Through the Covers
A post by ABDA member Josh Durham
To the uninitiated the ‘covers’ is a fielding position in the game of cricket that runs from point all the way round to mid-off. A ‘cover drive’ is a drive past cover point. For those of you now scratching your heads wondering what a ‘drive’ is (let alone ‘point’), it’s a type of batsman’s shot played by swinging the bat down in a vertical arc, through the line of the ball, hitting the ball along the ground preferably in the direction of deep extra cover. Covers are also large plastic sheets dragged out by groundsmen if rain is imminent.
The marriage of cricket and book design presents irresistible punning opportunities, it’s true, but I am here to shine a light on a less covered area of book design – sports books. I have narrowed the scope to cricket — it’s summer after all, and if ever there was a sport you might bring a book to… There are certain times in a test match when you could burn through chapters of an unthumbed copy of Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century and not miss much.
I have designed a few covers for cricket books myself – including the spare and faintly hypnotic Fierce Focus in all its Trajan glory, pictured proudly above with its discounted sticker.
In Castlemaine we are blessed with a couple of fantastic secondhand bookstores and one of the best public libraries in Victoria. That was one of the reasons we moved here – the quality of the library says a lot about a town. I set off with my son (and fellow cricket buff) Joseph to see what we could find.
It was in Book Heaven in Campbells Creek where old books go to die or find redemption that I discovered hardback copies of Second Innings, Close of Play and Full Score (respectively 1950, 1956 and 1970). Their author, Neville Cardus, born in England in 1888, was chief music critic and chief cricket correspondent for the Manchester Guardian, and wrote on his twin passions from 1919 to 1940.
What catches my attention about the cover art is the utter lack of obvious cricket iconography. And the designs are uncompromising. Cricket buffs will recognise the sight of the two long jacketed umpires walking off as the late afternoon shadows creep across the field on Close of Play — but to anyone else the artwork is ambiguous: who are these masked men? The cover of Close of Play strikes a strong emotional chord in me – it does things to me the way a cover has no right to. The title has been beautifully visualised and rendered with both efficiency and feeling. It could be a chapbook of poetry, with umpires.
The only contemporary cover I found that comes close to the same boldness (with added comedy) is this 2007 cover for Gideon Haigh’s Silent Revolutions – a lovely image choice, if slightly let down by unresolved and rather busy typography. It says something about the long tentacles of marketing departments and the book industry today that covers with this kind of poetic grace and wit are largely confined to the literary fiction shelves, and not under Sports.
As further evidence I present the Saul Bass-inspired A Spell at the Top and Flying Bails which still look so fresh and in their market-free purity, so innocent and alluring. A Spell at the Top is pretty much Vertigo – apt enough for a book about a fast bowler who could knock your block off.
The closest Australian, and slightly more contemporary, analog I could find was How to Hypnotise Chooks by Max Walker.
Still in Campbells Creek I found a hardback edition of this beatnik ode to the gentleman’s game – The Poetry of Cricket by Leslie Frewin, published in 1964. Anyone aware of the Blue Note Jazz label will be instantly reminded of the distinctive cover designs of designer Reid Miles. To be clear this is a volume of poetry about sport, as opposed to a book about a sport that happens to be poetic. I can see our friend Neville Cardus leafing through this one while Thelonious Monk plink plonks his way out of the turntable spinning in the background.
My other scheduled stop was to be at Soldier and Scholar but it was closed. Besides my boy Joseph was flagging and he wanted a Calippo.
Back home I returned to my notes and the amassed collection of images, to remind myself why this was worth investigating. Then it dawned on me that even books about casseroles looked pretty good in the 1950s and ’60s.
Maiden Over was the original inspiration for this post — a cover that seemed to bridge the gap between vintage and contemporary. Or maybe the contemporary is just more retro. These covers come from a time when design ruled the roost — they are gorgeous in their purity, and creative in their layout and image selection. I wonder how I would have treated that Chappell book if I’d been working in the ’50s (ok, ok, say it was Bradman for the sake of argument). For all Chappell’s and Bradman’s undoubted batting elegance, something tells me I wouldn’t have used Trajan.
Josh Durham worked in magazine design before setting up his company Design by Committee. He has completed literary fiction, commercial fiction, YA, children’s, non-fiction and illustrated book commissions for all of Australia’s leading publishers.