Monday, May 20, 2013

Dust Jacket Designer Philip Grushkin From Comps To Final

by Stephen J. Gertz

Philip Grushkin working in his Englewood, NJ home studio, c.1950s.

A major archive of renowned dust jacket designer, Philip Grushkin, "whose work made him the standard-bearer throughout the publishing industry," (NY Times obit) is coming to market courtesy of Glenn Horowitz Bookseller. Booktryst got a sneak preview of its catalog, yet another key reference and collectible work as we've come to expect from the NYC-based super dealer.

Philip Grushkin was born in Brooklyn, NYC, in 1921, the son of Russian Jewish immigrants. He became interested in book dust jacket design as a teen and began collecting them, those of George Salter (1897-1967), the preeminent American dust jacket designer 1935-1965, his primary interest. He attended Cooper Union college as an art student, studying calligraphy and lettering with Salter, who became his mentor. He graduated in 1941.

After the war, he began to free-lance as a jacket designer, working for virtually all of the major New York publishers of the time: Alfred A. Knopf; Random House; Harper and Brothers; Harcourt, Brace and Company; Macmillan; and Doubleday; as well as smaller houses such as Farrar Strauss, John Day, and Crown. He became one of the go-to designers at Knopf because the great book and typeface designer W.A. Dwiggins declined to do dust jackets. Grushkin became part of a select group of dust jacket designers that included Salter, Charles Skaggs, and, on occasion, E. McKnight Kauffer, Herbert Bayer, Paul Rand, and Alvin Lustig.

In 1947 he joined the the fledgling Book Jacket Designers Guild established by Sol Immermann (1907–1983), who, with H. Lawrence Hoffman, produced the jackets for the first one hundred titles published by The Popular Library. The BJDG established a code for dust jacket design, rejecting the poster style in vogue for pulp novels in favor of a descriptive, non-blaring style. Its manifesto, embraced by Grushkin, rejected:

• "The stunt jacket that screams for your attention, and then dares you to guess what the book is about."

• "The jacket that is born of the assumption that if the book has a heroine, or if the author is a woman, or the author's mother a female, the jacket must say SEX."

• "Burlap backgrounds, the airbrush doilies and similar clichés as well as the all too many good illustrations that were stretched, squeezed, tortured and mutilated to fit a jacket format with just enough room left for an unrelated title."


Grushkin's hallmark, like Salter's, was his creative use of calligraphy and lettering in concert with a lightly drawn illustration. His early work tends to mimic Salter's but in the late 194os his own personal style began to emerge, with an emphasis on lettering and calligraphy often to the exclusion of illustration altogether. Perhaps his most recognizable and typical dust jacket from that period is that for Simone De Bouvier's The Second Sex (1953).

If you are unfamiliar with Grushkin his deceptively simple yet visually aggressive pictorial style is distinctive; once you see a Grushkin book jacket you will begin to see them all over the place on books published during the late 1940s - early 1960s.

"Grushkin forged his own brand of modernism, one that owed nothing to the work of Lustig, Rand, or Herbert Bayer, inventing a unique mixture of bold typographic hand lettering, dynamic background patterns, vibrant colors, and abstract symbolism. By the end of the 1950s, Grushkin’s style was distilled to the point where it resembled Paul Bacon’s 'Big Book Look,' with hand lettering - instead of calligraphy - taking center stage, augmented only by a tonally variegated background" (Paul Shaw, Philip Grushkin: a Designer's Archive, catalog to the collection).

Below, a few examples of Grushkin's work in development, from first comp to final jacket.

The Other Side of the Record (1947):

First comp.
Second comp.
Third comp.
Fourth comp.
Fifth comp.

The Train From Pittsburgh (1948):

First comp.
Second comp.
Third comp.
Fourth comp.
Fourth comp, side notes.

