Eight Penguin Covers by Alan Aldridge

Penguin SF Logo 1967

In 1967, Penguin chief Allen Lane was harbouring serious misgivings about the direction that editor Tony Godwin was taking Penguin with regard to the marketing and distribution of fiction. Lane felt that the covers being designed by Alan Aldridge and his colleagues were becoming too commercial and increasingly tasteless. To Lane such covers were undignified and not in keeping with Penguin’s reputation. Worse still, the use of images he regarded as titillating or even offensive was an insult to the books’ authors, some of whom were now making their own feelings known, with more than one threatening to move to another publisher.

Matters were made worse by Godwin’s desire to sell Penguin books in non-traditional outlets such as supermarkets. Lane disliked the idea and as booksellers joined authors to protest at the way Penguin was heading so the rift between the two men deepened. To Lane, Aldridge’s ‘vulgar covers’ and Godwin’s ‘gimmicky selling’ were a threat to over thirty years of Penguin tradition and brand identity. If left unchecked it would only be a matter of time before the books were being packaged and sold just like any other consumer product. The crisis came to a head in late April and early May with a boardroom bust-up that resulted in Godwin’s departure and Lane’s barbed comment that ‘a book is not a tin of beans’.

The Penguin SF titles published in 1967 perhaps give some idea of what all the fuss was about, for whereas previous SF covers had targeted adults, Aldridge wanted his to ‘reach the kids’ and for that something different would be needed. Aldridge’s new designs retained the black, white and mauve livery that had first been used the previous year but shortened the banner to SCIENCE FICTION and relocated it beneath the logo along with the price. With the price and banner out of the way, the title and author’s name were shifted to the top right corner. But tinkering with typography was merely housekeeping to clear away the clutter in preparation for the main event. For unlike the other SF covers of 1966, the artwork was no longer confined to a white-bordered window but took centre stage instead.

Penguin SF had never seen anything like it. Aldridge clothed his cast of characters in gaudy bow ties & polkadots or kipper ties & pantaloons, mixing vaudeville with freak show in a crazy raving medley of surrealism and psychedelia that pinched from Pop Art whilst also flirting with Art Deco. His phantasmagoria of floating images took SF cover art to the brink and the titles of the books said as much. Strung out in shrieking white capitals, they splintered the blackness like a banshee’s wail.

Cartoonish and cadaverous, gilded and grotesque, Aldridge’s artwork was trippy and fun. It tuned in to the spirit of the times and to some his covers were the drug of choice (this was 1967 after all and flower power was in full bloom) but they did not please everyone. Aldridge aroused adoration but also abhorrence and some of his covers in the main fiction list provoked a particularly hostile reaction. It was enough to ensure there would be no encore. With Godwin gone, Aldridge’s position at Penguin became increasingly untenable and by early 1968 he too had left the building.

I happen to think that this series of eight titles illustrated by Aldridge have stood the test of time and still look decidedly freakish, even in 2016. What I like most about these covers is that they look about as far away from SF as you can possibly get, taking a direction never before explored by artists and completely reflecting the times they were created in. Feel free to drop me a comment and let me know what you think about this collection of bizarre covers.

Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Make Room! Make Room! by Harry Harrison

Destination: Void by Frank Herbert
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Destination Void by Frank Herbert

The Wind From Nowhere by J. G. Ballard
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

The Wind From Nowhere by J. G. Ballard

A Plague Of Demons by Keith Laumer
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

A Plague Of Demons by Keith Laumer

The Circus Of Dr Lao by Charles G. Finney
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

The Circus Of Dr Lao by Charles G. Finney

The Joyous Invasions by Theodore Sturgeon
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

The Joyous Invasions by Theodore Sturgeon

Time And Again by Clifford D. Simak
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Time And Again by Clifford D. Simak

Tiger! Tiger! by Alfred Bester
This version was published in 1967 by Penguin Books
The cover artist is Alan Aldridge

Tiger! Tiger! by Alfred Bester

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7 thoughts on “Eight Penguin Covers by Alan Aldridge

  1. Byopia Press 17/02/2016 / 4:57 pm

    I was a huge fan of the Aldridge Penguin covers. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.

    Liked by 1 person

    • unsubscriber 18/02/2016 / 12:32 pm

      Thanks for your comment, I’m so pleased to hear that you were a fan of these wonderfully bizarre covers too. I’m sure that there are many more like us judging how difficult this series was to assemble and some of the prices that individual copies were fetching. I’m very happy to know that you enjoyed my photographs of these rare Penguin editions. All the best.

      Like

  2. John C Nash 17/02/2016 / 11:51 pm

    What a fascinating article, Mr Scriber. I had no idea about this period of Penguin’s publishing history. That cover art is amazing! I want to add those to my collection and I don’t even collect sci-fi.

    Liked by 1 person

    • unsubscriber 18/02/2016 / 12:38 pm

      Wonderful to hear that you enjoyed these too Mr Nash, I thought that their rather psychedelic nature might well appeal to a chap such as yourself. They do come up on eBay from time to time at fairly decent prices but you will probably struggle to get all eight books in this way, I had to buy the last three from private sellers via Abebooks. It’s always a huge sense of achievement to complete a collection like this though so I didn’t mind paying extra for the final few. Good luck in your search my friend and all the best as ever.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Guy 24/02/2016 / 3:17 am

    Hi

    A really interesting post, I am not sure about the Simak cover but overall they are really interesting and I hope I find a few in my travels.I I have had a poster of The Eagle by Aldridge done for a children’s book for over 30 years and it is still hanging on the landing leading to the basement. I also bought the books, although the illustration style is very different from these. I do see these as very clear examples of their period, although the white title text is a bit hard for these old eyes. As someone who buys specific editions of certain books because of the cover art/artist I was fascinated to read your discussion about the process at Penguin. I have always wondered how the decisions are made regarding cover art, what kind of trends are at work and how cover styles vary over time for different editions of the same title so I loved the information you provided.

    All the best
    Guy

    Liked by 1 person

    • unsubscriber 01/03/2016 / 3:16 pm

      Thanks as always for your kind words Guy, I’m pleased to hear that you enjoyed these fine covers. Aldridge was indeed an odd choice of artist over at Penguin during the late sixties and was much derided at the time although many of his designs have gone on to become highly sought after by collectors. I wish you good luck in finding some of these excellent books but they can be surprisingly difficult to find at decent prices – something I rapidly discovered after making the decision to complete the set. All the best my friend.

      Like

  4. lcmt 11/06/2016 / 3:17 pm

    I can’t believe I did not comment on this stunning post when you first published it. I remember being delighted by the cover for Tiger Tiger, but the set as a whole is wonderful. This time around, it’s the cover for The Wind from Nowhere that amuses me the most.

    Like

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