Posterizing the Classics

4th September 2012

I must admit I’ve never thought of myself as a minimalist. However, lately that’s where my preference lies, whether in prose, decor, or art. Any book that is too wordy or that appears to be trying so doggone hard is bound to be set aside quickly.

I came across an interesting post on Pixel Curse from last year, “45 Creative & Clever Minimalist Book Cover Designs.” [If you’re a Harry Potter fan, get ready to swoon over the minimalist series covers.] Going through them reminded me of these great posters by artist Christian Jackson:

Click on the image to be taken to imagekind where they are sold.

What struck me about the book covers and these posters is the distillation of the spirit of the book. Each manages to (mostly) successfully take the book and through simplistic graphics, deliver the message or at least indicate a mainstay in the book’s plot. I think that Alice in Wonderland and Rumpelstiltskin are particularly genius, especially as with Alice you have both the Cheshire and the Pink Floyd reference. That’s masterful.

But then I began to wonder about some of my favorite books undergoing the same treatment. What is the essence of Jane Eyre, for example? Or Invisible Man? Or East of Eden?

The most popular image for Jane Eyre at the moment, is a birdcage with its door open, based on this line: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me.” So net = cage apparently. But what the Etsy-ers and the tattoo artists are misunderstanding is that Jane says she isn’t a bird. So why all the bird imagery? Methinks it’s because birds are popular in decor at the moment, but also because it’s simple. So if not birds and birdcages, what? The Red Room scene has always particularly fascinated me, as has the intensity with which Jane guards her freedom, so I’m thinking a lock, a la [warning: I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination]:

No, this is not Optimus Prime, as some of you on Instagram thought.

Then of course for Invisible Man, I’d want it to be the recommendation letter that Dr. Bledsoe writes for the narrator because in many ways, that letter determines so much of the narrator’s path. So I’d want the cover to look like this:

A bit blurry, but you get the idea.

But neither is still quite right. I don’t look at either and think Jane Eyre or Invisible Man. What exactly is it, then? And how do the artists so aptly illustrate such meaning with such simplicity? It’s definitely art. Think of your favorite book and try to distill it into one simple image. Can you do it?

  • heidenkind

    I love those Harry Potter covers! And I love the idea of using a lock to represent Jane Eyre–that fits in well with the Gothic feel of the book and hints at the wife in the attic. The whole bird thing *coughMargotLiveseycough* is a complete misunderstanding of the text.

    Hm, I don’t know what I would use to represent Jane Eyre. Maybe the torn wedding veil? I’m not sure if that would be visually interesting, though. Or a torn sketch of Blanche Ingram.

    • Aren’t the HP covers fantastic? I really want them, though more often than not, these never get printed.

      And yeah, I think they get the idea – freedom, but they don’t fully understand or at least internalize that she’s saying she *isn’t* a bird or creature, that she’s his equal in every way, that she can choose when to stay or go.

  • heidenkind

    Okay, because I have to take these things way too far, I made up some “covers” of Jane Eyre based on the veil idea. It’s not terribly minimalist, but I think it’s suitably creepy. I made one with a lock, too.

    • Well, where are they? Don’t tease me! I went over to your blog and don’t see them. We need photos!

      • heidenkind

        They should be embedded in the comment.

    • Yvette

      Excellent work, heidenkind!

      • heidenkind

        Thanks, Yvette!

    • Duh. I’m such a moron. I couldn’t see these because I was looking from my dashboard…it’s been a week.

      These are awesome! I actually think the veil could be really cool.

      • heidenkind

        No worries! I’m glad the image embed thing worked. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • TNBBC

    Jenn, i love those covers. I’m very much a minimalist at heart, also a fan of the dark and distressed art, of which these are plenty! Thanks for sharing!!

    • I really love them too. Book design/graphic design has always been something I love to explore. Wish I were artistic.

  • Christina

    OMG Jenn it DOES look like Optimus Prime.

    • I totally didn’t get it until I looked it up and then, of course, that’s all I saw. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I love those posters ๐Ÿ™‚ I think doing that for older classics like the Brontes or Pride & Prejudice would be harder because those books are so much more about the characters and societal interactions, rather than one setting or prop or anything.

    • Agreed, but the book covers are more complex books than the fable posters, and I think they do a pretty good job. Again, it’s that distillation that I think is so darn difficult.

