Galileo & Mick Brownfield

A lunar eclipse occurs when Sun, Earth and Moon are in a perfect alignment, right? Well three things came together recently and there is some fugitive sendipity, some tangential connection between them so I thought I would take out my iQuill and see if I can resolve them.

You know the way that sometimes history can brush your soul for a moment as you realise a major figure from the past stood where just where you are now standing? It doesn’t always happen. My history teacher at school certainly never prompted it. David Starkey doesn’t do it for me either. Mary Beard and Joann Fletcher can. I digress . . .

There was a glorious full moon on Dartmoor recently. It was huge and heavy. My wife, Sandy and I stared at it, in the garden and in awe. By chance, a day or so later, I came across this sketch by Galileo.

Galileo Galilei, Italian physicist, mathematician & astronomer.

I adore it. So now I must try not to gush but aside from the simple beauty of the page was the impact of the likeness – we see the exact same moon as Galileo Galilei, 1564 – 1642. Today we often see science portrayed as a sterile, cold activity (and The Man in the White Suit is a favourite film of mine) yet there is something in this sketch that speaks of simple humanity, curiosity and wonder. It’s moving. OK, I gushed. Blame the phase of the moon.

Le_Voyage_dans_la_lune

The second body to share my orbit was just last week when Mick Brownfield appeared on Facebook out of the blue. We have worked together a couple of times. He is a big cheese (like the moon). Remember those great Heinken ads? Advertising boys and girls love his work just as much as editorial does. His work is amongst the best contemporary illustration and has, well, just always been there. He seems full of that blend of youthful enthusiasm and slight melancholy I feel like that myself on many a day. The coincidence? Well you might ask. The talented Mr Brownfield’s work graced the first Pan paperback of The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in it’s modest beginings. Neither of us has a copy of it – anyone? Mick has a host a utterly fab visual references to space and sci-fi in his mighty portfolio. (I wish now I had given him a more open brief. Sorry Mick.) In particular he has great affinity for the lighter-side of SF and popular culture. The wide-eyed optimism of the public appetite for early space travel, the comic-book super-powered heroes – the fun. And we share a pleasure in the space tin-toy. That mad clash between leading edge technology reproduced in gaudy print on feeble materials driven by clockwork. And, curse it, he has a collection that puts my minor shelf to shame. And Brownfield artwork now brightens up my Facebook stream. Which is nice.

And the third body? Well it was this. Last Thursday I visited the lively exhibition of 1st and 2nd year Illustration students at Plymouth University where I teach. I had a good chat with David Smart about research amongst University staff. I had often thought, just on the back-burner, that the research for Visual Communication/Graphics/Illustration was Fine Art. In some ways maybe it is but I was interested to learn that effectively it is a commitment to continuing education/exploration by staff and the sharing of that knowledge. I must admit it got me thinking. Over the hot weekend, as I mowed our grass, I found myself joining the dots from Galileo’s sketches of the moon back to Egyptian portrayals of the Sun and Moon. To romantic painters’ emotional use of Moon and Stars. The sinister symbolism of the necromancers. To Georges Méliès‘ chaotic film predictions. To Dan Dare and the paintings of Chesley Bonestell that exited me so much as a boy (and still do). The paintings of Robert Rauschenberg. And on to Hubble and digital photography and Star Trek and a creeping, lingering question of whether the power of the illustrators’ imaginings of the heavens will be lost? Replaced by photographic images of such high resolution they raise questions about time itself. Does regular exposure to CGI mean we will lose our sense of wonder? I already have with films that hire scriptwriters who do not match the scope of Asimov, Alfred Bester, Ursula le Guinn and Philp K. Dick. Art Directors need great writers.

Mick Brownfield for Harvey Nichols

Will all those young illustration students find the opportunities they need for their work? Do we celebrate our wealth of living illustration talent enough? Where are the retrospective exhibitions of Mick Brownfield, Chris Moore, Ian Miller, Chris Foss, Brian Sanders? A list I shall abort and leave it for a dissertation one day – it can only lead me into trouble here! And they all do way more than sci-fi. The Leyendecker and Rockwell‘s of out time?

