations. But that's not the way it has turned out. Each thing I post seems to create a new slot in my brain that I'm always looking to fill. About a year ago I ran a three-part series on the Collier African/American Library collection of the early 1970s, an interesting set of novels collecting writings from across the African diaspora over the previous hundred years. It's actually quite impressive—38 books in three years, with authors from over a dozen countries. You can read those first three posts HERE.

Since running that series, I keep running across books from it which I either couldn't find before, or I was only able to share a crappy lo-res jpg because the original book was elusive. Now I've got all but one or two books from the series. A couple of them have great wrap-around covers, so I'm excited to share those.

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JBbTC 166: Pluto Workers' Handbooks

Posted December 30, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Kinnersly_HazardsOfWork_Pluto_front.jpgBack in 1974, someone smart at the British radical, socialist press Pluto decided to publish the first of a series of Workers' Handbooks. The Hazards of Work: How to Fight Them by Patrick Kinnersly was Handbook No.1 of a series of at least a dozen books. The first couple were ingenious in both conception and design. They are mass market paperback size, so they can easily slip into a pocket, and their aesthetic is clear and direct, handbook-ish without being boring. The only visual element is the bold gothic type face, and the alternating of black and red text highlights the catchiest bit: "How to Fight Them."

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JBbTC 165: Short Stories from Puerto Rico

Posted December 16, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Belaval_Cuentos_ICP_front.jpgHere is another gem unearthed at Brooklyn's best bookstore, Book Thug Nation. The title is a bit contested, as the cover says it's Short Stories from Puerto Rico, and the inside claims Cuentos: An Anthology of Puerto Rican Short Stories. Either way this is a collection twelve stories by a half dozen authors. It's edited by Kal Wagenheim, who was a journalist with the New York Times, and went on to write a popular biography of Babe Ruth. This book was published in 1971 by the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña in San Juan, and according to Wagenheim's intro, it's the first English language collection of Puerto Rican stories, which is both shocking and pathetic. Although I guess it has generally not been that common for the colonizer to be particularly interested in the creative writing of the colonized.

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JBbTC 164: The Wood Grouse

Posted December 9, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Mouan_WoodGrouse_NeoLao_cover.jpgThis week I've got another quirky book to share, but we'll be jumping from East Germany to Laos. I found this small, cheaply produced book—The Wood Grouse—in Portland, OR. It was published in 1968 by Neo Lao Haksat Publications, and as far as I can figure Neo Lao Haksat is the Lao Patriotic Front, which evolved out of the Indochinese Communist Party founded by Ho Chi Minh. They were a pro-Vietnamese force during the 1950s and 60s while the Vietnam war was raging, and it seems like their publishing wing (and possibly other aspects) actually operated out of Hanoi. This book certainly looks and feels a lot like material coming out of Vietnam at the time.

It is a collection of nine anti-imperialist short stories (in English) written by the four authors listed on the cover, but the real draw for me was the design, typography, and cover/interior illustrations by Kham Deng.

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JBbTC 163: DDR Mini Poster Books pt.3

Posted December 2, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

PlakateZumErstenMai_cover.jpgThis week is the final in a series of posts about mini-East German poster books (see HERE and HERE). This week's book, Plakate zum Ersten Mai (Posters for May Day) was quite literaly one of the last gasps of the DDR, published in November 1989, after the Berlin Wall had already started coming down. The book is about an inch wider and taller than the other two, but is still considerably smaller than most other books—about half the size of a mass market paperback. It's also put out by a different publisher, Verlag Tribüne Berlin. It also has an ISBN number!

I'm unsure of the history, but Tribüne Berlin was the name of the main political/expressionist theatre in Berlin beginning in 1920, and was a popular hang out for Dadaists like George Grösz and John Heartfield. It's possible that this little book was produced by the publishing wing of the theatre. Unlike the other books, this one is only in German, so it's a bit harder to suss out.

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JBbTC 162: DDR Mini Poster Books pt.2

Posted November 25, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

PolPlakateEineAus_boxcover.jpgThis weeks book is the second in a series of mini-poster publication produced in the DDR, or former East Germany. Last week we looked at a book about posters celebrating the Russian Revolution (see HERE). This week I've got another book that is the exact same size, and also comes in a nice little box (see to the right). The box implies the book is titled Politische Plakate de Arbeiterklasse (Political Poster of the Working Class), but the book itself is titled Politische Plakate: Eine Auswahl 1888-1978 (Political Posters: A Selection). The box cover is much funkier and more experimental than last week. At first it looks like a maroon and white spray can on a red background, but on second examination I see that the image is one of those large public pole/bulletin boards that are still popular in some European cities. The books title becomes just one of four posters visible on the pole, the others referencing Marx, the Soviet Union, and poster art in the DDR.

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JBbTC 161: DDR Mini Poster Books pt.1

Posted November 18, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

LittleDDR01.jpgWhen I first traveled to Berlin back in 2007, doing research for Signal with Alec Dunn, we spent a lot of time haunting bookstores. Being a book junkie, there's little as exciting as walking into a bookstore in a new country where all the books are unrecognizable. It's intoxicating, getting hit with the rush of thousands of new titles and covers. Given Germany's history, being split in two until twenty or so years ago, used bookstores are stocked with gems from not one country, but two—one of which was communist (at least in name) and had a very different design sense than the West.

At one book store I found a little book—and I do mean little—collecting posters and graphics from around the world celebrating the Russian Revolution. On future trips I found two more similar books—mini collections of political posters and artwork—printed in the GDR in the 1980s, presumably to sit on counters of bookstores there, just like little design books collecting Indian matchbook covers or sushi made into animal faces confront us at the registers of bookstores across the US.

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JBbTC 160: The Labor Spy Racket

Posted November 11, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Huberman_LaborSpy_ModernAge_front.jpgOver the past two years I've been stumbling across old, early paperbacks published in the 1930s by Modern Age Books in New York. They seem like a lefty publisher in some ways—all the books are union printed, much of their non-fiction is outright socialist, or at least leaning in that direction—but also published things way outside the normal left loop. Their list is a mix of paperback editions of popular crime fiction (Agatha Christie, etc.), what are now "classics" (Steinbeck, Saroyan), literature in translation (Ignazio Silone, Andre Gide), cookbooks, cooky science texts, and the aforementioned leftist history and contemporary affairs books. They had a set of imprints, including "Blue Seal Books" which were all 25¢, "Gold Seal Books" which were titles more expensive that a quarter, "Red Seal Books" for inexpensive reproductions of literature, and "New Modern Age Books." The first three are marks with images of a seal in their respective colors, and the New Modern Age feature three seals in an oval. The books were able to be sold so cheaply by being produced in huge editions (by today's standards), between 50,000 and 100,000 copies per print run.

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JBbTC 159: Modern Arabic Writing

Posted November 4, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Kanafani_MenInSun.jpgIn the late 2000s, in the basement of the Caliban Bookshop in Pittsburgh, I found a handsome paperback edition of Ghassan Kanafani's Men in the Sun. It was the first Palestinian novel I ever read, but I didn't have a copy anymore, so I picked this one up. The cover design by Naiem Atef is striking, all black and orange, a keffiyeh-ed man's head being pushed down by a bright and throbbing sun. The man's face is rendered in an almost comic book style, but that doesn't do anything to diminish the sense of anguish the illustration communicates. The image is settled into a larger series-design framing, black and colored bars alternate, titling a classic serifed font, and the series acknowledged by a black graphic logo in an orange oval. I don't know Arabic, but the logo reads as a letter or series of letters, possibly the letter 'ain. Or in English, an E, or an ampersand, or an M and A turned on their side, counterclockwise.

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JBbTC 158: Bogle L'Overture pt.2

Posted October 28, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

KJohnson_DreadBeat_Bogle75.jpgAfter Walter Rodney and Andrew Salkey, the most important author Bogle-L'Overture published was the Jamaican-born but London-based street poet Linton Kwesi Johnson. Kwesi Johnson become a popular voice of the Caribbean under-class, a position solidified after the Brixton Riots in 1981 during which he became a signal voice against police brutality and the repressive policies of Thatcher's England. To the right is the cover of the first edition (1975) of his most popular collection, Dread, Beat, and Blood. Some of the poems ended up on his 1978 album of the same name.

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JBbTC 157: Bogle L'Overture pt.1

Posted October 21, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Salkey_WritingInCuba_Bogle.jpgI first encountered Bogle-L'Overture Publications almost twenty years ago. Outside of Boston their is a strange bookstore called the New England Mobile Bookfair. Neither mobile nor a book fair, it is an extremely unique book store, where almost all titles are neither organized by subject nor author, but by publisher. Imagine, a giant warehouse of books where it is almost impossible to find what you are looking for unless you know who published it! They also always carry a large selection of overstock and remaindered books, which is usually where I head first, often finding strange titles by obscure leftist publishers for a dollar or two. So back in 1992 or 93 I was visiting my parents in Massachusetts and got them to take me to New England Mobile, a popular destination when I was back for holidays and such, and I stumbled upon Writing in Cuba Since the Revolution, edited by Andrew Salkey and published by a small political publisher of black and Caribbean literature and politics, Bogle-L'Overture (BLP). I also picked up a copy of Groundings with My Brothers by Walter Rodney, but I'll talk about that below.

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JBbTC 156: Gorey pt.3

Posted September 30, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Rilke_Notebooks.jpgFor this final week of Edward Gorey covers, I've pulled together all the stragglers I could find, covers he did that are later or not for Doubleday Anchor. The Rilke cover to the right is really striking, with a completely flat visual plain and very limited lines, the cover captures Rilke's likeness, down to the intense, searching eyes. While many of Gorey's covers are conceptually efficient or sparse, this is the only one that I've found that is graphically so. He's abandoned all the tiny, scratchy lines and intense detail for a totally graphic treatment. It really works, and makes me wonder what other work like this he has floating out in the world, collecting dust on the shelves of used bookshops.

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JBbTC 155: Gorey pt. 2

Posted September 23, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Doughty_TravelsIn_Anchor.jpgLast week I looked at a chunk of Anchor Doubleday paperbacks from the 1950s and 60s with covers by Edward Gorey. You can see them and read it HERE. Last week I was focusing on the utter lonesomeness of the figures in Gorey's covers, and this week I found a couple covers where the figures have completely vanished, where Gorey simply captures stark landscapes. Each of the two here are both bleak and unforgiving: Travels in Arabia Deserta shows a desolate brown field with slightly darker peaks sprouting from it; American Puritans shows a nearly barren landscape populated by dead trees and lonely boulders, all under a bright red sun.

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JBbTC 155: Gorey pt.1

Posted September 16, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

AlainFournier_Wanderer_Anchor.jpgOne of the great things about working at a bookstore is you start to notice more and more quirky little things about books, stuff that only the week before passed you by. In the Spring I started noticing similar covers on a wide array of mass market paperbacks from the 1950s and 60s, mostly on classic literature, but also on philosophy, poetry, sociology, and essays. There was something familiar about the artwork, but also strange and unknown. Cracking open the books led to discovering that all of them had been designed by Edward Gorey. I've never been a huge Gorey fan—although I always found "A is for Amy, who fell down the stairs; B is for Basil, assaulted by bears" somewhat charming, in a gothic kind of way—I've never been remotely driven to the kind of Gorey worship that seems popular today, with the onslaught of little gift books and tote bags, t-shirts and nick-knacks.

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JBbTC 154: Studies in International Communism

Posted September 9, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

SIC12_Suarez_Cuba_MIT.jpgI was in San Francisco in the Spring of 2012 for the Bay Area Anarchist Bookfair, and since I had a little extra time I made the rounds of the local used bookstores. One of my favorites is Dog Eared Books. Sometimes it can be a bit pricey, but at the same time there are often some great deals, and the book buyers tend to pick up quirky Left books. This visit I found a copy of Cuba: Castroism and Communism, 1959-1966 by Andrés Suárez on MIT Press. I was drawn to the book because its austere front cover—large, bold, white letters spelling out C-U-B and a big red star in place of the A. The tiny, tiny full title and author underneath is a really nice touch. The clinch for deciding to buy the book was when I flipped it over and found the same exact design on the back, but with each letter super-imposed on top of key figure in international politics in the 1960s (if not the Cuban Missile Crisis): Mao, Kruschev, Kennedy, and finally Castro, sitting comfortably behind the red star.

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JBbTC 153: Seed

Posted September 2, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Norris_TheSeed_Triangle_DJ_front.jpgJust one book this week, but a good one. Another trip to Grand Rapids, Michigan and Argos—the city's premier used book shop—led to this great find, Charles G. Norris' Seed: A Novel of Birth Control. Beyond the amazing title, the fabulous part is, of course, the Rockwell Kent-illustrated cover. It's unattributed, but surely his work.

The novel was first published in 1930, but this is a 1940 Triangle Books edition. Triangle appears to have been a New York publisher of inexpensive reprints of popular novels. There's not a lot of easy to access information out there about them, but their list seems a big grab bag, with pulpy stuff like James Cain, Conan Doyle, and Ellery Queen, more literary work like Pearl Buck and John Steinbeck, then pop book by people like Kipling and Wodehouse.

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JBbTC 152: On The Poverty of Student Life

Posted August 26, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

SI_OnPoverty_french66_2.jpgWhile rooting around Interference Archive looking for student movement books over the past couple weeks, I pulled out a whole set of different editions of what might be the most influential student movement manifesto, De la misère en milieu étudiant, or as known in English: On the poverty of student life. A consideration of its economic, political, sexual, psychological and notably intellectual aspects and of a few ways to cure it. At the archive we have five different editions, but I dug around online and found images of six more, including the initial edition published by students at Strasbourg University outside of Paris (which can be seen here on the right).

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JBbTC 151: Students on the Move pt.2

Posted August 19, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

CalifanoJr_StudentRevol_Norton.jpgLast week I looked at the phenomena of 1960s and 70s mass-market paperback publishers trying to cash in on interest in the giant student movement in the United States at the time (see HERE). This week I've assembled a collection of other student movement books, mostly from the 60s and 70s still, but with some contemporary volumes mixed in. Almost all the books are from the collection of Interference Archive, with a couple I photographed out of the book collection of my friend Dan Berger (thanks again, Dan!).

To start out with we have Joseph Califano, Jr.'s The Student Revolution, a fairly academic attempt to sum up the 60s student movement. What is interesting about the cover, and makes it distinct from many of the others, is that the red fist is actually cribbed from the movement itself, it's the graphic (or a close copy) used by the Harvard students who went on strike in 1969. Even if overused, the red fist is still an effective image, and the clean sans serif titling highlights the rough spray-paint edges of the graphic. The McGovern quote and Norton logo interfere with the efficiency and cleanness of the design, but even so it looks good.

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JBbTC 150: Students on the Move pt.1

Posted August 12, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Rapoport_LibraryBurning_Vintage69.jpgThe last handful of years have seen an explosion in student organizing, here in the States, but also across the world, with hot spots in the UK, Austria, Sudan, and a slew of other countries. But here in the U.S. most people associate "student revolt" with the 1960s, and that is in large part due to the media representing and re-representing 60s and 70s student movements. One small part of that media apparatus is the publishing industry. During this pre-internet time, books played a much larger role in many people's lives, and what were called "Mass Market" paperbacks (smaller, pocket-sized books, usually around 4" wide and 7" tall) were regularly sold in the tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of copies, and were available not just in book stores, but drug stores, five and dimes, newsstands, and supermarkets.

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JBbTC 149: Arabic Spines

Posted July 22, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

ArabicMultiSpines07.jpg While in Palestine I visited over a dozen libraries and archives, and got to take a look at an entire world of books that was previously unknown to me. One of the things that really jumped out at me was the creative use of the spines on multi-volume sets. For a large number of collections of poetry, legal documents, and religious books, there is a tradition of creating beautiful and intricate titling sequences that across the spines of multiple books, sometimes up to 20 or 25. I took quick point-and-shoot photos of fifteen of these sets so I could share them with you here on the blog. Unfortunately I don't have much more info about these books, as I don't read Arabic and there is little in English about the Arab-language publishing industry and traditions. But maybe some of you out there have more info? Send it along if you do!

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JBbTC 148: Penguin Early African Fiction

Posted July 8, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Paton_CryBeloved_Peng.jpgWhen I was tracking down all the books in the Penguin African Library (see HERE), I came across an old novel based in South Africa that Penguin published, W.H. Canaway's Sammy Going South. The edition was published in 1963, and is a classic looking "late orange" Penguin book, with the only colors on the cover being shades and overprinting of orange and black. Then later, while working at Human Relations (definitely check it out if you are in Brooklyn, it's a great used bookshop!) I found Penguin's first paperback edition of Alan Paton's classic South African novel Cry, the Beloved Country. The cover illustration of this 1960 edition is by Paul Hogarth, and its simplicity of line captures a depth of ambiguous emotionality. Confusion, tension, frustration, anguish, and even acceptance appear to flash across the face of the central figure.

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JBbTC 147: Dover Science

Posted July 1, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Pavlov_ConditionedRef_Dover_Front.jpgAs I've mentioned before, I sometimes work at my friends' bookshop here in Brooklyn called Book Thug Nation. It's a great place, and there are many, many nuggets of book design genius hiding on the shelves. My eyes recently landed on the book to the right, a 1960 Dover Publishing edition of Pavlov's Conditioned Reflexes. And the cover is astoundingly good. A quick scan through the science shelf and I found five additional old Dover science books from the 1950s and 60s with awesome covers. Although it appears that the books themselves aren't particularly rare, and some of them Dover has kept in print, this particular generation of covers was used for a short period than abandoned for designs that at the time probably seemed more "contemporary"—yet in hind site many of these ones are so forward looking they could be very effective if used on books today.

