Design Heroes: James Victore on Paul Bacon
I was a horrible design student. Eventually the school I was attending caught wind of this and asked me to leave. I did and headed straight to one of my (now former) instructors’ design office. This was the studio of book jacket designer Paul Bacon.
In class even Paul had given me a “D.” Paul is a tall wiry very erudite gentleman who could tell a joke so dirty that it would singe off yer eyebrows. I spent the next few weeks hanging around Paul’s studio watching him work. One day I asked if I could make my hanging around “official” and if I could be his apprentice. He thought about it for a moment, then smiled and said, “Sure, no one ever asked!”
It was a treat to watch him work. He would draw the lettering for titles by hand, create the illustrations in any type of style required and even take beautiful photos for the covers, if that was so required. He is a master of his trade. He designed covers for Joseph Heller, Kurt Vonnegut, E.L. Doctorow, Robert Ludlum, all the best authors of the ’70s, ’80s and into the ’90s. But I did not learn to design from Paul.
From Paul I learned to how to throw your shoe at talk radio programs. I learned about wine. I learned about cars and auto racing. But mostly I learned about jazz. I learned how to use my ears. I learned why Fats Waller is relevant. I learned how good Jelly Roll Morton really is. And also how to listen to Philip Glass, James Brown and rap. In other words, he taught me everything I needed to be a designer.
Today, at 80, Paul still designs jackets, although he is much more intent on his first love, jazz. He plays in New York’s swingingest New Orleans-style jazz band, “Stanly’s Washboard Kings.” Paul plays the kazoo and sings as beautifully and as lyrically as Jack Teagarden.
Paul is my second father. Paul taught me to seek wisdom. Paul also taught me to share it.
James Victore, Inc.
New York City, NY