As with every color, it has a myriad of implications and cultural associations. My love for green stems from the books I edited for Lurid, Crime Paperbacks, and Pulp Fiction.
My favorite book from Lurid is the entire Green Penguin crime series that came out in the 1960s. Penguin was established in 1935 by Allen Lane in 1935. The company revolutionized publishing by introducing the focus on attractive, compact, and low-cost, high-quality literature that is distinct from the typical pulp.
Read more: Friday essay: the complex, contradictory pleasures of pulp fiction.
The covers were standardized yet stylish and instantly recognizable: two horizontal bands of color separated by a central white band featuring the author’s name and title in Gill Sans font. Initially designed by Edward Young, the aesthetic was strengthened in 1947 by German typographer Jan Tschichold’s Penguin Composition Rules.
The fun Penguin logo, which was also created by Young, who also designed the logo, was the only graphic element found on the early covers. In Jeremy Lewis’s Penguin Special, the author writes that Penguin was the only publisher to avoid the lavish picture jackets that were “breastsellers” – adopted in the US in favor of English design that was more restrained and text-only.
The books were color-coded according to the subject: the classic color orange is for stories, dark blue for biographies, and red for drama. Of the initial 10 Penguin books released, two were crime novels as well as colour-coded green.
Since I’ve been curating the Lurid exhibition, I’ve been asking myself: what’s the reason for green? Why don’t we have blood-spatter red as well?
The effect of green
As an artist of the visual arts as well as a forensic scientist, I am a huge fan of color and its affecting characteristics.
The first green used in Penguin crime cover was a slight earthy green, similar to the terre verte. It is a light green pigment, which is commonly employed as a cool component for mixing tones of flesh using a small range consisting of yellow ochre, flake white Venetian red, and ivory black, based on the color of the skin of the person being photographed.
Terre verte is frequently employed as the basis for grisaille or as an underpainting in paintings of portraits and figures. However, numerous other greens are irresistible in oil painting, including cobalt emerald as well as phthalo, cadmium olive, sap, and chromium.
The original earthy green color in Penguin Crime was enhanced in the 1960s when Italian artistic director Germano Facetti took on the conventional Penguin design norms and enlisted Polish graphic artist Romek Marber to revitalize the covers of the books.
Covers with the “Marber Grid” and pictorial covers featured the typography and Penguin logo on the upper part of each cover. It also provided an area of two-thirds to be used for stunning modernist illustrations and graphic design.
Covers of Dorothy L. Sayers’sSayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon and Lord Peter’s Views the Body showcase the distinctive and frequent white stick image of Marber exclusively in her books.
The Busman’s Honeymoon Particularly, it showcases Marber at his finest. The geometric style is reminiscent of a staircase with a corpse, which is the identification feature of the cut-out of white on the bottom.
Marber’s final Penguin criminal cover was designed for Ellery Queen’s The Scarlet Letters in 1965. The cover design features the letter X as well as Y, which appear in the novel the dying man, traced through their blood. This cover introduces drips of red photography and a black background.
As we look at these book covers, we can see something powerful in the simplicity of these designs, with their limited color palette, as well as elements of photomontage collage and geometric patterns, as well as drawing and employing sans serif fonts.