Spain and McBain


Ed McBain was one of the pseudonyms of prolific author Salvatore Lombino, best known as Evan Hunter, screenwriter of Hitchcock’s The Birds. As Ed McBain he wrote over fifty police-procedural novels set in New York’s fictional 87th precinct.

Alan Spain worked at Penguin for almost two decades and was assistant to art director Germano Facetti, later becoming non-fiction art director during the 1970s. He designed the smart covers you see here in 1963-4 and they are the essence of European modernism in Penguin’s Marber-grid period.

The series is both varied and unified. Spain’s inventiveness gives the offbeat layouts plenty of differences but he locks them into a single identity. He uses black & white photos for documentary effect then contrasts them with the   smaller figures in popping red and green. They have an effect of immediacy, like a newspaper article or police report.

The McBain series was one of the earliest and best uses of Romek Marber’s 1961 grid, it holds Spain’s energetic illustrations in place. Note how visual elements in the illustrations align with the text: the red needle in The Pusher, the wedge-shaped panel in Killer’s Wedge. Alignments tie things together in a unity.

As a series these paperbacks are still collectable but unfortunately they were read so much it’s now rare to find one in really good condition.

spain-mcbain-10///////spain-mcbain-1spain-mcbain-6 ///.///spain-mcbain-4spain-mcbain-8///////spain-mcbain-3////spain-mcbain-2///////spain-mcbain-11


Posters on the back covers


One of the pleasures of collecting Penguin from the 1960s is discovering beautiful back covers. Normally the back was just a functional part of a cover design, a blurb in small print, but in the mid-1960s with Alan Adridge as art director, this area was given an overhaul. These examples were published in 1965-66.

Aldridge was a reformer who wanted to shake up what he saw as a stuffy brand image. Front covers were redesigned like posters, many of them were vivid and bold, but his influence was also felt on the back covers. Instead of the serviceable but quietly voiced text in small print, the back covers themselves became like posters, announcing the contents in full voice.

The examples here show sophisticated composition of type in the manner of the Swiss Typographic Style. They are similar to the work of maestro Josef Müller-Brockmann like these 1960s Opernhaus Zürich concert posters:

/////04bf2163e0c69e69cbfa9bf0cdeb3c87                                             Josef Müller-Brockmann, Opernhaus Zürich posters, 1960s

No individual designer is recorded for the backs, but they demonstrate much skill in type design – there are only one or two typefaces and no images or decorative borders. The work of entertaining the eye is done purely through type design, colour and scale. They have a boldness and showmanship that must have echoed the mood beyond the studio, out in Swinging London.

img788…..england-half-englishmarried-bliss…..lou-klein deaths-head


Pentagram’s photographic covers


Michael Innes was not an idle man. He was the pseudonym of J.I.M. Stewart, an Oxford professor and author who wrote in three distinct genres: critical biographies, literary novels and popular crime novels. Under both the Innes and Stewart names he published a total of 86 books, 50 of which were the crime novels by Michael Innes. He was a man who liked to keep busy.

Penguin Books published the Innes novels over many decades and in various covers. In the 1970s, the new design studio Pentagram produced a series of photographic covers. The personnel of Pentagram included Colin Forbes and Alan Fletcher legendary names in British design who had a long connection with Penguin. In 2003 the studio was commissioned to create a new grid format for Penguin Classics which, slightly adjusted, is the one you see in every bookshop today.


Photographic still life book covers became a thing in the 1960s and 70s, especially on crime and spy novels such as those by Len Deighton.

But despite first appearances these Michael Innes covers are not still life photographs but individual objects photographed separately and composited afterwards. Crammed together in different scales, they are presented as a series of clues or items of court evidence. Along with the headings, they have a peculiar frontal effect.

The photographs are matched by the Futura type, a geometric typeface known for its machine-like perfection and clarity; it’s a sort of analogy for the photographs, presenting the same message of factuality. And the large, extra bold letters have enough weight to balance the mass of the objects in the photos.



The Case of the Coppola Covers

. //,,,img957Gianetto Coppola, original artwork and published Penguin cover, 1966

Gianetto Coppola was an Italian illustrator who worked in London for two decades. In the 1960s he did several stylish covers for Penguin during the short period when Alan Aldridge was art director. Some of his artworks, the original paste-ups used for printing the Penguin covers, can be seen at London’s Lever Gallery.

Original artworks by commercial illustrators, those sent to the publisher for repro and printing, are extremely rare. They were not considered to be “art” and were often discarded or lost along the way. Illustrators themselves frequently did not want them back to clutter up precious studio space, it was the finished product that mattered. These two examples, and many more you can see on the Lever Gallery website, are a welcome treat and they help you understand the process involved in commercial illustration.

coppola-2……/…..img955Gianetto Coppola, original artwork and published Penguin cover, 1966?

