Paul Bacon and the Last Dust Jacket
In the Spring issue of Print magazine, Angela Riechers’ “Unsung Heroes of Design” brings to light how giving credit where credit’s due in the vast world of design can be difficult—even when it comes to the work of legendary creators. She explores some connections we may be missing. Amongst these unsung heroes of design is Paul Bacon.
Bacon, an American graphic designer and jazz musician, has certainly marveled jazz fans with his album covers for Blue Note Records and Riverside Records. But in the article, Riechers proposes that it was Bacon’s “Big Book Look” for which he should be recognized, for this led to the visual identities that defined some of the late 20th century’s most memorable and best-selling books.
Author and photographer Hank O’Neal, who in 1999 helped to organize an exhibition of Bacon’s work called The Graphic Work of Paul Bacon, shares here the fascinating story of one of Bacon’s last dust jackets.
In 1997, my book The Ghosts of Harlem was published by Filipacchi in France. A decade later a revised edition was published by the Vanderbilt University Press in 2009. One of my stipulations with the publisher was that Paul Bacon be hired to design the dust jacket for the new American edition. They agreed, even after I explained Paul did not use computers and would not be sending them a digital file.
As usual, Paul produced a stunning dust jacket and Vanderbilt was thrilled with his work. The book went into production and whomever Vanderbilt tasked with printing the dust jacket thought back a few years and figured out how to use Paul’s mechanical layout.
When the book was completed, Vanderbilt’s marketing department telephoned me and asked me the name of the typeface Paul had used. They wanted to use it in some advertisements and, of course, I had no idea. I telephoned Paul and explained the situation. There was a pause and then he said there was no name for the typeface, he’d created it all by hand, especially for my dust jacket, as he had done for so many other books. I was stunned, as was Vanderbilt. He was 86 at the time, and this was one of his last, if not the last dust jacket he ever produced.