Can you judge a book by its cover? Yes, say Frank and Eve Metz. And not only by its cover, but by its back, its boards, its title page, its contents page, its chapter openings, its typographical design. So much work goes into the physical aspect of a book -- the art and display of it -- that it is safe to say that a reader is getting as many messages from the artifact as from the themes inside.
For 45 years, Frank and Eve supervised the packaging of all books issued by a major American publisher, Simon & Schuster. Promoted to art director of S&S just as Madison Avenue's ad agencies began to flourish, Frank defined the face of the book, giving each an unmistakable advertising imprint; as S&S's director of design, Eve put her gentle stamp on each publication's interior. It is safe to say that no marriage has had such a visible influence on the industry as this one. Frank is Philadelphia-born, ad-savvy, a painter by avocation, whose canvases recall summers in Maine or the island of Mull. Eve is a native of Vienna, Austria; her family escaped that city two years after Hitler's army overcame it -- on the last boat from Trieste to America. The two met on a blind date in 1947. In time, they married and had two children. Now in retirement, they recall their careers for Book World.
BW: How did your lives in publishing begin?
Eve: When I was a child in Vienna, my father had a factory that did lithographs from large flat soap stones. I often went to his shop, which was just down the street from our elegant 19th-century apartment house. I would watch him work and smell the ink. It was then, I think, that my future was written.
Years later, as a young woman living and working in New York, I fell into books accidentally, having been trained as a fashion designer and illustrator. Fortunately, my training had included the study of lettering and type design. I was between jobs in 1951 when someone at Simon & Schuster asked me whether I would be interested in revising and updating a book about art. I was delighted with that idea and so started my career.
Frank: I came to work at S&S in 1950. I had studied art at the Philadelphia Museum School, which excelled in preparing students for careers in advertising. I also harbored hopes of becoming a painter, so I came to New York looking to find a job that would combine both things: a painter's sensibility with a career in the new world of advertising art. After a year learning about layout and general design principles as an apprentice to Robert Maguire, who had been art director of B. Altman, the department store, I was fortunate to find a job at Sandpiper Press, the juvenile division of S&S. I was 25 years old. My job was as assistant to the production manager: I designed covers for children's record albums. After four years, I became the art director of that group. In late 1957, after seven years overseeing design at Sandpiper, I was approached by S&S production manager Helen Barrow, who asked whether I would be interested in being art director of the adult division. S&S was an established American publisher and had a strong reputation for successful books. I jumped at the chance.
BW: What was the state of book jacket design at the time?
Frank: Well, from the perspective of someone coming from advertising, I can certainly say this: Books didn't know how to sell themselves. Book jacket design was not emphasized in most art schools, and it was not a priority in book publishing. In those days, the term for a cover was "dust jacket." Indeed, that was all a jacket was meant to do: protect a book on the shelf. The covers produced by most American publishers, including S&S, were lacking in graphic design, incapable of generating excitement. Colors were drab. Any attention to typography was governed by editors and devoid of artistic input. Many book collectors simply threw jackets away or tucked them inside the book.
I wanted to rise to the challenge, bring my ideas to the forefront. There was a revolution going on in paperbacks. Paperbacks had been produced in Europe since the 1800s, but in 1940 a race was on to beat the established prices. An American, Robert Fair de Graff, revolutionized the industry: He began publishing books on pulp paper, printing them in enormous quantities, and selling them for a record 38 cents. The result was an S&S imprint called Pocket Books. It was a huge marketing success, and other publishers began scrambling after, encouraged by stores like Macy's and Woolworth's and Marshall Field. Paperback covers were fresh, eyecatching, innovative. I spent endless lunch hours trolling the stores, seeing who was doing what. In New York we were blessed with many independent bookstores, with wonderful owners and knowledgeable salespeople, who loved talking about books and knew who was breaking the mold.
I made lists of designers who used color and inventive typography to make a book stand out. There were other exciting changes: improved color capabilities of the printing presses. And young and brilliant designers were emerging from art schools -- Cooper Union, the Yale School of Art and Design and the Philadelphia Museum School. I received help and encouragement from people like Robert Gottlieb, who was S&S's associate publisher at the time, and Nina Bourne, our genius advertising director. Later, Michael Korda joined our ranks and became a lifelong friend. I've never worked with another book editor who had Michael's visual sense or his imagination to think outside the box. It seemed everyone in those days was working at a fever pitch to change things.
