The April issue of Vanity Fair has a fantastic excerpt from Paula Byrne's new biography Mad World: Evelyn Waugh and the Secrets of Brideshead. This new examination of Evelyn Waugh talks about his close friendship with the Lygon family of Madresfield Court, and how he used them as the basis for the Marchmain family in Brideshead Revisited. As Brideshead Revisited is one of my favorite novels, I devoured every word! I also went back and took a look at my Evelyn Waugh books and once again fell in love.
I should explain this: I know it's a terrible fault, but I do judge books by their covers. We all do, let's get real. Why else would publishing houses spend time and money on cover art and photography? For me, I think the cover illustrations by Bill Brown on the Back Bay Books collection of Evelyn Waugh books are among the greatest. Each cover is its own work of art, but they all relate to each other in technique, design, and materials. The palettes offer the same warm patina of another time, while mixing in bright pops of color in unexpected places. There's also a lovely used of pattern within the pen-and-ink, many of which are re-used throughout the series to unite them on another level.
More than this is the style of Bill Brown. A modern illustrator whose work is often whimsical and lighthearted, with these covers he balances delicately both the darkness and humor that is inherent in Waugh. The lines are loose and breezy, but the motifs hint at something more beneath the surface. The hand-lettered titles each bear their own style, and give a nod to another era in illustration. The covers are also successful sales tools (and that's what book covers are really) prompting the viewer to pause, consider, flip through, and purchase.
Why are they among my favorites? Because they show the perfect pairing of prose and visuals, they work individually and as a collection, and while the style is retro they look lively and modern. I wish every publishing house gave their cover art this much thought and attention!