The first Penguin paperbacks appeared in the summer of 1935, revolutionizing the publishing industry and becoming an integral part of British culture and design history. The development of Penguin covers runs parallel to the emergence of graphic design as a profession, and, under a long line of talented and creative designers, the design of Penguin books has evolved and progressed. It is currently led by Art Directors Jim Stoddart and John Hamilton.
The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler
More than simply a mystery novel, and first published in 1939, The Big Sleep has become a classic of American literature, with Chandler praised for his deft handling of plot, as well as his terse style and acerbic wit. In 1946, a film adaptation of The Big Sleep was released, starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, two of the biggest movie stars of the day.
In his introduction to The Big Sleep Ian Rankin writes:
‘The Big Sleep opens with my favourite paragraph in all crime fiction and doesn’t let up until a wonderfully written coda. It was one of the first crime novels I ever read, and is still one of the best.
‘The Big Sleep is a story of sex, drugs, blackmail and high society narrated by a cynical tough guy, Philip Marlowe. As such, it provides the template for much of the urban crime fiction which came after, as well as most modern Hollywood thrillers. What sets it apart from the crowd, however, is the quality of the mind which conceived it. Chandler’s pulp credentials show in the twisting of the plot, yet it reads with the simple inevitability of classical tragedy: General Sternwood, the ailing millionaire who needs Marlowe’s help, is a king betrayed by his unruly daughters.
‘When the younger Sternwood daughter turns up naked in Marlowe’s apartment, he concentrates instead on a chess problem, concluding that “knights had no meaning in this game”. Marlowe, however, remains a knight of sorts – tarnished, to be sure, a knight errant. The work he does is dirty, but he maintains his own moral code. Marlowe encounters damsels in distress and plenty of monsters (usually in the guise of gangsters and corrupt authority figures). All of which shows just what a firm, literate grasp Chandler had of the genre within which he worked.
‘Chandler described the American crime novel as being “dark and full of blood” (as opposed to its “lithe and clever” English equivalent), and said of Marlowe: “I see him always in a lonely street, in lonely rooms, puzzled but never quite defeated.” When he died, one obituary stated that “in working the vein of crime fiction [Chandler] mined the gold of literature”. Few writers have come close to matching him.
‘The Big Sleep, however, is such fun to read you probably won’t notice how clever its author is being. Chandler remains the king of the one-liner. An example such as “He wore a blue uniform coat that fitted him the way a stall fits a horse” is both witty and full of subtle meaning, telling us much about the flunky’s disappointed life. By the time Marlowe, at the end of the book, describes the “bright gardens” outside the Sternwood mansion as having “a haunted look”, we realise that sunny and prosperous California is a tainted Eden, a place essentially dark and full of blood.
‘It’s a world which has had no finer chronicler than Raymond Chandler.’
The Big Sleep is a serious and significant mainstream novel that just happens to possess elements of mystery and crime. The story is well known both in celluloid and print so it is essential to come at it from a fresh angle. Try to design a new cover for a new generation of readers, avoiding the obvious clichés. Originality is key.
Audience: all readers both familiar and unfamiliar with the text, male and female.
Message: there are many layers and themes within the book. Read it and discover what the book means to you.
Your cover design needs to include all the cover copy as supplied and be designed to the specified design template (B format, 198mm high x 129mm wide, spine 16mm wide).
What the judges are looking for:
We are looking for a striking cover design that is well executed, has an imaginative concept and clearly places the book for its market. While all elements of the jacket need to work together as a cohesive whole, remember that the front cover must be effective on its own and be eye-catching within a crowded bookshop setting. It also needs to be able to work on screen for digital retailers such as Amazon.
The winning design will need to:
- have an imaginative concept and original interpretation of the brief
- be competently executed with strong use of typography
- appeal to a contemporary readership
- show a good understanding of the marketplace
- have a point of difference from the many other book covers it is competing against