One day a young secretary in The Economist art department took a phone call from someone at Penguin Books who wanted to contact the designer of their recent covers. Marber recounts how she then contacted him to apologise for an oversight: “Anna the secretary at the art department telephoned to forewarn me that she had given out my phone number without my consent. I asked for the name of the caller but she was not able to provide it. All she said was, ‘He speaks with a strong foreign accent but his accent is not as bad as yours’”. The anonymous foreign caller turned out to be Germano Facetti – the newly appointed art director of Penguin Books. After an open competition Penguin’s new editor, Tony Godwin and new art director, Germano Facetti, hired one further émigré designer, Romek Marber, to revitalize the cover for its Penguin Crime series. Penguin Book’s Silver Jubilee in 1960 came at a time when competition between publishing houses was on the increase. In response Penguin decided to modernize the long-standing (but tired) graphic traditions established for its cover designs produced by Edward Young, Jan Tschichold and Hans Schmoller. Read more
Romek Marber Graphics
Brighton University Exhibition Catalogue
Emeritus Professor and friend
For ’Death of a stray cat’ the picture is of a figure cut out from black paper and a charcoal rubbing taken from a wooden plank. When combined they give the feeling of the sea, shore, and mystery. For ’The case of the caretaker’s cat’ the black photos of cats and the hand with a dribble of black ink give the image an ominous, rather creepy feeling.
Father Brown gets straight to the nub of the case and always gets his man. I used a combination of photography, a model of a maze made from paper, and a length of thread to put across Father Brown’s unlimited powers of detection.
Penguin decided that books by authors who have many titles on the Penguin booklist should have individual pictorial identification. I had almost finished doing the covers for the Dorothy L Sayers novels when I had a phone call informing me about the new policy. I modified the artwork and added a small white figure which appears in a different posture on each cover, and it worked.
An early cover illustration by Romek Marber for Penguin Fiction, published 23 August 1962, before his ‘Marber Grid’ cover redesign for Penguin Crime was rolled out across other Penguin series, including Fiction and Non-Fiction.
Cover artwork found in Romek’s archive. The published book had a different cover by Edwin Taylor.
In early 1961, Romek Marber’s covers for The Economist prompted Germano Facetti, art director at Penguin, to commission some cover designs. Seeking an exciting new identity for the tired-looking Penguin Crime series, Facetti then asked Marber and two other designers to submit their proposals. Marber won the job and his modernist cover grid proved to be a hit. Penguin rapidly applied the look to other series and it came to define the publisher’s image for a while and now looks like an emblem of its era. The beauty of Marber’s conception was that it permitted every kind of image to be harnessed, as he demonstrated with his own highly versatile interpretations of the crime stories. Below the typographic panel, he set photographs, photographic distortions, montages, graphic cut-outs and his own drawings, often mixing these styles within the same image. His covers are provocative and always surprising. Decades later, his work still exemplifies what we mean by ‘graphic thinking’.
Rick Poynor Professor of Design and Visual Culture
University of Reading
Bruce Brown writes in ‘Romek Marber Graphics’: One day a young secretary in The Economist art department took a phone call from someone at Penguin Books who wanted to contact the designer of their recent covers. Read more