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Find below an essay on civic pride, parks and gentrification, with accompanying map. This essay was initially written as part of a psychogeographic element of my Graphic Interruptions project. 

Psychogeography has been an aspect of my Graphic Interruptions project for a while now. It is a tricky term and there are many ideas about what defines the practice. Purists stick closely by Debord’s drift techniques, while others are happy to stretch the term. I fit the latter camp, and a large inspiration for me has been the book Walking Inside Out: Contemporary British Psychogeography, edited by Tina Richardson. The many different approaches and responses to the subject are documented over 14 essays, and these gave me the courage to experiment with my own personal written response to my walking.

At this stage in my project I am not sure I will continue in this vain as I evaluate the effectiveness of such personal, auto-biographical writing and whether this really sits comfortably with my photography and project intentions. With no pun intended, I am currently at a cross-roads with where I go next. While I am enjoying writing such self-reflective narratives they are becoming more distanced from the critical graphic design discourse I was aiming for in the first place, (as displayed in blog posts I’ve written about Graphic Interruptions in previous posts).

To help move on this internal debate I have decided to post this short piece of writing with a view to drawing a line under such a style. However, I may revisit this under a different banner in the future.

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California, Ipswich—you couldn’t find somewhere less like the West Coast of America.

I’ve spent many years walking to work and exercising the dog along these streets. The journey to work, depending on the route I choose, can take anything from 15–25 minutes, often through a small but perfectly formed park. The local Coop can delay me when there’s cat food or bread to buy. I’ve often wondered about the criteria to work in that most ethical of supermarkets, and from my observations it appears to be the inability to move at anything other than a slow pace, which I quite like as it is representative of the life here. Recently I joked about an item I was buying and I was stared at blankly. (I read somewhere that Mark E Smith said his idea of hell was being stuck in a lift with ‘chatty man’—I fear ‘chatty man’ only slightly less than I fear becoming ‘chatty man’.)

One of the greatest things about Ipswich is its array of parks. The one closest to my home and that I cross on my way to work holds many memories, not least because it is where I first saw my future wife. She was giving a speech prior to an anti-racist demonstration I’d travelled from Colchester to support. Then, as an outsider, Ipswich felt like a hotbed of radicalism in comparison to that virtually all-white garrison town. That was many years ago and the tree she orated under has long since been cut down. I often bring the dog here now and as a result I have become intimately familiar with its plethora of dog-shit bins, screaming at me all bright red with decaying decals. I once pondered on how those in charge of guide-dogs locate these bins before it occurred to me that the pungent smell that surrounds them render visual signifiers superfluous to all but the anosmia inflicted.

I have lived in Ipswich some 18 years. Its people, as is their right, are fiercely critical of the town; yet equally defensive of it if outsiders dare to pass negative comment. This, I suspect, is typical of most small towns. It could be argued that Ipswich is a working-class enclave within a county of great wealth. If you went along with such an argument it could equally be claimed it is ripe for gentrification—the only thing holding such a threat at bay being the dire train service to and from London. A 2015 property feature in The Guardian claimed that Ipswich was ‘up-and-coming’. Brian Eno was quoted in the same edition of the paper stating he thought the best thing to do with Ipswich was to drive through it. Such is the strange duality that hangs over the town.

The town has always been a poor cousin to others within the wider Eastern region, and I think that’s how many of its inhabitants feel: neglected in favour of the money that surrounds it. Like Brian Eno, John Peel lived just outside the town, not actually in it. Other London media notables have bought up cottages in the surrounding luscious countryside and shop in Ipswich’s more middle-class neighbouring towns.

But in the time I’ve lived here I’ve become loyal to this backwater town. I like the fact that local thrash-punk rockers Extreme Noise Terror were invited by arch-situtationists the KLF to perform with them at the Brit Awards in 1992. I’m proud that the once mighty Cowell’s printers developed the craft of fine-illustration printing from the Buttermarket in the town centre, which resulted in Barbar the Elephant being inked here. And my earliest memories of Ipswich are of its vibrant local music scene that I used to travel to from Essex—but now decent mid-sized venues have been turned into theme pubs or car parks. Until recently, on political maps, Ipswich was an island of red in Suffolk’s sea of blue, and that always bought me great pleasure until Gummer Jr halted any such menace.