Time for a major exhibition of the artists who have excited our imaginations and envisioned our futures? And we too, like Galileo, can look at the stars. And wonder.

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Tweeting in Turbulent Times?

A book cover from the vaults with a probably tenuous connection to the text.

So where are we a few years in? Three years ago I lept into social media with mixed feelings but, I hope, a little gusto. Twitter was a wild, care-free playground with frisson and edge. Banter and debate. Free-form, high wire and exhilarating. Thrilling thinkers popped up as if from nowhere. Connections seemed like synapses. Fast and sometimes furious. Fun.

Facebook felt a bit like leaving most of the curtains open in the house. A little exposed. And there were cats. Sharing visual material was always going to appeal to a designer and it is the principle pleasure. The term ‘Friend’ became a more flexible term. Though the cats didn’t care. And some great creative allies re-appeared in my life and in back in view from my Dartmoor retreat. I love seeing what they get up to. And seeing pictures of their cats.

Yet, inevitably, social media is swamped with ads, plugs and causes. Mea Culpa, when Heroines & Harridans was published I wanted my fab girls to shine and probably over-plugged it. I felt a certain Twitter finesse slip through my practised fingers. So I do understand that our personal agendas can make us a bit, well, heavy-handed at times. But I do have certain misgivings as social media grows like Topsy – and my worry is not privacy. If it’s private don’t put it out there. Or at least control your privacy settings with common sense.

As a bit of a worrier I do worry about things. More rudeness, often by neglect. I see a lot of knee-jerk opinions, a rush to harsh views before consideration. Zelots playing to the gallery? I fear twitter becoming the town stocks were people are publicly humiliated and pilloried ad hoc. Where rumour and accusation becomes conviction by mob decree. Innocent until proven guilty is still the basis of our legal framework, right?

And it’s not just public figures and trial by (anti-social?) media. I am uneasy with the pressure of ‘Like’ this or you are not my ‘Friend’. Flagging up things you care about is fine but doorstepping like a Watch Tower seller isn’t. ‘Like’/’Promote’/’Share’ this cause or page or you will appear a lesser person is a troublesome proposition to me. I’ll stop before this gets too preachy but just a word of caution; thinking something through before you rush to judgement is wise. Sharing is an offer of choice and should not carry an obligation. And social media is not inherently good or bad. It is a network of pipes through which can pump wine, clear water – or poison.

Some thoughts but not conclusions . . . Isn’t there less discussion and more rigid positioning – or is it me? Do you see a high level of depression symptoms being signalled as I do? In times of turbulent economics and social upheaval are we throwing up answers or throwing in the towel? Do you sense a state of flux, chaos or evolution? How do you see Twitter et al today?

Nothing is permanent except change“. According to Google, Heraclitus of Ephesus said that. He’s not wrong.

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The Two Sandies

When you really care about something you want to get it right. Right?

And I do care about Heroines & Harridans. The shared relish and enthusiasm for great women in history has been a secret pleasure of Sandi Toksvig and illustrator Sandy Nightingale since they first worked together on The Travels of Lady ‘Bulldog’ Burton a few years ago. Observing their exchanges was bit like watching a tennis match. I sat by the net as fabulous females, wonderful women warriors and some real oddballs (sorry) flew back and forth between The Two Sandies. Convention usually dictates a finished text for the artist to illustrate. This gestation was far from conventional. Candidates were served up from both sides of the court. Wholly undignified peals of laughter signalling a point scored. A puff of Wimbledon white smoke and a winning woman selected. That mash-up has to count as mixed-doubles meets mixed-metaphors, methinks.

