Archive for the ‘Lolita’ Category

sanja planinic

Saturday, June 16th, 2012

Sanja Planinic, a graphic design student at the Academy of Fine Arts Sarajevo sent me a link to a project she had recently completed for a book design class. The book was Lolita, and the resulting red, white and black images, reminiscent both of Barbara Kruger’s critiques of power and sexism as well as constructivist photo-montages, act as potent commentary on the story. The key lies in understanding that the black text represents Humbert while the red text and “the little red childlike interventions” act as Lolita’s gloss on Humbert’s text as well her small yet persistent bid for autonomy and her attempt to carve out her own identity amidst the crushing authority of Humbert’s words.

I found Planinic’s text selections quite intriguing. Be sure to click on the images above to appreciate them full size.

vladimir nabokov lolita (with stalin and lenin), vagrich bakhchanyan

Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Before today I had not heard of the Armenian-Ukrainian artist Vagrich Bakhchanyan, but a link to an article by Karin D. B. about The Lolita Project on Sub25, the newly minted Romanian arts and culture site (whose purpose is the promotion of young Romanian artists) shows this image first and foremost. It’s one of a pair of large oil paintings of Stalin and Lenin that was auctioned by Sotheby’s back in 2010 (an earlier collage is shown below). Bakhchanyan was part of the anti-Soviet and anti-propaganda Sots Art movement in Moscow in the early 1970s before moving to New York  in 1975. He died in 2009.

lolita: the story of a cover girl, john bertram & yuri leving, eds.

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011


Readers of Venus febriculosa will know that in 2009 after discovering Covering Lolita, Dieter Zimmer’s online collection of covers, I sponsored a book cover competition for a new cover for Lolita. In all, 105 entrants from 34 countries submitted a total of 155 entries. Subsequently, I was approached by Yuri Leving, editor of the Nabokov Online Journal about writing an essay on the experience. I readily agreed, and the following year my paper was published. It occurred to me that this is a subject with much more to explore and decided it would be worth taking the project one step further. I contacted book designers, artists, design critics, and Nabokov scholars about participating in an interdisciplinary work exploring the issues uncovered by Covering Lolita and the Venus febriculosa contest. The result is Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl which contains eighty new covers including a handful of the best covers from the competition along with a dozen essays about Nabokov and design. The forthcoming book will be published by Print Books in August (with the cover you see here by Sulki & Min!). You can see a sampling of some of the covers as well as an interview with me in Recovering Lolita, a wonderful article on Print Magazine’s site! Mary Gaitskill, author of Bad Behavior, is writing the foreword. Pre-order a copy of the book here!

Contributors include:

Stephen Blackwell, Chair, Russian Program, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and author of The Quill and the Scalpel: Nabokov’s Art and the Worlds of Science

Barbara Bloom, Nabokov-obsessed conceptual artist (Revised EvidenceVera’s Butterflies, The Collections of Barbara Bloom)

Sian Cook, London College of Communication and Teal Triggs, Professor of Graphic Design, Royal College of Art, co-directors of the Women’s Design + Research Unit and designers, with Liz McQuiston, of the Pussy Galore conceptual font

Leland de la Durantaye, Gardner Cowles Associate Professor of English at Harvard and the author of the wonderful Style is Matter: The Moral Art of Vladimir Nabokov

Mary Gaitskill, author of several books, including Two Girls, Fat and Thin, Veronica, and Bad Behavior.

John Gall, art director at Vintage and Anchor Books and designer of the latest cover of Lolita, who acted as resident expert and adviser for the contest.

Yuri Leving, Chair, Department of Russian Studies at Dalhousie University and editor of the Nabokov Online Journal

Ellen Pifer, Professor of English & Comparative Literature at the University of Delaware, former president of the International Vladimir Nabokov Society, and editor of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita: A Casebook

Alice Twemlow, Chair and program co-founder, Design Criticism Department, School of Visual Arts and author of What is Graphic Design For?

