“For Christ’s sake don’t give anyone that jacket you’re saving for me. I’ve written it into the book.”
That quote is attributed to F. Scott Fitzgerald, via correspondence between Fitzgerald and his editor, Maxwell Perkins. Their exchanges are currently in the Charles Scribner Sons’ Archives at the Princeton University Library and also published in Dear Scott/Dear Max (Scribners, 1971). The Gatsby book cover artist, Francisco Coradel-Cougat (Francis Cugat) was the brother of famed band leader, Xavier Cugat. He worked in the motion picture industry as a set designer and promotions artist. The Great Gatsby is his most successful work and perhaps his only book design. It was not unusual to commission a book design prior to its completion.
That was most likely the case with The Great Gatsby. Although today we remember it as an exceptional literary example, when the book was first published, it sold only 20,000 copies and was considered to be one of Fitzgerald’s biggest failures. After the second World War, the book was introduced again and the original cover was also revived. Today, The Great Gatsby sells 500,000 copies a year and is a permanent fixture in high school literature classes across the country.
According to the New York Times, with the release of the Warner Bros film this year, Scribner printed 350,000 copies using the movie tie-in with Leonardo Dicaprio in front of an art deco backdrop as a way to bring in new readers. Books that use contemporary images typically run second in sales to non-film version covers, but there are stores like Walmart that will only sell the movie cover for The Great Gatsby. Not exactly in the league of greatest book overs.
Book cover design is a specialized talent, drawing in a buyer/reader to purchase the book, but also requiring that the design be true to the story line.
One of the most well-known book cover designers was British illustrator, Richard Wasey Chopping, best known for his work on Ian Fleming novels. His first cover for Fleming’s Bond book, From Russia with Love, is considered by many to be his best book design, but I like the imagery on Thunderball.
Our newest book in Print’s MyDesignShop.com is Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl: Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel in Art and Design by John Bertram and Yuri Leving. The authors are intrigued by Lolita and the many covers created for the book over the decades. Inside is more than 265 color images created by graphic artists and illustrators’ visions of what the cover should look like, then critiqued by graphic design critics and Nabokov scholars. Here’s an excerpt:
I found myself repeatedly coming back to one particular contestant’s book cover, dwelling obsessively on it. The cover in question was submitted by Emmanuel Polanco and was a proposed jacket for Vladimir Nabokov’s “Lolita.” In the book, which was published in 1955, middle-aged literature professor and hebephile Humbert Humbert is obsessed with 12-year-old Dolores Haze, with whom he becomes sexually involved after he becomes her stepfather. His private nickname for Dolores is “Lolita.”
Explore the book jacket designs through the centuries in Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl. On sale now.
If you would like to learn more about book design, Inside Under the Covers: Print’s Guide to Book Jacket Design is a great choice. Within this book, you’ll find expert advice from art directors working at Penguin, Hachette, Vintage Books and more. There are 20th Century examples of influential covers with special features including: favorite covers that did not see the light of day; how well-read visual artists have looked to book design; and explaining the infinite number of design problems that need to be solved within the constraints of a romance cove.
Inside Under the Covers: Print’s Guide to Book Jacket Design is on sale now.