  • Love your cover ideas! I love that whole series of covers, clearly you could have a future in helping build the line ๐Ÿ™‚

    • …except that I have no artistic abilities. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  • I had to click over to see those HP covers and you are right…swoonworthy! I totally knew that was a lock until I saw Optimus reference and now that’s all I can see! ๐Ÿ˜‰

    I honestly don’t know how the artists do it, how they find that one image that can represent a work like that. I suppose that is why I’m not an artist ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Aren’t they fantastic? I want them all.

      And yes, my mind never would have gone to Optimus Prime, but now it’s all I can see, too!

  • Charlie

    Very creative and clever. I like the obvious nature of Mary Poppins, but the Pied Piper is brilliant, and I can see what you mean about the ones you singled out, too. My edition of Jane Eyre has a key on the cover, which considering your thoughts does make sense, though I’ve not heard of the bird usage. I guess it’s a good reminder if not particularly accurate. Those covers definitely take some skill. As my favourite book is Jane Eyre and I wouldn’t have a clue how to sum it up, I’d have to borrow your idea :p

    • I agree. I just think they’re all so so smart.

      Charlie – after my own heart. Jane and I go back to 4th grade. And now I want a minimalist book cover print to adorn my reading room. MUST have.

  • Sara (wordyevidenceofthefact.b

    Love these and love love the fact that I can buy one. Going shopping now!

    • Have fun! I’d have several if I could.

  • Love this post! I saw these posters not to long ago and then lost where I saw them. So glad you have them here. I’d like them all. I also appreciate your artwork! Soon I have an alternatives post that will include some of my own – very bad – so probably digital art of covers of popular books. Stay tuned!

    • Well, they can’t be worse than my own – I had to think long and hard about actually posting those awful photos. I’ll look forward to seeing them for sure.

  • Yvette

    Great post, Picky girl. I love the ALICE IN WONDERLAND best, probably because it’s so easy to recognize and instantly appreciate. No thinking required. Ha.

    But the RUMPELSTILTSKIN is pure genius and does require a bit of thought.

    Also love the RIP VAN WINKLE.

    You’ve given me the idea of maybe designing some minimalist covers of my favorite books. Unfortunately I don’t have a scanner but I’ll have my daughter scan them for me. Sometime within the next few weeks I’ll have something going on and I’ll link back to your post.:)

    I love this sort of thing.

    As for Jane Eyre, I’m so inundated right now with all things Jane Eyre that it’s hard to shake the visuals so I can have a clear slate.

    Don’t know if a lock tells me anything about Jane or the great brooding love story at the book’s heart. What is the essential center of Jane’s personality? What sets her on her course and leads her to her eventual happiness.

    The thing with Jane is that she remains the same person all the way through the book, it’s those around her who change. In many ways she is a fixed point.

    For INVISIBLE MAN – a book I’ve never read – I have no idea. Though I know what the book is generally about. I think I’d do some sort of pattern over the whole cover then the outline of a black man’s head superimposed with the pattern showing through. Does that make any sense?

    Oh Jenn, you’ve got my brain churning. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yvette

      P.S. My favorite Harry Potter is the first one. ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Yea! I love your enthusiasm and totally want to see what you create, especially since you’re the artist of this bunch.

      As for Jane, I think that honestly it’s her intense desire for freedom – to not be bound by anything – that keeps her going on her course. She’s that true to herself that even if it means breaking her own heart, she must remain unencumbered if she chooses.

      The cover you describe for Invisible Man sounds interesting, particularly since you haven’t read it. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I can’t remember if I commented or not so I will comment again just in case. I never thought of myself as a minimalist either but lately, I am appreciating it more. I love every one of these posters.

    • Ha! I love that you liked them that much. I think it’s the simplicity I’m attracted to.

  • These posters are amazing. I also love your homemade renditions ๐Ÿ˜€

    • Aren’t they great? And you are way too kind. ๐Ÿ™‚

  • I absolutely absolutely love these covers!! I’m in love with all of the collections these days but realize that if I got all of them I’d truly be buried in books. And I don’t think I would have thought Optimus Prime until you said so…but now that’s all I see. ๐Ÿ˜‰

    • Dang. I shouldn’t have said anything. And believe me, it’s not the mountains of books stopping me, but the money. It gets so expensive!

  • Handy

    “[warning: I am not an artist by any stretch of the imagination]:”

    you started to think like an conceptual artist, or a graphic designer ;). you do a great rendition on invisible man sketch cover, i love it.

    a minimalistic style approach sometimes are good method, its deliver straight punch, the spirit of the book, communicating through a simple form and shape. the distinctive feature are it’s also offering a sense of contemplation within empty space composition in the image. most of the minimalist artist are theorist with spiritual as a main theme on their works.

    ps : sorry for my bad english.