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JBbTC 146: Fontana Africa pt.3

Posted June 24, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Ike_PottersWheel_Fontana.jpgHere's the third and final week of covers from the Fontana African Fiction series. I've given a bunch of back story and context for these covers in the previous two weeks, which you can read HERE. Like last week, I'm largely going to let these covers speak for themselves. At the end of the covers in this post I've written up a full bibliography for the books I actually have, and can confirm the details for, including designer and photographer information when available, and original publication dates. Next week we'll get into something completely different!

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JBbTC 145: Fontana Africa pt.2

Posted June 17, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Nwankwo_Danda_Fontana_front.jpgThis week is a continuation of the covers from the Fontana African Fiction series. You can look at last weeks post and introduction to the books and their design HERE. What interests me about these covers is the desire to attempt to create a mass market interest in African fiction, rather than relegate it to more traditional sales avenues of academic contexts or specialty markets. This has definitely led to some quirky decisions for cover imagery. For the most part I'm going to just let these covers speak for themselves, as it's really hard to know what to say about most them individually. They are most interesting as a whole, and give a window into a world of hip African socialites that might have looked like this, or might have largely been a creation of Fontana's promotional staff.

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JBbTC 144: Fontana Africa pt.1

Posted June 10, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Laye_AfricanChild_Fontana_front.jpgWhile hunting for books in the Heinemann African Writers Series (by far the most expansive collection of writing from Africa in English, and interestingly designed covers to boot!) I began stumbling on titles in a parallel series by British mass market paperback publisher Fontana. While the African Writers Series is largely aimed at academic and literary audiences, the Fontana African Fiction collection clearly set its mark at a broader and more populist audience. This will become clear very quickly when you look at the majority of the covers!

Over the past couple years I've found 19 books in the series, but there are at least another half dozen I haven't been able to find. I have found images of some of these, and when possible cleaned them up and included them here. That said, it's pretty clear which those are, as some are completely shitty reproductions, so I'm still on the hunt for the actual books. If you have any and want to send me scans (or books!), that would be great. I'm going to include a bibliography at the end of the series, but I'm only including the books I have, where I can confirm the correct information.

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JBbTC 143: The Charred Witness

Posted June 3, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Cove_CharredWitness_Dell_front.jpgSo in order to keep abreast of my book hoarding problem, I work one day a week at one of the best bookstores in New York City, Book Thug Nation. Recently we got a big lot of old noir books, and there are some real gems. Some of my favorites are the Dell Mysteries, with the "crime maps" of the murder scenes on the back cover. This one is just amazing, George Harmon Coxe's The Charred Witness, from 1942. There are no artistic or design attributions for any of these books, but whoever did this cover is a genius. No detail was skipped here, from the chipped fingernails and creepy texture on the flaming hand to the airbrushed smoke rising off the image. Maybe I'm just stretching, but it seems like the skull even has a little bit of a mustache, maybe evoking Hitler, as it was 1942!

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JBbTC 142: Seven Seas Books pt.5

Posted May 27, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Carim_GoldenCity_7Seas.jpgSo I found a couple last Seven Seas books, including two of the Africa-related ones I had been looking for. This will be the final installment of the Seven Seas covers.

First is Enver Carim's Golden City (1970), a great part stream-of-consciousness, almost psychedelic, tour through the streets of Johannesburg from the point of view of a young Coloured, or South African of Indian descent. I find the cover super exciting—the orange and black are a pungent combination, and the antagonistic and intolerant street signs send the eye on a wild goose chase across the cover, never getting anywhere but back to the giant "NO" of the central sign. At the same time the sign shapes, restrictions written on them, and arrows are all hand drawn, giving them a human, rather than bureaucratic, touch.

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JBbTC 141: Seven Seas Books pt.4

Posted May 20, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Becher_Farewell_7Seas.jpgFor this fourth and final entry into the books of Seven Seas, I'm going to just run through the rest of the titles I've been able to find. (To see the three previous entries about this publisher, click HERE.) Lets start with Johannes R. Becher's Farewell (1970). The tinted photo and ostentatious frame evoke the early 20th century setting of the novel (and also maybe Haight-Ashbury?), while the cut out and removed head of the young boy toy with the idea of "farewell." By this point, 1970, Seven Seas designer Lothar Reher appears to be extremely confident in his craft, and only does the minimal necessary in text and image work to pull a successful cover together. All the covers here are by him unless otherwise noted.

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JBbTC 140: Seven Seas Books pt.3

Posted May 13, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Clark_HarlemUSA_7Seas_frontcover.jpgFor this third entry into the books put out by East German publisher Seven Seas in the 1960s and 70s, I want to look in-depth at a single title. By far the coolest Seven Seas book I've picked up is Harlem, U.S.A., a huge collection of writings and art by Black cultural icons, most from the Harlem Renaissance period. The book was edited by John Henrik Clarke, and published in 1964 (and largely drawn from work originally published in the Civil Rights Movement-aligned journal Freedomways).

This is the only Seven Seas title I've seen with a cover designed by someone other than their house design Lothar Reher. The cover design is attributed to Oliver (Ollie) Harrington, an African-American cartoonist with an interesting political history. Popular with other Black artists in the 1940s and 50s, Harrington produced editorial cartoons for newspapers, became head of public relations for the NAACP, and eventually fell on the radar of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Fearing for his life, he fled to East Germany in 1961, and lived out the rest of his life in East Berlin.

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JBbTC 139: Seven Seas Books pt.2

Posted May 6, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

LaGuma_StoneCountry_7SeasA.jpgSeven Seas also published a number titles related to Africa, in particular novels and short stories by South African writers. I've been able to find four of these titles, but the Seven Seas bibliography at 50 Watts (HERE) shows at least two additional novels, Enver Carim's Golden City (a great book about the working class Indian experience in Johannesburg, published in the US by Grove Press) and Harry Bloom's Transvaal Episode, as well as James Kantor's autobiography A Healthy Grave. Kantor was Nelson Mandela's lawyer during the Rivonia treason trial.

The gems of the lot are the two novels by South African author Alex La Guma. Both sport great montaged covers by Lothar Reher. The Stone Country (1967) cover is composed of black and white photos of a brick wall crop and cut into basic shapes, the top image is cloud-like, yet heavy, and the bottom is possibly intended to be a tree. The title is snuggled between the two, but appears deeply precarious, as if it will soon be crushed between the rock-like cloud and stone tree. The entire cover is black and white except for the author's name, which sits quietly but proud in red in the bottom right corner.

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JBbTC 138: Seven Seas Books pt.1

Posted April 29, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Fuhmann_CarWithYellow_7Seas.jpgI was over my friend Aaron's house nine months ago or so, and stumbled upon a book on his shelf published by Seven Seas Books. The spine was clean and handsome, the title in a simple gothic and in English—but upside-down, like most French and German books. A bold black bar runs across a half inch of the bottom, and a bold Bodoni poster-style number 7 sits atop the bar. Aaron explained that it was a Seven Seas book, an English-language publisher in the 60s and 70s in the GDR, or East Germany.

I filed it away, and started looking for these while scanning the shelves at bookshops. In Milwaukee I found my first Seven Seas title, Franz Fühmann's The Car with the Yellow Star (1968). It turns out that the book is good example of what Seven Seas was publishing. Fühmann was a popular East German poet, and this is his only novel, the semi-autobiographical story of a boy growing up in Germany in the 1930 who is taken in by fascist ideology and becomes a faithful soldier of the Nazis until coming to a new consciousness in a prisoner of war camp.

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JBbTC 137: The Not So Distant Future

Posted March 4, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Stryker_NYPD2025_Crossfire.jpgAre you worried about global warming? Don't fret, because in twelve short years you'll have much bigger problems to deal with: The scum of the earth will have taken over our streets! Or so says "Hal Stryker" in his 1985 page turner NYPD 2025. I grew up a sci-fi fan, and I've always been attracted to the kind of fantasy where the author changes some small detail about our world, and then uses the form of the novel and the conventions of the genre to generate an entirely different set of social relations that spawn from that small change. Ursula Le Guin is one of the best examples of this, but Eleanor Arnason, Samuel Delany, and even Phillip K. Dick basically do this as well. But as in many things, there are lots of other kinds of sci-fi. Of late I've been collected books from the 70s and 80s that are supposed to be about the future, but are either so close to our current reality—or so completely ridiculous—that they seem to not even function as social criticism, but instead right wing prescriptions of the future.

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JBbTC 136: Collier's Af/Am Library pt.3

Posted February 18, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Attaway_BloodOnTheForge_Collier.jpgThis week is the third and final installment of covers from Collier's African/American Library series. What we've got left are the books by African-Americans, and unlike the African novels, most are not contemporary, but "classics" from the Harlem Renaissance or older. Case in point is William Attaway's Blood on the Forge, a book about the Great Migration North, originally published in 1941. The cover does a good job bringing the book up to date with 1970, with it's proto-post modernism. The orange and pink deification lines around the factory in the background simultaneously reference psychedelia and Emory Douglas' illustrations for the Black Panther paper, while the rough-hewn block-printed figures in the foreground evoke Robert Gwathmey with a touch of Jacob Lawrence. While both aspects seem dated today, I suspect at the time the factory projected a modern feel, while the figures and field were rooted in the past.

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JBbTC 135: Collier's Af/Am Library pt.2

Posted February 11, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Ngugi_WeepNot_Collier.jpgI love mass market paperbacks. They are small, fit in your pocket, and were usually printed cheaply and in such volume that they hold little monetary value these days. Most of these African/American Library books I've been able to find on dollar racks, for for $2-$3. It's pretty great to have this collection of literature still circulating for super cheap.

This second half of the African novels (see the first part HERE) starts with Weep Not, Child, the first novel by Ngugi wa Tiong'o, then going under the name James Ngugi. It's got a hip cover, with a pointelist drawing on a background of rich orange and red. Leaving the drawings black and white was a solid decision, allowing them to pop to the foreground, and giving a sense of action or motion that is otherwise lacking (as the figures themselves are a bit stiff).

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JBbTC 134: Collier's Af/Am Library pt.1

Posted January 21, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Abrahams_MineBoy.jpgWhile collecting books from the African Writers Series published by Heinemann (I'll be featuring those books in a future post), I stumbled upon a small series of African novels produced a little closer to home. Collier Books was originally a spin-off from Collier's Magazine, but by the late 1960s it had largely become a paperback subsidiary of the Macmillan Company, at the time one of the oldest and largest independent book publishers in the US and UK. In 1969, Collier launched the African/American Library, a collection of inexpensive (most for $1.50) mass market paperbacks consisting of contemporary African and Caribbean fiction, as well as excellent African-American novels from the Harlem Renaissance and earlier. My rudimentary research has turned up thirty eight books published in the series, of which I've found copies of twenty four, and cover images for another nine.

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JBbTC 133: Tricontinental Press pt.2

Posted January 14, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Destafano_PuertoRico_Tricont_A.jpgI guess did this a little backwards. I focused on the later published books last week, and now here is Puerto Rico: Analysis of a Plebiscite, as far as I can tell the first English language book published by Tricontinental Press—otherwise called "Tricontinental Collection" on these early books. It was printed in March 1968, the "Year of the Heroic Guerrilla," a translation of a Spanish language text published originally by Tricontinental in 1967. Although not attributed, I suspect it was designed by Alfredo Rostgaard.

The cover is handsome, but a bit oblique for OSPAAAL. A protesting crowd is rendered in large halftone dots, with some police presence apparent front and center. The policeman is further singled out by being stamped "Made in USA" in blue, a smart use of duotone. The title is in a simple stencil font, but laid out with character, and the subtitle is placed on a blank white shape, evoking the protest placards in the photograph.

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JBbTC 132: Tricontinetal Press pt.1

Posted January 7, 2013 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Marighella_Tricont.jpgAs I've written about elsewhere, my Celebrate People's History poster series is in part inspired by the down-and-dirty poster printing of 1960s and 70s Third World liberation movements. In many ways the posters created by OSPAAAL (Organization in Solidarity with the People's of Africa, Asia, and Latin America) in Cuba are paradigmatic of this phenomena. They are infinitely inventive in design and color scheme, yet printed on cheap acidic paper, often printed off-register, and were regularly folded into little paper missives that could be stuffed into propaganda publications. In the thirty-plus years since the peak of this kind of production, these OSPAAAL posters have become highly collectible—you can find them being sold for upwards of $500-$1000 a piece. Not surprisingly, this is largely due to their innovative design, rather than their internationalist politics.

OSPAAAL didn't just print posters, but were (and still are) a political organization focused on fighting US imperialism and supporting leftist liberation movements around the world. It developed out of the Tricontinental Conference, a 1966 meeting of delegates representing national liberation movements and political parties from around the world, almost exclusively from the global south. Based in Cuba, OSPAAAL became propagandists for these movements, supporting them through poster production, two different regularly produced journals (Tricontinental and the Tricontinental Bulletin), and a series of longer format books focused on the writings of the intellectual leadership of the movements.

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JBbTC 131: Pilot Bails Out

Posted December 31, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Blanding_Pilot_cover.jpgAbout a month ago my friend Cindy and I went to go see the jaw-dropping remake of Red Dawn (and that's an entirely different story—wow, what an amazingly delusional Tea Party wet dream) in downtown Brooklyn, and stopped at the Community Bookstore down the street afterwards. For those that haven't been, this spot is a messy, musty treat. Like a thawing ice cream cone, dripping across your fingers before you can catch it, the walls of Community appear to be constructed out of cascading paperbacks. Spines crush into covers, mass market wedges hold up the lot—a giant game of Jenga, pulling out any one volume might cause the entire building to spill.

Picking through the wreckage, Cindy yanked out a slim hardback entitled Pilot Bails Out. I'm not sure what caught her attention, but the cover immediately grabbed mine. At first it looked like one of the Rockwell Kent wraps for the Boni Paper book series—a similar atmospheric block-print-style drawing executed effectively in a powerful duotone. Complex yet efficient, bold but not intense. It turns out the artist—and author—Don Blanding was a hugely popular poet in the 1930s and 40s, publishing multiple successful books (150,000 copies or more for some of them) on small West Coast publishers before moving to New York heavyweight Dodd, Mead, and Company.

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JBbTC 130: Anarchy (2nd Series) pt.7

Posted December 24, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Anarchy2nd_32.jpgThis week is the last installment of covers from the second series of Anarchy magazine from London, which ran for 38 issues from 1971 to 1985 (see the previous entries HERE). As we have seen, that fifteen year stretch was a bumpy road, with dozens of different editorial members, directions, designers, and cover artists. This week we'll look at the last six issues. To the right is the cover of #32, a great follow-up to the cover of #30 which captured the explosiveness of the Brixton Riots. Here we have the response—repression by the police. The shadows and craggly lines give the face a deeply sinister look, this is not your friend. And once again the designers employ visual tropes which will later become extremely popular among anarcho-punk bands. A different version of this same idea found itself on the cover of Doom's 1989 single, "Police Bastard."

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JBbTC 129: Anarchy (2nd Series) pt.6

Posted December 17, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Anarchy2nd_27.jpgWelcome back to part six of my focus on the second series of the UK magazine Anarchy. Last week we looked at a series of covers done largely by anarchist artist Clifford Harper. This week we return to a bit more scrappy period for Anarchy. Harper appears to have flown the coop. The cover of #27 to the right is still strong, but functions better as a mini-poster than as the cover of an ongoing publication. There is no issue, no date, no price, and no clear masthead.

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JBbTC 128: Anarchy (2nd Series) pt.5

Posted December 10, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Anarchy2nd_21.jpgThis week we've got some great covers! To the right is Anarchy #21. I actually should have included this issue—and the next one, #22—with last weeks entry, as it fits better within the design arc of issues 19 and 20 then most of the ones we'll look at this week. The cover is composed of a half dozen images of people at work, printed in a rich brown. The work is varied, from the factory floor to the home, the office and the market. The bottom strip, in contrast, is a group of masked people (maybe in Italy?), with the words "fight to live" superimposed over them. The images are intended to illustrate the lead article inside, "The Right to Work or the Fight to Live." This would have been more effective if the bottom photo had been printed in black, setting it off clearly from the work images.

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JBbTC 127: Anarchy (2nd Series) pt.4

Posted December 3, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Anarchy2nd_15.jpgWith issue 15 Anarchy goes through another facelift. For this, and the next three issues, we've got a straight sans serif masthead in white on a fading, dark to light, half-toned background, with a central box featuring an image and the contents inside. This return to set style is intended to help increase sales, as the price has also been lowered and issue numbers are once again placed on the cover. The image on this cover features a toy police officer ("Soft Cops") done up in a nice red and blue duotone. Sadly the use of black for the text at the bottom is wholly unnecessary, as we can see from the overlap of blue and red in the cops moustache that overlapping the colors to render the type in the dark purple that combination produces would have made for a more cohesive and pleasing design. But all in all it's not so bad, and the toy cop floating in the white box makes for a compelling image.

