Italo Calvino gets the illustration treatment in new Vintage series

Illustrator Thomas Hayman was commissioned to reimagine some of the Italian author’s best-known works to celebrate what would’ve been his 100th birthday

Italo Calvino was an Italian journalist and novelist whose whimsical and imaginative stories made him one of the most significant literary voices of the 20th century.

Calvino, who died in 1985, has since had his extensive body of work visualised by a number of notable designers and artists, including the Brothers Quay’s surrealist spot imagery for Picador’s 80s editions and Peter Mendelsund and Oliver Munday’s interpretation in 2014.

To mark the 100th anniversary of the writer’s birth, cover designer Jack Smyth reimagined a total of 32 of his covers for Italian publisher Mondadori earlier this year.

Now it’s the turn of Vintage Classics, which is reissuing seven of Calvino’s best-known works with a new look and feel. “This red spine series aims to create a refreshing exploration into these much-loved narratives with a contemporary twist on Calvino’s storytelling,” the publisher’s design team tells CR.

The brief was to appeal to a broader readership, introducing them to well-known titles which bear strong relevance to modern day life. “When working with established novels it is important to utilise existing styles associated with classic literature, but also to challenge what the reader expects to see,” they explain.

“Our approach was to be playful and push the boundaries of what defines fiction book covers. We wanted to revitalise the stories, exploring multiple avenues before refining and focusing the design language itself.”

After collating a large selection of potential illustrators for the project, the design team landed on Paris-based artist Thomas Hayman, whose clever artwork illusions manage to feel both familiar and nostalgic.

“The level of detail in his work has a compelling intricacy which plays with the ideas of proportion and colour, whilst twisting unexpected everyday scenarios – this pairs brilliantly with the surrealist nature of the stories,” the team says. “Thomas considered the concepts behind the illustrative work which really taps into that sense of thought-provoking imagination.”

The rest of the design is tied together using block sans-serif type across the titles, while exploring the individuality of each storyline through distinct variations in colour palette. “The consistency of type really allows the illustrations to be a focal point of the cover, defining each book through image,” says the design team.

Asked about the challenges that come with designing for an author who has been jacketed and rejacketed many times in many languages, they add: “There is an unlimited amount of design decisions when rejacketing a book that has been published several times before.

“It gives the book a new lease of life and allows us to commission a wide and varied selection of illustration, photography, printmaking etc. To find an image that encompasses the story best, in a stunning and original way.”

Italo Calvino’s works are published by Vintage Classics;