Local movers and shakers are still hopeful that gentrification is on its way though and Ipswich’s real history is often overlooked by those whose idea of culture is a ‘vintage’ street market a few times a year and a waterfront marina full of yachts that locals can not afford. The heraldic symbols that look distressed on street signs and on rubbish bins around my neighbourhood seem a fitting metaphor for a town that can sometimes appear to be down on its luck but is trying not to admit it. It is difficult to see where this old town may go, and I’ve heard arguments from well meaning colleagues who are hopeful the area is ripe for new money to move in to. Unfortunately they didn’t get my protestations against financial cleansing.

8 years ago there was a spate of graffiti in my neighbourhood from a gang calling itself the Front Line Warriors. There are still a few traces of their visual scenting around the place, where the council have given up redacting all signs of the FLW. They laughingly painted: “welcome to the ghetto” on the side of the local primary school, (2015 Ofsted award: Good). But this area is no more a ghetto than it is anything like its namesake California. Thankfully rather than just paint over this act of self-social deprivation the school got their pupils to create 4 mural pieces for where the graffiti once lurked, ensuring that the local children feel part of their community. I hope it encourages them to believe they can change their own area for themselves rather than either wallowing in its demise or relying on others to march in and mend it for them. I pass these artworks everyday on my way to work and they never fail to make me smile as they reaffirm my belief that civic pride can still have a place in 21st century Britain and that Ipswich’s fighting spirit is still there just below the surface.

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The UK’s gutters and hedgerows will soon see new graphics on the McJunk strewn there. Below is a link to an article I wrote for Eye magazine blog about an uncritical design press showcasing the new designs, asking whether well respected blogs are just becoming advertising hoardings for big brands trying to ingratiating themselves with those working in the creative industries.

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In my teens in the 1980s, as I was becoming politically aware and active, (going on CND demonstrations and reading radical publications), it is difficult for me not to be very familiar with the work of Peter Kennard. I think I must have held several of his images in my hands as placards and certainly stuck some of his photomontages on my bedroom wall torn from pages in lefty rags. When I heard he was having a retrospective at the Imperial War Museum, titled Unofficial War Artist, I debated whether I should go or not, thinking that I knew what I would get and worried about it being an exercise in personal nostalgia. It wasn’t until I read Art-e-facts’ review of her several visits to the show that I decided to go, and without a shadow of a doubt it blew me away, (no pun intended).

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From the outset it was refreshing to see an exhibition with both process and application on show, as you can see below in the anti-apartheid image for The Guardian.

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It was equally good to see some sketchbook work that wasn’t ever applied.

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The skilfulness of Kennard’s photomontage is without question. There is an assured confidence and directness in his visual metaphors that makes them work with little-to-no text. His use of imagery isn’t subtle, but then neither are the effects of war. In that respect Kennard’s work creates a powerful message that hits its target again and again. Regardless of this skilfulness of technique, it is amazing that one man can find so many ways to keep attacking power-mongers’ lust for weaponry. For all of Kennard’s sheer determination we should have seen the back of nuclear weapons years ago, and it seems unfathomable to me that Jeremy Corbyn is criticised in 2015 for coming out saying he would not press the nuclear button, but I digress.

Up until I saw the show, what I knew of Kennard’s output was largely confined to his ‘Thatcher’ period. Before attending I considered what it is to be so defined by an era, just as John Heartfield was to the 1930s and Jamie Ried was to the mid-late 1970s. As the 80s moved to the 90s it isn’t surprising that Kennard became somewhat dejected, stating: “a mixture of personal experience, disillusion with organised politics and the use of the media of innumerable digital photomontages,” caused him to, “question the effectiveness of photomontage as a critical, social probe”, (exhibition panel.) Imagine coming to the realisation that such dedication of energy doesn’t appear to have actually won any battles and that the ‘opposition’ then adopt your mechanisms of protest for their own ends. While you could call any faith in art being able to change the world naive, with Kennard you need to remember that he cut his political teeth on the student protests of the late 1960s, when a different world really did seem possible.