Coppola (1928-2015) had a long and varied career, working in book cover design (for Penguin, Pan, Corgi and Granada), illustrating comics, working for ad agencies and also for newspapers such as the The Sunday Times. He even contributed to Playboy and Penthouse.

His work for Penguin is a little unusual for that publisher. It has the polish of mainstream magazine or advertising illustration and thus it has a hint of soap opera in the presentation of characters. But it combines that quality with the look of British Pop Art by painters in the 1960s such as David Hockney or Michael Andrews. So it seems that Gianetto Coppola was a modern artist working in a commercial realm.

 img958 …………..img956


Charles Raymond covers

img837                                                          Charles Raymond made these cover illustrations in 1962-65, the period of the Marber grid in Penguin fiction. Raymond was a very competent illustrator and they are good examples of the rather middle-of-the-road style of that period. But as covers they demonstrate some of the disadvantages of the Marber system.

Orange was the brand colour for general fiction at Penguin, going back to the first ten Penguins of 1935. When pictorial covers arrived with the Marber grid in 1962 a problem arose when the top section which was reserved for the typographic information was filled with the orange. This made the cover top heavy and over-coloured. Illustrations fought for attention with the dominant warm  hue.


In this selection you can see Raymond trying different variations to solve this problem. Three of these covers use a full orange background to make a continuous colour theme, but the result, though unified, is heavy. Two retain the orange only in the top section, but the illustration struggles to balance it.

Only with the white backgrounds do the covers achieve balance. The text itself is set in orange, putting this too-active colour in its place. This is best seen in A Morning at the Office where the elements come into balance. In this cover, the background is in the background, whereas others have the background coming forward due to the active effect of the orange.

img840. …. img838..     img835   ….img834



Swiss Mini-Moderns


The influence of the Swiss Typographic Style has had a long reign at Penguin. Bursting out in 1961 with Romek Marber’s famous grid, it has reappeared in different forms ever since.

Penguin art director Jim Stoddart employed a version of the Swiss style in his layouts for the Mini Modern series. The formula is very simple: no illustration and just serif type in black & white with a silvery-grey background. The covers have a minimalist aesthetic – achieving the maximum with the minimum, but with elegance.                                                borges-mini-modern///./updike-mini-modern//////james-mini-modern.   ..james-mini-modern-2//

On his website Stoddart has published the design grid he formulated for the series. Look for other grids on the site, it reinforces the impression of classical design rigor at Penguin that goes all the back to the 1940s and the era of Jan Tschichold and Hans

The Mini Moderns were published as a “memorial” to the Penguin Modern Classics which started in 1961:  “In 2011, on the fiftieth anniversary of the modern classics, we’re publishing fifty mini modern classics: the very best short fiction…”

One of the most successful of all Penguin Modern Classics was JD Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, published with this elegant minimalist cover in the late 1960s. Is this what inspired Jim Stoddart in his art direction of the Mini Moderns series?


Hogarth in Greeneland


In 1962, Paul Hogarth was an established artist with a distinctive watercolour style. He had worked in collaboration with literary artists, including Brendan Behan, so it was natural for him to illustrate the covers of a new edition of sixteen Graham Greene novels.

The Hogarth Greenes are a notable series in Penguin history and were one of the early successes of the Marber grid. This new design layout enabled Penguin to maintain its typographic branding while introducing eye-catching cover art. Hundreds of thousands of the Greenes were were sold.

The choice of Hogarth for Greene was an interesting one. Both came from an ideological background that permeated their work, communism for Hogarth and catholicism for Greene. Both were inveterate travellers and both had seen the best and worst of humanity in their travels. They shared a jaundiced if hopeful view of mankind, and on top of that, they got on well. “There are writers who are immensely sympathetic towards artists and certainly he was one of them. He was easy to work with, but very exacting.”

The series started an association between Penguin, Greene and Hogarth that lasted for many years. Despite his long career and considerable reputation Hogarth is possibly still best remembered for his Penguins Graham Greenes of the 1960s.  

