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May 21, 2012

How to design an Australian Classic

W H Chong — Culture Mulcher

W H Chong

Culture Mulcher

Rightho — this is something I should have done a couple of weeks back. It’s a heads up for a (free) talk I’m giving on book cover design, specifically on the Text Classics series, Australian classics, rather than from o/s. You can see the thirty covers here, and hopefully you’ll have seen them (yellow: Aussie Gold!) at your local bookshop.

You may have seen articles popping up in the Sunday Age or the SMH or the Australian, or a live discussion, just last weekend, at the Sydney Writers Festival — a debate about what is an Australian Classic, why we need them and have lost them (a riposte from Ken Gelder of Melb Uni), and why universities teach/do not teach them anymore.

I’m giving the talk at the Wheeler Centre in Melbourne on Thursday May 31 at 6:15–7:15pm — it’ll be a highly illustrated show (pdf designed slides, NOT powerpoint) and I’ll be musing about how to compress an entire and dazzlingly complex text, like Tom Keneally’s Bring Larks and Heroes, into a single image.

Or my own favourite discovery, Elizabeth Harrower’s demanding and brilliant novel of Sydney in the ’50s, The Watch Tower — it’s deep and rich in psychology and feeling and I was pulling my hair out over the cover, the book was set so much about in the mind and heart — the soul, really. As it turned out, the author — she’s 84 now — inscribed in my copy, ‘I really love this cover,’ and it is currently the best-selling title in the series. (Harrower interviewed by Gay Alcorn here. The introduction by Joan London — each has a different contemporary introducer — is spot on with my own reading.)

Each cover has a story — well, that’s the point innit? (None of that lazy Penguin style orange stripes and sans serif type, eh?) So if you’re curious about how a visual artist might interpret a textual classic, how imagination translates words into images, do come along. I promise as many pictures as paragraphs, so it won’t be draggy.

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PS: Was up at the Sydney Writer’s festival the last few days so I’ll write about the Archibald Prize and Christian Marclay’s amazing 24-hour move, The Clock, shortly . . . And by the by, just for the sake of design cred, I’ll mention that I picked up a couple of awards up there at the 60th Book Design Awards, see here.

PPS: That excellent bookshop in Leichardt, Shearer’s, conducted an interview with me on the topic — it’s on their blog here. There were a few mistranscriptions so I end up saying a couple of curious things like: “And Jessica Anderson’s The Commandant is like reading Jane Austen with wit.” Ah, no. I actually said: it’s like Jane Austen with whips. See picture above!

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