F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, originally published by Charles Scribner’s Sons in 1925, turned 95-years-old in 2020 and thus entered the public domain.
With the copyright expired, what the New York Times termed the “Great Gatsby Glut” began. More than a dozen new editions of the novel were published in 2021, including a free version from our very own W.S. Cole Press and four editions from Penguin Random House alone.
This raises an obvious question: With so many editions available, how should a book buyer choose?
Of course, you can select by price or maybe by who wrote the introduction, but most of us are going to do exactly what we’ve been warned against our entire lives and judge a book by its cover.
Publishers know this, so the stakes of designing a Gatsby cover are high. And the challenge of designing a Gatsby cover is unique. The original dust jacket ranks among the most iconic in literature, so should you reference it, or make a clean break? The novel has also become a shorthand for the Roaring Twenties, so it’s also very tempting—though seldom a good idea—to employ vintage fonts and other signifiers of the era. (Champagne, anyone?)
Generations of designers have created scores of solutions to the Gatsby problem, and it’s my pleasure to collect and critique some of those efforts here. Which raises another important question: what makes a Gatsby cover great?
At the risk of sounding like the infamous Dr. J. Evans Pritchard, I think Gatsby covers can be judged on two scales. The first is how artfully the cover is rendered, and the second is how successfully it communicates the themes of the novel.
In my humble judgment then, the best Gatsby covers are those that skilfully use typography and illustration to evoke the novel’s signature cocktail of glamour and tragedy. Which also explains why the original cover remains the one to beat. (Those that focus exclusively on glamour to the detriment of tragedy are legion.)
By the way, if there’s a specific edition of The Great Gatsby you’d like me to add and review, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.