Duncan White, Co-Editor with Will Normanof Transitional Nabokov

Paul Maliszewski, author of Paperback Nabokov

Dieter E. Zimmer, Author of Wirbelsturm Lolita; A Guide to Nabokov’s Butterflies and Moths; and Nabokov’s Berlin

There are so many incredible designers on board providing new covers including:

Mark Abrams

Keira Alexandra

Geetika Alok

Suzene Ang


Helen Armstrong

Aleksander Bak

Rachel Berger

Laura Berglund

Michael Bierut

Kelly Blair

Davis Carr

Sara Cwynar

Matt Dorfman

Johanna Drucker

David Drummond

Aliza Dzik

Vivienne Flesher

John Fulbrook III

Xavi Garcia

David Gee

Elena Giavaldi

Kate Gibb

Walter Green

Elena Grossman

Lyuba Haleva

Kat Hammill

Lauren Harden & Seth Ferris

Margot Harrington

The Heads of State

Jessica Helfand

Jennifer Heuer

Jessica Hische

Karen Hsu

Agata Jakubowska

Daniel Justi

Jamie Keenan

Philip Kelly

Ely Kim

Marina Mills Kitchen

Gregg Kulick

Chin-Yee Lai

Mark Lazenby

Sueh Li Tan

Ellen Lupton

Mary Voorhees Meehan

Mark Melnick

Peter Mendelsund

Debbie Millman

Razvan Mitoiu

Dan Mogford

Oliver Munday

Susan Murphy

Catherine Nippe

Linn Olofsdotter

Ingrid Paulson

David Pearson

Jason Polan

Laurie Rosenwald

Tanya Rubbak


Paula Scher

Diane Shaw

Yuko Shimizu

Isaac Tobin

Transfer Studio

Anne Ulku

Jenny Volvovski

Michel Vrana

Jen Wang

Chip Wass

Sam Weber

Adrienne Weiss

Barbara deWilde

Gabriele Wilson

Ben Wiseman

Graham Wood

Henry Sene Yee

Anna Zukowska-Zysko

The format will be similar to This Way, a book edited by Marco Sonzogni based upon Venus febriculosa’s 4th book cover competition for Tadeusz Borowski’s This Way for the Gas, Ladies and Gentlemen.

Please check back soon for more information!



nabokov online journal, yuri leving, ed.

Friday, March 19th, 2010

nojWe’ve just added to our links section the wonderful (and bilingual!)  Nabokov Online Journal , edited by Yuri Leving, Chair of the Department of Russian Studies at Dalhousie University. Aside from the fascinating scholarship, of course (I am  currently reading Lolita Is Dolores Haze: The Real Child and the Real Body in Lolita by Anika Susan Quayle) one can enjoy the added bonus of a fantastic interactive splash page designed by Andrey Bashkin, a designer of great and quirky talent who is also the designer of the delerious and delicious My Web Alice which is a must visit. Enjoy!

the nabokov collection, john gall

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

the eye john gallAlways great to hear from book designer John Gall, especially when it pertains to Nabokov. Here he’s enlisted a bunch of colleagues to create “book covers” of VN’s works using specimen boxes. And pretty interesting specimens these are. No Lolita, although it’s probably just as well (two more are also missing).

Link here.

the original of laura, playboy, december 2009

Monday, November 9th, 2009

august 1976Well, perhaps not exactly hot off the presses, but at least several hours before it officially hits the newsstands, I have a copy of the December 2009 Playboy, in which the first 5000 words of Vladimir Nabokov’s unfinished novel The Original of Laura is excerpted. On the cover of the “Gala Christmas Issue” the heading “World Exclusive/Vladimir Nabokov/The Original of Laura” jostles for space with “Sasha Grey Unleashes her Inner Lolita.” And there it begins, on page 44, takes a break on page 48, and wraps up on 164. There are reproductions of note cards #7 and #8, the contents of a few short letters from Nabokov to Hugh Hefner, an explanatory piece on the trajectory of the novel from its genesis to its publication, and an excerpt from the 1964 Playboy Interview conducted, I believe, by Alvin Toffler (by the way, the written piece that accompanies the Sasha Grey pictorial, concentrating on the Kubrick film, was penned by none other than Roger Ebert and is worth a read if you haven’t read it all before.).