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Not knowing much of his work past the 1980s, (save for the infamous Blair Photo-op), it was what Kennard did following this period that really blew me away as he started making work that was even more powerful, direct, and particularly brutal.

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From the large eyes staring out at you from the Reading Room exhibit, and the hands clawing at newspaper columns, you sense humanity grasping and pleading for some sanity in a world full of marginalised desperate people. Then a corridor of paintings suduces you in with ghostly portraits that stop you in your tracks as their mouthless, thus voiceless, apparitions stare back at you. I was stunned into silence also by their power.

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And all this before you enter the room with his most recent work, The Boardroom, an ongoing project of Kennard’s that revisits photomontage but in a 3D space. This room is not for the faint-hearted—the imagery is particularly brutal while equations and statistics about war, hunger and poverty adorn the handrails you just might need to cling to in order to steady yourself against the visual onslaught.

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No photograph can do justice to this room—it is truly powerful stuff. If you do not feel emotionally affected by its overload of the injustices of war then you either do not have a soul, or you are a government minister.

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The statistics displayed are as equally an important element of the work as the visuals are. In the exhibition’s accompanying book, Kennard states: “I realise the seed for the idea…was actually planted a quarter of a century ago, … I made a speech at the UN to open my exhibition that began with a series of numbers I heard from Dr Hiroshi Nakajima, Director General of the World Health Organisation. I recounted in the speech how these numbers had been haunting me. For one billion dollars, he had said, or the cost of 20 modern military planes, the world could control illnesses that kill 11 million children every year in the developing world. At that moment, I saw that the connection between children needlessly dying from illness and bloated military spending was concealed in our society; the numbers that are the foundation of our modern world”. (2015, Kennard, IWM.) That phrase is worth repeating as you look at the image below: the numbers are the foundation of the modern world.

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On leaving the exhibition and reflecting on the necessary brutality of The Boardroom, I thought of the bravery of the Imperial War Museum to commission this exhibition. It continues until May 2016, and I hope that when it is taken down, the museum consider making this last room a permanent exhibition in their collection.

Peter Kennard: Unofficial War Artist is free: go see.

I left Facebook a while ago, but my abiding memory of it meant this advert in today’s Guardian was ripe for a swift détournement.


What Facebook would like you to think it is:

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What Facebook actually is:

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I was tempted to write about this a few weeks ago when it first hit the news that Virgin were going to adorn their credit cards with Sex Pistols’ artwork. On top of my initial revulsion I then saw this advert and considering it so wrong on so many levels, I didn’t quite know where to start.

However, the original Sex Pistols’ designer, Jamie Reid, probably says it best in this letter which is a response to an article in The Guardian about the cards by Johnny Sharp.

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“Dear Johnny,
In response to your G2 piece FILTY LUCRE, I can only express my complete disgust at the use of my art work for the VIRGIN credit cards. It seems typical of the times we live in. Especially with the Tory (bankers) victory in the last election. It seems so removed from the original 1977 spirit of the Pistols but to be sure these times of questioning and change and alternatives will come again.
As the original artists I have no rights over its usage. Virgin have the rights to use it as they like.
If it was up to me I would never agree to such usage.
Yours Jamie Reid”

Reid has also responded with some new artwork on his website titled The Death of Money: Anarchy and Revolution 1977—Abhorrence and Revulsion 2015 

I couldn’t put it better myself. That said, it did amuse me to see that Reid doesn’t seem to have the same ‘disgust’ for collaborating with Fred Perry and adorning their shirts with some of his work. Fred Perry say of the collaboration: “Some 40 years on his work continues to inspire individuality and free-thinking…Jamie Reid’s three designs speak of both his wit and sense of rebellion”. ‘Sense of rebellion’ rather than actual rebellion would be about right, but then I suppose as Fred Perry aren’t bankers, turning rebellion into money, to quote Strummer, isn’t such a problem for Reid.

