‘The Collected Works of Jim Morrison’

Book Design

Design of the definitive anthology of writings by the poet, lyricist, and lead singer of The Doors.

James Douglas Morrison (1943-1971) was a music icon as the lead singer of the seminal band The Doors. He was also a supremely gifted poet and lyricist, as well as a filmmaker and screenwriter. Pentagram has designed The Collected Works of Jim Morrison, the definitive anthology of Morrison’s writings, out now from Harper Design. The 584-page volume features rare photographs and numerous handwritten excerpts of unpublished and published poetry and lyrics from his 28 privately held notebooks.

The Pentagram team worked in close collaboration with Harper, the Morrison estate and editor Frank Lisciandro, who was Morrison’s close friend and collaborator and curated the notebooks for the new collection. The project was originally inspired by a handwritten list entitled “Plan for Book” that was discovered posthumously among Morrison’s notebooks and gave the estate a framework for the publication, which coincides with the 50th anniversary of his death.

The challenge for the designers was reconciling the form of a serious literary “collected works” volume with Morrison’s rock-and-roll charisma. The book marries the typographic rigor of a literary journal with the direct energy of a superstar memoir. The approach shifts the point of view to focus on Morrison as a writer first, with scanned pages from the notebooks lending a sense of intimacy so readers feel like they are meeting him where he lived.

The designers consulted on the structure of the book, developing a plan for how to interweave the various types of content. The book is divided into five sections— “Poems and Writings,” “Film Treatment,” “Lyrics,” etc.—in an order loosely inspired by Morrison’s original list. (The handwritten note opens the volume ahead of the table of contents.) 

The layout of the poetry sections stays true to the original formatting of the lines of the poems as they were written in the notebooks. This one-to-one adaptation echoes the images of the actual notebook pages, handwritten notes and lyrics on scraps of paper, as well as covers of notebooks and chapbooks.

A few extended portfolios reproduce sections of the notebooks page by page, including the series of poems that became “The Celebration of the Lizard,” a performance piece that The Doors presented in its entirety at several concerts. Another sequence reproduces a series of pages from the Paris Journal, the notebook Morrison was keeping when he died in 1971.

Pull quotes by Morrison taken from interviews are interspersed throughout the book, with sources identified in the back, and the “Lyrics” section incorporates photos of Morrison with The Doors. The volume closes with an epilogue, “As I Look Back,” in which Lisciandro assembles sections of poems and previously unseen family photos into a biographical sketch of Morrison’s life.

The book design employs a suite of five typefaces, all from Commercial Type. These include the unreleased fonts Feature, seen on the cover and section openers; Terza Reader, used for the poetry; and Terza Editor, for the film treatment. The book’s front matter and notes appear in the modern sans Graphik, with Graphik Wide used for titles.

New York
Michael Bierut
Project team
Jonny Sikov
Tamara McKenna
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