The fourth comp of Train..., unusually, has notations, not just by Grushkin, but also by "J" at Knopf (likely production manager Sidney Jacobs). Grushkin’s notes refer to the colors he plans to use - blue, red, and yellow - with a reminder that the jacket will be offset printed. The notation by “J” approves the design but suggests substituting the calligraphic lettering of Julian Farren's name to a clean, serif'ed typeface.

Fifth and final.
Mechanical - Shards of Glass.

Mechanical - Lettering.

Helix (1947):

Partial comp.

In what was, apparently, the first (and partial) comp for David Loughlin's novel, Helix (1947), Grushkin employs a blue background, a single swirling spiral, and title lettering running upward on a diagonal from left to right.

First complete comp.

In the above, the first complete comp for the Helix DJ, Grushkin loses the blue background and substitutes red, has the title lettering on a downward diagonal from left to right, acutely triangulates the author and title, features a series of smudgy, overlapping spirals, and adds a tiny ship moving along a black plane.

Second complete comp.

Grushkin's second complete comp for Helix refined his design in the first comp, downplaying the swirling spirals,  deleting the ship's black path, and adding black "gears," elements that made it to the final published dust jacket.


Grushkin's final design for Helix cleans up, clarifies, and polishes the second comp.

Limbo mechanical.

The lettering mechanical for an early comp of Grushkin's DJ for Bernard Wolfe's classic science-fiction novel, Limbo (1952) bears a different subtitle than the final. "A Voyage of Discovery and Adventure in the Fantastic World of 1990" must have seemed a tantalizing teaser in 1952. The teaser to the final certainly hammers it home: "A diabolic tale - mad, merry and monstrous - of men and women caught in the vortex of history yet to happen! Check out that mad, merry, and monstrous year, 1990, more frightening that Wolfe could ever have imagined:

• Manuel Noriega surrendered to U.S. forces after acting as dictator of Panama for five years.

• Notorious Gambino crime family leader John "the Dapper Don" Gotti was arrested and charged with racketeering, murder, and various and sundry illegal activities.

• Marion Barry, the flamboyant mayor of Washington D.C., was arrested for possession of crack cocaine in an F.B.I. sting set up in a D.C. hotel room.

• British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher resigned. 

• The first McDonald's restaurant opened in Moscow, becoming for many a symbol of the nation's new progressive free market ideology.

• The World Wide Web was created, along with the first ever web page and web browser.

• Time Inc and Warner Communications, two of the largest media companies in the world merged to create giant Time Warner.

That's some vortex. We're lucky to have made it through 1990 alive.

The Grushkin archive consists of his book jackets (with related comps, roughs and mechanicals); binders of his cover designs for Mercury Publications; letterhead and logo designs; related ephemera; and a collection of book jackets by George Salter: over 2,000 total items in all, 150 of which are highlighted in the catalog, with the largest and most important portion being the dust jackets by Grushkin.

"'His life was literally books,' said his son, Paul, noting that some 10,000 volumes lined the walls of the Grushkins' home.

"Yet, he was an invisible presence, his work evident only to a book's author, the publisher's editorial and design staff, the printer and the bindery" (Times obit).

"My Dad was also a book designer. He handled in his lifetime close to 1500 books, for many publishers, but most for Harry N. Abrams, the worldwide leader in artbooks. He told me a book design is successful when it's invisible, meaning the reader never has to labor to overcome the designer. In a good book design, the grid and typographic elements illuminate the author's concept along with the book's contents. Nothing jars that reader from experiencing the book - nothing in the design is so boastful that it's the designer who's calling out, before anything else, 'look at MY cleverness'" (Paul Grushkin). 

Book lovers, special collections librarians, and aficionados and collectors of dust jackets will be fortunate to score a copy of the Grushkin Archive catalog, luckier still to acquire the archive itself. While it's not unusual to track a writer's progress through their archive, it isn't often that we have an opportunity to see a dust jacket designer in the midst of their process from conception to completion.

All images reproduced with the express permission of Glenn Horowitz Bookseller, with our thanks.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email