First, welcome to my new Judging Books by Their Covers blog channel on Justseeds.org! I’m really excited to relaunch the series on our new site, which not only looks 200% better, but also makes it so much easier to find these posts, track back to older book collections, link to social media, etc. You can always see the entire set of posts in one shot by going HERE. And please feel free to share these posts, link to them, and use the images (as long as you cite back to the original post, please).
OK, onward! I love it when I happen on a wing of publishing that’s new to me. I was at a NYC bookstore digging through the foreign language section—for better or worse, when digging for cool covers you quickly learn you can’t ignore any of the sections in the store—and I happened on a great looking book in French, but published in Cameroon. Check it out above—a parrot that collapses into a pile of colorful shapes; swirling into patterns, other bird contours, and letter-forms. I found a total of four books from the 70s published by Editions CLÉ, and another later title distributed by CLÉ. As you can see, they’re handsome books, white stock with flat, yet complicated, spot color illustrations. Partly because each color is individually printed (rather than the entire design created as a CMYK composite), the colors just jump off the page.
It wasn’t until I got home and did some more research that I found out CLÉ stands for Centre de Litterature Evangelique, and that CLÉ was (and still is) an evangelical Christian publishing house. While almost all of the African publishers of the post-colonial era I’ve been collecting are long gone, with little online evidence they even ever existed, CLÉ is not only still around, but they even have a Facebook page.
For those that don’t know, Cameroon is roughly split down the middle in terms of language, with half Anglophone and half Francophone. In English, the most well known—and maybe only—Cameroonian author is Mongo Beti, who wrote in French and spent much of his life in exile in France. French seems to be the language of culture in Cameroon, so it’s no surprise that CLÉ is Francophone. What is surprising is that they now appear to be a standard bible-thumping operation, but that clearly wasn’t the case forty years ago. The book above by Ettiene Yanou won major literature prizes when it was published, and Remy Medou Mvomo (see two of his books below), was another major writer from Francophone Africa.
My French is basically non-existent beyond what is needed to read a protest poster, so I should probably limit my speculations here, and return to appreciating the books. Below you can see an image I found online of CLÉ’s offices in Yaoundé (the capital of Cameroon), as well as two different logos.
Medou Mvomo’s Afrika Ba’a is one of the sharpest covers, particularly in its simplicity. The overall design, with its combination of bold serif type and graphic imagery mixing pre-colonial African and modernist expressionist visual languages. This amalgam is reminiscent of other African publishing projects, in particular Black Orpheus journal from Nigeria in the 1960s, and a bit like the peak of the Modern African Library series by East African Publishing House in Kenya. The illustration here is by Philippe Ouassa. It is likely the same Philippe Ouassa who is an artist from Congo-Brazzaville, just south of Cameroon. The illustrations on the other books appear to be signed “MC,” but no illustrator is ever credited.
The final book, below to the right, is from the 1990s, and published by Editions CEDA (Centre d’Edition et de Diffusion Africaines). CEDA is based in Abidjan, in neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, but appears to be distributed by CLÉ from Yaoundé. Although the book is much newer—only twenty instead of forty years old!—there is much less information about CEDA online. The cover is obviously rendered in a completely different style, but I like it, with its airbrush feel and punk overtones.
Here is a full blibiography of these five books:
In large part because of all the work that has gone into building this new website (and all the back-end work to bring over 3000 blog posts into line with our new content management system!) I’ve been remiss in posting new JBbTC entries. I’m hoping to rectify that from here on out. I can’t promise a new post every single week, but my goal is two to three per month. I’m also looking into converting some of these posts into articles in print. If you know of a publication that might be interested in publishing my research and writings on book covers, please drop me a line.