by Art Chantry:
this is a classic of paranoid right wing madness. in this book, dear sweet j. edgar hoover (the original g-man and cross-dressing sweetie) sets forth the evidence of a mad commie conspiracy to control our minds (and all that good stuff). it’s a great piece of propaganda vomited forth by a guy who actually REALLY WAS trying to control our minds (and all that good stuff). i always think it’s so funny that the paranoiacs and powermongers in our culture are always accusing the ‘other side’ of doing exactly what they are actually doing in spades. especially the right wingers. it would be silly if it wasn’t so dangerous.
anyway, this cover is a masterpiece of design mayhem. can you in your wildest dreams come up with a better more appropriate paranoid image for a book cover like this? forget beauty or subtlety or muse. i mean to say it’s beyond cassic – it’s DEFINITIVE. my parents had this thing on their book shelf throughout my growing up. i stared at it so often as a child that it took another family member to actually point out to me how completely crazy this image is. i just grew up assuming it as a normal piece of my environment – always been there, always will be. what’s to question?
ben feder is the design genius behind this original dust jacket design (later used as a paper back cover). feder is now obscure, but to anybody who looks at or collects old books, his signature is extremely familiar. feder did hundreds of dust jacket designs in the 50′/60′s. he didn’t do ‘illustrated covers’ or ‘typographic covers’ per se. he was a graphic designer, so he used typography and illustration (his own or the work of others). he also used geometric shapes, anonymous sources, color fields, existing type faces, calligraphy, classical sculpture – whatever he needed to get the point across. like i said, he was a designer. that means his entire career falls between the art world cracks.
of course, he is almost forgotten and obscure now. the art world controls the dictums of design history. and the art world is about the purity of authorship and image (at least in the modern era. wasn’t like that before, though). typography rates as ‘art’ so long as it’s treated as pure image (like an illustration). the assembled work of designers are therefore impure and mongrel, having been fabricated from many assumed voices. designers like feder have been forgotten, even though he may be one of the very very best book cover designers of the last half of the 20th century.
he’s hard to research him because there is no bio or monograph on him or his work. you have to shop around and accidentally trip across his pieces. one here, another there. maybe a few on a similar topic. he did dust jackets for book-of-the-month clubs as well as major publishers. he didn’t seem to work directly with authors, but with publishers as a free agent. so, his work isn’t even accumulated under specific writer’s names or specific publishing houses, either. he seemed to be freelance.
that said, his work is killer. absolutely pitch-perfect design thinking. depth, humor, beauty, fear, you name it, he can convey it in just exactly the right doses to get the book’s point across. you see, graphic design isn’t about making things “look nice”. if the project calls for something to be horrifying, you have to be able to do that too – in exactly the right amount. often it’s mixed in with other ingredients as well (political voice or even contrary subjects like love). graphic design is about language, not personal artistic muse. frankly, ‘fine’ artists are generally terrible graphic designers (but don’t say that out loud. they get all upset when you do.)
when graphic design history is written (as it is right now for the first time), the people writing it NEED to be good design thinkers in order to even understand the design they are looking at. unfortunately, since graphic design is mistakenly taught in “art ” departments in academia, we get art historians writing the history of graphic design. the result is, we lose the true master voices like ben feder. he should be there in our pantheon one step ahead of paul rand and one step behind herbert bayer.
try to explain why to a “fine” artist sometime. you’ll see the problem.