Wednesday, May 12, 2010

...the unmistakable sound of a barmaid falling downstairs...

When Overlook Press began releasing hardcover editions of P.G. Wodehouse's works back in 2003-ish I was, of course, in raptures. It would not be overstating the case to claim that a girlish squeal escaped me upon seeing the first copies (to the profound annoyance of my fellow Barnes & Noble patrons.)

However, I was initially confounded by the choice of controversial Surrealist/Expressionist Polish poster artist Andrzej Klimowski as cover illustrator for these jaunty tomes. Surely Marc Rosenthal's expressive, cheery, flat-colored illustrations were far more suited to the environs of Blandings Castle! Everything about Wodehouse should be clean, orderly, pleasant and gentle. Klimowski's illustrations, by contrast, are thick-edged, roughly-hewn and garishly colored.

(And sometimes they're just downright ugly as in this cover for Girl On The Boat.)

Upon reflection, however, I realized that the style adopted for these book covers is not without legitimate artistic progenitors. Take a gander at this John Held, Jr. illustration circa 1925:

Also, why operate under the assumption that Wodehouse should have a visual stamp of pastel order? Wodehousian characters are nothing if not ceaselessly imperiled, escaping certain aunt-orchestrated-death or appalling matrimonial entanglements only by the skin of their teeth. I imagine were I to ask Bertie Wooster who should illustrate his life story he would nominate Caravaggio.

Finally, it occurs to me that, were the cover art 'prettier' it wouldn't be nearly so funny:

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