I'm jealous of everyone who's ever been lucky enough to publish with Vintage Crime/Black Lizard. Those bastards, I mean, they don't let you down on book design. They seem not only to care about who they publish, but what the finished product will look like. And goddamn, have they figured out a way to make tawdry, dirty crime fiction feel all literary and shit. Not that literary is better than genre, no no no. There's great stuff in both arenas, and complete shit in both arenas. I'm just saying that someone up there makes those designs enviable.
And don't bring up the original Black Lizard as "better", either. I've got a handful of those, and they look like cartoons.
Makes me hearken back to the days before I was born when Penguin did something similar, branding its line with a distinct look while at the same time individualizing some for each author. And look at the results! Risky. Someone loved these books enough to take risks with the designs, which is why they're sought after so much.
The paperbacks have some sort of vibe that hardcovers just can't achieve, no matter how well made. Look at the Uglytown and Bleak House Books hardcovers, gorgeous as they are, and yet there's a little something missing. Some "cool" factor than is lost out in favor of "classing up". Plus, while I respect the Hard Case Crime retro look, it's hard not to feel a little bit of "been there, done that" when I see those. I'm looking for design that keeps pushing forward.
So when it comes to Vintage, while not all of them are home runs, the majority keep me coming back for more. Consider the Ross Macdonald re-designs over at faceoutbooks. Something about those are able to convey the timelessness of the subject while also acknowledging their place in history. Or the Sjowall & Wahloo series, again very evocative (find some here amongst the French versions). Or Jason Starr's three originals. Or the very pulpy Hammet reissues. Or the fascinatingly bizarre David Peace Red Riding Quartet.
While I'm sure the wave of e-books will eventually wash over us, and the whole concept of book design will change forever (just as I've now come to accept that I don't need the CD cases or liner notes to enjoy the tunes...sigh), I'm going to be an old curmudgeon when it comes to paperbacks because I wish I could hang them on the wall like art and admire them that way. Maybe I will. Where's my razor? Time to slice those covers off...
You've got faves too, right? Maybe the more recent Picador trade paperbacks for Harrison and Black. Or the beautiful Europa Editions. Or the fast-becoming-a-player Busted Flush Press covers, better and better each time out. Tell me about it.
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