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JBbTC 126: Anarchy (2nd Series) pt.3

Posted November 26, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Anarchy2nd_10.jpgWith issue #10, Anarchy comes into it's own, settling into a fixed masthead and confident enough to continue to eschew the traditional anarchist red and black and experiment with deep blue and lilac. The collage of interior and exterior spaces is contrasted with the bleeding body at the bottom, raising questions about the nature of this "new" city Craigavon being advertised. Although undated, I believe this issue came out in late 1972, and thus the images and assembly appear to presage the design work Jamie Reid would do for 1974's Leaving the 20th Century, an early English-language Situationist anthology, never mind the more well known Sex Pistols period. In other words, Anarchy continues on in that interesting space between the psychedelia and underground comics of the 60s and the aggressive, neo-Dada cut-n-paste of the coming Punk era. With this issue the magazine changed addresses and there is also a complete and clean break from the earlier issues which were still connected to and being produced by Freedom Press. (See the two previous posts about Anarchy covers HERE.)

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JBbTC 125: Anarchy (2nd Series) pt.2

Posted November 19, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Anarchy2nd_05.jpgWelcome back to part two of our tour through the second series of the UK Anarchy magazine. Click HERE to see last week's entry. Let's pick up where we left off, with issue #5. It is with this issue that we really begin to see the disorganization, or possibly just disagreements, within the editorial collective which lead to decisions such as not only failing to include an issue number on the cover (a fairly regular occurrence, as you shall see), but on this particular issue not even including the title of the magazine! I suspect at some point, either on purpose or by mistake, the back and front covers were swapped, so Dave McWhinnie's stylish zipatone and pointillist montage on the Reichstag fire (which features the title Anarchy) got put on the back.

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JBbTC 124: Anarchy (2nd Series) pt.1

Posted November 12, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Anarchy2nd_01_71.jpgIn Signal:01, Alec Dunn and I ran an interview with Rufus Segar, the graphic designer who did the vast majority of the covers for the British monthly journal Anarchy. Not to be confused with the polemical, and somewhat unhinged, US publication Anarchy: a Journal of Desire Armed, this Anarchy was edited by Colin Ward and published by Freedom Press. It was a strange animal—very much a product of post-war UK anarchist intellectual thought, but also aimed at a much broader intellectual audience.

In 1970, Ward quit as editor, and Segar jumped ship soon after. Anarchy as it existed (a very consistent—in content and aesthetics—monthly half-letter sized magazine) dissolved, and in February 1971 a new, second series of Anarchy begun. A significant change is immediately apparent. Although Segar's cover where often graphically inventive and challenging, they were never lurid or attempting to shock, but the first cover of the new series (by Christine Charlton) throws up a near naked woman with long black gloves, boots, a top hat, and an impossibly thin waist. She stands to the side and above a pile of entangled bodies—some in lingerie, others ambiguously gendered—and a pair of high heeled feet sticking up from the back.

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JBbTC 123: Up From Slavery

Posted November 5, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Washington_UpFrom_SunDial37.jpgOn my recent trip to whirlwind tour of the Midwest (or at least Chicago, Grand Rapids, and Milwaukee) I've been hitting up all the used bookstores I can find, looking for book cover treasures, and finding some! My friend Brett took me to Argos Books in Grand Rapids last week, and I got a big stack of books, including this really fabulous 1937 edition of Up From Slavery, Booker T. Washington's autobiography. The illustration caught my eye first, especially in relationship to the large collection of covers related to prisons I've features here in the past (see HERE). The emancipated figure on the cover is both beautiful and astoundingly heroic, arms outstretched, the light yellow background both capturing movement and creating a sense of deification. The arms frame and point to the title, illustrating the "up" as well as letting us know that Booker T. Washington holds the key to the exhalted experience shown.

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JBbTC 122a: Coming Soon

Posted October 22, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

I'm sorryit's been a couple weeks since a Judging Books post. Things have been pretty hectic keeping Interference Archive running, and now I'm off to the Midwest for three weeks for some workshops, talks, making art, and hanging out.

But I've got a bunch of great book cover material in the works! Next up is a jaunt through the entire run of the second series of the British Anarchy magazine (from the 1970s). After that I've been collecting material for a look at the covers of the books by and about Guinea-Bissau revolutionary Amilcar Cabral, a deeper study of the covers for Homage to Catalonia, 1960s and 70s student activism/revolt books, and finally a full survey of the almost 500 unique covers from the Heinemann African Writers Series.

If you're sitting on great covers that touch on any of these subject, let me know! My contact information is in the "About Us" section of the website here. I'd love to get scans, photos, or even the books if you don't want them! All books will go into Interference Archive.

JBbTC 122: The Burden of Choice

Posted October 8, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

BurdonOfChoice_cover.jpgHere's another great find from the foreign language table at a regional bookfair, this one in Poughkeepsie, NY. I was immediately attracted to the book because of the nicely embossed cloth cover (if there was a dust jacket, it was long since gone). Red silhouettes of soldiers run in front of an ornate clock, about to strike midnight. Although not exactly the same, the figures are clearly reminiscent of a similar crowd from Sergei Chekhonin's 1923 cover for Ten Days That Shook the World. My guess is they are re-purposed from a similar source, but I haven't found it. This seemed most likely a book about the Russian Revolution—the red soldiers representing the Bolsheviks, the clock representing the old order, running out of time.

I passed the book on to Alec Dunn, my resident Russian expert, and it turns out it is by Ivan Pavlovich Shegolikhin, titled The Burden of Choice: A story about Vladimir Zagorski, and published in Moscow in 1979 by M: Politizdat from a series called "Ardent Revolutionaries."

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JBbTC 121: Three Czech Books

Posted October 1, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Sjowall_Nocni.jpgIn early Summer I went with friends from Book Thug Nation to a regional book sale in Pennsylvania. The sale was awesome, thousands and thousands of books packed into a bible college gymnasium, and a surprising amount of really great stuff. The international section was a great success for French books for the store, but mostly schlock otherwise. Until I stumbled upon these three Czech books from the 1960s and 70s. All clothbound with dust jackets, the first couple are mysteries from the publisher Smaragd, the last one a novel by Louis Aragon.

The first book is a crime novel from one of my favorite series, the Martin Beck books by Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö. Sjöwall and Wahlöö were Marxist writers from Sweden who used the form of the crime novel to critique Swedish society and the limits of social democracy. The book, titled Nocní Autobus (literally translated as Night Bus, but actually the novel The Laughing Policeman) was originally published in 1968, and is the fourth in the Beck series. This edition was published in 1974 by the Prague-based Mladá Fronta, and is the 69th book in their crime imprint Edice Smaragd Svazek, or Green Emerald Editions.

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JBbTC 120: Penguin African Library pt.10

Posted September 24, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Legum_CongoDisast_Peng.jpgFor the final installment of book covers from the Penguin African Library (see the first nine posts HERE), I'm going to take a look at the other books on Africa Penguin was putting out during the same time period and a little later, 1961-1979. Some of these books are considered to be part of the Penguin African Library (or the "African Affairs" series, as it became known), although they don't have PAL numbers and don't mention the Library anywhere. I haven't been able to track down the entire story, but it appears that Ronald Segal kept editing a series of books on African for Penguin, even after the PAL moniker was dropped.

You can see from the early volumes that 1961-63 is when Penguin, and likely the broader public, started evolving in its perspective towards Africa. Colin Legum's Congo Disaster (1961), a critical look at Belgian colonialism, hits the shelves around the same time as Lucy Mair's Primitive Government, a traditional anthropological look at Africa. But what unites them is that both books have great covers! Legum's functions like the best of the early Penguin Special's, integrating red into a simple design mostly dependent on type to do the communication. The field of black is ominous, with Congo jumping to the foreground, and "disaster" hanging back, and becoming that much more intriguing because of it. The handdrawn vertical lines and all lowercase simultaneously seem to diminish the word yet increase the sense of tension and loss.

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JBbTC 119: Penguin African Library pt.9

Posted September 17, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Segal_AmericasReceding_Peng68.jpgThis is the 9th part of my series on the covers of the Penguin African Library and associated titles, and the second part on the covers of series editor Ronald Segal. You can see all the previous posts in the series HERE. In 1968, Segal took on the United States, with America's Receding Future (Penguin). I haven't read the book, but the cover photograph says plenty, dilapidated buildings in the shadow of the Capitol in DC. The use of a black and white photo adds to the sense that the US—or at least its dominance—may in fact be receding into the past, instead of forward into the future.

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JBbTC 118: Penguin African Library pt.8

Posted September 10, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Segal_IntoExile_McGrawHill63.jpgI had been collecting the Penguin African Library books for awhile when I stumbled upon this copy of Into Exile at the local, and very cool, Brooklyn used book shop Unnameable. The cover was interesting and the author's name was familiar, then it hit me, this is the guy who built the PAL! I bought the book and read it over the next couple days. It's a great narrative touching on so many of the complexities of growing up, living in, and attempting to be politically active in South Africa. It ends before Segal hooks up with Penguin to start the African Library, but he does discuss publishing Africa South, and tells the harrowing story of sneaking out of South Africa with Oliver Tambo, then head of the African National Congress.

To the right is the dust jacket of the US edition published in 1963 by McGraw-Hill. The concept of the cover is cool, with a wall of type leading to a giant tear in the page, separating the title Into Exile from the rest of Segal's life. With the type so crammed it is a bit overwhelming and hard to read, but the enlarged title does provide eye relief, and visually carries the cover.

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JBbTC 117: Penguin African Library pt.7

Posted September 3, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

AfricaSouth_v1n1.jpgThe Penguin African Library (see HERE for earlier cover posts) was the brain child of Ronald Segal, a Jewish South African who grew to despise the Apartheid system and organize against it first as a student, then as an independent intellectual and publisher. Although he identified with the Congress movement (which would later solidify into the African National Congress), he remained fiercely independent. He began publishing Africa South in 1956 out of a desire to create a space for independent political thought and dialogue in Southern Africa. He chronicles the ups and downs of publishing in his great memoir Into Exile. The magazine ran through 21 issues over 6 years (4 per year), ending with volume 6, number 1 in 1961.

By skimming the tables of contents, you can see why Segal was so effective as theb editor of the PAL, many of the writers for that series can be found in Africa South, including Brian Bunting, Basil Davidson, Ruth First, Patrick Keatley, and Freda Troup. In addition, well known and important writers (in Africa and out) are also inside the pages, including John Berger, Nadine Gordimer, Langston Hughes, Nelson Mandela, Ezekiel Mphahlele, and Julius Neyere.

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JBbTC 116: Penguin African Library pt.6

Posted August 27, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

WA04_Kimble_Machin_Peng.jpgSo over the past five weeks I've gone through the entire Penguin African Library (PAL), proper, but there is so much more to look at! There was actually a predecessor series to the PAL, the Penguin West African Series (WAS), which ran a total of 14 titles from 1953–1965. The majority of the titles were published before Penguin switched to pictorial covers, so they're not that exciting to look at, but to the left is a good representation of the first ten numbers: David Kimble, The Machinery of Self-Government (WA04)(London: Penguin, 1953). Cover design unattributed. Kimble, and his wife Helen, also edited the series.

All 14 titles are numbered with a WA prefix. The first ten covers are handsome, as all the early Penguins are, but there's not much to say about them. They do all share a signature light blue color and feature a logo of the penguin under a palm tree, which is a nice touch. For the most part the series is much less overtly political than the PAL, which makes sense since it was started before the real thrust of African decolonization. Overall, the focus is much more anthropological and scientific.

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JBbTC 115: Penguin African Library pt.5

Posted August 20, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

AP35_Amin_NeoColon_Peng73.jpgWelcome to the fifth week of covers from the Penguin African Library (PAL). If you find yourself a bit lost trying to follow some of this, it might make sense to go back and read the first four week's entries HERE.

Samir Amin drops in again with another title in the series, Neo-Colonialism in West Africa (AP35: 1973). the cover design is a huge break from the style set 11 years earlier and largely followed by the previous 35 titles. The three part cover is gone, as is the base, background color of brown, replaced by white. The same orangish brown is maintained on the cover, but only in the titling. So there is some limited attempt to connect the design to the past. In addition, the two differently colored and montaged photographs also reference colors and styles used on previous covers.

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JBbTC 114: Penguin African Library pt.4

Posted August 13, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

AP23_Green_UnityPoverty_Peng68.jpgI guess will start this week off with one of the darker—in content and color—covers for the Penguin African Library. Reginald H. Green and Ann Seidman's Unity of Poverty: The Economics of Pan Africanism (AP23: 1968) doesn't imply much promise for Pan Africanism, with an outline of a continent stuffed full of people, and a dead and diseased bull laid out as the only food. Usually the PAL covers are more open ended, but the message here seems both clear, and quite grim. Aesthetically it is well balanced, the montaged animal giving depth and meaning to an otherwise fairly static and open-eneded info-graphic of Africa. This is the only cover in the series where the bottom 2/3rds are only black and white, and mostly black, without any other colors to add nuance.

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JBbTC 113: Penguin African Library pt.3

Posted August 6, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

AP16_Mansfield_Nasser_Peng65.jpgThis week we'll pick up with the fifteenth title in the Penguin African Library (PAL), Peter Mansfield's Nasser's Egypt (AP16: 1965). With this book the separation of the three sections of the cover is complete, there is no overlap, and they each fulfill a unique function. The brown top third signifies the series, and lists the PAL and features the Penguin logo. The middle third, in a solid red, holds the title and author's name, and the bottom third illustrates the title, in this case with an image of Gamal Abdel Nasser. This is the first time in the series the three rectangles have been so disconnected, but it really works, and makes the cover feel almost like a brown, red, and black flag.

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JBbTC 112: Penguin African Library pt.2

Posted July 30, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

AP08_Halpern_SAfricasHostage_Peng65.jpgThis week I'm going to continue working through the covers of the Penguin African Library, started last week HERE. Once again, one of the things I find so compelling about this series is that a major English-language publisher was committed to consistently publishing and keeping in print books written largely by Africans about contemporary Africa. Over a dozen years, over 40 titles were printed, and others planned. This is simply unimaginable today. Within the popular imaginary Africa has fallen back into an undifferentiated mass of dictatorships, child soldiers, and AIDS victims. We would do well to have a new Penguin African Library today.

Jack Halpern's South Africa's Hostages (AP8: 1965) is the next, and seventh, book in the series. It's cover follows the series design and grid, with a brown top square overlapping a square of highly saturated black photo on blue background. In particular this cover reads like The Politics of Partnership (AP5) with the blue background and titling. The choice of image is interesting, a line of Black soldiers, which implies a certain amount of control, and doesn't exactly reflect the concept of hostages in the title.

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JBbTC 111: Penguin African Library pt.1

Posted July 23, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

AP01_Segal_AfricanProfiles_Peng62.jpgIn 1962, British paperback publisher Penguin launched a new book series, the Penguin African Library (PAL). Along with the Heinemann African Writers Series, it is one of the most ambitious English-language publishing ventures focused on Africa, and featuring the writings of Africans. The series was edited by Ronald Segal, a white, but Jewish, South African exiled in the UK for his anti-apartheid activities (I'll go more into Segal in a future post). PAL ran from 1962 through 1975, and includes some 42 books, although many of the books were published in multiple editions, often with alternative covers. Each book was given a unique number with the prefix AP, so AP1 through AP46. Over the past couple years I've trawled used bookstores and hunted the web, and I've collected 51 unique covers, which I'll focus on over the next handful of weeks. At the end of this series of blogs, I'll be posting a full bibliography with citations to the designers of each book, so I won't be doing much designer or image attribution in the body of the blog itself.

The first book published was by Segal himself, entitled African Profiles (AP1: 1962). The cover design, by Massimo Vignelli, sets the tone and general style for the next 25 books in the series. The page is horizontally trisected by two overlapping fields: the top two-thirds are a solid color that I'll call "PAL brown"; the bottom 2/3rds hold an image, the middle section where they overlap creates a third space. We'll see dozens of variations on this simple grid system throughout the series.

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JBbTC 110: Frantz Fanon pt.10

Posted July 16, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

AbdilahiBulhan_Fanon_Plenum85.jpgHere is the final post in this long-running Fanon series. Thanks to all that have been with me for the entire ride! You can see all the covers (133 different ones!) HERE.

To start out, to the right is Hussein Abdilahi Bulhan's Frantz Fanon and the Psychology of Oppression, an academic title published in 1985 by Plenum. The cover uses not only same photograph as the Grove mass-market paperback of Wretched of the Earth, but the same stylization and posterization of the image. Only on this cover the image is grey and black, instead of the much more provocative orange and black of the original. The cooling of the colors and the traditionalist box around the title help imply that this is a study of a revolutionary, not a call to revolution.

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JBbTC 109: Frantz Fanon pt.9

Posted July 9, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

McCulloch_BlackSoul_Cambridge83.jpgLet's start off the second installment of Fanon biographies with Jock McColloch's Black Soul, White Artifact (Cambridge University, 1983), which takes the African mask metaphor further than any of the previous covers, replacing the mask with an ancient and worn African stone sculpture. Unlike the other covers deploying the masks, here it is wholly appropriate, illustrating the books title, and I assume the point that the White gaze freezes Blackness into a rigid form onto which all kinds of assumptions and baggage can be dumped.

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JBbTC 108: Frantz Fanon pt.8

Posted July 2, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Gendzier_Fanon_Pantheon73.jpgThis week I'm going to dig into the biographies and books about Frantz Fanon. I'm going to start with three of the most popular biographies: Irene L. Gendzier's Fanon: A Critical Study, David Caute's Frantz Fanon, and David Macey's Frantz Fanon: A Life.