And what to make of it, having hurriedly run through it a few times? Let me just say this: it could, really could, really really could, win first prize in a Vladimir Nabokov writing contest (more Ada than Lolita). Brief synopses of sad lives and tragic deaths comically presented (suicide, homicide, traffic accident); an elderly unattractive pedophile named Hubert H. Hubert(!); a few twelve year-old girls (of course), one living (Flora) one dead (Daisy); Flora’s eyelashes. Assorted naughtiness.

In other words, worth a read.

By the way, the August 1976 cover shown was inspired by an illustration by Mr. Nabokov that he included in his December 28, 1968 letter to Mr. Hefner. See the bunny?

Full text of excerpt here.

lyuba haleva

Monday, October 12th, 2009

samples2Lyuba Haleva, the winner of the Lolita Cover Contest graduated with a degree in Book & Graphic Design from the National Academy of Art in Sofia, Bulgaria and now works as a freelance graphic designer in Sofia (I’ve included a sample of her work).

I asked her to speak a bit about her entry and she eloquently responded:

“Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita is masterpiece of human frailty and inspiration. In my design I attempted to convey the duality of Humbert’s image of perfection. The reality and idealization of his obsession form a pair of wings which take the imagination to soaring heights and abysmal lows. Desire, intellect, sexuality and innocence mix to create an intoxicating cocktail. Love, even in its unorthodox form has the power to elevate and enlighten us.”

Thank you for that, Lyuba! And again, congratulations.

lolita cover contest results!

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

The Lolita Cover Contest has ended and I want to express my heartfelt thanks to everyone who took the plunge and participated. Your efforts made it so intriguing! In all, 105 entrants from 34 countries submitted a total of 155 entries (multiple entries being allowed). After the US and the UK, Poland and India had the most submissions with five each.

This was an extremely difficult exercise. There were interesting submissions on many different levels and it was quite wonderful to simultaneously review them all. In retrospect, however, I would not have limited the contest to one winner. I realized perhaps too late the inevitable arbitrary nature of this exercise and, forced to choose between conceptually different entries of equal merit, I developed my own rules in order to decide between them. My personal bias leans towards simple, elegant, graphically strong designs and typeface is important but remember that I am not a graphic designer.

In judging the submissions I tended to avoid lingerie, lollipops, roses, hearts, lipstick prints, butterflies, heart shaped sunglasses, and overtly sexual poses (as well as the unexpected recurring themes of swings and Rorschach blots) which by now have been indelibly linked to the cultural concept “Lolita” if not the novel itself. It’s important to keep in mind that the novel may be considered a love story, but it’s not Lolita who is in love.  And, of course, well beyond that one can explore the brutality and humor of the novel, the beauty of the prose and the cleverness of the wordplay. This is a tall order for a book cover, and of necessity draconian choices must be made.

I was able to narrow my selection to fifteen or so covers, from which I chose four that were conceptually quite different but all excellent.  Keep in mind that any of these could have been first place covers.

The first prize goes to Lyuba Haleva of Bulgaria for her wonderfully lyrical submission.

Winner Lyuba Haleva

Although arguably anachronistic in its imagery and typeface, the use of Lolita (and Annabel?) as Humbert’s wings perfectly communicate the novel’s poetry and Humbert’s high-minded yet deluded pursuit of fantasy and art.  Since I felt this was a crucial component of the novel it ultimately edged out others that leaned towards a darker reading.

As runners up I chose covers by  Aleksander Bak of Poland, Derek McCalla of the United States, and Egor Krasnoperov of Russia (click on each cover for a larger image).