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I too look forward to seeing ‘times of questioning and change and alternatives’ come again Jamie.

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This blog, Dubdog, carries the strap-line: On art, design and music—mostly.

However, on closer examination a reader may come to the conclusion that in truth it is actually ‘mostly’ about design in one form or another. The music bit generally gets sidelined to lists of what I’ve been listening to at the end of any particular year. But recent thoughts have led me to consider adding a semi-regular feature that will address this.

Let me explain… I’ve been thinking a lot about music recently, partly prompted by corridor conversations with work colleagues and discovering a joint love of a particular band; but also through meeting new people and finding they have cross-over tastes to mine, but who then reel off a huge amount of band names or artists I’ve never come across. This has led me to ponder on how I have arrived at my subjective musical ‘tastes’.

I’ve never been a fan of pigeonholing. As a teenager, like many others, I had a perceived need to belong to something and thus create an identity for myself, usually based on a particular youth culture that followed the fashions of a particular musical ‘tribe’. As I matured I rejected this need to identify myself by the music I listened to, just as most people do when they distance themselves from their teenage years. But even when I was pigeonholing myself to the outside world through dress codes, I felt at odds with assigning myself to just one particular style or genre of music. When I was wearing bondage trousers and spiking my hair I was listening to far more than just The Clash.

As I think back on my life’s musical journey, one important thing it has taught me is to be open-minded to new experiences. As an addition to this I learned not to define something as being ‘music’ or not, especially as I learnt about, for example, Industrial Music, experimental sound artists, and more recently, Free Jazz. As a result, the term ‘music’ suddenly seems as arcane as the concept of dressing in the same style as the people in the bands you like. As I have heard new sounds, whether that be through chance happenings or someone directing me towards a particular artist, I can pinpoint key moments in my life when I’ve heard something for the first time and it has fundamentally altered my mind about music. I’m not talking about just hearing a new band, I’m talking about moments that have made me question my preconceived opinions and have taken me on an exciting journey of discovery. To use the term ‘paradigm shift’ is not too strong a term to use here in relation to what I’m trying to express.

Obviously context is everything. There are certain pieces of music that I’ve heard that if I’d come to them earlier in life I might not have been able to accept them—not having had preceding musical experiences I might need to get to that point of acceptance. A good example of this is the first time I heard Venus In Furs by The Velvet Underground. To my 15 year-old ears this blew my mind and I couldn’t stop playing the track on rotation for several days as I soaked up this incredible sound; a sound that I can’t recall having heard previously. Had I first heard this at age 10, my personal experience would likely be quite different. Equally, the situation I heard something in for the first time may also have bought a lot to the experience that outside of that situation it may not have had the same effect. Others who may already be familiar with a specific work which I signify as a paradigm shift in my conscious understanding of music may not consider that it the best example of that specific musical approach. This doesn’t matter as this is personal to my experience, and besides, if they are right, I will generally work that out for myself anyway as I explore further. And while I may come to the realisation that what I’ve heard is at the tame/lame end of its particular spectrum, the fact that it opened my world still holds a significance for me, and therefore I would still hold it in high regard, (albeit with accepted caveats).

As these considerations on music that I have been ruminating on recently have continued, I’ve started listing all the key works that have prompted a real paradigm shift in my musical appreciation. Over the coming months I will revisit some of these pieces and subsequently write about them here. Some will be very well known and discussed at length in other forums, but some will have slipped off the musical map and no end of searching online will uncover them being given any serious attention, (I can’t wait to write the post on Flux of Pink Indians’ The Fucking Cunts Treat Us Like Pricks, for example). They will all, obviously, be personal to me and my experiences. But equally, some readers may discover new music they haven’t previously experienced or re-evaluate something they had previously discarded. As an exercise I hope to find this personally enriching, but more than that, as I consider music in more depth and the phenomenon of the effect it can have on an individual, I hope to learn a little more about what music is, and the power it can wield over and above subjective appreciation.