Heroines & Harridans

Now I should declare that Sandy is my wife. And believe me, art directing ones wife’s artwork is not for the fainthearted. And renaissance woman, Sandi Toksvig, has become a trusted friend. Talented and charming she is also very smart, super-busy and a true professional. I treasure both enough to want to make them blush. But not here.

All sounds a bit intimidating when you are designing a book – but actually it was great fun. Sandi dubbed us the Three Musketeers as we hunkered down to bring the book to life. And print. Despite the sling and arrows . . . well you know the rest of that one. Fact is, and I have been fortunate enough to find this before, professionalism and mutual respect mean a project can overcome almost any obstacle. But if you have ever wrestled with sub-editing text that runs around an irregular shaped image then only you will know the glissando bliss of doing it live on Skype with an author with the silky skills of Sandi Toksvig. Sound fun to you? Then you would find beating a deadline while bobbing about on a boat simply beezer. Boy, can she write text that flows . . .

Being a moddy bugger I often find things an exercise in futility amid chaos. If gardening is an attempt to control nature one wonders if graphics and project management is similarly doomed to end up throttled by weeds.

Mistakes do happen. Let’s be honest. And it is fair to say the mark of a good pro is how you deal with the, right?

Summer and autumn months last year have seen the War Room that is my studio knee-deep with Heroines and Harridans. I should like to portray the War Room like a Battle of Britain nerve-centre. Skilled minions moving key features across a vast table-top map. Banks of observing experts overseeing the manoeuvres. Uniformed cohorts micro-managing detailed deployments of disciplined components. Well, not exactly but one tries.

In short we know our jobs, respect each other and are always up for a giggle. And that is the alchemy we tried to keep in the final book. All sorts of things tried to blow us off-course but we battled through and now it’s out. And lots of nice people bought it for Christmas. Huzzah!

H&H Crown FINAL!!! R1.indd

Yet Mr Cock-up did pay a small visit to our pages. One of the featured Heroines & Harridans is Eleanor of Aquitaine (imagine Liv Tyler), wife of Henry II (try Ray Winston). Their royal court favoured a jester and flatulist called Roland le Fartere whose tour de force was to perform “Unum saltum et siffletum et unum bumbulum”. Discretion compels me not to expand beyond telling you that this designer was prompted to distort and move the folio (page number) out of position as if, erm, blown across the page. A small visual gag. However on press, in the wee small hours, a diligent, attentive technician at the printer, Butler Tanner & Dennis, spotted the corrupted folio, thought it was a mistake. And fixed it!

Now I have to say Butler Tanner & Dennis are a great outfit and did a wonderful job but, with publisher economies removing a full set of proofs from the process, the first we saw of this section (others were seen) was finished books. The Robson Press tracked down the source of the ‘correction’. At first I was very irritated but, after a cup of tea (and a brief lie-down), I thought of the printer thinking he was doing the very best for us. I talked it through with The Two Sandies and we concurred, in a collective fit of giggles, to see the funny side and not to make a fuss out of a fart. Collective sighs of relief despite the loss of a small puff of wind.

H&H Crown FINAL!!! R1.indd

Yet all’s well that ends well as literary wordsmiths might opine. The second print-run is almost sold out (again huzzah!). And one part of this digital age is that printing plates are not kept but recycled so change is more viable than in the past. More copies are now available and the flatulent folio is restored.

And that sound is now a sigh.

H&H Crown FINAL!!! R1.indd

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Don DeLillo

The following post was commissioned by Picador as a part of their 40 year anniversary. You will no-doubt know I was their long-standing art director so I cut the introduction. Picador asked me to recount the process of this specific jacket design

. . . in full flow and inspired by those around me – and, most importantly, the fabulous writers under the Picador umbrella – I was joyfully drawn to experiment. Not from recklessness, as there was a weight of responsibility to the writers, but more a matter of looking to the differences. What made them unique. Special. Inspiration for my design work on Picador would not be other book covers. More likely it would be the text, music, foreign stamps, artists and explorers.

