One of our favorite book jacket designers, Peter Mendelsund (who is also the associate art director at Knopf and the art director proper of Pantheon), was recently charged with creating a series of cohesive covers for Schocken’s (part of Pantheon) backlist of Kafka books. Mendelsund, by his own account, has always wanted to design for Kafka, and his love of Mr. K’s works is evident in his meticulous artwork. The covers are playful and serious at once, able to convey all of Kafka’s strangeness, humor, and severity in seemingly simple designs. The new designs will begin appearing on paperbacks early this summer, so keep an eye on the backpacks of any thoughtful college students you know. Click through for our favorites and some of Mendelsund’s musings on the man.
Not only are Mendelsund’s covers beautiful and spot-on, but he writes thoughtfully and eloquently about Kafka’s place in our society and the effect that had on his design:
So, as you can see, I’ve gone with eyes here (not the first or last time I will use an eye as a device on a jacket-book covers are, after all, faces, both literally and figuratively, of the books they wrap). I find eyes, taken in the singular, create intimacy, and in the plural instill paranoia. This seemed a good combo for Kafka- who is so very adept at the portrayal of the individual, as well as the portrayal of the persecution of the individual. I also opted for color. It needs saying that Kafka’s books are, among other things, funny, sentimental, and in their own way, yea-saying. I am so weary of the serious Kafka, the pessimist Kafka. Kafkaesque has become synonymous with the machinations of anonymous bureaucracy- but, of course, Kafka was a satirist (ironist, exaggerator) of the bureaucratic, and not an organ of it. Because of this mischaracterization, Kafka’s books have a tendency to be jacketed in either black, or in some combination of colors I associate with socialist realism, constructivism, or fascism- i.e. black, beige and red. Part of the purpose of this project for me, was to let some of the sunlight back in. In any case, hopefully these colors, though bright, are not without tension.
They certainly are not. For more of Mendelsund’s Kafka covers and a lot more of his lovely writing and other projects, see his website. Which is your favorite? Let us know in the comments!