This month my design podcast The Poster Boys will pore over the history of Penguin book cover design. Every day this month on my Tumblr, I'll be posting a cover I love by one of the many great designers and art directors that contributed to the company's aesthetic history--- please follow along. 

Polish artist Romek Marber, after fleeing a Bochnia ghetto as a teenager, made his way to Britain, earned an education scholarship, then studied art at St. Martin's School of Art and the Royal College of Art before beginning his professional career designing covers of The Economist, among other editorial work.

Around 1961, after designing a few covers for Penguin Books, Marber pitched to the company's new art director Germano Facetti a winning re-brand for Penguin Books' Crime series (I am quite curious to see the other two designers' submissions). Based on the now-famous Marber Grid, these designs retained Penguin's signature brand reliability while moving a new modern aesthetic direction; Penguin's traditional Gil Sans type moved out of the way for a sans-serif Groestk face (note quite Helvetica, which came later) which, in the Crime series, was allowed to not even follow strict capitalization rules. With the branding, title, and author all situated handsomely atop the board, Marber left the remaining negative space for bold, abstract, psychological visual interpretations of the moody stories within.

Marber designed over 70 of these covers himself, and called up top British designers David Birdsall, John Sewell, Alan Fletcher, George Mayhew, Ursula Noerbel, and a dozen others to cover additional titles, none of which I've shown here as they deserve their own posts.

In a great example of Penguin's ongoing effort to brand certain authors within their overall brand, Marber hid a white cutout body on each Dorothy L. Sayers cover-- I love this.

I imagine that Penguin-- and their fans-- loved these covers as much then as we do today. No surprise, then, that Facetti wanted to try out Marber's solution in other series outside of Crime. In Fiction, where orange was Penguin's famous identifying color, Marber tried some illustrated Simenon covers, and after that it was a go. As it turned out, a two-color design looked just as great in blue or orange as it did in green.


The Marber grid stuck, first more strictly in the Pelican and Fiction series, and then only in spirit; When the formal lines of Marber's grid needed to have some flexibility, they moved, and when the Marber grid eventually went away, the Marber style and influence remained stronger than ever in Penguin's cover type and composition.

Marber's work under Facetti remains iconic as ever. Other folks have written about this period more eloquently than I have, and I encourage fans to check out Penguin by Design, and The Penguin Collector's Society's Penguin by Designers which transcribes one of Marber's recent talks (he was hired to create a new cover for Penguin's 70th birthday celebration). You'll find more designs in Postcards from Penguin, and with any luck we'll see more gallery shows devoted to Marber's great work.

P.S. You know how great a designer is when you see how many imitations crop up years later. I'm only issuing one coupon for Marber imitators, and it goes to the same guy who got my only coupon for Saul Bass (Anatomy of a Burger anyone?).... Olly Moss. It doesn't hurt that he made waves for this early on, seeming to have been the first to riff on Marber with a clever mash-up-- here of some classic video games. I remember being filled with ecstatic jealousy when I first saw these. But remember, he gets my only coupon!

Follow The Poster Boys on tumblr and subscribe on iTunes to make sure you don't miss our upcoming episode on Penguin. And until then, follow MY tumblr for daily Penguin covers all month long.

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