Explorers? Long before the appellation of ‘renaissance man’ was attached to his name, I was intrigued by the work of Brian Eno. I was an art student when Roxy Music was an art school band. And I thought they were pants once Eno left. By the time I was working on the book jacket for Don DeLillo’s White Noise, Eno’s seminal collaboration with David ByrneMy Life in the Bush of Ghosts, was fizzing around life and work. Eno had produced the LP/CD image himself, too. White Noise as a title, and as a notion, seemed to me to resonate perfectly with his work, and I commissioned him to illustrate the jacket.

Over-ambitious? Maybe. But I took a risk. Sadly, it didn’t come off. I didn’t feel I could use the results. Very hard to do when I admired him so much, but the book had to come first. Art directors take the reflected glory from the successes so, we too, must take the responsibility when it just doesn’t work out. No criticism of Brainy Brian from me – his work on the Picador catalogue was fabulous, by the way.

But there was now a big problem for me. A design concept I thought an open goal was now a big headache. (I’m not a writer – well not a real one – but I can mix my metaphors).

Going back to quiz my instincts on the book, I found I was fumbling for a visual equivalent of white noise. The sleeve of My Life in the Bush of Ghosts had put TV feedback in my mind and, in addition to the sonic title/trigger, had led me to Eno. In need of a ‘wild card’, I turned to Oblique Strategies, which is a set of cards Eno produced with Peter Schmidt in 1975. They are sharp notes to short-circuit tired thinking. And this was no time for creative block! The enigmatic messages on the cards are “evolved from our separate observations of the principles underlying what we were doing. Sometimes they were recognized in retrospect (intellect catching up with intuition) . . .” Picking up random cards some irritated me in the way fortune cookies do. But one or two sparked across the synapses: “Assemble some of the elements in a group and treat the group”  and “Imagine the piece as a set of disconnected events”. One card read, “You can only make one dot at a time”. These phrases reminded me that a company called Imagine had approached me to demo their new computer graphics thingy. The computer and terminal were huge! This was 1984, so just ahead of Apple Mac’s breakthrough with their first computer that went on to become ubiquitous in the design industry and to revolutionise it in some ways.

In short, I felt emboldened in by the notion that serendipity rather than standard practice may be a more productive way to work around the problem I had with this book jacket design. I called Imagine and booked two hours with a computer operator. I called my creative buddy Russell Mills with the scantiest of outlines and asked him to bring a connected object to Imagine’s office next morning. I think he chose the megaphone, or ‘crowd hailer’ as I called it. I took my Braun alarm clock. And a picture of an F1 driver (Ayrton Senna, I recall) in his flame-proofs from the day’s newspaper.

And no plan.

Around my notional framework of a wall of TV screens with a lot of signal interference, we played with the pixels. Never having touched a computer before. Designing ‘live’, more by intuition than literal reasoning. Flying by the seat of our pants.

The spine is a de-construction of the front. The back a further degeneration of the front.

The result is evocative more than literal. A little oblique? Sure. In that decade Picador was something of a research lab in every department.

Despite putting no physical hand on the design is seemed to me correct to credit Brian Eno. And Russell. As it was, being on staff, to leave my name off.

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Balls

Pan Macmillan

Almost at the end of two weeks of a fabulous Olympic Games. There is wall-to-wall coverage so I’ll not add too much to the Olympic noise. The inner cynicism with which I approached the event has been squished under thousands of happy feet. I have loved the event, the change in atmosphere in the country has been amazing and the sporting success of Great Britain’s competitors is just thrilling. So proud. And Boris was left dangling on wire to increase my TV glee.

