January 17, 2014

Kafka’s Metamorphosis transforms once again


In 2011, the designer Peter Mendelsund made waves with his stunning series of covers for Franz Kafka. Published in new editions by Schocken, the covers were a radical departure from our normal associations with Kafka—clean and colorful, they emphasized the writer’s wit over dystopia and despair, and were both fresh and timeless. Rightfully recognized in 50 Books/50 Covers of 2011, they immediately entered the pantheon of modern design classics.

The MetamorphosisBut lest you think the story on Franz K. is settled, the British designer Jamie Keenan has turned in a startling new entry of his own. For Susan Bernofsky’s new translation of The Metamorphosis, W. W. Norton art director Albert Tang asked Keenan to bring his signature typographic verve to Kafka’s classic. Keenan’s cover subjects the book’s title to its own transformation, with the letters forming the body of Gregor Samsa‘s metamorphosed body.

In an interview with Creative Review’s Mark Sinclair, Keenan explains the process behind the cover:

For the design of the cover, Keenan says he quickly decided upon “the idea of turning the title of The Metamorphosis into the cover image – and I knew I wanted to get across that shiny black quality that beetles have and that weirdo, fiddly, twitchy thing that a lot creepy crawly things have, too.

“This attempt to get across the feeling of ‘fiddlyness’ led to me finding a scan of an old Italian typeface that instantly conveyed that quality and also had enough solid sections for the shiny black part of the equation,” says Keenan. “Fairly quickly a combination of this typeface and some legs donated by an image of a stag beetle produced the cover that pretty much ended up on the final thing.”

The new edition of The Metamorphosis is available from W. W. Norton next week.


Christopher King is the former Art Director of Melville House.