Designing The Towers of Trebizond

by Charlotte Strick

Part of my job as Farrar, Straus and Giroux’s Paperback Art Director is the repackaging of books from our illustrious backlist. Rose Macaulay’s The Towers of Trebizond resulted in one of my favorite recent redesigns.

To start, we typically mine our company’s massive library archive to see how the title was packaged over the decades. Sometimes there’s a hidden gem sitting on the shelves that’s been waiting to be rediscovered.

In 1954, when our company was known as Farrar, Straus & Cudahy, the first edition hardcover of Macaulay’s novel boasted a jacket illustration and design by the venerable Milton Glaser, who is responsible for several of my favorite mid-century FSG jackets, but this one wasn’t as bold or as graphic as those others. The trusty internet turned up a more abstract solution by one of my design heroes, Alvin Lustig. Published in paperback by Meridian Fiction in 1960, it sold for a mere $1.35. Over the years, there had also been different photographic cover treatments by other publishing houses that took less artful approaches, trying perhaps to appeal to more contemporary audiences.

After sorting through all of these with our paperback publisher, Sean McDonald, neither of us quite knowing exactly how to package this forgotten FSG classic, we did a search of the many covers of E. M. Forster’s well-loved novel, A Passage to India, which charts similar territory, but is better known and was published decades earlier in 1924.

 

Google Images turned up a beauty of a cover with an illustration by Ellen Raskin from 1952 by Harcourt, Brace & World. Born in 1928, Raskin was an accomplished children’s book author as well as illustrator and fashion designer. In 1979 she won the Newbery Medal for her book The Westing Game. Her name was then unknown to me, but it turned out that I’d been admiring her work for years. Raskin is responsible for the quirky and memorable 1973 cover art on Nathanael West’s The Dream Life of Balso Snell and A Cool Million issued by our Noonday Press, and also the jacket art now synonymous with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1962. A special edition of Wrinkle celebrating its recent 50th anniversary continues to make use of her iconic illustration.

Raskin’s work on the famous Forster novel so entranced Sean and me, that we immediately started bouncing around ideas for the Macaulay repackage. I hired the multi-talented illustrator Lindsey Mayer-Beug to create an illustration of the novel’s protagonist, Aunt Dot, perched high atop her camel in the spirit of Raskin’s charming elephant. Duplicating the limited use of color was essential to our cover’s success. Forster’s elephant dons Indian ornamentation, whereas our camel sports Turkish motifs. Raskin surprises us with the Union Jack tucked inside the elephant’s howdah, and I asked Lindsey to do the same on Aunt Dot’s genteel teacup. We played around with adding reds and blues to the flowered scarf wrapped around her hat, but then decided that the cup alone was just enough of the wink we were looking for. The result has made all who see the cover smile. By paying homage to Raskin’s brilliant solution, we were able to give our novel a fresh face while still nodding to the era in which it was first published.

 

Illustrator Lindsey Mayer-Beug’s comments:

The wonderful Charlotte Strick approached me with the concept of Aunt Dot riding the camel, which was inspired by Ellen Raskin’s illustration for E.M. Forsters’s A Passage to India. I loved this design so much because I felt strongly that the quality and style of how they’re drawn should remain as neutral as possible. The line quality should remain secondary to the shapes since I wanted the patterns and shapes to stand out as much as possible and unify Aunt Dot and her camel.

I’ve been asked if Hayao Miyazaki was an influence a number of times. That isn’t the case. The characters were stylized this way only as a by-product of my own background as a character designer. I also wanted to update the style a little bit and make it feel more modern, yet timeless, plus Charlotte and I needed to own our style and make the design our own.

 

The patterns and the camel correspond with different parts of Aunt Dot’s travels. The patterns also touch upon some of the religious aspects and themes that appear in the book (very loosely of course), but each pattern was chosen for a specific reason. This includes the choice of camel too. I had to do some research to decide which type of camel to use (dromedary, Bactrian, or hybrid). I wanted to be accurate on which type of camel Aunt Dot would most likely have ridden in the novel.

Incorporating the Union Jack pattern somewhere was important to Charlotte and me, but we were afraid that putting it in just the tiny real estate of the tea cup wouldn’t be obvious enough. I tried adding it to her scarf around her hat, but that seemed like it was just more decorative. Putting the Union Jack on the tea cup alone was subtle and part of something that is essential to her character and gesture. I love that it draws attention to her multi-tasking while riding a camel. It is all very telling of her character and beliefs.

Charlotte Strick is the art director of Faber & Faber and of the paperback line at FSG. She is also the art editor of The Paris Review.

Lindsey Mayer-Beug is a designer, illustrator, and concept art maker. She can be found online at hellolindsey.tv.