Thinking of sport every day reminded me of some sports guides I designed covers for at Pan Macmillan – a few Olympic Games ago. As a general publisher rather than a sports specialist Pan’s approach was to go for the individual sport’s governing body endorsement as their USP. And a unified graphic brand identity was called for. I wanted to avoid sports personality imagery as it always throws up ego/permission/vetting issues. And they would date sooner. After a period of deliberation on concept the editor enquired about my creative intentions. “Balls”, was my response. Though sometimes abrupt, this time my answer was simply factual. We had LTA Tennis, SRA/WSRA Squash and PGA Golf. Now I have been involved in a lot of series over my time and I had become aware of some of the potential pitfalls if you don’t plan ahead. I needed to know which other sports might be coming down the pipeline . . . “Possibly Rugby, not Football and maybe Cricket,” the editor assured me. “So all ball sports”, I probed. “Yes, definitely no others”, came the reassurance I needed.

Now confident I turned my attention to specific. I declined the photographic option for the balls as the close-ups would need to be perfect. And this was pre-Photoshop times (gasps, I’m turning grey!) and such things as post-production retouching were very expensive. I wanted hyper-realistic artwork of the ball for each sport. Now you all know I have a taste for the best in illustration and I dislike weak airbrush work. Too often I saw work from people for whom the slick effect took hold before the basic skills were mastered. The results would tend to look as though a balloon had been stretched over the subject. And when only the best will do (most times then. Ed.) it called for the masterly eye of Chris Moore as my illustrator of choice. An Olympic Champion with an airbrush. What makes it so good is his acute observation, the skill of the initial drawing and the expertise to use a regular brush afterwards.  This gives the texture that breathes life into the finished work. Chris is one of the finest Sci-Fi artists of all time. This time it was pure technique. Perfect results every time. And a pleasure to deal with.

So the type was added. I should confess I would do it differently today, (If in doubt, use Goudy). And I had the after-thought of rotating the squash ball through 90 degrees for a little visual wit. We polished off the job and moved on to yet more of Pan’s prodigious list. All was fine. Well, fine for a while. Our series of official sports guides went well. Then the editor commissioned a new title which, of course, needed a cover. These were all going to be ball sports right? “So what is the new title?” I enquired willingly. “Swimming” was the reply.

Some days are less about design and more about escapology.

Pan Macmillan
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Gabriel García Márquez

A very sad message landed on Sunday’s doorstep. “The Nobel prizewinning author Gabriel García Márquez is suffering from senile dementia and can no longer write, his brother has revealed.” Age takes us all and the Columbian writer is 85. Yet it seems a particularly cruel irony that a mind should fade that once created the magic of One Hundred Years of SolitudeLove in the Time of Cholera and Chronicle of a Death Foretold. A stunning talent that emanates from a country more often in the news for the havoc caused by crops of mind-altering drugs. If only the appetite for literature were as rapacious to western tastes.

But perhaps that bitter observation is too harsh. Márquez is widely read and has received many plaudits including a Nobel prize in 1982. His writing is rich with the spicy marinade of his homeland that so often only an exile can concoct. He worked mostly in Paris, New York, Barcelona and Mexico. I regret that I never met him. But his work was a key part of  the Picador stable so I had the pleasure of applying design to his work. The cover of his best known work, One Hundred Years of Solitude, was designed by David Larkin. Subsequent cover designs under my art direction were aimed at simplicity and character. An attempt to create a sense of expectation. A title such as Chronicle of a Death Foretold, which opens with an anonymous note slid under a door is magic, is a gift. The trick is to recognise it. The illustration by Gary McCarver brings the image to vivid life. Graphic elaboration or over-worked visuals would add little to this potent combination.

So, sadly I cannot tell you of our meeting, of his traits or personality. No jokes, no first-hand insights. Just a recommendation that you read his glorious work. I feel moved to mention that I have friends and acquaintances who are dealing with senility in parents. The tragedy of seeing a mind slip away, perhaps not recognising their own children, whilst physically still present and active. So hard. I find myself hoping that if the mind is in ‘another place’ that it may be a place of contentment not torment. Great art is one of the lasting legacies available to a precious few. One is Gabriel García Márquez. I hope he is in a place as good as he put my mind as a reader.

