Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Dalkey Disappointments

This blog has shown much love for Dalkey Archive in the past, especially for the cover designs of Nicholas Motte, who did most of their recent output. However, I saw that their books from late 2013 onwards were getting a new look. here are some examples shown in various online catalogues:






I actually really like these: simple, bold, classic and, while not as colourful and pop as the Motte designs, quite appealing. I ordered a number of them. However, the books themselves turned up looking like this.






Presumably the original images were just placeholders. This is fine in itself--sometimes you need a picture for the catalogue or Amazon, and you put something there, knowing it will be changed later. But almost all of the final, actual covers are much uglier than these placeholders. The cover for Adibas is OK, and at least makes play with the Adidas logo that gives the book its title (Adibas being knock-off or counterfeit consumer goods). But Leningrad is a murky mess, and The Maya Pill is a truly ugly cover: the sort of thing that might have produced by a vanity press outfit in 1993.

Adibas, by the way, is also one of the worst books I've read in quite some time. It consists of extremely disaffected/affectless fictional vignettes of life in Georgia during the Russian invasion a few years ago; everyone keeps shopping or clubbing or fucking while Putin's tanks roll down the streets. The impression you get is that Burchuladze has read Brett Easton Ellis and nobody else ever. It's also one of the most misogynistic boioks I've read in a long time: women are defined almost entirely by the tightness of their vaginas, with their willingness to provide oral sex a vague secondary characteristic. I know you shouldn't confuse the writer with the narrator, and the shallowness is part of the book's point, but you honestly don't get anything from reading the whole book that you wouldn't have got from its blurb.

I don't know what's going on with Dalkey at the moment, but I hope it stops.

19 comments:

jb said...

Those are some of the cheapest & ugliest covers I've seen in a long while (outside your spotlighting of bizarre public domain ebooks, I mean). Even when the image itself isn't too bad, the type & general layout is appalling.

Wasn't there a pretty massive turnover at Dalkey last year? Could be related to that, I guess...

JRSM said...

Glad I'm not alone in my dislike for them. I hadn't thought about the Dalkey shenanigans affecting the design--makes sense, though.

Anonymous said...

The cover of The Maya Pill is shockingly bad. Maybe they got the same designer as Dedalus: we want esoteric foreign lit with fanfic level covers! Make it happen!

The placeholders are fine (if nowhere near the level of the old Mottes) and at least present a consistent design so you can recognize the Dalkey line at a glance. If you look at their website, all the forthcoming releases have the same style of placeholder design. Why go to the expense of designing these if they're never going to use them? Bizarre.

At least their new Korean releases have a unified minimalist design, even if it looks a bit too New Directions Pearls for me.

--kshomer

Matt Keeley said...

Speaking of goings on at the press, remember their terrible job listing from a few years back?

http://observer.com/2012/12/dalkey-archive-press-posts-worst-job-description-ever-but-at-least-jobs-are-being-offered/

JRSM said...

Kshomer: Dedalus publish so many great books with such hideous covers. I was once so distressed by one of their covers that I offered to do design work for them for no pay, but never got a response.

Matt, they do seem to be having a bad run, don't they?

Femke said...

What does staff turnover have to do with design covers though? I think you're jumping the gun a bit.

Anonymous said...

That's a hilarious story about Dedalus, JRSM. It's also bizarre that Dedalus is one of the few publishers I've seen that lists the book designer on their website. I wouldn't want my name associated with half of those books, and I'm not even a graphic designer!

Back to Dalkey, I think we should note that the designer responsible for those wonderful Motte covers, Danielle Dutton, left Dalkey and started her own imprint (Dorothy, a publishing project) in 2010. I feel Dutton should get more credit for those covers than Motte, since she basically took his raw material and edited it into what we have and love.

Sadly, the Dorothy imprint hasn't published a book in a while and seems like it may now be defunct. Hopefully not.

As a post script, I'll add that I'm disappointed the last book in Goncalo Tavares's Kingdom series (which is coming out this year from Dalkey) won't match the Motte/Dutton covers of the previous entries.

--kshomer

JRSM said...

Femke, if the design people are amongst those they've lost, that may be part of the issue.

Kshomer, I hadn't looked at Dorothy for a while, but it does look as though they've finished, sadly. Anyone who launches with a Barbara Comyns books is alright by me. And I hate unmatched series, especially when the later spines look all wrong compared to earlier ones.

Matt Keeley said...

Re: Dorothy: I was sorry to hear they hadn't done anything, so I looked at their website and social media. The website hasn't been updated in ages, but their Facebook page gets consistent attention, with the most recent update just a few days old.. It mentions having a few books on the slate for Fall 2014, so I think there's hope yet.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for finding Dorothy's Facebook site, Matt. I checked the (derelict) website and assumed the worst. I should have noticed that they just put out a book in November 2013. My bad. I'm still trying to get around to reading Fra Keeler and the Barbara Comyns book, both of which I picked up a couple of years ago.

--kshomer

Anonymous said...

I too bought the Leningrad book and was mightily disappointed to see what look like huge sugar cubes on the front cover. Absolutely bizarre...one of the worst covers I have seen in a long, long time.

Steve Stelling said...

First, I'm thrilled to find this blog. Motte/Dutton Dalkey covers really were great. Outside of those it seems like Dalkey have been pretty uneven in the design department throughout their history. The cover of Wittgenstein's Mistress looks so much like a mystically tinged self-help book that I remember being vaguely self conscious about reading it in public. The eighties and early nineties are full of rough patches. I'm glad I'm not the only one interested in this stuff. Cheers, Steve

JRSM said...

Yeah, I agree. I was thinking perhaps it was a reference to drinking absinthe or something, but no such thing happens in the book...

JRSM said...

Thanks, Steve--you're amongst friends here. 'Wittgenstein's Mistress' does seem to have a new and better text-only cover these days, at least.

kshomer said...

This is the original: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/f/f0/Wittgenstein%27s_Mistress_Cover_1.jpeg

In the beginning, I took long walks on the beach...

Levi Stahl said...

Oh, that old Wittgenstein's Mistress cover. Well-described, Steve.

The Untranslated said...

"I don't know what's going on with Dalkey at the moment, but I hope it stops." Actually, now that Dalkey Archive is going to publish Arno Schmidt's Zettels Traum I'm ready to forgive them everything, including the ridiculous paintbrush covers of some of the books and the publication of works of questionable quality.

JRSM said...

Actually, that's a good point: I just read a couple of other good books in ARC form from them. I just need to see what covers the final published books get before reviewing them.

Anonymous said...

Re kshomer's note on Danielle Dutton's Dorothy, a publishing project: she continues to publish two books every year, together in the fall. Year 5 (books 9 and 10) come out in October 2014. The new pages and covers are already up here: www.dorothyproject.com