Tuesday, April 21, 2009

CRIME (and punishment), by FUEL

In 2006, Penguin UK released a 5 book set called the "Penguin Designer Classics". The series paired up some of today's top designers with a classic novel of their choice. These designers were given free range with boards, paper, dust jackets and so on, and each created a piece representative of their design aesthetic. Each book was limited to a run of 1000 numbered copies and housed in a plexiglass slipcase. The chosen titles (and their designers) are as follows: Crime and Punishment (FUEL), The Idiot (Ron Arad), Tender is the Night (Sam Taylor-Wood), Madame Bovary (Manolo Blahnik), and Lady Chatterley's Lover (Paul Smith).
Instead of writing up the entire series in one post, I'd like to focus on each designer individually. This doesn't mean the next five weeks will be devoted to the Designer Classics series; I'll feature the other volumes of the series occasionally as this blog grows. This week, we'll take a look at the graphic design team FUEL's take on Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment.

As for who FUEL are: you may know them from their Russian Criminal Tattoo books, just recently spanning to a third volume. Also, according to their wikipedia page, FUEL were responsible for the title sequences in the films "The Proposition" (written by Nick Cave!) and "Lost in Translation". (Unfortunately I don't recall what either looked like, so I'll take this as a cue to jump back on track...)

For some reason, FUEL's Crime and Punishment was the easiest volume for me to find. Early 2007, when I started looking for the series at online book sites, quite a few copies of Crime and Punishment wound up on eBay (in fact, I think that's where my copy came from). Looking back, I find this a bit surprising; sure, Fuel don't have the star-power that someone like Paul Smith has, but their book is structurally a further departure from a traditional book than (nearly) all the others. Let's take a look:

You might not be able to see it from the picture, but the "boards" of the book are hardly there--the front and back cover are printed on the same paper that the pages of text are printed on. To add to the peculiarity, the paper feels and looks like a recycled grocery bag. The constructivist red stripe on the cover is printed around the entire circumference of the book, running off the front and around on the side edges of the book. Beautiful!

To compare and contrast, I'll show another of FUEL's books: Alix Lambert's Crime.

The red edges and compact form make the book a standout on the shelves--while it is much more traditional in format (I imagine because the book was to be distributed on a substantially wider scale) one can still see similarities between it and Crime and Punishment. As for the text of this book "Crime", it's interesting--first-hand testimonials from a number of major players in the world of crime. While I'm not especially interested in true-crime, I found these vignettes to be haunting and truly captivating. However, Lambert also includes testimonials from many famous names on the outside of that world. Many sections of the book are devoted to stories told by various actors and actresses who played criminals on screen. While some were riveting, others I could do without and resulted in a diminished interest in the book as a whole.

As hot-and-cold a book as Crime was, it's still fantastic to see graphic designers publishing their own books on such an international scale. It shows that they care about the book world more than just as artists, but as readers and collectors as well.

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