As a sneak peak, first up will be a key album that has shaped much of my musical appreciation from a young age and that has aligned my tastes for many years to come, right up to the present day in fact. That album is Joe Gibbs and The Professionals—African Dub All Mighty: Chapter 3. Search it out on YouTube and give it a listen, I’ll be writing about it here soon. Until then, I’m now off to trawl the BBC Glastonbury website, while the festival goes on many miles away from my home town, in order to search out some new acts I’ve never heard of before. Who knows, I may be writing about them here in a few months time.

This series is titled Eardrum Buzz after the track of the same name by Wire.

As opposed to:

Top: Understanding a Photograph. John Berger. 1968
Bottom: Premier Inn wisdom. 2015

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A few years ago I wrote an article for Eye magazine blog after coming across a programme for the 1951 Festival of Britain. At the time I was aware of the existence of a series of small guide-books published to coincide with the festival called About Britain, but it was only recently that I actually came across any.

There were 13 of these books published covering different regions of Britain. The two that I’ve been lucky enough to find cover the West Country and Home Counties. The latter is more fascinating to me being more familiar with the areas discussed within. As the inside dust jacket cover states: “These books are guides to the living Britain, covering the whole country, England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. Each is a guide to a well-defined district, planned to give you the fundamental facts about its scenery, its monuments, its buildings, its natural history, its people and their work and characteristics.”

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The covers feature maps of the region, both as a hard-case wrap and as a dust jacket. The fact the map was printed on both case and jacket allowed the owner of the book to remove the jacket and use it for reference while reading, as the inside back cover of the Home Counties edition explains, (below). Whether this was a deliberate design decision or some clever post-rationalisation will never be known, but it is still a great idea.

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Naturally the books at first glance seem somewhat dated. However, there is a real sense of optimism and forward thinking in regard to the contents once you consider the context within which these were published. These are meant to be egalitarian and easily accessible by all to instil a sense of pride in our nation, and encourage the reader of better times to come as the country shook off the last vestiges of the Second World War.

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Featured inside are stories of emerging industries, as can be seen in the spread above about Ford. However, I’m not sure how the residents of Canvey Island or Peacehaven would react to where they lived as being described as “unplanned calamities”. Alongside such articles were stories of traditional farming methods, town planning, historical features and natural wonders.

Also published in these guides were tours of local areas with maps you could follow by car, bus or bike, clearly aimed at the working classes taking time out to visit the country and thus encouraging an emerging tourist industry.

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Some aspects are seen as very antiquated, such as the description of Londoners’ characteristics: “his steadiness, humour, independence and attitude to authority…His loyalty to the ruler he approves is unbounded, and he likes to show it on Royal occasions.” Many republicans of today would disagree with such cap doffing, and further dating the writing, you have to remind yourself of the times when noticing the inherent sexism within the text. That, and references to empire aside, there is a refreshing regard to immigration: “London welcomes strangers of all countries and all colours, whether they seek refuge as exiles, come to work or come to play.” UKIP take note, the Britain in the 1950s you would wish us to return to was more forward thinking than you would have us believe.

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The openness and forward thinking is evident throughout as Britain looked to escape the war years and propel itself into the 1950s. It had a plan to rebuild itself, reject the austerity of rationing and launch into a new era of rebuilding a country that worked for its inhabitants. As the opening chapter states:

“This guide-book is one of a series ‘About Britain,’ so we hope, in a new way…it begins with a portrait of the district—an account of many of the facts about it which are worth knowing…  These guides have been prompted by the Festival of Britain. The Festival shows how the British people, with their energy and natural resources, contribute to civilisation. So the guide-books as well celebrate a European country alert, ready for the future, and strengthened by a tradition which you can see in its remarkable monuments and products of history and even pre-history. If the country includes Birmingham, Glasgow or Belfast, it includes Stonehenge. If it contains Durham Cathedral, it contains coal mines, iron foundries, and the newest factories devising all the goods of a developing civilisation.”

