Tag Archives: cover design

“On the Road” Turns 57!

5 Sep


Jack Kerouac’s On the Road turns fifty-seven years old today! It’s such a vibrant work that continues to inspire people to pick up a pen or hit the road that it’s hard to believe it’s been around for so long.

The above picture is what the novel looked like when it first came out. Paul and I actually emulated its design on the title page of Burning Furiously Beautiful: The True Story of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” which I personally was excited about! Since 1957, Kerouac’s novel has undergone many, many cover transformations. I talked about the significance of these design changes here. And I talked about On the Road’s “girly” makeover here.

The novel has since inspired other artists, such as Tim Z. Hernandez, who actually tracked down “the Mexican girl”; Larry Closs; Jonathan Collins; and J. Haeske.

The film adaptation (you can read my experience going to see it here), which has a long history, came out recently and starred some of Hollywood’s biggest names. It sparked a lot of dialogue, including whether Hollywood was glamorizing the Beats.

Of course, even when it was first published, On the Road received criticism for its morality or lack thereof.

Despite these digs at its morality, one of the creeds I’ve heard over and over again — and with which I disagree — is that On the Road is a book only for teenagers.

And if you’re not a teenager and you read On the Road, it supposedly makes you undateabable. Unless maybe you’re a woman.

It seems like everyone has an opinion about On the Road. What’s yours?


On the Road Gets a Girly Makeover

4 Jun

book-coverimage via Cup of Jo

The cover of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road got a girly makeover last month as part of author Maureen Johnson’s challenge Coverflip, which asked people to imagine how the covers of famous books would look if they had been written by people of the opposite gender.

The experiment stems from the growing conversation surrounding how books are gendered. For more on this subject, I’d recommend reading Deboarah Copaken Kogan’s article “My So-Called ‘Post-Feminist’ Life in Arts and Letters” for The Nation, about the title and cover for her memoir Shutterbabe about her years as a war photographer. (See the disconnect? babe. war.)

The feminized cover of On the Road seen above—a fake, done in jest to prove Johnson’s point that covers are gendered—interestingly enough bears a resemblance to the real marketing materials for the recent film adaptation of Kerouac’s novel. Whether it was the film poster or the trailer, Kristen Stewart—who played LuAnne—was front and center. The US edition of the movie tie-in novel went with a collage effect but check out this Italian cover:



Lest you think the Italians are alone for some reason, it’s the same cover used for the Australian edition and the French edition.

What are we to make of the fact the movie-tie in editions look more like the fake Coverflip experiment than more recent printings of On the Road? Are the marketing teams behind these new editions trying to appeal to young women? Are they assuaging misogynistic critiques by giving a female character more attention—or are they actually embracing misogyny by using an image of a woman as a marketing tool?

For more on this subject, you might like:

Judging On the Road by Its Covers

Judging On the Road by Its Covers

30 Jul

Okay, by now you’ve probably heard about the six year old who guesses what classic novels are about based on their covers, but I can’t resist rehashing her cute take on this early On the Road cover:



 “I think it’s about a car. A car that goes to Mexico, Indonesia and other places. It’s about a car that goes on all sorts of adventures. The guy on the cover is a teen, he likes to drive people places a lot. And he’s French.”

The cover she was looking at was the Signet 1958 edition.  I love that she guesses that the book is an adventure in many places and correctly guesses Mexico is one of them.

The fact that she guesses the main character is French is so perfect.  Of course, her guess is based on the drawing of a man in a Parisian-inspired striped shirt and scarf, which probably anyone would guess means the character is French.

Kerouac indeed was the son of French Canadian immigrants, but the kicker is that he’s usually thought of as either being very American or being anti-American.  In the 1960s, beatniks were depicted as wearing black turtlenecks and berets. In reality, Kerouac didn’t wear a costume of striped shirts or black turtlenecks.  If you look at most pictures of him, his clothes are nondescript.  He wore a lot of t-shirts and flannel and overcoats.

That’s why it’s so fascinating to look at the 1958 edition from a historical perspective on the evolution of Kerouac’s image.  As they’d do with any author, the publishing house tried to brand Kerouac.  In 1958, the striped shirt and scarf flung over his shoulder imparted a worldly, European air, meant to invoke a bohemian vibe.



The only other edition published before that was the Viking 1957 edition.  Of course, if you know about book publishing, you already know that Signet and Viking are both imprints of Penguin.  The difference between these two covers, though, is starting.  The cover of the first edition of On the Road, the Viking 1957 edition, was all black with a small rectangular abstract image in the center.  Bouncing text announced the title.  There was no image of a person or a car at all.  And yet the book sold so well that by the next year when the Signet edition came out, the cartoony line drawing cover featured the ringing endorsement “This is the bible of the ‘beat generation.’”

It should be noted that this Singet cover not only featured the Frenchman, but in the background there was a woman in a bikini and a couple making out.  Again, the publisher was trying to brand On the Road in a very specific way.  The third incarnation of the cover design for the US edition of On the Road came in 1965 when the extraneous people were deleted from the design and just the Frenchman was left standing on his lonesome, without even a car.  It lacked sex appeal, but someone must’ve liked it because two years later all the publisher did was switch from a cream colored background to a white background.  The following year, 1968, saw a cover design of a cartoony couple embracing in a car.  It marked a return to the sex theme.



Since then, the book has undergone many significant cover design changes, but what’s so interesting is that from the 1970s to the ‘90s the covers did not feature people at all.  They returned to the more metaphorical design of the first edition, featuring variations of the sun or a car.  It’s also worth noting that this was the time period in which Jack Kerouac fell out of popularity.

It wasn’t until Penguin released the 1991 paperback that the cover design included a people again.  And this is where it gets really interesting.  The romance angle is completely dropped and has not been seen in any US cover since the Signet 1968 edition.  Now, the focus becomes about friendship—a bromance, if you will—and cool hipsters hanging out in gritty New York.  The cover of the 1991 edition is a photograph of Jack Kerouac and Neal Cassady, the real life inspiration for the main characters of the novel.  The Penguin 1994 edition a collage of photos of Kerouac and his friends.  The US doesn’t see another woman on the cover until the Penguin 2011 amplified edition, which again embraces the photographic collage style.



Other covers published between the ‘70s and today tended to be text only, feature landscape (with or without a car), or a picture of the lone traveler.  They tend to be spectacularly uninspired and ugly.

In Germany and France, where the film version of On the Road has already been released in theatres, there are new editions with covers boasting the poster image for the film.  Will we be seeing a US edition with the actors’ faces instead of Kerouac’s on the cover?

Which cover inspires you to read On the Road?