They are characteristically simple colour drawings which manage to capture a mood – whether of menace or anxiety or general seediness and invariably set in an exotic location – true to the writer’s work.  (

penguin-hogarth-1///////penguin-hogarth-6penguin-hogarth-10////./ penguin-hogarth-5penguin-hogarth-14/////   penguin-hogarth-8/penguin-hogarth-4///////penguin-hogarth-13

In the mid 1980s, Hogarth travelled 50,000 miles to draw the locations of Greene’s novels. His pen and ink watercolours were published in this impressive book published by Pavilion in 1986.                      hogarth-graham-greene-country


Collette and the Belle Epoque

colette-1                                                              Colette was a society beauty in the 1890s and wrote the Claudine series of novels about a young girl’s growth to maturity. They were hugely popular for many years but, incredibly, they were published under her husband’s name and he received the royalties. This caused Colette much hardship but she continued as a writer and was eventually nominated for the Nobel Prize in literature in 1948. I guess that counts as getting the last laugh.

The covers of these Penguins show engravings from late 19th century magazines or fashion catalogues. They are tinted in mostly warm tones and set in a decorative border that evokes the Art Nouveau designs of Hector Guimard. The Colette designs capture the flavour of Belle Epoque Paris with great simplicity.

The covers, from 1972,  are credited to Crosby Fletcher Forbes, then a leading design studio in London. It expanded to become Pentagram in the same year and is now the “world’s largest independent design agency.”  The partnership had a long connection to Penguin.

This series is typical of the stylish and polished aesthetic that prevailed under Penguin’s art director in the 1970s, David Pelham. 

colette-6 ……colette-7colette-10…….colette-2 colette-4 …. colette-9 …….colette-12/////colette-8


How the Marber Grid was made

Penguin crime novel in Marber grid from 1962                                                                               

The Marber grid – this is so wonderful I don’t even know how to talk about it.” David Pearson

The famous Marber grid is one of the foundation stones of Penguin mythology, a design so clever that it is still studied half a century after it was made.

Romek Marber was a well-trained Polish designer working in London. He had done two covers for Penguin when the new art director Germano Facetti invited him and two other Penguin illustrators, John Sewell and Derk Birdsall, to propose a design grid for the crime imprint. Marber won. His approach was very methodical, reflecting his interest in symmetry and proportion:

To retain the unity of the series, the freedom of where to place the title, the logotype and price and in what colour, is controlled by the grid, and routine readers of crime fiction will be able to pinpoint without difficulty the title and author’s name. (Romek Marber)

Romek Marber's grid for Penguin from 1962 showing design structure                                                                     This is the design Marber presented to Penguin in 1961. He based his development of the grid on the Golden Section, the ancient formula for well-proportioned designs, especially in architecture. Since the A-format paperback is made in the Golden Section proportions (1 : 1.618) it was a logical starting point.

But how did he develop it? The following panels show my analysis of the steps that Marber may have taken in developing the grid.

1 Golden Section diagram showing proportions.2.Romek Marber's first division of the grid format.3.Romek Marber's grid 2

The Golden Section. Marber uses its main cross line to begin his grid  

2  Diagonal lines are drawn to the midpoint and corner                   /                   

3  Corner-to-corner diagonals and the vertical centre line are added

4 Romek Marber's grid 3.5.Romek Marber's grid 4.6.13

4  Diagonal lines intersect (marked by a red spot)

5  From these intersections, horizontal lines are drawn

6  A diagonal line from the left corner is drawn to a horizontal line 9.7

7  A new intersection generates a new horizontal line

8  This new horizontal line creates a further intersection (top left)

9  Some of the intersections are used to create vertical lines

10.Romek Marber's grid showing final alignments and intersections.11grid. .father-brown

10  The completed grid uses horizontal and vertical lines for text

11  The grid as it was presented by Romek Marber in 1961

12  An early crime cover using the grid, with illustration also by Marber


Swiss Pelicans


The subjects of these 1960s Pelicans are serious social issues so it’s natural that the cover designs employ a typographic solution. The heavy bold titles act like headlines in a magazine article.

These covers show the pervasive influence of the Swiss Typographic Style on Pelican cover design in the 1960s and 70s. The Swiss style was the offspring of the Bauhaus, its ideas refined and adapted to the postwar world. Swiss became the dominant philosophy of graphic design, especially in the corporate sphere, for several decades right up to the present.

The Swiss style offers order and rationality through a simple set of tools: grids to control space, alignments to create unity, and sans serif type to provide clarity. The aim is a functional, emotionally neutral communication.


In Martin Bassett’s designs above, notice how the grid of horizontal panels locks the space, giving clearly defined areas for text. These panels have the flavour of Hard Edge painting which was then a current trend and appeared on Pelican covers elsewhere.

The alignments provide a tautness to the layouts: notice on Venereal Diseases how the circle, author, title and Pelican brand all align vertically and give the layout a feeling of orderliness. Graphic design in the Swiss style is not “artistic”. The aim is always an “engineered” design.