I had it in mind to do many things. I felt that a designer could -- with type, symbolism, illustrations and photography -- produce effective and evocative designs that captured a book's spirit. I thought the difference in genres -- mysteries, literary fiction, blockbuster fiction, history -- meant we had to seek different solutions. I felt there were ways to make each product leap from the shelf into the mind's eye of a potential reader. In this day of hype and media overkill it may be hard to imagine, but there had been little work done in this area. The emerging advertising market was only just beginning to make its mark on hardcover books. In 1960, S&S published The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, and it became a threshold of sorts. It created a sensation. It was a startling jacket for a serious history -- a bold swastika on a field of black, with monumental type: a sober treatment that had a bracing, mass market feel. Piled in the windows of Brentano's and Scribners, the book was a crowd stopper.
BW: And how about the state of design in general?
Eve: As Frank says, there was a world to be made in the field of book jackets, but there had been a long tradition in interior book design. Book design was always considered important in Europe. In America, a few publishers like Knopf had strong design sensibilities and worked hard to maintain an image of classic design. But most of what was beautiful both in Europe and America in the early part of the 20th century was expensive, set in gravure and made for wealthy collectors. I wanted to do new things but retain a sense of that old-fashioned elegance. But even by the 1950s, designers in the big houses didn't pay much attention to what a book was about, and so, naturally, each looked like the one before. Everything changed in the 1960s with artists like Marshall Lee, who revolutionized the field (his Bookmaking became a bible of sorts); or Alvin Lustig, who was one of the most influential graphic and industrial designers in the vanguard of change; or Paul Rand, a leading designer who not only produced memorable logos but good books that became benchmarks for the profession. There were many reasons to be inspired. But remember, what Frank and I were designing were affordable trade books for the ordinary reader. So we looked about for artists who were alert to these changes and able to translate them to our books.
Making a book includes everything from the choice of paper to color of ink (the text might be printed in brown or green type -- a cookbook, for instance, or one about nature) to the size and style of type. All these considerations are weighed against what is suitable for the subject and mood of a book, but no less so against the number of pages the publisher wants the book to be, or the price. Should it be the standard size, 5 by 8 inches? Or should it be an odd size, to accent its eccentricities -- 5 by 12? Are there so many illustrations that it warrants a full, coffee-table presentation? Should photographs be grouped in separate sections on glossy paper, or scattered on pages throughout the book for increased intimacy? Is the book one that calls for elegance and permanence and so should be bound in cloth? Or should it more informal, a mix of paper and cloth? Or all paper? These are questions of cost, but no less questions of aesthetics and personality.
When I first came to S&S, the publisher Richard Simon, who was otherwise very interested in photography and the visual aspect of things, felt that there was only one typeface his designers should use, Caslon:
Here is a sample sentence in Caslon: very traditional, wouldn't you say?
And now here is a line of Caslon as they were doing it in those days -- not computer-generated, but in hot type:
(sample font not available)
I felt that there could be a variety to what we did -- that a designer had to read a book in manuscript to understand what font it should be printed in. It was a struggle to make publishers realize that a book could look dignified, elegant, without sticking to a house's standard typeface and design. Some authors were willing to work hard to help designers understand what they were trying to say and so come up with subtle differences in the visualizations.
Look, for instance, at the following pages and how they evoke a variety of responses:
The French Menu Cookbook, done in two colors, elegantly reminiscent of a good menu.
And then here is Findings, by Leonard Bernstein, who wanted a simple, classic design for a collection of lectures he gave at Harvard. (The script is aptly called "Vivaldi.")
Here is a page from Truman, by David McCullough, who was probably the most helpful author I ever worked with. Being a painter, apart from a wonderful historian, he was interested in technicalities such as type size. But he was generous, too -- very amenable to the choice (I made many) of photos to include in his picture section.