I've been able to track down five different covers of Gendzier's book. The first edition was published by Pantheon in 1973, and goes for a straight forward, no nonsense design: portrait and titling. The photo is put in extreme contrast, making Fanon glow in white on the solid black background. The title is too dark in green, with not enough contrast on the black. Overall an OK design, but nothing to grab a viewer's attention.

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JBbTC 107: Frantz Fanon pt.7

Posted June 25, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Memorial_Fanon_PresenceAfricaine84.jpgNow that I've gone through all the Fanon titles proper, here is a collection of strange odds and ends, books that contain Fanon's writing, but aren't standard editions. To start with is this great catalog produced by Presence Africaine for a memorial conference on Fanon in 1982 (although I believe the book didn't come out until 1984). The central graphic leans on the same African mask trope on so many Fanon covers, but flips the script a bit, but piling the masks on top of each other to make a new sculptural form, and arming that form with a rifle. In addition, the arched figures at the bottom are reminiscent of some of the post-Independence, utopian Modernist architecture that was built in major African cities like Nairobi and Lagos.

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JBbTC 106: Frantz Fanon pt.6

Posted June 18, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Fanon_Toward_MonthlyRev67.jpgToward the African Revolution was first published in 1964, after Fanon's death. It is a broad collection of his short essays, many written while he was traveling across Africa as the Ambassador to Ghana for the Provisional Algerian Government. The first English translation was published in a hardback edition by Monthly Review Press (in 1967). Like Studies in A Dying Colonialism, the cover is largely text-based, even more subdued than Studies. A red field is diagonally bisected by a thin black line. Fanon's name floats above the line in all caps, and the title, in larger type, sits below it. The font is simple sans serif, some variation on Franklin Gothic. The entire design is a bit reminiscent of a unbalanced percentage symbol.

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JBbTC 105: Frantz Fanon pt.5

Posted May 28, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Fanon_Dying_MonthlyRev65.jpgThe second book written by Fanon was A Dying Colonialism. The book was originally published in 1959 by Maspero in France as Year Five of the Algerian Revolution, then later renamed Sociology of Revolution, titled Studies In A Dying Colonialism when translated into English and published by Monthly Review in 1965, and shortened to simply A Dying Colonialism when distributed as a mass-market paperback by Grove Press. (Two years after Wretched of the Earth was translated and published in English.) This book is Fanon's look at the Algerian War, and specifically at the ways in which Algerians resist, both physically and psychologically, French colonialism and racism.

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JBbTC 104: Frantz Fanon pt.4

Posted May 21, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Fanon_BlackSkin_EditionsDeSeiul65.jpgFrantz Fanon's Black Skin, White Masks was initially published in 1952 by Editions Du Seuil. I've been digging around and have yet to find a cover for that first edition, the best I can do is a 1965 edition from Du Seuil, to the right. There is usually little to say about French covers, and Continental covers more broadly from this period, because they are almost all clean and austere, with minimal graphic qualities and simple series' markings and the title and author in a clean typeface. (For the run down on the English-language editions of Black Skin, click HERE).

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JBbTC 103: Frantz Fanon pt.3

Posted May 14, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Fanon_BlackSkin_Grove67_dj.jpgIf Wretched of the Earth is Fanon's manual for anti-colonial revolt, Black Skin, White Masks is the intellectual backbone behind it. Originally published in 1952, and based on his rejected doctoral thesis, it lays out the ideas behind the revolt—the psychological effects of colonialism. Although it is Fanon's first book, it wasn't published in English (by Grove Press) until 1967, six years after his death, and four years after Grove published Wretched of the Earth.

Black Skins is not a handbook for revolution, so it demanded a different cover treatment. What Grove went with was straight type, hand-rendered, which is very similar to the original Wretched dust jacket (see HERE), and a definite break with the Wretched paperback which was circulating in 1967.

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JBbTC 102.5: A Brief Hiatus

Posted April 26, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Hello book cover fans! I wanted to share a short note to say I hope that JBbTC will back on a regular weekly schedule very soon. Between working on Occuprint, the Interference Archive, and now installing a Justseeds show in Berlin, I've been way, way too busy, and the book posts have taken a back seat. I hope to be back on track ASAP.


In the meantime, it appears as if German crime novels in the 1970s included a lot of scenes with helicopters!!

JBbTC 102: Frantz Fanon pt.2

Posted April 2, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Fanon_Wretched_EditoraUlisseia61.jpgLet's start off part two of the covers of Fanon's Wretched of the Earth (read part one HERE) with this beautiful cover from the 1961 Portuguese edition published by Editora Ulizzeia. Aesthetically I find this design stunning, the landscape of the mask flattened by the orange overprint, the strong tall gothic type springing from the forehead of the mask, everything is in balance. Politically it's a bit less convincing. Although Fanon's first book is entitled Black Skin, White Masks, the use of a Sub-Saharan African mask on a book about the Algerian anti-colonial struggle seems a bit off. In the coming weeks as I go through all the Fanon titles and their covers, you'll see how this mask theme keeps coming back, regardless of whether it is appropriate for the specific book or not.

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JBbTC 101: Frantz Fanon pt.1

Posted March 26, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Fanon_Wretched_Grove68.jpgI can't quite remember exactly when and where I was first introduced to Frantz Fanon. I do remember pulling down the pocket paperback to the right (Grove Press, 1968) off a shelf at a bookstore, and being intrigued by the orange and black mass in motion on the cover. I assume I knew who Fanon was, or picked it up because I had been told I should by someone, but those specifics have slipped away. Then again, if the title Wretched of the Earth didn't completely capture me, I suspect the subtitle added to this American edition—"The Handbook for the Black Revolution that is Changing the Shape of the World"—would have been more than enough to convince me to fork over the $3 it likely cost. The cover is graphically compelling in its own right, with the orange and black bodies in motion at the bottom and the horizon receding to black. It is not exactly clear what is happening, but the fire-like shape on the right side, and the bodies leaning down to pick things up (rocks?), give the viewer a good sense that they're looking at a riot in action. The top half of the field of black is smarty left alone, the middle is quite literally filled with sharp Helvetica (or a typeface very similar). It all adds up to being somewhat mysterious but absolutely intriguing.

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JBbTC 100: B. Traven pt.10

Posted March 12, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Traven_Treasure_BuchergildeGutenberg42dj.jpgWhat better way to celebrate 100 posts about book covers than another batch of B. Traven designs! Here's part ten of my features on Traven, this time adding 34 more covers, bringing the total posted here over the past two years up to 194! (To see all the others, look HERE.)

I've been digging around bookstores and online, tracked some new ones down on Flickr, Amazon, and the Open Library. Traven covers are like the gift that keeps on giving, just when I think I've found most the them, dozens more show up!

We can start with The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. To the right is the dust jacket of the second German edition, published in Zurich by Büchergilde Gutenberg in 1942. The image is designed by Richard Paul Lohse, and is actually an enlarged version of the same character that was printed much smaller and directly on the cloth cover of the first edition (midway down the post HERE). The red figure with turquoise highlights makes for a bold cover, especially without any text to distract from it.

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JBbTC 99: Hammers & Sickles pt.1

Posted March 5, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

McAuley_Politics_Penguin77.jpgOne of the most compelling political symbols of the 20th century is the hammer and sickle. Although it was created during the Russian Revolution, and became the official symbol of the Soviet Union as a nation, it has taken on a much broader array of meanings. The hammer and sickle have come to mean any form of communism, not simply the Soviet variety, and as such, they get thrown around by all kinds of people. Youth who want to look rebellious pin button-versions on their graffitied backpacks, sectarian Communist relics dutifully keep them in the masthead of their musty newspapers, and right-wing nutters photoshop them as tattoos onto Obama's forehead.

More than a fair share of books are graced with the iconography, and I've been picking these up over the past couple years. I present the first part of my collection here. I'm also really hoping some you out there have some other great examples and will send them in to me. Email images to: josh at justseeds.org.

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JBbTC 98: Black Power

Posted February 27, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Carmichael_BlackPower_vintagepb67.jpgWorking on the Angela Davis covers has got me thinking about representations of Black liberation. In particular, I've been trying to sort out and understand the surprisingly successful cover to Stokely Carmichael and Charles Hamilton's Black Power, the 1967 text which defines the transition from the Civil Rights movement to the Black Power movement.

The original cover for the 1967 Random House first edition dust jacket was designed by Larry Ratzkin, a well-known graphic who created upwards of 1000 book covers. Ratzkin passed away last year, and in all of the writings about him and his work I could find online, including Flickr groups and other image collections, not a single one mentioned or included Black Power.

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JBbTC 97: Angela Davis pt.3

Posted February 13, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

professor_angela.jpgHere's the last hurrah of the Angela Davis covers (pending any great ones y'all might send in to me!), a collection of books by other authors about Davis and her trial. I found my first copy of If They Come In the Morning, and got turned on to Davis and her prison-activism, when I was a young, budding activist working with the Anarchist Black Cross in 1993. I picked up that book in a store in Texas while on a cross-country trip (along with a copy of George Jackson's Soledad Brother). Soon after I was introduced to the flip side of representations of Davis while digging through a strip mall book exchange in Massachusetts. Amongst the pile of Harlequin Romance novels I found the copy of Angela by "The Professor" on the right here (Leisure Books, 1971). This ghost-written book is pure exploitation, an attempt to cash in on Davis's fame—which I would suspect was successful to some extant since copies of this book are much easier to find than If They Come.

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JBbTC 96: Angela Davis pt.2

Posted February 6, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Abernathy_OnTrial_ADavisLegalDef_1971.jpgOnward to the Angela Davis pamphlets! Because these have been produced by a diverse collection of publishers and activist groups, the design is much broader and more interesting than the mainstream books. There must have been at least a dozen different groups organizing for Davis' release while she was on trial in 1972, and all of them produced publications in support of her cause. One of my favorite covers is the pamphlet to the right, On Trial: Angela Davis or America? with a main essay by Civil Rights Movement veteran and celebrity Ralph Abernathy (Angela Davis Legal Defense Committee, 1971). This cover has all the elements of good publication design. The type treatment is subtle, clean, and modern (literally, it is Futura!), leaving the singular central graphic to do the primary communication work. And that it does. The simple gesture of turning the stars on the U.S. flag into vertical bars instantly conjures prison associations with the word and idea of "America," and clearly answers the question in the title of which is on trial. In addition, the designer (uncredited) is smart enough to play to the strengths of single color printing, and the necessary conversion of the flag into black and white furthers the prison association.

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JBbTC 95: Angela Davis pt.1

Posted January 30, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

davis_iftheycome02.jpgWhile working on my posts about the covers of books about prisons (JBbTC 39–45, 52), I started a folder of Angela Davis covers, which has now grown large enough to be the basis of its own series of posts. About a third of these covers are books I have, another third are from friends (thanks again Ret!), and the final third from trolling the internet. Although an academic and an intellectual, it was Davis's connections to action that first brought her into the spotlight. In 1970-72 she was arrested (after a national manhunt by the FBI), tried, and eventually acquitted for kidnapping and manslaughter for her alleged role in Jonathon Jackson's failed attempt to liberate the Soledad Brothers.

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JBbTC 94: Penguin Political Leaders

Posted January 23, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Schram_Mao_Penguin.jpgI've never hidden my admiration for the sheer volume of creativity, thoughtful illustration, and sharp design that has gone into the production of Penguin Books, especially from the 1950s through the 1980s. I would guess most readers out there over the age of 30 have at least one 60s or 70s era Penguin paperback sitting on a shelf, and its cover is likely to be handsome, or quirky, or crisply efficient, or some combination of the above. For those not familiar, there is a great introduction to the press and its design history—Phil Baines' Penguin by Design (Penguin, 2005).

Rarely do I dig through a used bookstore and not stumble upon an old Penguin paperback with a phenomenal cover I've never seen before. Earlier this year I was at Brooklyn's Book Thug Nation and picked up two books from Penguin's "Political Leaders of the Twentieth Century" series, one on Mao and one on Ho Chi Minh. [Actually the series was put out by Pelican, the "serious" non-fiction imprint of Penguin.] Both carry variations of the style for the entire series, top 1/3 of the cover is title, the bottom 2/3 are an image of the leader/subject of the book, with a page tear separating the two. The edition of Mao Tse-Tung by Stuart Schram I have (to the right) is from 1966 and the cover design is attributed to Snark International.

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JBbTC 93: Kronstadt pt.4

Posted January 16, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Ciliga_KronstadtRevolt_Freedom42.jpgMy friend R. Marut in London has come through again with some more books I had missed, so here are the last three Kronstadt covers. First is this handsome Freedom Press pamphlet, The Kronstadt Revolt by Anton Ciliga (1942). This is pretty standard for Freedom in the forties, a split color cover with nice letter-pressed bold type, this time Bodoni Poster and Bodoni Poster Italic.

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JBbTC 92: Kronstadt pt.3

Posted January 9, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Avrich_Kronst_Princeton1970_1stdj.jpgThis week I've got even more Kronstadt covers, with a lot of help from Dave at Recollection Books in Seattle (thanks!). To the right is the dust jacket of the first edition of Paul Avrich's Kronstadt 1921 (Princeton University, 1970). Somehow in exploring all the covers of this books two weeks ago (HERE), I missed the first edition! This design takes the path less traveled for the more "pro-Kronstadt" books, choosing to focus on the large white expanse of snow and ice of the location, rather than the heroics of the soldiers. The slightly Cyrillized (doubt that's a word?) poster type is a nice touch, as is the line of ellipses that become a break in the image midway down the cover.

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JBbTC 91: Kronstadt pt.2

Posted January 1, 2012 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

lenin_kronst_pathfinder1994.jpgI wanted to start this week off with a counterpoint to last weeks generally pro-Kronstadt sailor covers. To the left is the cover of Kronstadt by Lenin and Trotsky, published by the Trotskyist Pathfinder Press in 1994. The cover clearly shows who the authors and publishers are aligned with, because instead of the striking sailors, we are given an image of the Red Army soldiers that attacked and slaughtered them. As a design it is quite effective, the soldiers emerging out of the snow (and the white field of the cover). In addition, the A in the word Kronstadt in the title is literally crushed, put at an extreme italic. It's those little details that can really make a cover.

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JBbTC 90: Kronstadt pt.1

Posted December 26, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Pollack_Kronstadt_PhilosophicalLibrary59.jpgThis week's post is inspired by the book to the right, which I came across on Alec's bookshelf during a recent visit to Pittsburgh. Emanuel Pollack's The Kronstadt Rebellion (New York: Philosophical Library, 1959) caught my eye, with the roughly drawn hand lettering—almost as if the title was graffiti painted with a broad brush—and the sketchy black drawing with bright white highlights on a red field. What's not to like? (Once again I apologize for the slightly blurry cell phone photo.) If it hasn't become abundantly clear, unlike most of the reading public in the U.S. I'm not a fan of straight photographic book covers. With the spread of digital pre-press in the late 90s/early 2000s, it became easier and easier (and cheaper) for publishers to run large 4-color process photographs on their covers, and the book trade very quickly became dominated by them. I would guess that about 65-75% of all covers are now graced with full color photographs, with that number being even higher for nonfiction books, likely upwards of 80%. This is all just to say that heavily illustrated and uniquely lettered covers like Pollack's are rarely produced these days.

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JBbTC 89: Cienfuegos Press pt.6

Posted December 19, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

anarchistreview1_cienfuegos76.jpgSome of you might have noticed I've shorted the name of these posts to JBbTC, but I've also re-sorted and organized them, as well as titled them by content, so they are much easier to find and read! Now you can easily scroll through all the book cover blogs by simply clicking HERE.

This week is another update post. Over the past couple years I've been posting all the covers of the British anarchist publisher Cienfuegos Press. I believe I've finally tracked down the last of their titles, and share them with you now. The earlier posts with additional background info can be found HERE.

One of Cienfuegos' flagship projects was it's Anarchist Review. It ran for six issues, from 1976 to 1982. The original goal was to publish is bi-annually, and it would be a definitive reader of all things anarchy, including news, historical research, and reviews of all of the anarchist publications over the time period of it's publication. Unfortunately it's budget never caught up to it's ambition, and it only came out roughly once a year, but the middle issues, numbers 3 through 5, were amazing thick almanacs, and a fabulous slice of what was going on in antiauthoritarian politics in the late 1970s.

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JBbTC 88: Updates

Posted December 12, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Falastiniyya189_1989.jpgEvery once in awhile I need to catch my breath from doing these covers, and that's a good moment to go back and fill in any missing pieces and odds and ends from earlier posts. This is one of those weeks.

To start with I found one more cover for the magazine Sha’un Falastinya, featured in JBbTC 82. To the left is issue #198, from 1989. The watercolor cover is subdued, but buoyant. It appears to be half day, half night (or maybe the sun in the top left is simply a huge moon), and the women are holding up not only large pots and baskets, but act as architectural pillars, holding up the community itself. In addition, my entire post was translated in French and reposted on Info-Palestine.net! (You can check it out HERE.)

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JBbTC 87: Boni Paper Books pt.3

Posted December 5, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Wagner_PrizePoems_Boni1930.jpgOK, I couldn't help myself. Even though I went through the eight Boni Paper Books I actually have over the past two weeks (HERE and HERE), I started getting so curious about what the others looked like that I tracked down (online) covers for a bunch of them. Few of the images are as nice as my scans, and I don't have any of the back covers or endpapers, but here are some of the other Boni covers. Where possible I've attributed the designer (unfortunately not very often).

