by Art Chantry:
this essay is about post-mortem collaboration. just because a guy is dead, doesn’t mean you can’t collaborate with his ideas, his legacy, his SPIRIT. this is a brilliant little cover designed by jacob covey for the cover of alexander theroux’s fussy little tribute to his friend, edward gorey. it’s publsihed (and re-published) by fanatagraphics books, so you can find it easy enough. i’d love to say that it’s a great read, but it’s not. theroux’s precious self-centered writing is so annoying and endlessly selfishly cloying that i can’t understand how gorey could tolerate his presence (at times the stories theroux relates indicates that gorey couldn’t, but theroux was too full of himself to realize it).
this book reads like one of those endlessly precious tributes to people you read in the New Yorker. it’s full of wonderful insiteful inside information and so accurate decribes the person of edward gorey that you MUST read it. but, it’s style makes me want to dig out my garrot and throttle the writer. and maybe that’s the way it should be. it rather perfectly describes the complex contradictions of gorey’s life. he lived alone in a room full of sycophants. poor bastard.
we all know edward gorey at this point. he’s one of the most famous illustrator/writers/playwrights/critics/eccentric cartoonists of the last half centruy. we ALL love him – ever met somebody who claimed they HATED gorey? i sure haven’t. loving this guy’s work is like loving watching movies. it’s just ‘natural’. like breathing.
the design of this cover is by a fella named jacob covey. i first met him through dave crider at estrus records, where he had hired jacob in the mid-’90’s to shoot some estrus bands (i think he was a student working as a photographer back then). his work was precise and fussy and powerful, but he really hated his own work. he was a terrible self-critic. one of the worst i’ve met. he really got upset about his own work’s preceived failures. personally, i thought he was pretty good. but apparently, that’s not how he remembers me. i made a snide remark during a shoot once (“i thought you said you were a professional”) than really affected him negatively. i thought i was making a sacarstic joke about professionalism (which i disdain). he still brings that remark up now and then. ouch.
after i moved away from the northwest, i lost track of him. i began to notice wonderful little poster/flyers for rock shows at the 3B Tavern (an old client and estrus records showcase venue) that were really brilliant little pieces. they were all signed by somebody calling himself “unflown”. i had no idea who this guy was, but his work was blowing me away. it was way beyond what most people were attempting. i was VERY impressed. even a little envious, maybe…
i asked dave crider who this “unflown” guy was and he told me it was jacob covey! i had no idea he was a designer. after that i looked at his work through a very different eye.
as time went on, jacob bounced around a few different employers and finally (thankfully) ended up as the art director at fanatgraphics books – that amazing legendary publisher of all things related to the comic image. jacob immediately began to make their products look 1000% better – more sophisticated, more intelligent, more wordily, and more commercial. before long, he had completey re-branded their coprorate and commercial footprint/image into a major authoritative publisher of classic and worthwhile cultural documentation. in other words, fanatagraphics became THE place to go for intelligent comics – past and present. i personally think jacob covey saved that company’s fiscal ass. suddenly, they were producing books that actually LOOKED like something you’d have in your library – or even on your coffee table.
this little book is a great example of how smart and clever his work is. i mean to say, it’s EDWARD GOREY. how on earth do you do a cook cover for a book ABOUT edward gorey? that’s like trying to do a theater poster for a local production of the rocky horror show. impossible without falling into cliche. yet here, jacob danced around this thing like nothing. it REFERS to gorey’s work without actually IMITATING or COPYING gorey’s work. at the same time, it’s decidedly outside of goreys thinking as well. this is a book ABOUT gorey and his strange life. it’s not a book OF or BY gorey. subtle but huge diff.
for starters, if i had been handed this photo of gorey (a wonderful uncredited portrait) i would have automatically blown it up into the full cover image. no question. it said EVERYTHING you needed to know about gorey in one snap. it was a consumate PORTRAITthe man. problem solved. end of design thinking. move onto next pressing deadline…
but, jacob covey didn’t do that. he avoided the obvious trap (that would have claimed me) and put on his “gorey cap” and thought, well, just how SHOULD this be done if i had an ounce of gorey’s aesthetic in me? immediately, to have a memory box or photo album style placement of the images (photo and titles) inside tight contraining little boxes, fussily placed on an empty page like specimens in a scientific display box (called a Riker Mount). that’s EXACTLY RIGHT. it’s exactly the man written about here. that IS edward gorey. just that little touch alone was enough to win me over on this design as truly significant.
but then, not satisfied that it has the sufficient CRACKPOT/loner feel to it, the attribute of sincere and obsessive individualism that gorey wore like he wore his fur coats and steel rings, jacob added a fussy delicate edwardian printer’s border box to the design. it (again) looks exactly like something gorey would have enjoyed and employed – drawn by hand, though this is not hand drawn. it’s a printer’s border ornament (an oxford rule with leaf decorations.) ok. perfect. done. finished.
but, no. not quite…
here’s the point of bonehead genius – the sort of thinking that is great DESIGN thinking that jacob possesses and what attracted me to his work since the very beginning – he made that border extremely askewed – CROOKED. so simple, so stupid, so absolutley perfectly edward gorey.
this cover bound with a clothe spine and utilizes a glued paper cover . the capper is that the paper is semi-gloss coated paper that will SCUFF IMMEDIATELY with use. this copy i bought is a used copy. look how beat-up and antique and trashed it looks. that is PERFECTION ITSELF. whether jacob covey knew it or not, he added the quinessential gorey touches of PRE-AGING into the actual printing of this book cover design. this is a book that not only looks queer (meaning eccentric) but, it instantly ages with use.
just like edward gorey.