You can’t necessarily judge a book by its cover, but you can tell a lot about the content from it. For instance, when a certain font is paired with an illustrated character portrait featuring a dangling cigarette and/or a dangerous dame, clearly you are holding a pulpy detective novel from the 1930s. Judging by a new imprint, however, it might also be Robinson Crusoe.
Pulp the Classics is a recent line of books that retrofits literature’s best-known works with covers of pulp novels, some of them featuring recognizable actors of different eras. The project started in June of 2012 as a commission job from independent U.K.-based publishing house, Oldcastle Books, who’s director has an abiding love for the old pulp covers. He asked artist David Mann to produce some covers along the lines of Oldcastle’s Straight From The Fridge Dad as a reference. What Mann came up with was a literary mash-up for the ages.
“It was a way to appeal to fans of the old pulp cover art, but also to use humor to engage with a new audience for great literature,” Mann says.
The selection process for the books is an evolving philosophy. When he was initially tasked with the assignment, Mann just went for the first book that sprang to mind as an counterintuitive pulp choice, Pride and Prejudice.
“The sort of uptight, haughty Englishness of the period and genre is easy and fun to subvert,” the artist says. “Later, I chose Hound of the Baskervilles because I love the old Basil Rathbone films; again the idea of changing the hound to something silly was straightforward. Oldcastle also looked at some lists that had been compiled over the years: “‘The nations favorite classic literature,’ and that sort of thing.”
In order to make the covers, Mann first finds a visual reference online. What started initially as a joke–the use of stars like Ryan Gosling and Marilyn Monroe on various covers–turned into an actual component of the books’ aesthetic when the publisher liked using these cultural touchstones in the work. Mann works with a team that includes designer Elsa Mathern and marketing expert Alexandra Bolton who writes blurbs for the books.
“I’ll make up a photo collage from whatever reference I need, and then project that onto a wall in my studio with a digital projector,” Mann says. “I then sit at an easel and make an acrylic painting on paper. The reference material is often black and white, so I’ll use the tonal values but make up the colors.”
Have a look through more of the covers in the slides above.