Yellow is not the Only Dust Jacket Colour

Something I find frustrating is when you are collecting a particular series of books and, halfway through the run, the publisher goes and changes the format or the look of the books.  You know what I mean.  The series started as medium-quarto and then the publishers changes it to crown-octavo, so that they now form an uneven line-up on your bookshelf.  Or there is a rebrand, so that spines that were all uniformly green with black letters in 14-point Helvetica switch to red 10-point Minion on a grey background.

As some followers of the Mudskipper blog will already know, recently I have been making my way through the 46 Inspector George Gently novels of Alan Hunter.  A continuity of appearance has not been achievable with this series, largely because the imprint changed from Cassell to Constable halfway through the run of novels.  The earlier Cassell novels vary widely in terms of appearance, whereas the later Constable books achieve a good measure of consistency, all being designed by Splash Studio with illustrations by Terry Pastor.

One publisher who has fiercely adhered to the idea of a fixed brand is Victor Gollancz.  Gollancz books are recognisable for their plain yellow dust jackets and bold typeface in black and magenta.  Many classic novels have been first published in this format: George Orwell’s Down and Out in Paris and London; Kingsley Amis’s Lucky Jim; John le Carré’s Call for the Dead.  So, too, have innumerable works of science fiction: Keith Roberts’s Pavane; Robert Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky; William Gibson’s Neuromancer.  And many series of crime fiction: Dorothy L. Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey books; Michael Innes’s John Appleby series; W G Burley’s Wycliffe novels; and Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen books.  Each strictly maintains the ‘house’ colours.  Each book looks the same; is clearly part of the same series.

Having initially voiced my frustration when publishers change their brand, the books of Victor Gollancz should provide me aesthetic delight in their regimental order.  But they do not.  I find them boring.  Boring to look at; boring to pick up; boring to contemplate.  Which is a shame, because they contain some of the finest writing across a diverse range of genres.

I have heard it argued that the simple yellow jackets form a greater aesthetic whole than their individual volumes would suggest, and they are certainly easily recognisable on any bookshelf, however I find they make no emotional connection with them.

When I am reading a crime or science fiction novel, I want it to have a distinctive, preferably pictorial cover; the more lurid the better.  A good example of this is the T. V. Boardman series of Bloodhound crime novels, many of which benefitted from the excellent, visually arresting artwork of Denis McLoughlin.  Each is individually distinct, and yet at the same time, clearly forming part of a unified series.

I know that it is said that you should not judge a book by its cover, but it is also said that first appearances count.

© Fergus Longfellow


Fergus Longfellow is just more a blue kind of person.

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