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JBbTC 86: Boni Paper Books pt.2

Posted November 28, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Sperry_Sunway_front.jpgHere is part two of my series on the early American paperback experiment known as Boni Paper Book. To read the back story, and see the first four books I looked at, check out last week's post HERE. I love the Sun Way cover to the left, so I started off with that, but I'm going to go through the books just like last week, from first published to last, with the back covers included and as much info as I have.

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JBbTC 85: Boni Paper Books pt.1

Posted November 21, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Perutz_Master_front.jpgTwo weekends ago I got a chance to take a short trip to Pittsburgh to get a much needed mini-vacation and visit with fellow Justseeds' members Bec, Icky, Mary, and Shaun. Most people who know me have come to the understanding that I can't go anywhere without a quick scan of the local used bookstores, and Icky and Shaun obliged. In the basement of one shop I found a great mini-collection of old Boni Paper Books.

Boni Paper Books where a brief early experiment in American paperback book publishing. Charles and Albert Boni, New York publishers of reputable hardback books and co-founders of the Modern Library book series, began this experiment in 1929. They teamed up with designer (and Leftist) Rockwell Kent to create a series of well-made and inexpensive paperback books, a novelty at the time (by comparison, Penguin Books—the first large scale paperback publisher in the UK—wasn't founded by Allen Lane until 1935). The books were primarily distributed as a book of the month club, with each new titled published and mailed out to subscribers (who had paid a $5 annual charge) on the 25th of the month.

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JBbTC 84: The Man Who Was Thursday pt.2

Posted November 14, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

chesterton_thursday_atlanticbooks08.jpgHere is part 2 of the covers of G.K. Chesterton's 1908 anarchist exploitation novel The Man Who Was Thursday. You can see the first 17 covers from last week HERE. This weeks first cover (to the left) is from the 2008 edition from the Crime Classics series of Atlantic Press. Atlantic is a young UK independent publisher, and this series of books is generally gorgeous. White borders, duotone printing, and the simple sans serif publisher/line/series name at the top set the style, and then each one is illustrated uniquely. A little digging online shows the designer of the series is Wallzo. The Thursday cover is fabulous, and really captures the spooky, underground adventure aspects of the novel I was talking about last week.

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JBbTC 83: The Man Who Was Thursday pt.1

Posted November 7, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

chesterton_thursday_penguin11.jpgA couple months ago I was looking around a great local Brooklyn new/used bookshop, Unnameable, and I stumbled on a book cover featuring an cool looking illustration of a riot scene, an illustration that looked really familiar. It was an image by Félix Vallotton, a late 19th century Swiss avant-garde printmaker with deep sympathies towards anarchism. It turns out that the book was a new Penguin edition of GK Chesterton's 1908 thriller The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare (see right).

On the one hand, the image is quite fitting, it is from the period of the book, and could be illustrating a scene straight from its pages. On the other hand, Valloton fell far on the other side of the political fence from Chesterton. While anarchists and police are the subject of the novel, Chesterton shows no sympathies to the rebels. Valloton did quite the opposite, regularly satirizing the police. The placing of the two texts literally on top of each other is a fascinating rewriting of history, both humorous, but also in a way stripping both historical figures/artists of their beliefs, and flattening them out into a period "style."

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JBbTC 82: Sha’un Falastiniya

Posted October 31, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Falastiniyya010_1972small.jpgAbout a month ago I started getting emails from my friend Charles, who works for the Journal of Palestine Studies. He started digging up old issues of an Arabic language sister journal Sha’un Falastiniya, with amazing covers. According to Charles, "Sha’un Falastiniya (Palestinian Affairs) was first released by the PLO’s academic department. in 1971—in Beirut—called the Palestine Research Center. It was edited for a while by the legendary Palestinian poet Mahmud Darwish, before it and its staff were eventually pushed into exile in Cyprus with the rest of the PLO, during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. It finally stopped publishing in 1993 in Cyprus. It contained political, literary and academic articles, analysis, criticism, and book reviews."

Although I only have these ten issues to draw from, the early issues have a similar vibe to some of the design work in the Cuban journal Tricontinental (produced by OSPAAAL, the solidarity organization well known for its poster design). They are diverse and open in color scheme, and use a lot of found imagery, mixing things that otherwise wouldn't go together (for example, 18th or 19th century landscape etchings with photographs of Palestinian guerrillas!). At the same time the clean masthead and limited palette (most are duotone or tritone, not cmyk) combine with the classical print imagery to generate a very clean, efficient, and almost conservative design.

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JBbTC 81: Fizz

Posted October 24, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

fizz01.jpgThis week I'm going to jump back to Germany in the 60s and 70s, and look at Fizz, an antiauthoritarian political paper which split with Agit 883. Editors from Agit left that paper in 1971, and produced Fizz, which lasted for 10 issues. Since I don't know much German, my research into this has been limited, but it appears as if one of the main reasons for the split were that Fizz wanted to more whole-heartedly support the RAF. In many ways Fizz looks and feels like Agit, with a head-spinning mix of montage, illustration, news clippings, re-purposed photographs, and other cultural detritus. On the other hand, Fizz embraced more traditional anarchist imagery, with lots of bombs and black and red flags (which is interesting in the context of the split with Agit, as the RAF were far from antiauthoritarian). Each issue also featured a poster in the center, usually honoring a "hero," from Bakunin to Leila Khaled. I believe most of these issues were banned by the West German government. [I apologize for the low-quality images, I had to take them on a cell phone and try to touch them up. Hopefully at some point I'll be able to replace them with better versions.]

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JBbTC 80: New Anarchist Review

Posted October 17, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

newanarchrev01.jpgAbout three years back I bought a small collection of cheap, but relatively handsome, UK Anarchist pamphlets under the title New Anarchist Review. They stretched from 1984 into the early 1990s, and were largely composed of reviews and lists of recently published anarchist books, advertisements from antiauthoritarian publishers, and a short article here and there. I was initially drawn to them because they seemed a humble heir to the Cienfuegos Press Anarchist Review of the late 70s, which had similar content, but was much more comprehensive and completest.

It turns out that New Anarchist Review (NAR) was published by the same consortium of anarchist groupings that put together the early London Anarchist Bookfair, including the publishers involved in A Distribution (such as Pheonix Press, Freedom Press, and Rebel Press), the Anarchist Book Service, and the anarchist bookshops Freedom and 121 Centre. There is a really nice history of the London Anarchist Bookfair and the New Anarchist Review that you can read HERE. I don't think it is intended to be anonymous, but I couldn't find an author attribution anywhere!

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JBbTC 79: Agit 883 pt.5

Posted October 10, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

agit883_19_19_06_1969.jpgHere's the last batch of Agit883 covers! These all rely on some version of collage and montage, to varying effects...I'm actually up to my neck in a poster project for the Occupied Wall Street Journal, so this week all the covers will go completely without comment! I hope to be back to my usual overly verbose self next week.

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JBbTC 78: Agit 883 pt.4

Posted October 3, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

agit883_16_29_05_1969.jpgThis week we've got more Agit 883. Like last week, I'm blitzed with other work and life issues, so I'm mostly going to just let these ride, and speak for themselves. General info: All the covers this week are largely made up of re-used and re-purposed photographic images from other newspapers and sources. Some are used in the celebratory sense of reproducing images of resistance, and others in a critical sense of satirically focusing on people in power.

The cover to the right, for issue #16, is a satirical use of an image from Vietnam, the brutality wrought on children by the war is commented on with the title "International Children's Day."

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JBbTC 77: Agit 883 pt.3

Posted September 26, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

agit883_24_24_07_1969.jpgHere's week three of covers of the German anti-capitalist paper Agit 883. This week I want to look at the covers that use the conventions of popular comic books to convey political ideas. Although there was a huge alternative comics scene that developed in the US in the late 60s, it was often more challenging aesthetically than politically "radical" in content. Outside of Spain Rodriguez and a small number of other artists that did some comics about political histories (such as those in Anarchy Comics), the U.S. was much more counter-culturally identified. It appears as if Agit either borrowed clearly political comics for a number of covers, or had a comic artist in their crew (issue #24 to the left is a good example).

This has been a crazy week, with much time spent at the Wall Street Occupation, so I'm going to leave it at that for now, and mostly let the covers speak for themselves.

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JBbTC 76: Agit 883 pt.2

Posted September 19, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

agit883_18_12_06_1969.jpgHere's week two of covers from the German 60s/70s publication Agit 883. Last week (HERE) I looked at the covers of the first 13 (of 88) issues, and broke the covers roughly into four different design types. This week I'm going to look at some of the covers that fall into type 1: variations on the singular illustration or editorial cartoon as central graphic element.

Issue 18 to the right is a perfect example, the large title "Kollectiv" and the illustration of 9 people—represented as camels—fill the cover. Not exactly sure of the context of the image, but possibly the 7 tethered to the Agit logo are cartoons of the editorial staff?

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JBbTC 75: Agit 883 pt.1

Posted September 12, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

agit883_01_13_02_1969.jpgContinuing and expanding on last week's post on the covers of Sabat, an '80s German ultra-left magazine, this week I'm going to go way to the late 60s, and look at some of the covers of one of the publications that was a main organ for the emerging German ultra-left and armed left, Agit 883. Agit 883 published 88 issues between 1969 and 1972. Little is written about it in English, but there is a great book in German about the publication, Agit 883: Bewegung, Revolte, Underground 1969-1972 (Assoziation A, 2006) which includes a CD which contains pdf scans of all the papers, including the covers (which is where the ones here come from). Those scans are also available online HERE. The paper was founded by Dirk Schneider (and possibly others) and had a rotating editorial staff over it's four years of publishing. It began with a Marxist/critical theory bent, but became more anarchist and anti-Leninist over time. It appears that the paper split and eventually ceased publication because of a combination of internal political disagreements and state repression, both largely related to support for the RAF and other armed groups.

I'm not going to show all 88 covers, but I'll look at the first 13 issues this week, and then look at more of the run over the following couple weeks. Like many '60s German counter-culture papers, Agit 883 covers started out as mock versions of existing German publications (this is also true for Linkeck and Fizz, both of which I'll look at in future posts). The cover of issue #1 (left) looks like a more traditional newspaper with a little Dada thrown in, and issue #2 (below) places the Agit 883 logo behind a clipped out title for Die Deutschen Bullen (which itself is emerging from a clip art pile of riot cops).

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JBbTC 74: Sabot: Hamburger Info Sammlung

Posted September 5, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Sabot_21_1188.jpgI think I'll keep exploring the covers of obscure ultra-left political journals for awhile! Although not exactly known for their graphic sensibilities, there are definitely some interesting looking antiauthoritarian political journals out there, including a whole bunch from Germany. Last year I picked up five issues of Sabot: Hamburger Info Sammlung (Hamburg Info Collection), a 1980s squatter/anti-imperialist/autonomen publication based out of Hamburg. It ran for 23 issues from 1985-1989. Because of its support of the armed wing of the German left (RAF, etc.), especially through printing communiques with little or no commentary, the publication was often facing state repression—publishers were arrested and imprisoned,—and it was discontinued after the 23rd issue.

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JBbTC 73: The Ripening of Time

Posted August 29, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

TheRipeningOfTime12_79.jpgI'm trying to decide what feature this week while riding out this hurricane hitting the east coast. Hopefully I'll get this up and posted before the power goes out (if it goes out, seems unlikely at this point).

Given the strange circumstances, I was thinking I was just going to post a handful of cool pamphlets I've picked up over the years, starting with this issue of the Irish political journal The Ripening of Time. This is issue #12 and the only one I've ever seen in person. I assumed that it was one of the dozens and dozens of issues of random political journals I've collected over the years that seem completely lost to history, but it turns out this one was important to people, and a number of different sites have been archiving different issues, and an Irish TV show even produced an episode about it! (you can watch it HERE).

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JBbTC 72: B. Traven pt.9

Posted August 22, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Traven_MarchToCaobaland_Penguin71.jpgMy friend "Ret" has sent me some great covers a couple times now. Originally a couple of B. Traven ones, and now a lot more (plus some Angela Davis covers I'll be featuring in the near future). A couple months back Ret sent me a great folder of a dozen Traven covers I hadn't previously featured, and that's what I'm going to share today. This will actually be the 9th week I've focused on Traven, and with these 11 covers, a total of 159 Traven editions! You can check out all the past covers HERE.

To start out, to the right is an interesting 1971 Penguin edition of March to Caobaland (the same as March to the Monteria, but according to Ret, an earlier translation). It's a great cover, and feels way ahead of it's time, a real slick post-modern mix of fonts, classic design elements, and contrasting color scheme. It has none of the human hand typical of late 60s/early 70s eclectic design (a la PushPin), so seems more late 80s or early 90s.

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JBbTC 71: Ukranian Modernism pt.3

Posted August 15, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Ukraine11.jpgThis week will be the final round-up of the Ukranian covers I've been looking at for the past couple weeks. If you're interested and haven't seen them, you can check out those entries HERE and HERE.

To the left is the cover of Dmitro Bedzik's Underground Thunder. Bedzik was a Ukranian writer and playwright, born in 1898, but I don't think this book was published until 1971. I haven't been able to find much out about it, but it is some sort of historical novel about the Ukraine, and given the block prints inside, it must have some connection to a story of revolution and repression. The cover is really nice, a paper-wrapped hardback, printed in red and black on an unbleached stock. The title is in a clean sans serif Cyrillic font, and the right 2/3 of the page is covered with a powerful red and black block print of emotive working class faces piled up below a banner.

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JBbTC 70: Ukranian Modernism pt.2

Posted August 8, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Ukraine12.jpgHere's the second part of the Ukranian communist book stash I found in upstate NY. (Part one can be found HERE.) To the left is the cover for a book which is oddly titled Honor and Dignity of Russian Names (Moscow, 1973). The red type has that fabulous Western look, which I would suspect read as something completely different in 1970s USSR. The blue floral fill is very conservative/classical, but the concentric frames around it add a more modern touch. Paired with the patriotic/space program red stripes and stars at the bottom, it all makes for quite a quirky cover.

Below we have the back cover, which lists either the author or publisher, Soviet Committee for Cultural Relations with Overseas Compatriots. The name is stretched and squished line by line into a tight little box of blue type, wrapped up in a frame emanating from a little red star, like the star is exclaiming the words!

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JBbTC 69: Ukranian Modernism pt.1

Posted August 1, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Ukraine01.jpgA couple months back I got to spend an amazingly fun and relaxing weekend at a strange old Ukranian summer camp in Monroe, NY called Arrow Park. It was the first annual retreat of the political collectives Resistance in Brooklyn and Wild Poppies, and although Dara and I aren't members of either, we we're friends and fellow-travelers enough to be able to get away to the beautiful grounds and lakefront of this retreat center frozen in time. It was like walking into a 1970s-preserved camp from the 1930s! At some point the place must of been connected to the Communist Party, either here or in the USSR, as the bookshelves contained a small but interesting collection of Communist literature in Ukrainian, Russian, and Byelorussian, all in Cyrillic characters.

I turned to my favorite Slavophile and Russian language student (and Justseeds member) Alec Dunn, who kindly translated the pile of covers I photographed at Arrow Park. To the right is a simple floral cover that exclaims Great October.

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JBbTC 68: The Black Jacobins

Posted July 25, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

james_blackjacobins_vintage_LorenEutemy.jpgI recently got the word from PM Press that I'm designing two covers for reprints of C.L.R. James books. It's quite an honor, as James is one of those interesting figures of the 20th century Left that has both contributed significantly to the theory of revolution and liberation, but has also been present and involved during many political upheavals, including Detroit in the 40s and 50s as the foundation for the Black workers' struggles to come in the 60s and 70s was being laid, and again in West Africa during decolonization in the late 50s and early 60s. Although much of his political thought evolved from Trotskyism, he split with most of its doctrinaire tenants and mined it for deeper liberatory potential, particularly for the Global South and African diaspora.

Although I'll be doing covers for State Capitalism & World Revolution and
A History Of Pan-African Revolt (both co-publications betweeen PM Press and Charles H. Kerr), my eyes were first opened to James through reading his seminal study of the Haitian Revolution, The Black Jacobins. James articulates that one of his reason for writing this book was deeply partisan, to show that Black people could carry out a successful revolution. His book and his reasons for writing it have been deeply influential to my understanding of history and how it can be written.

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JBbTC 67: Updates (Eberhardt and New Century Publishers)

Posted July 18, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

eberhardtpostcard.jpgFor the next week I'm in Pittsburgh helping Justseeds install our piece in the upcoming Pittburgh Biennial, so unfortunately I don't have a ton of time for the next couple weeks blog posts. I'm going to keep these pretty brief, and build up some energy and research for the weeks to come!

This week I've got a couple odds and ends, including a nice postcard from Eberhardt Press I recently dug out (to the right; if you want to see the rest of Eberhardt's books, check out the posts HERE), and handful more covers from New Century Publishers, to follow up on last weeks post (see HERE).

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JBbTC 66: New Century Publishers

Posted July 11, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

fuchik_notesfromthe_ncp48.jpgA couple months back I was browsing the shelves at the awesome Book Thug Nation bookstore in Brooklyn and I came across a nice paperback copy of Julius Fuchik's Spanish Civil War book Notes From the Gallows (to the left). The cover is fabulous, a three-color print job used to strong effect with yellow overlapping red to make orange, and black outlines pulling everything together where necessary. Aaron at Book Thug told me he had seen other nice looking books from New Century Publishers (who put out the Fuchik book in 1948), and that sent me on the hunt.

