Who doesn’t love an animal logo? Allen Lane knew that, in 1935, when he published the first 10 Penguin books in London. The six pence paperbacks arrived in bookshops sporting the avian logo and no other graphics, just broad bands of color at the top and bottom. General fiction had orange bands; crime fiction, green; biography, dark blue. The uniform cover font was Gill Sans-Serif. With that simple design as backdrop, the little penguin stood out and helped define the brand in its fledgling years.
Last year Penguin celebrated its 75th birthday. To commemorate the occasion, the publishing house chose six books (recent popular titles, like The Broom of the System and Bridget Jones’s Diary) and commissioned tattoo artists to fashion new covers for them. Several more tatted books have appeared since in the Penguin Ink series, including Bruce Chatwin’s lyrical novel set in Wales, On the Black Hill. This is a clever way to “make it new,” but the jacket art itself sometimes falls short—one sheep on the Chatwin cover, for instance, has what appears to be a punched-in nose—and the inherent toughness of the traditional tattoo style doesn’t mesh with some books’ subjects. Still, in an age dominated by covers made on computers, it's refreshing to see ones that stress the physicality of making art with your hands.
This year Penguin has thought of another innovative—and beautiful—way to reissue paperbacks. This fall, the house will release a series called Penguin Threads: three classics with covers embroidered by the illustrator/cartoonist Jillian Tamaki, a regular for the New Yorker, New York Magazine, and many other publications. The colorful, whimsical covers of Emma, The Secret Garden, and Black Beauty will be sculpt-embossed so their texture will echo the originals. See the jackets on Tamaki’s sketchblog, along with a picture of her working on The Secret Garden. There is much to enjoy in these lush, detailed, energetic covers—the loose mane of Black Beauty, the “c” in “Secret” that looks like a magical dancing slice of grapefruit—but my favorite part in each is the little penguin himself. Tamaki has taken the time to embroider him nine times, thrice for each book (cover, back cover, and spine), along with the words “Penguin Threads.”