Henri’s Walk to Paris, Illustrated by Saul Bass
As our obsession with anything reminiscent of mid-century design shows no sign of abating, we could not be more thrilled about the recent re-issue of the highly covetable, though long out of print, children’s book Henri’s Walk to Paris. While the romantic and whimsical story of a boy growing up in rural France who dreams of one day visiting Paris is sure to charm, it is the graphic styling of the inimitable Saul Bass that has made this book the stuff of legends. Originally published in 1962, Henri’s Walk to Paris has been nearly impossible to find since, and has assumed an almost mythological status among design aficionados. Wisely capitalizing on our cultural fascination with the mid-century, Rizzoli recently re-released the title under their Universe imprint, and the book looks just as resplendent and contemporary today as it must have when it was originally published.
Bass is undergoing a resurgence as of late, 16 years after his death, with the publication of a definitive monograph on his prolific career and a number of exhibitions devoted to his work. He was an undisputed master of the graphic arts whose iconic logo designs and film title sequences indelibly altered our perception of the narrative potential of graphic design. As his celebrated titles for such classics as Vertigo, The Seven Year Itch and Goodfellas demonstrate, Bass was gifted at visual storytelling, and Henri’s Walk to Paris offered the perfect forum to display his signature minimalist style. Bass’ attention to composition and colour blocking is flawless and the palette of oranges and greens is very evocative of that mid-century moment. The super saturated colours and the varied, playful illustrations are the perfect accompaniment to Klein’s enchanting story; the pacing of the visuals is in complete harmony with the narrative. Bass was such a successful designer because he could convey so much content—establish a mood, set the context and introduce a narrative—with so little visual information.
Widely considered to be one of the most influential graphic designers in the history of the field, it is rare treat to have the opportunity to purchase one of Bass’ creations, his only contribution to children’s literature. While Bass’ designs are clearly of a particular moment somehow they don’t look at all antiquated to our contemporary eyes, and Henri’s Walk to Paris stands as an incredible early example of the possibilities of visual storytelling.