Behind the powerful personality of the Osborne Bull figure, designed by Manolo Prieto in 1956, was a striking body of work which was of particular relevance to graphic design in Spain: the covers which, for over 15 years, were produced for the weekly publication Novelas y Cuentos (Novels and Stories) between 1940 and 1957. The publishing house Dédalo released this collection of universal literary works in a low-cost edition that was warmly received by its readers.
Although Manolo Prieto’s first printed cover appeared in 1944, in January of 1940 – via the notes taken from his ledger by Manolo Prieto junior – the first entry on the commission for this publisher can be found in Malasia, (portada) “Dédalo”. In January of 1957, following a disagreement with the publication’s director – referred to in his personal diary – he left this job. Nevertheless, he would continue to publish some of his previously designed covers until 1959.
There are numerous standout characteristics from these small-scale designs with large-scale communicative value. Firstly, the assignment conditions, as explained by Manolo Prieto in his Autobiography, written in 1978 at the age of 66:
When I was commissioned to do the covers of the Magazine Novelas y Cuentos I started to illustrate the way it has always been done: searching for an anecdote on travel and doing it properly. Yet they paid me so little that I decided to mark it down, drawing less and thinking more (because I could think while I was walking down the street), and I turned the covers into posters with their own plots.
The first illustrated cover we are adding to the gallery of images in this post is Miguel Strogoff, published on 21 May 1944. Shortly afterwards, formal conciseness, allied with the use of only two or three inks – preferably complementary – would be a resounding hallmark of the covers that followed.
Secondly, the concept came from an idea from some initial sketches – in many cases in stamp size – fashioned as his wife Emilia would read out loud as he worked on other projects. In his Discurso de Ingreso (Admission Speech) at the Academia de Bellas Artes de Santa Cecilia in 1987, Prieto expounded the reason for his sketches being so tiny… “size gets in the way of the details. Only the elemental materialises, that which is necessary. There is no room for the dispensable”.
Another element of note is the syntactic and semantic structure of his illustrations: the visual order of the compositions in taut equilibrium through images trapped in two opposite diagonals in Amor atormentado (Tormented Love), published in 1948; the figure-ground relations drawn on the cover Aventura de tres rusos y tres ingleses (The Adventure of Three Russians and Two Englishmen), from 1955, in the riverbed; the constructive rationalism (see the cover of El romance de Rolando [Rolando’s Romance]), dated 1949; or the hurried plastic resources of language written as “ellipsis”, foreseen in Muerte en la bahía (Death in the Bay), from 1950.
Finally, the technical reproductions symbolised a handicap that Prieto turned into an asset as he explored the faculties of lithographic printing to create textured marks and shades using unusual resources such as the lithographic pencil on canvas paper. Of the scant number of originals conserved, Ha entrado un ladrón (The Entrance of a Thief) demonstrates the architecture of drawing, along with a sketch on the top right-hand corner with the colour indications for print.
It’s hard to find a more constant and equally dextrous output that runs across more than 600 illustrated covers. In an interview for the newspaper El Adelantado from Salamanca, on August 1950, Manolo Prieto asserted that his best work was what he produced in the illustrations for Novelas y Cuentos. Thanks to the Manolo Prieto Foundation (www.fundacionmanoloprieto.org), this highly expansive body of work once again positions Manolo Prieto as one of the 20th century’s most relevant designers.
By Juan Aguilar