{ feuilleton }


• • • Being a journal by artist and designer John Coulthart, cataloguing interests, obsessions and passing enthusiasms.


Crossed destinies: when the Quays met Calvino


The Castle of Crossed Destinies (1986).

The Brothers Quay are known mainly for their incredible animated films but in the 1980s they were also working as book illustrators and stage designers. Today’s secondhand find was one of their paperback designs for Italo Calvino, part of a series they produced for Picador when the books were reprinted after his death. This is the first time I’ve seen this edition of The Castle of Crossed Destinies, it seems to be more common in an earlier version showing some of the Tarot cards that appear inside the book and which inspire its tales.

Information about this aspect of the Quays’ work is virtually non-existent so I’ve yet to discover how many covers they did in this series. Or, indeed, whether their later Abacus cover (below) was a reprint of the early designs or a new one altogether. Picador had a great run of covers in the 1980s, some of which can be better than the books they decorate. But more often than not they hit on a great design and a great book, as with these pairings. A shame, then, that the publisher managed to credit the designs to the “Brothers Quai”.


left: Our Ancestors (1986); right: Cosmicomics (1987).

Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The book covers archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
Perfume: the art of scent
The Brothers Quay on DVD
William Burroughs book covers
Tressants: the Calvino Hotel



Posted in {books}, {design}, {film}.

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10 comments or trackbacks

  1. #1 posted by Rik Rawling


    Good find, John. Rarer than rocking-horse dung as far as my own trawlings are concerned.

  2. #2 posted by nomad24


    Just noticed that the Tarot cover was designed by a David Quay, any relation?

  3. #3 posted by John


    Hi Rik. Yeah, either they didn’t print many or the people who bought them kept hold of them.

    Nomad24: the pair are Stephen and Timothy so that must be coincidence. They also always work together and are credited as “the Brothers” rather than individually.

  4. #4 posted by Wiley


    It makes sense to keep hold of decent books with decent covers. Actually I saw Burroughs name under the ‘previously’ heading and suddenly remembered this. Do you know if that DVD of three or so early Burroughs films has been released yet? I believe Cherry Red were to be the ones producing it.

  5. #5 posted by Wiley


    Nevermind, apparently they came out already.

  6. #6 posted by John


    I’d avoid any Cherry Red DVDs, if I were you. Their CD reissues are fine but their DVDs leave a lot to be desired; terrible artwork, bad menus and poorly-sourced material.

    You can see the Burroughs films for free here: http://www.ubu.com/film/burroughs.html

  7. #7 posted by John Self


    Lovely to see these again. I have the Castle shown above, and I think Invisible Cities in the same edition. They did most of Calvino’s backlist (as was then available): I remember seeing also in this format Adam, One Afternoon, The Literature Machine and other lesser-spotted Calvino titles.

  8. #9 posted by Chris Kearin


    If you watch the Quays’ Rehearsals for Extinct Anatomies you’ll notice that there’s a bar code worked into the design at several points. The ISBN from the bar code corresponds to a UK edition of The Castle of Crossed Destinies, presumably the one the Quays did the art for, although I think the cover art was later replaced.

  9. #10 posted by John


    Hi Chris. Thanks, that’s a correspondence I’d not spotted. The cover art has changed on those books many times as they’re never out of print. The Quay editions didn’t last for long, unfortunately.






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