From the early 20th century through the early 1960s, one of the largest Left organizations in the US (if not the largest) was the Communist Party USA. The propaganda wing of the Party created multiple publishing arms, including New Century Publishers (which I featured in post 66 back in 2011) and the still-publishing International Publishers. International was by far the largest operation, and although technically not a direct arm of the CPUSA until the 60s, it put out the bulk of communist books in the US, with much of its output sold internally within the party and its front groups. In the 1950s and 60s they spun off a paperback imprint called New World Paperbacks. I started looking at NWP covers here way back in 2010 (see 12 and 53). In 2015, in posts 210 and 211, I turned my eye toward an imprint of an imprint: Little New World Paperbacks. I had about fifteen of the almost forty books in the series, and was able to find passable images of another 10. Now I’ve tracked down another ten actual books, and some better images of some of the titles I’m missing, so it seems a good time to consolidate the two previous posts, and update the images and information.
In 1964, New World—which generally published its books in trade paperback editions—spun off a series of smaller-sized mass market paperbacks, a format that at the time was hugely popular in publishing. Most US mass markets were sold at news stands and on special racks in grocery and drug stores, so they were designed to appeal to a broad audience of people that might not frequent bookstores. Because of this, they tended to have lurid covers, with full-color paintings (which would eventually evolve to photographs) of crime, sex, romance, and early self-help. Giant titling fonts and eye catching graphics were also popular.
It’s possible that the aesthetic of Little New World (LNW) was going for that mass popularity, but if so, it missed the mark—widely. The first title in the series, William J. Pomeroy’s Guerrilla and Counter-Guerrilla Warfare (1965) has a very staid, almost clinical, cover. While the title is bold and yells out “GUERRILLA WARFARE!”, the rest of the cover is so clean and precise that it almost takes away any potential edgy appeal of the giant type. The mechanical bulls eyes and full sans serif treatment make this look more like a government report than a pop exposé. I have been able to find absolutely nothing specifically about LNW through basic research, so the motivations of the publisher remains opaque. Was this an attempt to popularize Communist ideas to a broader audience? Was guerrilla warfare chosen as the topic of the first book because of its potential gritty, fringe appeal? Where these books shorter and the idea was to make them more inexpensive and therefore accessible? Or did International Publishers just want to make books that fit in the reader’s pocket?
The next books, and most of the ones produced throughout the 1960s, have similar covers, with elements reaching for pop appeal, but for the most part coming off as an awkward combination of old-school political pamphlet and 50s modernist book cover. The Lumer book below uses an image by Käthe Kollwitz, but to no real effect (although she’s interestingly credited directly on the cover below the image, while the designer isn’t credited anywhere), and the Budish book is similar, with a distinctive confusion as to whether to play up the typographic elements or the rudimentary graphics.
The Pittman book below is a great example of leaning towards more traditional Modernist cover design. The Selsam cover is notable for the op-art graphic, which unfortunately is small and boxed. I could imagine a version where the image leads the design (as opposed to the ampersand, which is oddly the dominant element here) and makes for a pretty wild and compelling cover. The Dunson book is interesting, because the subject matter is clearly trying to be popular, much more so than any of the other books so far, but the cover feels so dated. Pop art has really started to explode by the mid-60s, but there is no evidence of this here. Although the book is about pop music, it feels much more folk/beatnik than something channeling the more dynamic energy that is already emerging from the Civil Rights Movement. Which isn’t to say I don’t like the cover, there is actually something quite nice about it, with the rough texture evoking printmaking on the face, the tall sans serif justified left, right, and center, and the subtitle appearing to emerge from the lips.
Below left is the cover for the first of a series of books LNW would produce by and/or about Kwame Nkrumah. It is cast in the same mold as the initial Pomeroy cover—reddish-magenta and black and the main colors, the type is bold and tall, and the graphic elements are largely subdued. Here the targets are replaced with a globe, Nkrumah taking up half of it. I like the black triangle at the bottom, which functions both as an arrow pointing towards the cover’s content, and a base for the sphere, converting into a spinning, desk-top globe.
Burns’ Introduction to Marxism (LNW-9) is the first cover to start to break out of a real 1950s mold. The op-art cover borders on psychedelic, but doubles as a nice abstraction, and way to avoid having to put old grandpa Marx on the cover, which would certainly be a turn off to a general audience. This is also the first time I’ve seen a change in color printing on different printings: the green copy on the right is from 1972, the blue on the left from 1975. This cover also shares a lot with the covers of the more philosophical list on parent publisher New World Paperbacks/International Publishers (see posts 12, 13, and 53, or my article on the history of New World Paperbacks published in Counter-Signals #1). Those covers were designed by Jules Halfant, so I suspect so was this one, and possibly many of the other earlier titles.