There is very little information about New Century online, but I can deduce from what they have published (William Z. Foster, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn) that they were a post-war Communist Party, USA front publisher. I tracked down another dozen books that appear to have been put out by the same New Century between 1946-1963 (there are a number of other non-commie NCP's out there), none have as nice a cover as the Fuchik, but there are some other nice ones. Like most CP books, as far as I can tell none of these give info for the cover designers, but the Fuchik cover has the signature "Nydorf" in the top right corner. This may be Roy Nydorf, a painter that I think was associated with the CP. If anyone has any more info on New Century or Nydorf, make a comment below, or send me an email.

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JBbTC 65: Mozambique Revolution

Posted July 4, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

MozRev1967_05cov.jpgI'm very excited to have a new studio, which will also be the home of Interference Archive, but between packing, moving, building shelving, and regular freelance work, I haven't had a minute to think about book covers in the past couple weeks. Over the next couple weeks I think I'll just be pulling together small little pockets of covers I've collected over the past couple years.

While doing research for Signs of Change, I came across an English language publication produced by FRELIMO, the liberation movement of Mozambique. It appears that Mozambique Revolution was FRELIMO's English organ of communication with its support and solidarity movement. This is just a smattering of covers—9 total—while the publication was monthly and ran from 1963-1975. There's some pretty interesting and smart design here, which like many 60s and 70s movement publications, seems driven in part by the technological limitations of producing quick and inexpensive output at high volume.

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JBbTC 64: Insurrection

Posted June 27, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

insurrection00_eleph.jpgI had intended to follow-up last weeks post about Elephant Editions Anarchist Pocketbook series (check it out HERE) with the covers of another of their popular book/pamphlet series, the eight publications printed under the label Bratach Dubh (Black Flag in Gaelic). But, I still feel unhappy with my research, and keep turning up new info and new covers (i.e. it appears that Bratach Dubh was originally it's own publisher, and was folded into Elephant Editions in 1990 when Weir reprinted all of the original pamphlets from the 70s and 80s), so I'm going to wait on that for a couple weeks (If you've got any info on the origins and history of Elephant Editions beyond the basics (see last week's post) please drop me a line!

Instead I'm going to look at the covers of the seven issues of Insurrection magazine, published by Jean Weir concurrently to running Elephant Editions press. To the left is the first issue, which is technically issue #0 (the pilot). The cover is generally unremarkable design-wise, other than the designer was smart enough to not obscure the striking photograph of a Native American (possibly Sitting Bull, but I don't know for sure?).

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JBbTC 63: Elephant Editions pt.1

Posted June 20, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

tellez_sabate_apb01.jpgDove-tailing off of last weeks post on the UK publisher Shortfuse, this week I'm going to start a series of posts on the UK/Italian anarchist publisher Elephant Editions. I believe Elephant Editions was begun in the UK in the early to mid-80s by insurrectionary anarchist Jean Weir. I'm not an expert in insurrectionary anarchist history, but in 1982 Weir began producing an anarchist magazine/broadsheet called Insurrection, which ran for seven issues throughout the 1980s (I will be featuring the covers of this magazine in a future post). Within the pages of Insurrection their is a melange of anti-militarism, critiques of the organizational forms of politics, records of state violence, and a defense of illegalism (for lack of a better description, individualist armed struggle). In addition, Weir translated and published some of the first writings by the Italian anarchist Alfredo Bonnano into English. Elephant Editions as a publisher seems to have begun in the mid-80s as an extension of Insurrection.

Like the magazine, Elephant is a diverse and interesting brew. Their publications fall into roughly three groupings, the early Anarchist Pocketbook series, the Bratach Dubh pamphlet series, and a small collection of other pamphlets and publications. This week we'll start with the Anarchist Pocketbooks.

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JBbTC 62: Shortfuse Press

Posted June 13, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

everyonetothestreets.jpgIn January 1994 I made my first visit to the UK and to London. At the time there were two functional anarchist spaces in town that were open to the public: the 121 Railton and 56A Infoshops. At the time I felt like 121 was where all the action was: it was based in Brixton, had an old printing press, a large meeting and event space, a cafe, etc., etc. My memories of 56A are foggier. My main memory was that there was a food coop there, which was decidedly less interesting to me than the 1 quid veggie burgers and Anarchist Black Cross meetings at 121. Turns out 121 was soon to collapse, and 56A has held on and maintained itself as a thriving social centre in South London.

I went back in the Fall of 2007 and ran into Chris, who I had met there almost 15 years earlier. We got to hang out, and he gave Icky and I free run of the 56A archive, which we helped organize. We tried to document material from it that would be useful in a future issue of our journal Signal. Two years later I was back in London, and this time met up with Chris and his mate Mark, who together make up the main major force behind Short Fuse Printing and Bandit Press.

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JBbTC 61: Eberhardt Press pt.3

Posted June 6, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

lightbulbhead_notebook_ebhdt.jpgThis week I'm looking at the final bits and pieces from Eberhardt Press. I've got a couple book and pamphlet covers here, and some things Eberhardt printed but didn't design. Also, over the past couple years I've collected a bunch of other Eberhardt printed ephemera which I've included.

No printer in the U.S. can survive on printing political books and pamphlets alone. The way Eberhardt has dealt with this problem is two-fold. Charles does a lot of "job work" or printing for other people, to make ends meet, and has been lucky enough to carve out a very diverse client base which produces much that he is at least sympathetic to. He regularly prints for Microcosm Publishing, he has printed or helped print the magazine Communicating Vessels, he prints Anarchy Magazine for Ardent Press, and he has done a lot of printing for us here at Justseeds, including the calendar we co-published with AK Press and our yearly organizer.

In addition to the job work, Charles designs and prints a wide array of notebooks and cards which he sells. His design aesthetic is strong and unique, a combination of Victorian figures in action (with a steam-punk-y vibe) and naturalistic, graphic representations of animals. The notebook cover to the above left is a good example, a 19th century man experimenting with a light-bulb helmet!

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JBbTC 60: Eberhardt Press pt.2

Posted May 30, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

midnightnotes_30yearsinsidecover_eberhdt.jpgWelcome to part two of my series focused on the Portland, OR printer and publisher Eberhardt Press. Over the past 7 years Eberhardt has developed a series of signature stylistic flourishes that are often very effective design-wise, and highlight the synergy between content, design, and production that a joint designer/printer/publisher can bring to a book project. As an example, the Midnight Notes pamphlet, Towards the Last Jubilee! (to the right is the pamphlet cover below the dust jacket, which can be seen below) successfully pulls together Charles Overbeck's (the principle behind Eberhardt) use of metallic inks on black paper, dust jackets on pamphlets, and strategic use of spot colors.

The dust jacket is a strong use of black and red, lots of negative space, and a type treatment that works graphically, references Modernism, but is also creative and a bit quirky in its own right. The text completely dominates the cover, wraps around from front to back, but the creative repetition of both "30" and "MN" allows for the jacket to work as a whole, or simply as a front cover. Below the dust jacket is a clock striking midnight, the silver on black evoking the shimmer of moonlight. But the clock isn't ornate or romantic, it's clean and utilitarian, midnight is a fact, not an event.

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JBbTC 59: Eberhardt Press pt.1

Posted May 23, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

various_firetothepow_ebhdt.jpgAfter looking at one of the anarchist presses with the best cover design of the 1970s and 80s, I wanted to look ahead and see who is doing something comparable today. The two largest contemporary English language anarchist publishers are AK Press and PM Press, and both have some great covers, but both also work with many different designers and put out over 20 titles a year. There is little design consistency in their output. Maybe in a future post I'll pull out some of my favorites from those two, but for now I want to hone in on a smaller project, a publisher with a more consistent and evolving design sense.

Eberhardt Press was begun in 2004 by Charles and Esther. Eberhardt is not only a publisher, but also a printer. They started on a Chief one-color offset press, and have graduated to a 2-color Ryobi. Charles runs the shop solo now, and does a lot of job work (other people's jobs that he prints) to keep it running, but over the past 7 years has designed, printed, and published a small catalog of specifically Eberhardt Press titles. Although diverse, these publications retain certain design elements that are distinctly Eberhardt, a rare treat in the 21st Century!

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JBbTC 58: Cienfuegos Press pt.5

Posted May 16, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

irsm_towardsacitiziens.jpgHere's the second half of the remaining Cienfuegos Press covers. The image to the left is the cover of Towards a Citizens Militia. It seems so audacious now (and maybe did back in the 80s, too), but as the title says, this pamphlet purports to illustrate "Anarchist Alternatives to NATO and the Warsaw Pact." That's right, anarchist counter-military strategies to neutralize multi-national military organizations! I've always loved the simple black and green illustration and the type, particularly the letter arrangements in the subtitle.

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JBbTC 57: Cienfuegos Press pt.4

Posted May 9, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

graham_man.jpgOK, now turning the corner on the follow-up posts and into new material, this week I'm going to look at the covers of the British anarchist publisher Cienfuegos Press, which existed from the mid-70s through the early 80s. About half of their covers were designed or illustrated by the Italian artist Flavio Costantini, and I featured all these covers back in posts #6-8 (see HERE, HERE, and HERE). I've tracked down most of the rest of their covers, and will spread them out over this week and next. In general Costantini's work was the best, and gave the press a real consistent feel that I still associate with late 70s UK anarchism, but there are some gems in the other covers. Case in point is the cover to the left, for Marcus Graham's anthology culled from his publication MAN! The figure at the top has seemingly pushed open the visual field on the cover, revealing a giant swath of pitch black, with the title illuminated in red. The bold confidence of creating an almost entirely black cover is impressive. I believe this is only the second book published by Cienfuegos, in 1974.

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JBbTC 56: B. Traven pt.8

Posted May 2, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

traven_bridgeinthejungle_circulodelectores_barcelona1973.jpgHere's the last of the B. Traven covers. This week I've rounded-up 33 covers, so I'm going to forgo much of my witty banter and pretty much just dump all the covers below. Enjoy!

The cover to the right is one of my favorites of the batch, a really nice 1973 edition of Bridge in the Jungle from Barcelona, published by Circulo de Electores. The watercolor, patterns, and nice thin sans serif type makes for a more subtle and open design than most of the heavy-handed Traven covers (which are usually appropriate, given Traven's writing style).

After the break are a couple Italian editions of Bridge in the Jungle, both by Longanesi. The first, from 46, is a bit romantic for my tastes, the second, from 52, is a bit more interesting, with the Mexican figure being swallowed by the jungle.

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JBbTC 55: B. Traven pt.7

Posted April 25, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

traven_deathship12_pantheruk74.jpgBy far the most response to this book cover blog over the past year was to the six-week installment about the covers of the mysterious German-born, Mexican-bound, antiauthoritarian novelist B. Traven (Weeks 14-19, which you can see HERE). Both Jared Davidson (in New Zealand) and "Ret Marut" (thought to be the real name of Traven) emailed me images of the 1974 Panther UK edition of The Death Ship. Ret also sent me a great link to something they wrote on Traven, which you can read HERE. There is also a somewhat "official" Traven site at BTraven.com, which has tons more info on Traven, plus full bibliography, small images of tons more covers, and a collection of his photography.

Spurred on by all the interest in Traven, I've scoured the web and used bookstores trying to find more covers. I've come up with 17 more covers of The Death Ship (all below), as well as about 20 additional covers of other books (which I'll share next week). If anyone out there has even more Traven covers, definitely email them to me! (Images at least 300 pixels in width are preferred...)

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JBbTC 54: Victor Serge pt.1

Posted April 18, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

serge_birthofourpower.jpgSo I've got all these Cienfuegos Press and B. Traven covers to follow-up on last year's posts, but I haven't had the time to pull them all together. Instead, for this week, I'm going to take a quick look at some covers for books by Victor Serge. The inspiration for this is the covers created by the UK publishers Writers and Readers in the 1970s (yup, the same Writers and Readers that went on to do all the "For Beginners" books!).

In 1977/78 Writers and Readers published the three volumes of Serge's Victory-in-Defeat, Defeat-in-Victory" cycle of novels about the Russian Revolution. Men in Prison is the first volume, then Birth of our Power, and finally Conquered City. The covers of these three books are simple, and maybe because of that I find them really attractive.

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JBbTC 53: New World Paperbacks pt.3

Posted April 11, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

gover_portablewanter_1968.jpgFollowing up on last weeks post, and some of last years covers that slipped through the cracks, here is a cool selection of New World Paperbacks (NWP) covers. The original NWP posts, including their story and a dozen covers can be found HERE and HERE. Since those posts, I've picked up a half dozen additional NWP books and found a clutch of good images online.

To start with, I found 3 books of poetry, one from 1968, one from 1971, and one from 1982. The first (to the left), The Portable Walter, is definitely designed to appeal to youth culture, and their attraction to psychedelia. The color scheme of pink and purple, and the watery letter forms and shapes are reminiscent of the Haight-Ashbury rock posters so popular in 1966 and 67. It's actually quite suprising to me that the Communist Party would so quickly pick up on the aesthetics of the counter-culture, especially since they were simultaneously expelling young members they felt were becoming to anti-authoritarian. At the same time, there is still something awkward and staid in the cover. The figure, who I'm assuming is Walter Lowenfels, isn't wearing tie-die, or even jeans, but looks like he's at the beach on break from his office cubicle.

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JBbTC 52: Prisons pt.8/George Jackson

Posted April 4, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

davis_iftheycome03_NEW.jpgWell, I have to say, I'm pretty excited that I've now done a full year's worth of "Judging Books by Their Covers" blog posts! Week 52! In what has otherwise been an insane and erratic year, this blog has been one of the only consistent things in my life. I feel pretty damn accomplished!

As a bit of a celebration, I'm going to chill out for a couple weeks and rather than dig up a bunch of new subjects (plenty of which will be coming during year 2!), I'm going to go back over the past year and fill in some things I missed. Throughout the year, as I've been collecting new covers, I've come across a whole selection of great ones that fell through the cracks. Submitting to my completist tendencies, I'm going to fill in some of these gaps.

I'll start with the prison series, and in particular the political prisoner book covers. While at my friend Amadee's house awhile back I stumbled across a nice UK paperback edition of Angela Davis' If They Come in the Morning, her edited collection of writings about political prisoners from the early 70s. In many ways it echoes the US covers (which you can see in the week 43 post HERE), but the close up on the face with the full bleed is more inviting, and the simple sans serif title in orange and white is efficient and convincing. I think it is the most effective and least dated of the 3 covers.

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JBbTC 51: Arbeiter Ring's Semaphore series

Posted March 28, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

elmer_preemptingdissent06.jpgAfter filling the last 3 months with two different five-week series (prisons and Kropotkin), I'm ready to jump into something completely different. For the most part over the past year I've been focusing on book covers from the turn of the 20th Century to the 1980s or 90s, so I thought it would be cool to try to look as some more contemporary cover design work.

About 5 years ago a series of books being produced by a small independent publisher from Canada started catching my eye. The series is named Semaphore, and the publisher is small collectively-run press named Arbeiter Ring. The series kicked off in 2002 with a book by Ian Angus, and reached eight titles at the end of last year with Grammar Matters by Jila Ghomeshi. I haven't read all the books (though I have read a couple, and they were quite good!), and the insides aren't my focus here, instead this is a review of the outsides.

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JBbTC 50: Kropotkin pt.5

Posted March 21, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

kropotkin_memoirsofarev02.jpgHere's the final installment of the Peter Kropotkin book cover series, 19 covers this week, 69 total over the 5 week series. Although what initially drew me to doing these post about Kropotkin was a focus on the all the different representations of his beards, he is actually an interesting subject for this kind of visual inquiry, as his writing has been published by hundreds of publishers in dozens of languages for more than 100 years. I'm sure these 69 books are merely the tip of the iceberg, and some additional research could really illuminate how Kropotkin was represented in different geographies in different time periods, and how those representations related to the design conventions of the day. But that is a project for a different day.

Today I'm going to go through the last of these covers, starting with another one of Kropotkin's popular books, Memoirs of a Revolutionist. I like the 1962 Anchor pocketbook edition to the left for a couple different reasons. First, the simple sans serif text and the almost tourist-like photo of pre-Soviet Russian arabesque architecture are unassuming, it takes a minute to see that the building is actually completely dwarfing the people, and that it would take some serious revolutionary zeal to face off with the power of the Russian Czar and Church, a power literaly inscribed into the landscape. Second, the downplaying of the "Revolutionist" in the title is hard to imagine on a cover made today. This book would be published not by Doubleday or a any major publishing house, but a niche political publisher like AK or PM, who would likely feel the need to play up both Kropotkin as an important individual and his anarchist credentials in order to appeal to their audiences.

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JBbTC 49: Kropotkin pt.4

Posted March 14, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

kropotkin_anarchism_german.jpgOver the next couple weeks I'm going to dig through the rest of the Peter Kropotkin covers I've found. Most are beardless, and many are banal at best, but there are some gems hidden in here. The cover to the right, for instance, is really interesting and strange. A giant generic pink head fills the field of the cover, with a large albatross flying out of the head, out of the person's mind? I'm not sure if the bird is an oblique reference to Mutual Aid, Kropotkin's most influential work, but this is definitely not that book, it's a German edition of his overview of anarchist philosophy and politics. The type is unfortunate, this would actually be an even more challenging and engaging cover if the title was in a cleaner sans serif font and dropped to below the chin, leaving the entire space of the head empty except for the bird in flight.