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David Loftus

I have cooked before now you know. My delicious wife, Sandy Nightingale, was working on a rather splendid book, with Sandi Toksvig, called “Hipstamatic”. For months she worked late into the night on the illustrations while I worked my way through some of the Delia Smith recipes (and broke the food budget on kitchen accessories). Some time later we got an Aga. A beautiful black, shiny beast that’s a real feast for the eye. But a total mystery to this erratic, novice cook. After all you can’t see anything. Well not in the bottom bit. And I was always a bit of a one-pot cowboy. Cooking stalled. My excuses brought gently to the boil and simmering.

I tell you this because this week I needed to step up to the hot-plate and take on the iron Aga beauty. Why? Because Sandy put her back out. Sandy also has a looming deadline for her next book with Sandi Toksvig. All about Great Women in history. (It’s going to be a hoot but it is under wraps – the subject of a future post.) Anyway I stepped into the breach and took over cooking duties. On, and more worryingly in, the Aga.

I considered these coincidences as I chopped. Wondered how it is that women multi-task so well while I whisked. Mused on how some men are multi-disciplined as I mixed and mashed.

Now those are very handsome cover designs, Gary, but what have they got to do with cooking, I hear you demand? Well they are by a very successful illustrator who assembled an amazing collection of printed ephemera. From this treasure trove he created a lot exquisite collage work. Some of it, like these two examples, for me. Then he stopped. Just like that. And took up photography. And then cooked up a storm in that discipline too. His name is Great Women. And he popped into my mind as I leant on the Aga rail and wondered if my burnt offerings would look as good as one of David Loftus’ photographs when they emerged from the belly of that Black Hole of kitchen engineering.

Jamie Oliver & David Loftus ©David Loftus

I chuckled to myself as I remembered of picture, on Facebook, of cheeky David in a Djellaba with his long-time collaborator Jamie Oliver. Now world renown for his work behind the camera there is real chemistry in the way he works as Oliver’s prefered photographer. What a great symbiosis is at work there – two terrific guys (O, by the way, bollocks to Jamie’s detractors, I like his cooking, I like his style and he gives a lot of himself to getting kids better fed.). And have to say I felt warm towards David (no, it wasn’t the meal burning and I’ve never met Jamie) and how many of us don’t make one great career – let alone two. He even has a Hipstamatic lens to his name that you groovy people out there can obtain. Good on him for changing tack right at the top of his game in illustration. Not as easy at the time as it might now seem in hindsight.

But, of course, David has not really got two great talents. He now has three. His own cookbook has recently been published to much acclaim. I should go right off him at this point. But I haven’t. The boy done good.

How many of us have the courage to turn away from sure success and take a risk? Who do you know that that has more than one string to their bow? Many of you have that potential. So what stops you?

©David Loftus

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Art Students Plymouth 2012


Regular readers may recall I visited Plymouth University as an Associate Lecturer last year. A two week stint running a Type & Layout workshop with First Year Illustration. There were 45 in the group and it was busy, fun and the Uni have a good feel to it. So I was pleased when Ashley Potter asked me back this year.

O, just one thing, Gary. There are 69 students this time” Muttering darkly under my breath I cheerily assured my Course Leader that would be no problem. Half as many again? Oo, er.

First up was a personal introduction in the lecture theatre called ‘Who is this Bloke?‘. Serried rows of gimlet eyes peering through the dim light. Elevated baked seating like the Barcelona’s Camp Nou Stadium. Without the football. Or the numbers. Or the noise. And it was Plymouth. Some smart questions which is always a good sign. Second part, ‘What is Type‘ – to give them an introduction for the project. Attention can wander after too long so this became a fairly rapid-fire exercise knowing that I had the images on my iPad and would be able to refer back to them through the coming weeks. A great teaching tool. (Not me, the iPad).