Filipino Communist Amado Hernandez’s collection of poetry, Rice Grains and an edited collection of writings by William Cullen Bryant are the only two volumes in the series that aren’t non-fiction (although a couple of the books below that purport to be reportage or legitimate information are largely fictitious—see Half a Century of Socialism and Handbook for Revolutionary Warfare below, I mean come on, Nkrumah was an impressive statesman and central to African liberation thought, but he didn’t pick up a gun to free Ghana, and although he helped fund African liberation struggles, he was hardly running around in the woods with a rifle). The cover pushes the boundaries of the series design, with an calligraphic font, and a painterly illustration that fills the entire cover. Next to it is the Bryant collection, effectively staid and safe as a representation of the 19th century Romantic. The design for CIA and American Labor smartly returns to the op-art swirls of the Selsam and Burns covers. It actually charts a path between those two cover designs, allowing the object to live free outside of a box, but to not completely dominate the cover like it does on the Burns’ book. I like these swirling stripe shapes, and really wished the had been used on more covers, and bushed to more interesting places.
Half a Century of Socialism (mis)uses a Käthe Kollwitz print of mother and child to illustrate how wonderful life is in the Soviet Union. While I’m sure 1969 was seeing some improvements from the Stalinist period, this book is clearly a piece of hack Comintern propaganda. But no worries, the design is so lifeless, and the Kollwitz illustration so small and unappealing that I doubt this was a best-seller. Aptheker’s “The Nature of Democracy, Freedom, and Revolution” does a little better, largely because their is no awkward illustration floating above the title. Far more than the cover, any discussion about freedom from Aptheker needs to be read in light of the revelation that he abused his daughter (Bettina Aptheker—fellow Marxist and close friend of Angela Davis) for a decade. Old books often have closets—its an important question whether we should open them, and how far.
Introduction to Neo-Colonialism (1967) has a cover with a dated-feeling design, but I find it really compelling. The black at the top and bottom compresses and contains the content, keeping your eye moving back and forth across the horizontal lines, with the continent names acting as little bridges that bring your eye from one line to another.
Now on to the rest of the Nkrumah covers. I love Dark Days in Ghana, for all of my usual reasons. The illustration with evidence of the human-hand, the red and green duotone, with the overprint making the rich brown that frames the title and central illustration, the general’s cap poking into the word Ghana—it all reads as powerful, creepy, and compelling, like any book about a coup should. The Handbook of Revolutionary Warfare was designed by the same group, Equity Designers. Not surprisingly, there is nothing about them online, and I’ve never seen the name on any other books. This cover doesn’t work quite as well as Dark Days, but is still very strong. The soldier as guerrilla is captured in motion, and although detail is scarce, the overall picture is clear: a strong and motivated African, armed and moving forward. The image is reminiscent of the illustrations of Emery Douglas, but appears to predate them. The Handbook is Nkrumah’s answer to Che Guevara’s Guerrilla Warfare, and Axioms is his Little Red Book. Shown below is the “Freedom Fighters Edition,” which is the only one I can find. The cover is simple, gold embossed onto a textured black cover. This book is listed as being published in the Little New World series but I have yet to be able track down a unique LNW edition (this image is one I tracked down online, and since I’ve yet to find this book in a store, and is never available online for less than $50—a little steep for my thin wallet—I’ll have to wait to get confirmation).
Below is the cover for Gil Green’s Revolution Cuban Style. It’s one of the nicer covers, drawing graphic elements from multiple political posters of the time (this was released in 1970). The image of a Viet Cong in the background is a well known photograph, and likely drawn here from an anti-Viet Nam war poster (and used in many other contexts as well, including on the cover of the Chilean group Quilapayún’s album Por Viet-Nam) and the image of Ché in the front is a variation on a image by one of Cuba’s well-known poster artists, Raul Martínez. The use of the poster images is interesting, because it suggests a play on the word “style” in the title, although I doubt that was intentional. The first edition has a really nice pink for the duotone color, but typical of the Communist Party USA, they botched the attempt to be culturally relevant with the reprints, using muddy browns and greys, instead of the more appropriate and exciting bright pinks and oranges.
Next is an edited collection with the ever-exciting title, The Woman Question. Not surprisingly, the experts on this question are four men. Like the Green book, the first edition was released in one color scheme, with further editions in alternate colors. I’m not sure the motivation to do this, especially in a situation like this one, where I can’t imagine a new color convinced anyone to buy a second copy of this book. The design here is super simple, but kind of nice, with the title aligned right, and the thin white lines running only the width of the word “Question.
The cover of the Lenin book below is really strong, with the feel of a Cuban OSPAAAL political poster: precolonial art overlaid with powerful, almost Futurist, type and sharp lines. It’s compelling and forward thinking. And next to Lenin is another example of covers changing colors over time, with the original Class Struggle in Africa in red, then a later printing in blue. The design works in both color schemes, and I’ve even seen others out in the world, like one with a green background.