Monday, February 1, 2010

Paul Gorman • Reasons to Be Cheerful: The Life and Work of Barney Bubbles

Barney Bubbles was a British graphic designer who became well known during the punk/new wave era. Bubbles (real name Colin Fulcher) designed album covers, singles sleeves, posters and more for everybody from Hawkwind to Nick Lowe, Elvis Costello, Psychedelic Furs, Billy Bragg and more; all of his designs capitalized on his fascination with type, geometry and symmetry (or lack thereof), and standing out on a busy record rack.

Paul Gorman's book Reasons to Be Cheerful looks at the life and work of Bubbles, in over 600 pages crammed with examples of the man's work. It's broken into chapters that chronologically look at what he put his all into, from his magazine page designs for the underground Oz, to his early poster and album designs, to his heyday as a practically in-house guy for Stiff, F-Beat and Chiswick Records, to his later work for Utility and others. Along the way he did some very risky and eye-popping work, from the Elvis Costello This Year's Model UK album sleeve that was printed deliberately off register, therefore showing the color registration bars, to Ian Dury's Do It Yourself album, which was printed on various patterns of wallpaper (again, only in the UK). For Utility, Billy Bragg's early label, Bubbles designed a very utilitarian brand identity that spanned all of the label's releases. The wealth of work this guy turned out in the late '70s/early '80s is so grand, you can barely believe it was all done by just one guy, in just 24 hours a day.

Sadly, Bubbles' life was cut short by his own hand in 1983, barely 40 years old and seemingly with another lifetime worth of awesome work to come. Reasons to Be Cheerful is a definitive guide to his work, and well worth the money.

At left, the inside sleeve of Nick Lowe's Labour of Lust album.

5/5 (Adelita Books, UK)

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