Reading through these guide-books in the last three weeks of a General Election in this country—one that is caged in the terminology of austerity, cuts, Europe and immigration; one that seeks to blame, point fingers, build walls and retract in on itself—I am reminded of the feelings I had when I first read the official Festival of Britain programme that compelled me to write my Eye piece. And that is if politicians in the late 1940s/early 1950s could envisage emerging from such a financial disaster as the Second world War, looking forward and having hope for the future, why can’t they today? For the Festival of Britain organisers, their take on the world wasn’t one of austerity and boarders, blaming those worst off while appeasing financiers; theirs was a vision of everyone working together for the benefit of all. Something I believe that many of our current crop of politicians could do well to learn from.

Quaint maybe, ambitious certainly, but if history teaches us anything, it teaches us that these visionaries achieved their goals; for this is the era that gave us public services such as the NHS and much of the infrastructure that has supported us for the last 63 years. Will the decisions of the next government have such a huge impact on our way of life and our culture? Only negatively I fear.

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I’m pleased to have had work added to the ‘Agit-Prop Army’ of images on Occupy Design’s Time To Act webpage. Submit your posters and memes for the Climate Movement to help their campaign on the streets of Paris in December and on social media throughout 2015.

As Occupy Design say:

Time is running out. Climate Change is happening and without a serious global plan to replace our profit driven, fossil fuelled economy our very existence as a species is threatened this century.

But the Climate Crisis is not just a threat but an opportunity to chart a different course, one that shifts the Economy away from Capitalism to one that is more just, democratic and resilient that we all can share.

2015 is a crucial year for the climate. In December, governments will come together in Paris at the COP21 UN Climate Summit to strike a new deal for the climate—we must make our voices heard, we know that they will not act unless we make them and we can no longer accept more of the same.

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The US and UK book jacket designs for Harper Lee’s Go Set A Watchman. Picture: L—HarperCollins / R—William Heinemann. Source: guardian.com

I’ve written here and elsewhere before about how graphic design is overlooked in favour of other arts disciplines, (see the post Shelf / Life and my McJunk essay as two examples). I’ve come to expect this, so when Will Gompertz—the BBC’s Arts Correspondent—recorded a piece for the Six O’Clock News this week about the Design of the Year Awards at The Design Museum, I wasn’t surprised that the graphic design nominations weren’t mentioned at all.

When The Guardian published an article on its website in the same week about the book jackets for the release of Harper Lee’s sequel / prequel to To Kill A Mockingbird, I thought some balance may be restored. In fairness to The Guardian at least the article is about design, and they did invite designer Stuart Bache to critique the covers for an accompanying piece, (which he does excellently). But what really annoyed me was that no designer’s names are mentioned at all in either article. I don’t blame The Guardian for this, as none of the stories I’ve read about these jackets on any other website mentions the designers involved either. This suggests that for some reason the publishing houses aren’t mentioning names, (the book is being released by different publishers in the UK and the US). It maybe standard for in-house designers not to be given publicity—although I’d hope their names will be on the actual release somewhere—but both William Heinemann (UK) and HarperCollins (US) are heavily publicising these design previews to generate free advertising in the press in the run-up to the July publishing date.

I think it is a shame that none of the articles I’ve read in regard to these jackets chooses to question why such anonymity exists when it comes to graphic design, and this in itself maintains the status quo of graphic design not being treated with the same esteem as other arts disciplines. While at least Bache mentions the covers are designed by designers and The Guardian did seek him out as an expert witness, it would be good to read journalists questioning this lack of credit as they surely would do if this was the preview of a tie-in artwork by an actual proper artist.

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