I envy book designers tasked with putting together covers for Philip K. Dick novels, and yet I don’t envy them. On one hand, they get the chance to visually interpret some of the most unusual, indescribable genre fiction ever written; on the other hand, they bear the burden of visually representing some of the most unusual, indescribable genre fiction ever written.
Dick wrote interesting books, to put it mildly, and as book-lovers know, certain countries’ publishing industries tend to put out more interesting book covers than others. So what happens at the intersection? Here we present to you a selection of Philip K. Dick covers from around the world, beginning with a Greek cover of his posthumously published novel Radio Free Albemuth that features the man himself, relaxing in his natural interplanetary environment beside his vintage radio.
That book put a barely fictional gloss on Dick’s own psychological experiences, as did Valis, whose Italian edition you also see pictured here. But his more fantastical novels, such as the I Ching-driven story of an America that lost the Second World War, have received equally compelling international covers, such as the one from Chile just above.
You can usually trust Japanese publishers to come up with book designs neither too abstract nor too literal for the contents within, as one of their editions of Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said quite literally illustrates just above. And if you can rely on Japan for that sort of cover, you can rely on France for understatement; half the French novels I’ve seen have nothing on the front but the name of the work, the author, and the publisher, but behold how Dick’s untamed experimental spirit allowed Robert Laffont to cut loose:
But if you really want to see an unusual graphic design culture, you’ve got to look to Poland. We featured that country’s distinctive movie posters a few years ago, but their books also partake of the very same delightfully askew visual tradition, one I imagine that would have done Dick himself proudest. Below we have Polish cover art for Confessions of a Crap Artist, his novel of midcentury suburban strife, composed with materials few of us would have thought to use:
You can see 600+ international Philip K. Dick covers at philipkdick.com’s cover gallery, which has for some reason gone offline, but which mostly survives through the magic of the Internet Wayback Machine — a device Dick never imagined even in his farthest-out, trickiest-to-represent fantasies.
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture as well as the video series The City in Cinema and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.