Barnbrook studio has designed the cover for Penguin’s new ‘restored edition’ of Anthony Burgess’s A Clockwork Orange. Here, Jonathan Barnbrook and art director Jim Stoddart explain the process behind approaching a book with such a formidable visual history…
That Burgess’s 1962 novel has had such a visual presence is in part due to Stanley Kubrick’s 1971 film version, where the director constructed a vibrant visual language for the author’s story. David Pelham’s book cover for A Clockwork Orange from 1972 then referenced that vocabularly and established a potent, cog-eyed symbol for the work in the process (Pelham’s cover is shown at the bottom of this post).
Penguin’s ‘restored edition’ includes Burgess’s original final chapter which was cut from US editions on publication (and is missed out of Kubrick’s version); a glossary of the ‘Nadsat’ slang used by the protagonist Alex and his ‘droogs’; and additional explanatory notes, author interviews and writing by Burgess and others that relates to the book.
In keeping with the focus on re-establishing the text, the cover began, says Penguin art director Jim Stoddart, as a typographic brief. And as the company already has the book on its Modern Classics list, the ‘restored text’ would require some subtle positioning. “The unique angle of this edition is really about the detail of the writing for real fans of the book,” Stoddart says, “and it felt like a lovely idea to use typography to celebrate these details of the text.”
As a typographer, Barnbrook claims he was drawn to the “layers of meaning in a book written entirely in a future language” and “how the definition of words change and are heavily influenced by the morals and fashions of the time.
“The first roughs we worked on were a typographic expression of the future language, but then this idea [above] emerged, I think because I had been working on the David Bowie cover. I was very aware of the almost spiritual power of simple abstract forms having been looking at a lot of abstract painters at the time like Malevich.”
Among the cover visuals Barnbrook had prepared was, Stoddart says, “this incredibly striking design with [a] large orange circle” which had no additional text. “It’s really important to gauge these first impressions emotionally, before your brain takes over to justify the really ‘smart’ ideas instead,” he says.
“The orange circle was so iconic, that with such a cover it becomes a book you just have to own. The book becomes an object inspired by the text, yet compounds the text into something physical – which is very powerful for a book like this; somehow otherworldly. I’ve always felt that David Pelham’s cover also achieved this extremely well. It was an emotional issue.”
David Pearson’s recent cover for George Orwell’s 1984 also worked in a similar way. “[Pearson’s cover] reached beyond the norm,” says Stoddart, “which is again very important to justify its existence when the Modern Classic edition is definitive. These kind of designs are little jewels in the mountains of ‘commercially’-led book designs that fill our shelves. It would be so easy to suppress these sparks of creativity as ridiculous anomalies, but of course that is what is so good about them.”
For Barnbrook, the famous Pelham cover also became something to react against. Both approaches are graphic and bold on colour, but Barnbrook’s is reductive in the extreme. “I was very aware of [Pelham’s cover] and I think every design ever since has been in relation to that,” says Barnbrook.
“So it felt like it should be something quite bold and uncompromising to stand up against it. I’m happy to say Penguin were very fully up for something radical. Fantastic though [the Pelham cover] is, if there is a problem with it it’s that it identifies too strongly with the film and, really, with a book cover, you need to give space for the imagination of the reader.”
In reducing the design to mere colour and shape (the circle is also embossed), Barnbrook’s cover uses two of the most dominant hues of the book. Originating in a Cockney phrase Burgess overheard in a pub, the book’s title, he wrote in the Listener in 1972 (reprinted in the new edition), referenced man as “a growth as organic as a fruit, capable of colour, fragrance and sweetness; to meddle with him, condition him, is to turn him into a mechanical creation.”
In this sense it’s Alex on the cover, hemmed in tightly by the white around him, perhaps a reference to the heady “milk-plus” drinks regularly enjoyed in the novel’s Korova Milk Bar. “It could be the glass of ‘moloko’ that Alex drinks,” says Barnbrook, “but it could also be a piece of 60s abstract art [in] one of the interiors of the houses that Alex breaks into; [or] the sun – energy and life – which Alex represents; the all-seeing eye of the government; or the eye of Alex, unblinking, forced to watch atrocities when being ‘treated’.”
Back cover text
The typeface used on the cover is Doctrine (Barnbrook’s latest release through its Virusfonts foundry), which also appeared on The Next Day sleeve. “It had exactly the right feeling, looking very modernist but actually based on the logo Air Koryo, the North Korean state airline,” says Barnbrook. “So it’s a faux corporate font with sinister undertones. It matches the feeling of the book very well.”
As with Pearson’s treatment of Orwell’s seminal novel, Penguin has struck out bravely with this pared-back design. “I love the cover that David did for 1984, [it’s] one of my favourite of all time,” says Barnbrook. “I think Penguin really are leading in terms of covers, so I knew they would take a chance. It was a very reductive process working on it and in a very similar way to the Bowie stuff; it was about as much as I could take away. I have to say, [it’s] the opposite of my working process when I was younger.”
“These editions have to be brave to justify their existence, but there is also something very Penguin about them,” says Stoddart. “These books are A-format – the size of original Penguins up until the 1980s – and there is something very Penguin in their design-led purity of concept, and simplicity of design. It all makes so much sense.”
Three Clockwork Orange covers, 1962 – 2007:
First edition Penguin (UK) cover by the Australian designer and illustrator, Barry Trengove, 1962. Photo: Francis Mariani
Penguin cover designed by David Pelham in 1972, produced to tie-in with the release of Kubrick’s film. Having been let down by an airbrush artist, Pelham “worked up an idea on tracing paper overnight, ordering front cover repro from the typesetter around 4am. I remember that my type mark-up was collected by a motorcycle messenger around about 5am. Later that morning, in the office, I drew the black line work you see here on a matt plastic acetate sheet, specifying colours to the separator on an overlay while the back cover repro was being pasted up by my loyal assistants…” (Penguin By Designers, 2007). Photo: John Keogh
Penguin Modern Classics cover from 2007