In order to design the title page of Richard Selzer's Mortal Lessons, I went to the New York Medical Library and handled the original manuscripts of ancient surgical texts.
BW: How does a publisher decide on a jacket? Can it make or kill a book?
Frank: My approach was simple: Get either a partial or complete manuscript and read it. Then sit down with the editor to glean insights. To tell you the truth, I did not have much patience for editors who suggested jacket ideas. More often than not these suggestions were cliche-ridden dead ends. What I was looking for was a characterization of the mood of the book and an understanding of what kind of author we were publishing.
The real feeling of accomplishment for a jacket director comes in finding the right artist for the job. As I listened to editors present the books to be published on an upcoming list, certain artists would spring to mind. I had scoured the market, going to galleries, collecting brochures, hunting through bookstores to see what our competitors had done. Over the years, Eve and I built a huge army of talented people -- both freelance and on-staff at S&S. Very often we hired young people fresh from art school. Eventually, we were able to go out and tap a rich reservoir of working artists and designers in the burgeoning jacket business. But in the early days, we worked with recent art school graduates who had put together tentative portfolios of designs that pertained to books. It gave me great pleasure to give these young artists assignments, and they, in turn, got great satisfaction from seeing their work in store windows and in readers' hands. I got them where I could: record album designers, corporate designers who worked on trademarks and annual reports. It seemed to me there was a wealth of possibilities. As the jacket design business grew, stars emerged, among them Paul Bacon (see his Catch-22 or Lady Oracle), Fred Marcellino (White Hotel or Handmaid's Tale), Milton Glaser (Art Is Work) and his Push Pin Studios, Seymour Chwast (The Illustrated Cat), Wendell Minor (All the President's Men or Truman), Louise Fili (The Last Days of Publishing) and others.
How did a jacket get approved? Before 1970, those designs were approved by the book's editor, author and the publisher. Later, the process became more complex. We had formal weekly jacket meetings attended by many people, some with astute judgments and others who were not totally qualified to cast a vote. We knew that the designs we were presenting had flaws and would require rethinking. But too often potentially outstanding designs would be shot down prematurely. Committee thinking is not always the best.
Sales conferences were another story. In the main, salespeople were sophisticated, knowledgeable people with a strong sense of the marketplace. Many voiced constructive comments and concrete suggestions. But others tried to bully their opinions, whether or not they had an eye for art. It was necessary, on those occasions, to play politics and get the editor and publisher behind me.
Yes, of course, a jacket can make or kill a book. And when there are more books to compete with, the race can become ferocious. The growth of the chains created a whole new arena. The chains could and did pressure us on how to package a book. If there was money to be made, or a bestseller in the offing, they made their opinions known. If the stakes on a book were high enough, the author's agent became part of the equation. By the '90s, the look of a book became the product of many, many hands. A blockbuster, especially, demanded a huge budget, with expensive illustrations, big-name photography, five or six colors, embossing and die cuts. Very often the chain stores got to vote on these jackets and often vetoed a designer's work. We had created a monster!
What makes a great jacket? You know it when you see it. Look, for instance, at Catch-22 with its unforgettable trademark. It's simple, evocative, strong. Look at McCullough's Truman, which was a different approach to biography at the time -- warm and accessible. Look at All the President's Men with its inventive symbolism. It told a story instantly. Look at Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest with that unmistakable look of an icon.
BW: Do publishers have a distinct look? Can you judge a publisher by its covers? And how does the industry look to you two now, from a distance?
Frank and Eve: We'd like to think that during our years at S&S, we created a definite look. But other publishers did, too. One that has been consistently excellent over time is Alfred A. Knopf. Another is Farrar Straus Giroux. In recent years, quality design is harder to find. It's like automotive design: The field has become much too generic. There are so many publications fighting for space now. One of the great losses in America is the gradual disappearance of the independent bookstore, where titles were treated as individuals. Now a typical bookstore has walls and walls of books, and the jacket considered the best is the one that can outshout the others.
We still believe that the reading public, given a choice, will pick up the more artfully designed book, admire its interior layout, its paper, binding and jacket. As everyone who reads and loves books knows, these are lasting possessions. How much more rewarding when they are physically beautiful.