The evocative aesthetic of the Penguin paperback is one of the great design stories of publishing. Not content with creating a distinct graphic identity that has endured over seven decades, Penguin is also one of the most forward-thinking commissioning bodies, responsible for a vast body of innovative and epoch-defining illustration.
As the purely typographic covers were slowly superseded in the mid 1950s, the small canvas of the Penguin book become a showcase for British illustration design, with the 'golden era' of the 1960s and 1970s regularly referenced by art directors and pop cultural archivists.
Mass market book design is no longer a reliable source of excellence, but as the Penguin Collectors Society's new monograph, Penguin by Illustrators, ably demonstrates, with a modicum of care and attention, the giddy heights of the past can easily be emulated, if not surpassed. Steve Hare has brought together a portfolio of covers, old and new, together with presentations by some of the best-known names associated with modern book illustration, including David Gentleman, Dennis Bailey, Romek Marber and Quentin Blake. The book features many classics and also charts the recent revival in illustration-led publishing, with work by Phil Hale, Victoria Sawdon and Coralie Bickford-Smith demonstrating the paperback's ongoing role as a place for artistic expression.
In other Penguin-related news, to mark their 75th anniversary this year, the publisher has released a box of 100 postcards, each featuring a different, iconic Penguin cover.