Back in the studio with 69 students. They all had good space to work but rounding them up took forever as small groups milled about like grazing wildebeest. Getting their attention meant raising my voice too much and disturbing Year Two across the partition. Fix required. So that evening I rummaged in the workshop for a ball of string and two clamps to bisect the room. Once my side of the string they began to coalesce into a group and we could talk normally. The novelty broke the ice and registration became String Time. Certainly the closest I’ll ever get to any comprehension of String Theory anyway.

It may sound amusing, in fact a little humour is often the best way to tackle a problem, but imagine the extra strain on the course with so many – marshalling groups, timetables, paperwork, logistics etc. With University fees restructured no doubt there has been a surge intake with students’ natural desire to beat fees hike. Some even by-passed a Foundation Year. Ducking under the fiscal string . . .

Work time, sleeves rolled up. Ashley rallied round and called in the delightful Claire Harper whose help was invaluable. Groups of six students at a time and I made as much one-on-one time as I could. So much to share, so little time.

Initially they seemed to struggle with what was expected and, to be fair, it is not easy to explore  with type when you are new to it – remember these are illustration students. There is a decent work ethic in the group and the desire to meet expectations maybe inhibited them at times. At one point I was concerned that vitality shown in layout was a bit lost in final pieces. Yet by the end they produced great first-year work. Some by natural talent, some by graft, some too timid, some really stretching themselves and a few by epic escapology! Have a look at the work they produced here.

Will 69 complete the course? Will 69 well rounded happy young adults emerge? Will all become professional illustrators and be making a good living in a few years time? From what I have seen, probably a few more than you might think. But in the end, how long is a piece of string?

What do you think?

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Nick Hornby

Arsenal. They had a seemingly impossible first leg deficit of 4-0 to AC Milan to overcome and I wanted to see them do it. 3-0 up at halftime . . . It was true Roy of the Rovers stuff. Or, to younger viewers Nick Hornby stuff. Hornby is an obssessive Arsenal fan and eloquently articulates the terrain of football and the nature of fandom in Fever Pitch. I had distanced myself from Chelsea for some time because of crowd violence. Hornby expressed the nature of being a thinking fan in a sport plagued by hooligism and it resonated with me as a reader.

The cover design of Fever Pitch was by Ian Craig. And jolly good it was too.

Nick HornbyMy involvement was in the late 90s, with Nick Hornby’s editor Liz Knights, as a client at Gollancz and the cover of High Fidelity in particular. The hardback jacket had a blue high-contast face on it. It wasn’t too hot, to be honest, but it had a high recognition factor and my task was to use it but bring more to the party for the paperback. I spent much of my youth in record shops and loved Nick’s account and his personal writing style (Sweet man to meet though we didn’t get to know each other well). I added a vinyl record, dub-stylee, and played with the type, adding selective varnishes. Little more to say except that was liked and sold very well. A happy tale thus far . . .

I worked with Liz on trying to establish the Indigo imprint of Gollancz, with Hornby as the flagship. We worked together through her battle with that foul stalker, cancer. Despite extraordinary valiance, the malign disease claimed her. Without Liz the imprint struggled on for a while. Hornby’s new novel was delivered yet I was hearing nothing about the crucial jacket design briefing. Concerned, I asked for a meeting to discuss it. O Dear. Through the glass security door I saw the brief being hurriedly written en route to the meeting. It read ‘Hornbyesque’.

With a working title of Father & Son it tells of the relationship of an adult playing down his age and a rather grown up boy ~ hence my proposed design motif:

Nick Hornby

Sadly, it was rejected. So it goes, as Kurt Vonnegut would say. They went with another design group and the book’s final title was About a Boy. Now retired art director, George Sharpe, called to express concern when a remarkably similar idea coincidentally turned up from the same stable on Tony Parson’s first novel. I just let it go, it’s just an idea, right . . ?

A tale of former glories and ‘We wuz robbed‘. But, as Arsene Wenger might say, ‘You can’t win them all, even if you play your best game‘.

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