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JBbTC 48: Kropotkin pt.3

Posted March 7, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

kropotkin_anarchistmorality01_czech.jpgNo more beards, but this week I've found cool old-school Kropotkin covers, 19th Century to early 20th. The one to the left is a great Czech modernist cover for Anarchist Morality, designed by Josef Capek and published in 1919. There is little to the design other than the text, yet it explodes off the page.

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JBbTC 47: Kropotkin pt.2

Posted February 28, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

cahm_kropotkin.jpgHere is the next batch of Kropotkin beard covers. Like I mentioned last week, most covers of books by classic anarchist protagonists seem to focus on portraits, but since most of said dudes lived in the 19th or early 20th century, their are limited photographic or photo-like representations of them, so the same basic images get cycled through over and over again. The cover to the right, for Caroline Cahm's study of Kropotkin from 2002, mixes an often used image with an edgy and well-designed type treatment. Although the time period covered by the book pre-dates the constructivist style by 40-50 years and makes little actual sense in relation to the subject, the cover looks cool, and is far superior to most of the Kropotkin books out there. The actual image of Kropotkin is also nicely distressed, looking almost photocopied, which adds an additional anachronism to the design and a solid post-modern "wink-wink" to the rest of it being out-of-time. The image is listed as being courtesy of the International Institute of Social History in Amsterdam, but the designer is not noted. In addition, and it is hard to see at first glance, the source photo for the cover image is the same one as the cover for the Grove Press edition of Memoirs of a Revolutionist I featured last week.

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JBbTC 46: Kropotkin pt.1

Posted February 21, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

kropotkin_memoirsofarev01.jpgGiven the last 2 months of book covers relating to prisons, I thought it would be nice to take a little break and go off on some tangents. To start, I've been collecting a bunch of classic 60s and 70s anarchist book covers, and some of favorites have great illustrations of the old bearded protagonists of anarchy, so lets take a jaunt through some cool Kropotkin covers. Who doesn't love a big white beard! This first week is my favorite Kropotkin beards, next week I'll tour more Russian facial hair, and then some other non-bearded Kropotkin covers.

The above left is one of my all-time favorites, largely because the illustration is so unique. Anyone with a even a small shelf of anarchist classics at home knows that the same handful of images of Kropotkin, Bakunin, Proudhon, Goldman, etc. get recycled over and over. The source photo for this cover is actually a much used image of Kropotkin (check out next week for many more permutations), but the artist has used some creative license to fabricate a younger Peter, which is rare. The almost regal cross hatching on his balding head makes it look like this image was created to put on currency, but then the duotone black and red in the beard is totally trippy, a seeming product of the times (this edition was produced by Grove Press/Evergreen in 1970). Unfortunately the art and design are uncredited.

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JBbTC 45: Prisons pt.7/Mumia

Posted February 14, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

mumia_livefromdeath.jpgSo moving on, this is the final entry of the posts covering the covers of prison books. I've missed a lot along the way, and maybe I'll do a follow-up post in the future with some of the gems I skipped over this time through (if you have some handsome looking prison-related books, take pictures and email them to me!).

Last week I looked at the books by and and about George Jackson, the 60s/70s political prisoner par excellence. This week I turn to the closest thing to his contemporary equivalent, Mumia Abu-Jamal. For those that don't know much about Mumia, rather than take the time here, you're better off checking out his backstory HERE and HERE. Mumia was a Black Panther like Jackson, but he survived the original government crackdown on the movement, and was living as a journalist in Philadelphia in the 1970s until he was arrested and imprisoned in the early 1980s.

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JBbTC 44: Prisons pt.6/George Jackson

Posted February 7, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

jackson_soledad.jpgIn many ways the quintessential political prisoner of the 60s was George Jackson. At age 18 he was caught robbing a gas station, and sentenced to an indeterminate period of one year to life in prison. He was politicized while in Soledad Prison in California, and eventually joined the Black Panther Party. Jackson and two other prisoners were accused of killing a guard, and became known as the Soledad Brothers. While in solitary confinement he wrote two books, the first, Soledad Brother, is comprised of letters to his lawyer and became an international bestseller. The cover to the left is the mass-market paperback edition that was very widely circulated. (A slightly different cover was published on a later edition, with two boxes at the bottom, one with the image of Jackson, one announcing new material inside.) The image of Jackson walking cuffed and chained became an icon of the era, not only reproduced on his books, but in underground press articles about him. And notice the stencil font for the titling, near ubiquitous for prison-related titles.

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JBbTC 43: Prisons pt.5

Posted January 31, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

canjailthespirit01.jpgNow I'm going to move into the next sub-collection of prison book covers, books about political prisoners in the U.S. Officially the U.S. does not acknowledge that it holds political prisoners (PPs), but at last count by the Anarchist Black Cross, a political prisoner support organization, their are over 50 PPs being currently held in U.S. prisons and jails. For those of you asking "What is a Political Prisoner," here is a good definition by Bill Dunne, a revolutionary that has been in prison for over 25 years: "those persons incarcerated as a result of political beliefs or actions consciously undertaken and intended to resist exploitation and oppression, and/or hasten the implementation of an egalitarian, sustainable, ethical, classless society, predicated on self determination and maximization of all people's freedom."

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JBbTC 42: Prisons pt.4

Posted January 24, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

cummins_riseandfall.jpgAbout 3 or 4 years after I first got involved in the then-tiny prison activist movement, the movement began quickly growing on college campuses, and a new round of activist, academics, and journalists began writing and publishing on prisons again. Many of these authors were friends or people I had organized around prison issues (Eli Rosenblatt, then director of the Bay Area Prison Activist Resource Center and Daniel Burton-Rose are two of these) or writers that had some experience working within the growing movement (Eric Cummins and Christian Parenti are two of this variety). By the year 2000 there was an entirely new literature about prisons published, with dozens and dozens of titles. There is no way I can look at them all, so I'm focusing on ones that I've read, have a copy of, or have interacted with in some way. The first book, to the right, is by Eric Cummins, and is a good example of the visual look of this new batch of books. The graphic tropes are slightly updated to seem modern, but they are the same old visual tropes: bars, bricks, barbed wire, and that damn stencil font!

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JBbTC 41: Prisons pt.3

Posted January 17, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

foucault_discipline02.jpgThe real game changing book for prison studies was Michael Foucault's Discipline and Punish. Interestingly, the covers of the book in English, from the first hardback to the current paperback, don't focus on it's inventiveness or trailblazing qualities, but seem to want to brand it a classic straight out of the box. Over the covers I'm only going to show three, but they are a fair sample of all the English-language editions I've seen. The one to left us the first (I believe) Penguin edition. The classic penguin style laid over the expressionist painting of the prisoners really works for me. I don't have the actual book for this edition, so I am unsure of the painter, but it is almost reminiscent of Van Gogh, and carries with it that sense of being classic. The early American hardback (not shown) and paperback (below to the left) use historical etchings to evoke the classic quality. I do like the inventiveness of the type of the paperback, if it does feel a little dated today. And finally the current American edition, which follows the post-modern style of the entire series of Vintage-published Foucault trade paperbacks. Objects referenced by the text float in a empty space that is given depth through shadow, and then a classic (yup, there's that word again) titling box is laid on top. As a whole series, these are quite nice, even if as a one off this cover doesn't do to much for this particular title.

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JBbTC 40: Prisons pt.2

Posted January 10, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

klare_anatomyofprison.jpgI first became sensitized to the problems within the U.S. prison system in the early 1990s. A friend brought me to an event in Washington, DC about the political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal (stay tuned, Judging Books #45 will be entirely dedicated to books by and about Mumia). The event (and Mumia's case, more generally) was a great introduction to how the U.S. prison systems sit at the intersection of many important issues in out society, in particular race, class, violence, and political engagement, but also gender, health care, sexuality, age discrimination, and much more. Once my eyes were opened to the basic facts (yup, facts, there's no arguing with them) that the U.S. imprisons more people per capita—by far—than any other developed nation and that percentage-wise the vast majority of those people will be poor and people of color, I started digging around for more info. It turns out that there had been a significant movement to reform/abolish prisons in the 1970s, and a lot of books had come out in the 70s and 80s, but by the mid-80s the Reagan revolution was in full swing, and "tough on crime" was the mantra of most politicians, left, right, and center. For the next couple weeks I'm taking a look at the books from that era that my friends and I were able to track down and read. After that I'll be looking at the next generation of prison books, which started coming out in the mid-90s and my peers began publishing.

The book to the right is the oldest of the books I'm looking at, a nice Penguin from 1962 with a great perspective-heavy view inside a prison.

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JBbTC 39: Prisons pt.1

Posted January 3, 2011 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

leinwand_prisons.jpgFor the next month of so I'm going to focus on the covers of books about U.S. prisons. Something uplifting for the new year! I first became involved in prison-related activism (including support for political prisoners, whose books will also be featured in the upcoming weeks) in the early 1990s, and slowly have amassed a large collection of books and publications on prison issues (in order to keep this manageable, I've pretty much stuck to books with spines, leaving out pamphlets, magazines, and chapbooks, as well as keeping it U.S focused). In addition, a couple friends have pretty large collections as well, so I've photographed some of theirs (thanks Dan Berger!), and pulled a select few off the web. This week we'll start with prison riots. And the daddy of the modern U.S. prison riot, Attica. Although it had begun to be an issue before, the Attica rebellion in 1971 awoke the American public to the fact that their were serious problems in the prison system, and a slew of both scholarship and sensational writing followed, including a series of reports like the ones to the right and below.

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JBbTC 38: Medu Art Ensemble Newsletter

Posted December 27, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

MeduSpecial.jpgIn 1978, just across the border from South Africa in Gabarone, a group of exiled South Africans formed the Medu Art Ensemble. Medu became an armed cultural wing of the African National Congress (ANC) specifically, and the anti-apartheid struggle more broadly. They were composed of poets, playwrights, painters, musicians, dancers, and graphic designers. On top of the production of posters, publications, and theatre perfromances, some of the more militant members also used Medu as a cover to engage in more direct militant aid, sneaking into South Africa to train troops for the ANC military wing, Umkhonto weSizwe.

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JBbTC 37: Homage to Catalonia pt.2

Posted December 20, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Orwell was lucky to be published in the UK by Penguin, one of the publishers with the best record of concern for, and investment, in their book covers. The cover to right isn't Homage to Catalonia, but a collection Penguin put together of Orwell's shorter writings on Spain. It carries the silver bottom bar of the 2000-2001 editions of Penguin's Modern Classics series, and one of a series of images/covers designed by Marion Deuchars for Orwell's books on Penguin. The montage of a POUM poster and the back of a man in casual dress carrying a rifle do a much better job at capturing the spirit of Orwell's writings on Spain than the cover I started off last week with (HBJ's American edition of Homage). The poster creates the sense of an urban wall, and the figure gives us more of the feeling of the struggle being more informal, not the rigid battle lines of conventional warfare.

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JBbTC 36: Homage to Catalonia pt.1

Posted December 13, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

orwell_harvest01_1952.jpgThe book to the left is the copy of George Orwell's Homage to Catalonia that I grew up with (I think I first read it early on in high school). My guess is that a lot of people seeing this also read this copy, the U.S. mass market paperback published by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich under their Harvest Books imprint. The cover was designed by Ken Braren (likely in the 1960s, though I'm not sure), and is strong and striking, yet oddly soulless and hollow feeling. The yellow pulls you in to the bleeding tip of the bayonet, but the best parts of Orwell's narrative are not about hand to hand combat, but the long boring days of waiting in trenches, or the vibrant culture of liberated Barcelona and political struggles between revolutionaries and the Stalinists.

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JBbTC 35: John Heartfield pt.6

Posted December 6, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

heartfield_wright01.jpgFor the final John Heartfield cover installment, I've collected a smattering of covers he's done for a bunch of different publishers. Like I said at the beginning, I think his work for the magazine AIZ is the most well known of his work, so I'm going to skip those publication covers, and a handful of covers he did based on montages from AIZ. To the right is a Heartfield cover most people probably never realized he had designed, Twelve Million Black Voices by Richard Wright, as published in the UK in 1947 by Lindsay Drummond.

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JBbTC 34: John Heartfield pt.5

Posted November 29, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

This week we'll look at some John Heartfield designed covers he did for publishers other than Malik-Verlag. The covers here are from two other Berlin publishing houses: Verlag für Literatur und Politik and Neuer Deutscher Verlag. The image to the left is a cover Heartfield did for Fjodor Gladkow's Zement (Verlag für Literatur und Politik, 1927), and is a testament to his ability to make an effective design with only the simplest elements.

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JBbTC 33: John Heartfield pt.4

Posted November 22, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

heartfield_sinclair_1928_higgins.jpgPart two of the Heartfield Sinclair covers!
Now we're up to 1928, in which Malik Verlag published three separate Upton Sinclair books: Die Goldne Kette (with a George Grosz drawing laid on top of a grid of images, below left), Jimmie Higgins (nice hand cut lettering, above), and Samuel der Suchende (below right).

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JBbTC 32: John Heartfield pt.3

Posted November 15, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

heartfield_sinclair_100percent3.jpgOne of the main authors Malik-Verlag published was Upton Sinclair, and Heartfield designed ALL of Sinclair's covers. This week will do part one of Sinclair, next week the rest. Let's start chronologically: In 1921 Sinclair's 100% was published with a pretty clean and straightforward cover (below left). In 1924 it was reprinted with a new cover design, with the same city street image brought to bleed and a more adventurous and effective type treatment (below right). Then in 1928 a completely different cover was produced with a montage and the nice effect of the leg kicking into the frame. This cover also shows an interesting Malik/Hearfield design device, which is the printing of the edition (in this case 50,000 copies) in handwriting on the cover (above right and below). You can also see the spine peeking out, which consists of a tall pile of thin horizontal lines and the title written horizontally. This was the standard style for many of the Sinclair books. The back cover of this edition (and the 1924 edition) is simply a photo of a Klan meeting.

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JBbTC 31: John Heartfield pt.2

Posted November 8, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

heartfield_weiskopf.jpgHere's the next batch of Heartsfield's Malik-Verlag covers. The one to the right is a favorite, Franz Carl Weiskopf's Umsteigen ins 21. Jahrhundert: Episoden von einer Reise durch die Sowjetunion. The light on the train is almost otherworldly, and the stencil typography seems to date it as modernist, but is so effective and was so copied by designers in the 70s and 80s that it now reads as timeless.

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JBbTC 30: John Heartfield pt.1

Posted November 1, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

heartfield_herzfelde01.jpgSometime in the early 1990s I was introduced to the photomontages of John Heartfield. The stark black and white collage work meshed well with my punk aesthetic tastes at the time, and many bits and pieces of Heartfield were showing up on record covers, Discharge's Never Again being one of the most high-profile examples. I didn't know at the time that almost of the collages I had seen were actually parts of covers for the German magazine AIZ. Over the years I picked up a couple books about Heartfield, they were printed in black and white, were in German, and for the most part they focused on his work for AIZ, with a handful of images of other collages, and a couple book covers here and there. It wasn't until relatively recently that I learned that Heartfield designed almost the entire run of covers for a small Left-wing German publishing house named Malik-Verlag. Turns out that Malik-Verlag was actually founded and run by Heartfield's brother Wieland Herzfelde. To the left is the cover for Wieland Herzfelde's Gesellschaft, Künstler und Kommunismus (1921), the image is George Grosz's silhouette.

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JBbTC 29: Spanish Civil War Publications

Posted October 25, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

butlleti.jpgA couple years back I was checking out a Robert Capa exhibition at the International Center for Photography in NYC and they had a small backroom with an auxiliary exhibition of publications produced in Spain during the Civil War/Revolution in 1936-39. The material was extremely interesting and a great insight into modernist design in Spain, and the amount of resources thrown toward propaganda in a time of scarcity. It was a small portion of a much larger show entitled Revistas y Guerra 1936-39, originating at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Catalunya. There was a very expensive exhibition catalog produced for the original show, but it was shrink-wrapped, and I was afraid to spend the money. I eventually went back and got it, and I was definitely not disappointed! It's almost 400 pages of publication covers and design, some of the most interesting and innovative illustration, montage, and in particular typography. Now, for those that can't find or afford the book, there's a great website that catalogs many of the highlights of the exhibit, check it out HERE. The images in this entry are just a small sampling of what's on the site, which itself is only a small sampling of what is in the print catalog. There is more information about the magazines on the website.

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JBbTC 28: Futurist Books pt.2

Posted October 18, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Here's part two of the Futurist books. Marinetti's books in particular get more violent and aggressive in this period, with references to bombs, words exploding across the page, etc. There are also two books by Fortunato Depero, who became involved in Futurism around 1914, but became one of it's most acclaimed adherents, developing stage sets, costumes, furniture, toys, and of course books in a Futurist style. The book on the left is one of my favorites: Fortunato Depero, Liriche radiofoniche [Radio opera] (Milano: Morreale, 1934). Titles are very roughly translated in the [brackets].

