August 8, 2023
It’s said that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but both readers and publishers are savvy enough to know that cover design speaks volumes about what’s inside. From the explosive graphics of pulp fiction to the attention-grabbing dust jackets of clothbound copies, cover design visually links to specific genres or series. For designer Matt Stevens, a love for the aesthetics of shelf-worn pocket paperbacks combined with a passion for movies spurs the ongoing series Good Movies as Old Books.
The idea for the project dovetailed from a proposal Stevens made to a movie production client. “Often, we try and make the pitch look and feel like something else. Maybe an old manual or a set of vintage baseball cards,” he tells Colossal. “(For) one of the pitches, we were selling a pretty modern idea but in a way that needed to look really old and worn. I really enjoyed the process of putting something in a different context and thought I’d take it on as a personal project.”
Stevens grasps the potential of digital tools to create realistic depictions of analog objects and explains that he’s most interested in the digital world when it can be used to recreate a sensation of tangibility. He says:
I was coming up right as computers were becoming reliable design tools, and in design school, we still used things like French curves, photocopy machines, and drew a lot of type by hand—because we had to. I really love things that feel handmade, screen printed, printed on a press, worn down…you can see the process in the image and the grit and age.
Stevens’ illustrations draw on a look and feel we associate with the well-read and well-loved tomes of the 20th century, from pocket-size mystery thrillers to classic Penguin covers to reinforced library bindings that could withstand hundreds of reads. Complete with bookstore price stickers and creases along the spines and corners, Stevens’ designs look real enough to pick up and crack open. “The covers started out exploring much older books: linen covers with frayed edges and colored foil stamps,” he says. “But as it’s progressed, a huge part of the fun is researching the history of covers of the last century and seeing what I respond to and what makes those particular covers work.”
Stevens just launched a Kickstarter campaign to print a second volume of Good Movies as Old Books, which includes 100 new designs, plus a reprint of the sold-out first volume. See plenty more where these came from on his website and Instagram.
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