It’s a rare day when one of your favorite book designers goes to work on one of your favorite authors. But today’s the day! British designer David Pearson has just released his covers for Cormac McCarthy’s entire catalog, published in the U.K. by Picador. It’s a match made in, well, hell–the covers perfectly capture all the bare-bones brutality of McCarthy’s writing. That’s why Pearson was a perfect choice. He’s a type guy. Unlike, say, John Gall, who uses tons of clever imagery, but only a handful of typefaces (he trained with Massimo Vignelli, who said designers only really need to use five or six), Pearson lets type do all the talking. (Don’t get me wrong, Gall is brilliant in his own way–check out his Nabokov Collection.)
You probably know Pearson’s work on the awesome Great Ideas series, which he designed in 2004 while working at Penguin. Barely a picture at all, just author, title, and a quote from the text. Every one is perfect–the type totally evokes the content: Freud’s matter-of-fact Civilization and its Discontents, Nietzsche’s half-modern, half-ancient Why I am so Wise. Same thing here. The big, blocky wood type hints at the wild west, of course, but also the eerie mix of pared-down modernism and baroque violence that makes McCarthy’s work so great. You can imagine those letters being printed in blood.
McCarthy and his covers remind me of another literary recluse: the late J.D. Salinger, who designers will probably always admire as the most hard-ass client ever. Salinger had a clause in all his contracts that limited his covers to only the book title and his name, absolutely no images. Somehow Little, Brown got away with those rainbow stripes in the corner, which I never understood. Just as words in the hands of a master like Salinger or McCarthy are never just words, type done right can be so much more than letters.