‘Definition of a classic: a book everyone is assumed to have read and often thinks they have.’
Faber and Faber have just launched their very own series of modern classics, recontextualising their back catalogue and re-introducing us to the many gems from their illustrious exploits in publishing. Modern classics are a particularly interesting sort, a sort of exercise in clairvoyancy for shaping the ongoing cannon of literature. And indeed, for publishers with ever growing back catalogues, the modern classic is a fantastic way to ensure great stories continue to stand the test of time, alongside their established counterparts. So what makes a modern classic, both in terms of content and design?
Ten Faber Modern Classics titles launched at the beginning of April 2015, with a further six following in June. The paperback series and its design, led by Art Director Donna Payne, will bring together different strands of Faber, including fiction, non-fiction, poetry and drama. Faber have also released a set of postcards, to mark the launch of the series and to celebrate its distinctive history of jacket design, which we think is pretty legendary (think Faber poetry, Sylvia Plath’s classic Bell Jar cover, or any number of other rich pickings from their back catalogue.)
Like most series design, the idea is rooted in keeping it consistent at the very least, and iconic at the other end of the scale. Which means some very clear design rules: a very clean and modern look, a lovely use of white space and using the Faber palette to inform the colour choice. The latter especially is a great means of keeping that Faber brand in check. And like all good series design, it extends to the spine as well, giving any reader the chance to proudly display their collection.
2015 seems to be another vintage year for “classic” series design, with Faber joining Picador, Penguin and now Faber in releasing new designs. The Picador Classic series was launched in January 2015, the aim being to bring ‘neglected classics back into print’ and to highlight the great authors on the Picador bill, including John Banville, Bret Easton Ellis and Carol Ann Duffy. We’re particularly loving the subtle formula from Picador – with the main design thread being the small stamp of approval running along the outer edge, allowing each cover to speak for itself, rather than collectively.
But that’s not to say consistency doesn’t work. Case in point remains Penguin, who have been at it again with their Little Black Classics. Launched February 26th 2015, the 80 titles mark Penguin’s 80th birthday, with each title on sale for 80p in the UK (€1.09 here in Berlin). The epitome of consistent, minimalist design, these come with a black cover and white type – as simple as that.