A New Birthday Suit for Bernard

Sean McDonald in conversation with Charlotte Strick and Jude Landry
Bernard Malamud Centenary

In April 2014, art director Charlotte Strick and typographer Jude Landry gave FSG’s Bernard Malamud library a sharp makeover on the occasion of Malamud’s centenary. Here we reveal the new, soon-to-be-classic covers for the first time, and Charlotte and Jude discuss the ins and outs of giving a new look to a true icon of twentieth-century American literature.

Sean McDonald: What’s it like to be assigned a project like redesigning the entire oeuvre of a great American writer, one who’s having his 100th birthday this month, who’s going into the Library of America as we speak? What’s your first step?

Charlotte Strick: One of the great thrills and responsibilities of being the art director of the paperback list at a publishing house like FSG is the opportunity to repackage important backlist titles. A decade or so ago I was a designer on staff when Lynn Buckley was charged with the very same task. It was an exciting process to witness, and the design community applauded her results. This April we’re celebrating Mr. Malamud’s 100th birthday, so last year our paperback director [Sean McDonald] approached me to give these same books a centennial face-lift. My first step was to look back at how they had been handled by different designers over the years.

Are there any particular Malamud covers from the past that you especially admire, even if they didn’t necessarily inspire your new treatment?

CS: The Natural has had some particularly memorable covers. I adore the 1963 UK edition, which had me on a different path for a little while when I was sketching out ideas. The 1960s Book Club version with the three-dimensional baseball flying through a solid blue sky is another favorite. The art and type are naive by today’s Photoshopping standards, and this lends it some memorable charm. Dell published a great illustrated cover (and back cover!) in 1953—I love the massive ballplayer taking time out to woo the fetching gypsy woman leaning against the stands.

Bernard Malamud's The Natural

But really, why is Robert Redford not on the cover of The Natural?
That’s crazy.

CS: Lots of us have special affection for the 1980 Avon Books movie tie-in edition of The Natural. And while it’s hard to deny the strength of Redford’s handsome mug, his dreamy good looks just didn’t gel with our new cover concept.

So if not the Sundance Kid, what in particular inspired this new look?

CS: I’ve been known to go weak-in-the-knees over masterly, mid-century book jackets, and there was something about two quirky, all-type covers—one for Dubin’s Lives (1979) and another even odder one for God’s Grace (1982) that got me thinking. My plan all along was to connect our nine books with a bold “logo-type” treatment for Mr. Malamud’s name. I approached Mississippi-based, illustrator/typographer Jude Landry to see if he’d be interested in building on the best letterforms of these two vintage jackets and better yet, if he was already a Malamud fan.

Mid-Century Malamud

Jude Landry: One day I received an email from Charlotte Strick about the project. Unfortunately, I was not aware of Bernard Malamud. I had heard of the movie The Natural, but I had never even seen it. But I couldn’t pass up an opportunity like this. I agreed to do it and I’m so glad that I did. Charlotte and I exchanged dozens of emails before any work was even started. We discussed the project at length and she was a great art director. I’m very proud of the covers we created.

How did you find this Jude Landry?

CS: Jude had been named a “Young Gun” by the Art Director’s Club a few years ago, and that’s how I first came to see his work. His website suggested a love of vintage typography and the skill to draw a new Malamud alphabet for us. I asked him what he felt about tackling all nine of these classics all at once . . .

JL: I was excited to design the nine covers all at the same time. I knew that it would produce a beautifully cohesive set. It wasn’t too intimidating because I knew they would be type-based covers. It would have been much more difficult if each cover had required its own illustration.

Malamud's The AssistantCS: Can you discuss how you came up with the alphabet that you used to make these covers and also what challenges certain tiles and letterforms presented?

JL: We wanted to pay tribute to the type treatments found on the earlier covers for God’s Grace, Dubin’s Lives, and also a particularly handsome edition of The Assistant. Through all of my research I never did discover who created the type on those covers or if it was ever made into a working font. I began by drawing my own version of the letterforms, keeping the elements I liked and discarding the ones that I didn’t. It came together fairly quickly, but I think that was because we spent so long discussing and sketching before the final artwork was started. This is a true collaboration between Charlotte and me.

Have you done any other classic reissues where you’ve taken a similar approach?

CS: Last year we re-packaged ten Philip Roth backlist titles. I had just designed Claudia Pierpont Roth’s biography of Mr. Roth, and for that jacket I nodded affectionately at the exaggerated swash-letterforms found on the all-type, FSG first-edition Roth titles. I decided to carry this look through to the ebooks, marrying gutsy, black type and playful gradients. It’s easy for me to be seduced by this brand of vintage typography. It just flirts with you! I had to edit myself over and over to not go overboard with all of the possible glyph connections between the letters. Jude’s custom, swash-y Malamud letterforms beckon similarly. It was important for us not to lose our heads! The type connections needed to be seductive while remaining readable and well-balanced. I especially love the swash-cap Ls on our new Dubin’s Lives and A New Life covers.

Repackaged Roth

Charlotte, you have an interesting personal history with typography via your father Louis Strick’s involvement in New York publishing. Do you feel like that influences your work, especially on these sorts of projects?

CS: When I was a kid, my dad was both a book publisher and also an owner of the artist’s material trade company that sold fine-quality paint, pens, ink, papers, and calligraphy materials. He had a strong appreciation for both the written and the inked word. In 1963 (the same year that Farrar, Straus and Cudahy published Malamud’s story collection Idiots First) my father hired Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast at the venerable Push Pin Studios to create a logo for Artone Ink. They name my dad as the “Art Director” of the project in their 1969 book, which really tickles me. From that full-figured, lowercase Artone “a,” an iconic alphabet was born. So perhaps you could say that my appreciation for “shapely” vintage type was borne out of this collaboration between some truly great minds. My dad, who was Jewish, the son of immigrants, and “a Brooklyn boy” born and raised, was a Malamud fan from way back. He died last May, at the age of 87, and so spending this past year, immersed in these writings which are so clearly defined by the immigrant experience and the Jewish tradition, was particularly poignant for me.

Malamud Type

Are there any key differences between designing covers for classics and designing covers for new releases?

CS: Well, really, it’s just a different kind of intimidation! With classics you want to live up to readers’ long held expectations and with new releases it’s all about creating a cover that’s worthy of becoming, well, “a new classic.”

In March 2014—while working on this very piece—Charlotte Strick left FSG after fourteen years as a designer-turned-Art Director. She is partnering with Claire Williams Martinez, a former cover designer at Vintage Books, in an as-yet-unnamed design studio. In just a few weeks’ work, they’ve created environmental graphics for Weese Langley Weese, a prominent architecture firm in Chicago; they’re beginning work on the branding for Acme Hall Studios, a music school for both adults and children in Park Slope, Brooklyn; they will oversee the design and layout of The Paris Review (where Charlotte will continue her work as the Art Editor); and they will be designing several FSG titles on the Spring 2015 list.

Jude Landry is a graphic designer specializing in illustration and lettering. Born in the swamps of Louisiana, he currently lives in Denton, Texas where he teaches communication design at the University of North Texas. Jude also enjoys creating silkscreened art prints and t-shirts which he sells online and at art festivals.

Sean McDonald is Publisher of FSG Originals and Executive Editor and Director of Digital and Paperback Publishing at FSG.