Oldcastle Books and illustrator David Mann have released a series of pulp fiction re-workings of classic novels, including Wuthering Heights, Robinson Crusoe and Pride and Prejudice.
Oldcastle’s Pulp! The Classics imprint was launched in January this year, with a re-designed Pride & Prejudice cover starring a smoking Colin Firth lookalike and the tagline ‘Lock up your daughters…Darcy’s in town!’ (above and below).
The UK publisher has since released pulped versions of Robinson Crusoe, Wuthering Heights, The Hound of the Baskervilles, The Great Gatsby and The Picture of Dorian Gray, which features the face of actor Ryan Gosling. “I was asked to include him by my handlers for commercial viability reasons, but I’ve no idea who he is,” says Mann.
According to marketing manager Alexandra Bolton, Oldcastle’s pulp imprint is designed to appeal to audiences who might perceive texts by Austen and Hardy as stuffy “whilst appealing to existing fans of classic novels and avoid debasing the actual text.” Each book has been redesigned and reset by Elsa Mathern but uses the original unabridged copy.
“The MD and founder of Oldcastle Books, Ion Mills, mentioned in a meeting that he thought it would be great to do pulp versions of the classics. Everyone was immediately enthusiastic about this, but wanted to avoid denigrating great literature.”
“Cheap, lurid pulp novels of the 1950s are part of crime fiction heritage, and as Oldcastle Books has an existing crime fiction imprint, No Exit Press, that has been around for nearly 26 years, we talked about how we could integrate pulp into what we were doing. Straight From The Fridge, Dad by Max Decharne used a lot of pulp images, so the genesis of the idea has been around for a while,” she adds.
Mann was asked to work on the novels by Mills after sending his portfolio to Bolton, and it’s been a collaborative process with help from editorial assistant Bernie Whittle.
“I thought the idea was great, in that there was potentially lots of fun to be had humourwise. I’ve also long admired pulp covers, some are terrific in terms of the standard of illustration (or commercial art if you prefer) on display,” he says.
For each text, Mann creates photo collages in Photoshop and projects them onto the wall of his studio, before painting them using acrylic on paper. “I aim to produce the cover in a single painting, but sometimes it’s just more practical to paint elements separately then assemble them digitally,” he explains.
Mann’s covers are littered with pop culture references – Tess of the D’urbevilles is a Marilyn Monroe-esque pin-up and A Christmas Carol is fronted by a character who looks like a cross between Alastair Sim and the child catcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.
The blurbs, while getting across the key premise of each novel, also poke a little fun at it: Hound of the Baskervilles is summed up as “A desolate moor, a diabolical dog in need of a muzzle, and some inbred locals”.. while Robinson Crusoe promises “Cannibals! Captives! Coconuts!”
“I also have little private jokes, such as pairing Lord Byron’s with Humphrey Bogart’s head for Heathcliffe,” adds Mann.
It’s a silly idea but a fun one, and a memorable take on some of literature’s most celebrated texts, whatever your thoughts on pulp fiction. Oldcastle has also set up a Pulp! The Tagline game, allowing readers to create their own text for each of the novels released, which you can play at pulptheclassics.com
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The July issue of Creative Review is a type special, with features on the Hamilton Wood Type Museum, the new Whitney identity and the resurgence of type-only design. Plus the Logo Lounge Trend Report, how Ideas Foundation is encouraging diversity in advertising and more