Aleksander BakThis reductive exercise by Aleksander Bak is sad, lurid, even funny. The lone unmoored pink scrunchy manages to be a potent symbol: surrounded by black, it’s s a memento mori representing Humbert’s loss of Lolita and the tragedy of the novel in general. Inevitably, of course, it’s also a stand in for an orifice (you decide whose and which one). The tension between the base and the sublime is wonderful and the composition is wonderful.

Derek McCalla

Derek McCalla’s image is shocking, almost radical. I see it as a witness to Humbert’s destruction of Lolita’s childhood through narcissistic acts of manipulation. In many ways it’s a grim book (let’s not forget that practically everyone dies). Interestingly, Chris Pritchett, McCalla’s instructor at Virginia Tech used this contest as an exercise for his screenprinting class which is offered through the university’s architecture department and populated by first-year though fifth-year architecture students. I asked Pritchett why he had chosen to use this as an assignment:

“I felt this was a good project for architecture students because as a graphic exercise they are forced to convey a wide range of emotion through one image.”

Egor Krasnoperov 1

Egor Krasnoperov cleverly and humorously gives us a triple-entendre, at least the way I see this. First of course, there is the lollipop theme, present in all its banality, but rendered here beautifully and naively; then the circle that censors Lolita’s crotch, and, finally, the hypnotic vortex into which Humbert has fallen and which, quite literally, centers on Lolita’s sexuality. Pretty wonderful for such a minimal image.

Suzene Ang1

John Gall, vice president and art director at Vintage/Anchor Books and designer of the latest cover of Lolita (see samples of his work here), kindly agreed to review the submissions and picked his own top choices. His favorite is by Suzene Ang of Singapore:

“It takes a second before you see what is going on. It’s abstract enough to keep it metaphorical, yet literal enough to imply a sense of story. I love the tease of having the type run up the leg. Elegant, with a sense of humor.”

He also liked the Aleksander Bak cover that was one of my top choices:

“For second place I like the simplicity of the hair scrunchy design. Nice double entendre. I worry though, that it might be too much of a contemporary reference.”

Gall made a point a few times of stressing the difficulty of the task:

“This is a tough assignment. So many clichéd images to either avoid or make new. Not an easy task.  I teach a cover design class and wouldn’t give this as an assignment in a million years!”

Lucie Lebaz 3

I also asked Barbara Bloom to weigh in, an artist whose Nabokov-themed work has involved the use of existing Lolita book covers in addition to designing her own, not only for Lolita, but also much of the Nabokov ouevre :

“As a matter of principle, I rejected all of the: (sucking) lollypop remakes, lurid images of young girls, underwear, heart shaped anythings. I have chosen a few covers not so much for their style of rendering, or excellence in typographic or design strategies. These are covers that seem to have a more complex and psychological reading of the text.”

She selected as her favorite an entry by Lucie Lebaz of the UK (in fact she liked three by Lebaz):

“Like that they form ONE body together. And LOVE the pink triangle.”

LOLITA cover.Bloom

Above is Bloom’s own cover. Susan Tallman, in her essay in the artist’s monograph, writes:

“Most remarkable, however, is the absurdly apropos silhouette BB found for the cover of Lolita: the pompous (and paunchy) Nabokovian male at the lectern, the saucy stance of the little girl (the word ‘minx’ seems almost unavoidable) who thrusts her hip at his tendentious fingers. One does wonder what other purpose the image could ever have served.”

Addendum: Bloom also listed Aleksander Bak’s scrunchy cover among her favorites. Since we all liked his fantastic cover he will be awarded a special prize.

You can find all of the entries here: Lolita Submissions

And a list of all entrants including state and country: Entrants List

Now, shall we make this an annual contest? Let me know…

ron rosenbaum on the original of laura

Friday, September 25th, 2009

dj lolita

Thursday, September 17th, 2009

dupartThis is getting pretty far afield, but I just love this cover. Not that house music has anything to do with this blog.