By Mark Sinclair

Cover of The Disappearance of Signora Giulia by Italian-born Piero Chiara, shown

Next month Pushkin Press launches its new Vertigo imprint, dedicated to republishing crime classics from 1920 to 1970. The series has a range of suitably dizzying cover designs created by Jamie Keenan and, here, he explains the thinking behind the bold typographic direction…

Cover of The Tokyo Zodiac Murders by Soji Shimada

Pushkin Vertigo will publish crime classics from around the world, most of which have never been translated into English before, says Keenan. The brief for the covers was detailed but left open for the designer to create a series style and accompanying logo.

Vertigo by Boileau-Narcejac


“From the beginning I wanted to come up with something that looked alien, as though someone had brought it back from a holiday in a country you’d never heard of,” says Keenan.

[Something that] looked timeless – they could be from the 1920s or last week – and I liked the idea that the mystery of figuring out who had done what on the inside of the book could be repeated on the outside.”


Keenan’s solution was to fill the entire cover with both the book’s title and author name, overlaying them in a rather disorienting manner. “While in one way the covers don’t veer too far from the conventional crime cover layout,” Keenan explains, “it takes a little bit of effort to find out exactly what’s going on. There’s a hint of conflict, deception and things not being what they seem.”


While each of the covers in the series uses bright colours there is, says Keenan, “enough noise and dirt added – I wanted the covers to look screenprinted on the cheap – to stop them looking too pleasant.

“To push the idea of conflict, no element on the Vertigo covers, other than an image, occasionally, is ever straight. This borrows from a lot of classic crime and thriller film titles and European poster design which helps reinforce where the books are from stylistically and geographically.”

Aside from the layered and translucent type the covers each employ a small image which is relevant to the story of that particular book: a tower on the cover of Boileau-Narcejac’s Vertigo (the book behind Hitchcock’s film), for example, or an open wardrobe on Piero Chiara’s The Disappearance of Signora Giulia.

Early type treatment (top), compared to the final, more expressive, cut-out version

“Series design is always a bit of a balancing act,” adds Keenan – “too tight and the books lose their individuality, too loose and the series style becomes irrelevant. Used quite coldly, straight on in black and white – in contrast to the colourful covers – I wanted the images to be everyday objects and look like pieces of evidence and, because they’re so small, they help to make the type look even bigger.”

Early spine text treatment (top), compared with final design idea


For the Pushkin Vertigo logo, Keenan created a positive/negative space device to display a ‘P’ and ‘V’. “Even though a lot of each character is missing,” he says, [this] again hints at mystery and deception and, as before, there are lots of conflicting angles involved.

“The overall look I wanted to convey was of a series of covers that had been put together in a hurry, slightly amateurishly – not hard for me – and to look like something you find stuck on a wall in Bulgaria to advertise a dodgy circus.”

Vertigo, The Tokyo Zodiac Murders, The Disappearance of Signora Giulia and Master of the Day of Judgment are all published by Pushkin Vertigo on 17 September; I Was Jack Mortimer and She Who Was No More will appear in November, with further titles set to be published throughout 2016. See – more on the Vertigo imprint, here. More of Jamie Keenan’s work is at

Read more here:: Pushkin Press launches Vertigo crime series