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Solitude, Fantasy and Connection: Penguin's Vintage Earth Cover Designs

By Lucy Roberts and Juliette Tulloch



For this issue, we wanted to look back on Penguin’s Vintage Earth series and its celebration of ecology in literature, both the disasters and the beauty found within the environment. The series draws together eight designers from around the world to form modern and thought-provoking designs that unify to bring attention to the ecosystems that surround us. As Penguin describes the series: “Transformative, wild, surprising and essential, these novels take on the most urgent story of our times.” Take a look at our highlights from the series…


The Wall, written by Marlen HausHofer, is an unexpected tale of survival of a woman who finds herself stranded in the Austrian Mountains. When her cousin and husband never return from their venture into the mountainside, the woman sets off in search of them. Instead, she finds herself trapped behind an invisible wall beyond which there is no sign of life. The novel tells the tale of survival from both a simple and complex perspective: from growing beans and solitude, to finding out the true meaning of human life on earth. The novel’s cover, courtesy of Maria Medem, stands out within the series, featuring a more dystopian illustration than one boasting the grandeurs of nature. The expanse of dark sky is simultaneously threatening and peaceful, forming the wall in front of the woman. Although the ground she stands upon appears to be grass, the small yellow circles make the ground seem otherworldly, and the unknown nature of it deepens the novel’s mystery. Reassurance comes in the form of the small feline figure next to the protagonist, so that she does not stand entirely alone.


Jean Giono’s The Man Who Planted Trees follows the lives of two men on their separate paths, and the change one brings upon the other when they meet again. The narrator happens across a solitary shepherd, who plants hundreds of acorns as he journeys through the wilderness. After ten years apart, the narrator finds the shepherd once again and finds a forest growing where the acorns were planted. The story follows the feats of man, returning the earth to its original state, surviving the First World War and creating opportunities for the coming generations. The illustrator of this gorgeous cover is Harry Brockway, who specialises in stone masonry and wood engraving. The verdant green colouring of the design highlights the miracle the shepherd performs, bringing life into his landscape. The textures Brockway has applied to his illustrations harken to his work as a wood engraver, as rather than layering colours, the leaves, grass and clouds look to be engraved into the trees, ground and sky. Hidden within the landscape, the figure of the shepherd can be seen looking out onto the landscape he has carved.


Monique Roffey’s classic The Mermaid of Black Conch follows Aycayia as she comes across a musical fisherman named David whilst swimming in the Caribbean. David soon comes to her rescue when she is captured by American tourists and dragged ashore. Described as a love affair, the colour palette of the book cover merges warm pink tones with the murky depths of the sea to reveal the relationship that both beings form despite her curse. The designer, Jesús Sotés, is based in Spain and is self taught, drawing on themes of the subconscious and nature in his artwork, for both the advertising sector and the publishing industry. The decision to not show Aycayia's face is a nod to the unsure sense of identity that she will experience and the journey of self-discovery she will go on while on land. No doubt Aycayia will be torn between the sea and life of land, and the colour palette of the sea illustrates the loneliness and negativity found there as she lives out her curse.


The Man With the Compound Eyes, by Wu Ming-yi, is set in Taiwan on the island of Wayo Wayo. Atile'i must follow tradition and become a sacrifice to the sea god once he turns fifteen years old, as all second sons must do; but in his determination to survive, he is transported through a vortex. Stumbling across Alice Shih on the shores of the island, both characters will journey through the mountains to uncover the disappearance of Alice’s husband and will form a unique bond. Yu-Hsuan Wang designed the vibrant cover that depicts the beauty and fantastical elements of this island. Wang focuses heavily on the relationships between ecosystems and species in her work, as well as delineating natural ecology. The two figures merge into the flowing background of the mountain, surrounded by jumping animals and the river that is brimming with life.

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