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JBbTC 27: Futurist Books pt.1

Posted October 11, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

06Soffici.jpgNow lets take a quick stop over in Italy. When I was in Rome a couple years back for an exhibition (at the excellent House of Love and Dissent), I picked up a cool exhibition catalog for a 2006 show called The Book as a Work of Art at the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna in Rome. It contains a great collection of avant-garde books, including 21 Futurist books produced over two decades (1911-1934), many of which I had never seen before. Although way out of my depth in both design and art history knowledge, I wanted to share these Futurist covers. Many Italian Futurists yoked themselves to Fascism after World War I, but I am unsure of exactly who did and didn't outside of Marinetti's enthusiastic support for Mussolini (and Mussolini's general disregard for both the Futurists and art in general). I'm going to (somewhat arbitrarily) split these covers up into early Futurist and post-WWI Futurist. By today's standards, some of them look quite staid, but I believe for the time and the printing method (set type), the tilted lines of type, overprinting, and multiple typefaces were pretty innovative. Enjoy part one!
(ps. It is the insides of some of these books that are truly breathtaking, but as this is a blog about covers, I'll stick to the outsides for now...)

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JBbTC 26: Action

Posted October 4, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

action30.jpgLet's stay in France this week, and check out the covers of Action, the newspaper developed by the Comités d' Action during May 68. The first Comités were developed as organizational bodies by the striking students of the Sorbonne, but the form spread to other universities, high schools, and even a few factories. Action first appeared on May 7th, and was a weekly paper for the first three issues, but then became daily (on weekdays) for the month of June (when a lot of the action of the May protests was peaking), then settled back into a weekly. Although the covers are neither as graphically efficient or visually compelling as the best of the posters of the same period, they are still interesting, with some nice use of illustrations. Action introduced a new generation of illustrators, including Michel Quarez (who did the cars on #30 to the left), Jean-Marc Reiser, and Georges Wolinski.

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JBbTC 25: Roman Cieslewicz pt.3

Posted September 27, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

1018_02.jpgHere's the final installment (for now), on Polish poster artist and designer Roman Cieslewicz. In 1968 Cieslewicz was invited to design the cover style for a new line of philosophy, history, and politics books edited by Christian Bourgios. He brought his bold graphic style to the "10/18" series, using flat fields of color to render stylized portraits of the authors. The style is reminiscent of both Cuban poster artists working a little earlier in the 1960s, and the Chicano artist Rupert García (who developed his similar style, likely from the same influences, half way across the globe. His covers of Ho Chi Minh and Marx (sorry I wasn't able to track down color images) are particularly resonant with García's work.

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JBbTC 24: Roman Cieslewicz pt.2

Posted September 20, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

tyija86.jpgPart two on Polish poster artist and designer Roman Cieslewicz. Before leaving for Paris, Cieslewicz was the art director for the Polish cultural magazine Ty i Ja (You and I). He did most (maybe all?) of the covers between 1960 and 1963, then sporadic covers after that into the 1970s. His covers on the early issues are almost all straight photo-montages with humor or a sense of the unreal created by a playful use of size and relation between elements. In the later issues he brings in a lot more illustrative elements, and flat uses of color, making them look for poster-like.

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JBbTC 23: Roman Cieslewicz pt.1

Posted September 13, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

opus07.jpgLet's take a quick break from US publications and skip over to Europe. A couple years back I discovered the Polish poster artist and designer Roman Cieslewicz. Although well known within design circles, I think he is pretty obscure to most political artists and poster-makers under 40. He had a huge influence on European design when he moved to Paris in the 1960s, including in his role as designer for the arts magazine Opus International. The covers for the publication are fabulous, and most work as both covers and posters (and I believe many were actually converted to/produced as posters). It is said that Cieslewicz' work was very influential on the artists and designers that took part in the Ateliers Populaire in May 68, and especially on those that would go on to form the political design firm Grapus.

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JBbTC 22: Radical America

Posted September 6, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

radicalamericav12n6.jpgHere's another installment of covers of a periodical, this time Radical America, which began as an organ of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in 1967, and then ran into the late 1980s. A couple years back at the Anarchist Bookfair in San Francisco I found a box of old Radical Americas, 5 for $1 or something like that, and pulled out a big stack based on, I admit, the coolest covers, but also interesting content. Turns out that one of my favorite covers (v12n6, Nov/Dec 1978) features an illustration by Nikki Schumann, adapted from a Boycott Grapes poster from the early 70s. On a second look, I realized this was the same artist whose calendars my parents religiously bought every year and hung in a small frame in our kitchen, changing the image out each month!

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JBbTC 21: The Drama Review

Posted August 30, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

tdr43_1969.jpgBack at the end of June I was in Toronto, strangely at an academic performance art conference to talk about the Spectres of Liberty project, and their was a table for TDR (The Drama Review), one of the longest running and most political drama/culture journals. They had a pile of old back issues really cheap, with great covers. Plus the contents are great too in the early issues, lots of material on The Living Theatre, Bread & Puppet, Futurism, and guerrilla theatre.

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JBbTC 20: Westerns

Posted August 23, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Now for a slight break from the usual program. When I was out in Wisconsin a couple years back for a wedding we stumbled upon a small town library book sale, and almost all the books were romance novels and westerns, but they were $1 a box! So I scooped up a bunch of really cool looking Western pulp novels. Very questionable politically, but some of these designs are simply awesome. All of them are from Lenox Hill Press, published in the 70s, and no notation of designer or illustrator.

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JBbTC 19: B. Traven pt.6

Posted August 16, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

traven_nightvisitor01.jpgAhh, the final installment of the covers of Mr. Berick Traven, or Ret Marut, or Otto Feige, or Hal Croves? No one has yet been able to fully pin down exactly who B. Traven was, and this mystery has led to an ongoing interest in his literary output and politics. There has actually been an outpouring of books about Traven, some of them with pretty handsome covers themselves.

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JBbTC 18: B. Traven pt.5

Posted August 9, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

For part 5 of the B. Traven covers, I'm going to focus on a number of his lesser known novels (He wrote five or six outside of the Treasure of Sierra Madre, the Death Ship, and the six Jungle novels, and after 1940 he almost exclusively wrote short stories, which will be the focus of next weeks final Traven post).

The Cotton Pickers was Traven's first published novel. It was actually titled Der Wobbly (the Wobbly, after the nickname for members of the IWW) by the initial publisher, but all other editions are titled The Cotton Pickers, and it appears that is the title Traven intended. The above is is the book jacket for an early hardback, possibly the first American edition.

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JBbTC 17: B. Traven pt.4

Posted August 2, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

traven_rebellionofthehanged07.jpgRecapping last week: In the decade from 1931 to 1940, B. Traven published a series of six books known as his Jungle Novels: Government (1931), The Carreta (aka The Cart) (1931), March to the Monteria (aka March To Caobaland) (1933), Trozas (1936), The Rebellion of the Hanged (1936), and A General from the Jungle (1940). The Jungle novels are a series of interconnected stories about the struggles of the Indigenous in Chiapas at the end of the 19th Century, and how their rebellion starts the Mexican Revolution. This week let's take a look at the second three novels, which includes my favorite, The Rebellion of the Hanged:

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JBbTC 16: B. Traven pt.3

Posted July 26, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

traven_thecarreta02_germ.jpgIn the decade from 1931 to 1940, B. Traven published a series of six books known as his Jungle Novels: Government (1931), The Carreta (aka The Cart) (1931), March to the Monteria (aka March To Caobaland) (1933), Trozas (1936), The Rebellion of the Hanged (1936), and A General from the Jungle (1940). The Jungle novels are a series of interconnected stories about the struggles of the Indigenous in Chiapas at the end of the 19th Century, and how their rebellion starts the Mexican Revolution. This week let's take a look at the first three novels:

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JBbTC 15: B. Traven pt.2

Posted July 19, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Next up in the B. Traven book cover-athon is The Death Ship. My favorite Traven novel (well, maybe a tie with The Rebellion of the Hanged), The Death Ship is a great story of a sailor on a ship write after WWI, just as the borders of the modern nation states across the world are being fully codified, leaving him and the rest of the crew a ship without a country, and thus invisible and impossible to the modern world. This book had had some great covers. I was only able to track down eleven, but I've seen some others I hope to still find and put up here sometime in the future. The cover to the left is one of the best, carrying an illustration by Seymour Chwast.

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JBbTC 14: B. Traven pt.1

Posted July 12, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

This week we take a trip a little bit beyond the limits of my friends' and my book collections. This is the first in a series of posts collecting the book covers of the mysterious author known as B. Traven. Between my personal collection, a selection of friends bookshelves, the Kate Sharpley Library, and some serious internet hunting, I've gathered over 90 different covers for about a dozen Traven novels. Traven is most well known for his successful novel The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, which was made into an even more successful film in 1948 starring Humphrey Bogart.

The interesting thing for me is that Traven was also an anarchist and anti-capitalist, and because of the success of Treasure, as well as The Death Ship and his series of Jungle novels (all of which I'll be featuring in coming weeks), he is probably one of the most published and translated anarchist writers ever. Few other than popular fiction authors get such a diverse collection of covers, and Traven and his politics have had hundreds of covers over the 80 plus years his books have been in print. Today we'll start from the beginning, here's sixteen covers from The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

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JBbTC 13: New World Paperbacks pt.2

Posted July 5, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Here's part two of the New World Paperbacks series. I've only got a dozen different books on my shelf, but if anyone else out there has some more cool NWP covers, send them my way! At the heart of this post are four covers of Kwame Nkrumah books. The illustration and color choice on Dark Days in Ghana is fabulous, and the simplicity of Challenge of the Congo is great. I used to have a fifth Nkrumah book too, but I must of lent it out and never gotten it back! And finally a couple classics, Marx and Foner.

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JBbTC 12: New World Paperbacks pt.1

Posted June 28, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

williamson_dangerousscot.jpgThe next couple weeks entries will be focused on the covers of New World Paperbacks, which was an imprint of the Communist Party, USA's main publishing house International Publishers. I know that New World was started in the early 1960s in order to make inexpensive copies of Marxist "classics" (i.e. Marx, Engels, Lenin, etc.) available to a wide audience. It seems that by the early 1970s, it had become the place where the CP published what it perceived of as "popular" titles, including those about race and gender in the US and national liberation struggles abroad. Many of the covers are surprisingly hip for the Communist Party, riffing off of both historical context of the book and relatively current design trends at the time (psychedelia, deco, etc.). For example, the cover "A Dangerous Scot" uses a type treatment that dates it to an early 20th century americana, but the design element floating in the center of the page is so odd that it makes the whole thing seem contemporary. Maybe not surprisingly for the CP, none of the books I have attribute a designer for the cover, or a printer for the book—yet most subject the reader to a turgid intro by CP leader Gus Hall, which clearly lets us know which part of the labor process of book production is most important! It appears as if many of the New World titles are still available from International Publishers, but New World itself doesn't have a website or any unique identity, and appears to have been absorbed by the larger publishing identity sometime in the 1980s. Enjoy the covers!

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JBbTC 11: Dea Trier Mørch's Den Indre By

Posted June 21, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

This week I'm just going to focus on one book, and actually open the cover! For years I've been giving various versions of a talk and slideshow about political printmaking, and I've often shown a slide of an anti-Vietnam War poster image by a Danish artist named Dea Trier Mørch. I didn't know anything about her, nor had I seen any other work by her, but this particular poster was great. Back in 2007, Icky and I took a trip to Europe, and I gave my political printmaking talk at YNKB in Copenhagen, and when that particular slide came up, everyone was like, "Hey, that's Dea Trier Mørch!," and they knew all about her. Turns out she was part of a Danish Marxist print collective in the 1970s called Røde Mor (Red Mother), that produced a ton of prints, including posters for the free town of Christiania, and had a very popular rock band. While in Copenhagen Icky and I scoured the bookshelves of all the used bookstores looking for things by Mørch and Røde Mor, and I came across a number of novels that she had written and/or illustrated. This week's book is Den Indre By (The Inner City), and hopefully after looking at this post you'll also see how awesome Mørch is...

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JBbTC 10: Portuguese Modernism

Posted June 14, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

amadoj2.jpgI found this nice little collection of Portuguese modernist book covers in a friends academic office. They are from the 30s-60s. They designs are all hand painted, with the type treatment hand painted on most of them as well, don't see that much anymore! The Pasternak cover is a bit of a snoozer, but the Amado covers are great with their overlapping colors, line styles, and handmade type.

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JBbTC 9: Anarchist Books from Norway

Posted June 7, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

A quick-y this week, here are three covers of Norwegian-published anarchist titles I found in the shelves at my friend Bergsveinn's house in Bergen. The Kropotkin book is hilarious, with psychedelic Kropotkin both holding up a portrait of himself and having an image of himself holding up a portrait of himself flowing out of his forehead! Genius. I apologize for the blur, they were taken in poor light with a crap camera.

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JBbTC 8: Cienfuegos Press pt.3

Posted May 31, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Here's the last installment of the Cienfuegos/Costantini covers. Bits and pieces. This Tifft cover is one of the best in my opinion, the graphic is crisp and commanding, and the type treatment is clean and stays out of the way. (Too bad the book itself is almost unreadable!). Also here is one of Costantini's first covers for Cienfuegos, for Alexander Berkman's Russian Tragedy. Great book and stunning cover, the corpse of a Kronstadt soldier says it all. The Wilhelmshaven Revolt is another cover attributed to Jean Pierre Ducret, but has many of the hallmarks of Costantini, including the thick black outlines, folds in the clothing, and extra detail in the faces.

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JBbTC 7: Cienfuegos Press pt.2

Posted May 24, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

tellez_sabate2.jpgHere's the second installment of Flavio Costantini covers for Cienfuegos Press. The five this week are a series of covers he did, each designed with the letter A (for Anarchy) as a central element. The first cover, Sabate, uses the A almost as an afterthought, and each cover further develops the idea, up through The End of Anarchism, which is simply genius in my opinion, with the A towering over the question mark, framing the setting sun.

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JBbTC 6: Cienfuegos Press pt.1

Posted May 17, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

For years I've been a fan of the look and feel of the Cienfuegos Press books published by Stuart Christie in the UK in the late 1970s-early 1980s. I stumbled on a used copy of the Cienfuegos Anarchist Review #4 in a small bookshop in Washington DC back in 1993, and with its full color Flavio Costantini cover illustration I was hooked. I've since hunted down copies of most of the Cienfuegos publications. I'll start with the Costantini covers, and move on to the other books later on.

Here are the three Cienfuegos Anarchist Review's with Costantini covers, and you can see how issue #2 has just a simple spot illustration, but the full covers of #4 & #5 are dedicated to full color paintings of anarchist history. The cover of The Anarchists in London is quite nice with a simple dark brown monotone version of a painting and the title offset in red. The printing on The International Revolutionary Solidarity Movement cover is nice as well, with the black outline image of Bakunin sitting on top of the red newspaper headlines, maximizing the two color cover.

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JBbTC 5: Hebrew

Posted May 10, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Here's a nice clutch of book covers from Hebrew volumes. Even though I took Hebrew school for a couple years, I mostly read comic books, so I have no idea what these say. Please excuse anything politically offensive! (Oh, and excuse the blur on some of them, the photos were taken on a friends iphone...)

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JBbTC 4: Liberation Support Movement pt.3

Posted May 3, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Part 3 (and final part for now) of the covers of the Liberation Support Movement. This Sowing the First Harvest cover is quite nice, a striking block print (attributed to Yukari Ochiai) is printed in dark brown ink on a light yellow cover, with the simple sans serif orange type pulling it together.


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JBbTC 3: Liberation Support Movement pt.2

Posted April 26, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

Part two of the covers from the LSM Information Network, some of these are less graphically powerful than last weeks, but there are still a couple gems:


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JBbTC 2: Liberation Support Movement pt.1

Posted April 19, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

This week I want to share part one of a collection of book and pamphlet covers from the Liberation Support Movement (LSM), an organization that primarily did solidarity work with African national liberation movements in the 1970s. Detailed information about LSM is pretty sparce, but it appears they were founded by Don Barnett in the early 1970s, originating in Richmond, British Columbia, Canada. At some point in the mid to late 70s LSM moved to Oakland, CA, likely after Barnett's death in 1975. I believe their primary activity was direct financial and material support of liberation movements, but they also had a propaganda wing. Most of the pamphlets and books were published under the "LSM Information Center" imprint, and are either first person accounts of liberation struggles or analysis, largely written by the leadership of those struggles, or Barnett himself.

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JBbTC 1: Novosti Press Agency

Posted April 12, 2010 by jmacphee in Judging Books by Their Covers

I've been really digging designing book covers of late, which has made me look much closer at all the other covers I come across and already have on my shelf. I'm going to try to start doing this weekly blog column (blogumn? is that a term?) sharing cool book covers I find.

For this first installment, I want to share three great covers from a series late-Soviet political books I picked up some years back in Chicago. They are aesthetically amazing, pulling together clean and crisp replicas of different moments of modernist design. And politically, like most late-Soviet material, very strange. It appears that they were produced in 1971 and 72 by the Novosti Press Agency Publishing House in Moscow, primarily to attack Chinese communism, but they are in English, and the text is so dull that they are practically unreadable. I pity the poor Communist Party member that had to read these back in the day. There's definitely no attribution or clue who the designer(s) is, but they were quite graphicly cheeky, with the "white wedge" of reaction cutting through (or infecting?) the red and black circles of Anarchism/Trotskyism/Maoism, and the "falling" Chinese architectural forms of the Peking Divisionists!

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