BOOKS | 1984 by George Orwell :: Cover Art Comments
With recent posts about Privacy Protection Day and the Mac’s 25th birthday (and that thing with Amazon and 1984 in 2009), I’ve been thinking a lot about George Orwell lately.
This collection of Nineteen Eighty-Four (or is it 1984?) covers shows how difficult this novel’s subject matter is to present in visual terms. I mean, how many “all- seeing- eyes” can graphic designers rely on?
There are a lot of other covers floating out there and lots of eyeballs; they don’t even merit a comment. Below, however, are my reflections on some of the more interesting covers that have been produced since the novel’s début in 1949.
If you’ve seen a great Nineteen Eight-Four cover that I’ve missed, please let me know.
My first choice for great cover is not actually a cover. But it should be. I think this minimalist look is very zeitgeist-y. Just add the author’s name and presto! Who needs images? This cool work is a very simple and extremely effective rendering of the title and one of the novel’s themes, Newspeak:
‘Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten. Already, in the Eleventh Edition, we’re not far from that point.’
– George Orwell, 1984
THE FIRST BRITISH EDITION, 1949
This first edition’s cover art copyright is believed to belong to Secker and Warburg. I like that classic mid-century hand writing look, plus the “just-there” serif background. Is it 1984 or Nineteen Eighty-Four? Perhaps the original edition sowed the seeds of confusion.
THE FIRST AMERICAN EDITION, 1949
Published by Harcourt, Brace and Company (New York) in June 1949 in an edition of 10,000, a “Book of the Month Club” edition sold 190,000 copies by March 1952. A rather wimpy design by all accounts, although the “torn edge” around the title represents another key theme, censorship.
SIGNET BOOKS “COMPLETE AND UNABRIDGED” EDITION, 1955
“A Startling View of Life in 1984: Forbidden Love! … Fear! … Betrayal!” Need we say more? The “sexed up” Orwell: a provocative Julia, a Black Big Brother (in the background) and … who’s the S&M dude? The illustrator of this one should have just thrown in the rats for extra effect.
BARCELONA: EDICIONES DESTINO, 1997
(I wrote too soon: further research reveals that the Spanish have tapped into the rat thing. Talk about spoiler alerts!)
SIGNET BOOKS, 1961
telegraph.co.uk “100 BEST BOOKS: THE PERFECT LIBRARY”
The Telegraph’s one-sentence summary: “1984: chilling, wry and romantic, Orwell’s novel is a passionate cry for freedom.” I like that little “Winston-on-the-lam” silhouette in the bottom corner.
HARCOURT BRACE INTERNATIONAL, 1977
I find this one’s reliance on typography interesting and the eye, well, obvious. The typeface reminds me more of The Great Gatsby’s era than the future. Speaking of the future, where’s the future in any of these designs?
The Penguin edition I remember reading; first published in 1978 and still around. Although very strong graphically speaking, this particular image strikes no chord in me; it seems to belong to another novel.
PENGUIN MODERN CLASSICS
Nice! Who called in Léger?
SIGNET CLASSICS, 1985
This one’s nice, although more reflective of the 1970s than the year after 1984. It has that ’70s typeface look to it and reminds me of the graphics designed to promote Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange” (1971).
SIGNET CLASSIC MASS MARKET PB, 1990s
Nice and clean. An intriguing image. Too bad the publisher’s grotesque logo ruins it all.
PLUME “CENTENNIAL EDITION,” 2003
This paperback recycles the original American design and adds a new foreword by Thomas Pynchon and an afterword from Eric Fromm. I think it actually looks better than the original; the top and bottom black bands strengthen the cover’s look.
PENGUIN CLASSICS, 2003
Yet another eyeball. This one looks feminine though; perhaps it’s Julia’s. I like the clean lines of this cover and how the circles echo the eyeball’s lines. The black penguin is also a nice change from the typical orange one. The art director here has made a great attempt to modernize the look of the novel and this is arguably one of the finer efforts in recent years.
PENGUIN MODERN CLASSICS, 2004
Not bad. A lot of emphasis on the author’s name, perhaps at the expense of the title. If you look closely, you can spot the famous quotes in faint writing. How many eyes can you spot? I count seven.
PENGUIN READERS SIMPLIFIED TEXT, 2008
I like this one. Eighteen eyes are better than one, and the telescreen idea works for me. I especially like that one eyeball staring down on Winston’s silhouette. Nice!
SHEPARD FAIREY, 2009
Part of a Shepard Fairey print set originally released in the UK by Penguin Books UK as part of a special promotion for the re-release of Animal Farm and 1984, 31 December 2009. You probably know Fairey for his Obama poster. His 1984 is a little too “carnivale” for my taste, though his eye is better than most.
60th ANNIVERSARY EDITION DESIGNED BY JASON JOHNSON, 2009
I miss Joseph Sullivan and his THE BOOK DESIGN REVIEW blog (he recently went on hiatus). Here’s his take on this edition’s look:
… recycles a design first used in 1983, which is notable because it’s one of the few covers I’ve ever seen for 1984 that doesn’t bring to mind any one of the following words or phrases:
SLOVAKIAN EDITION, 2009
The first of two international editions in my collection of covers, this one rings “true” as being an image from an artist from a formerly “totalitarian” state. The contrast between colours is striking and the woodblock print effect, effective.
INDONESIAN EDITION, 2003 ?
I came across this edition whilst surfing for 1984 covers — it jumped out at me. I’d like to know the art director’s name. This cover’s stark simplicity distinguishes it in this set. The barcode thing has been done before, but it makes sense here. The vivid colours contrast superbly and the type is just right for this book. Robin Malau (whose blog this image comes from — thanks, Robin!) doesn’t much care for this cover and prefers the Fairey edition. I’m not so sure. I like simplicity and as I said, Fairey’s cover doesn’t strike me as appropriate to Orwell’s subject matter.
1984. Illustration by Lauren Rae Westendorf
A superb rendering of some of Orwell’s key concepts. The interplay between shadow and light and Westendorf’s choice of colour is also striking. If I were an art director at a major publisher, I’d snatch this one up for the next edition. Click here for a better look.
Edmund O’Brien in Michael Anderson’s 1956 vision of 1984
BBC Television’s 1954 live production of George Orwell’s 1984.
Click the screenshot above to watch the entire film.
1984 – NOT AN INSTRUCTION MANUAL DESKTOP WALLPAPER
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- 2010/01/31 / 12:11
- 100 Best Books: The Perfect Library, 1970s, 1984, A Clockwork Orange, Apple 1984 commercial, Big Brother, book covers, books in Slovakian, Eric Arthur Blair, first editions, George Orwell, Joseph Sullivan, Lauren Rae Westendorf, Newspeak, Nineteen Eighty-Four, Shepard Fairey, Stanley Kubrick, The Book Design Review, The Telegraph books, Totalitarianism, Winston Smith