Today’s history lesson comes to us not from a designer, but from artist Jacob Landau. Landau had an incredibly varied career that spanned 60 years, making it all the more surprising that he has only two works in the AIGA Design Archives. Throughout his career Landau worked in comics, pulp and “slick” magazines, children’s and illustration books, advertising, album covers, as well as his lithography and woodcut work.
Landau displayed a proclivity for art early on, and began studying at the Graphic Sketch Club (now the Samuel Fleisher Art Memorial) at age 12. In 1933 and 1934 he won the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Award, which resulted in a scholarship from the Museum of Industrial Art (today the University of the Arts) to study illustration, printmaking, and painting. Upon graduation in 1939, he moved to New York City to begin his professional career.
The first work he found was in the burgeoning field of comic books and pulp magazines. One of his earliest jobs was on Captain America Comics for Timely (now Marvel), and he went on to work on the character “The Sniper” in Military Comics #10, published by Quality Comics in 1942.
Landau was drafted the following year. While stationed in Italy he continued his artistic pursuits for the special services magazine At Ease, working as art editor, illustrator, photographer, and reporter. Discharged in 1946, he continued his art studies at the New School for Social Research in New York City on the G.I. Bill. He got married, had a son, and relocated his family to Paris to study at the Academie Julian and the Academie de la Grande Chaumiere. While there, he met the American printmaker, sculptor, book illustrator, and designer Leonard Baskin, who introduced him to the world of woodcuts.
Rather than return to comics, Landau pursued illustration with great success. During this period, while Landau produced more personal work, he also created woodcuts for album covers for Columbia and Vanguard, as well as work for CBS, and American Heritage magazine. He was a participant in the famed “Great Ideas of Western Man” campaign for the Container Corporation of American. Landau’s first archive entry is his co-design (with Louise Goodman) and illustration for Debussy’s “Songs of Poulenc” for the Hadyn Society, Inc. in 1956.
He also produced scores of covers and interior illustrations for both children’s and adult books. Among those books is The Screwtape Letters, a novel written by C. S. Lewis, first published in 1942. It consists of 31 letters written by a demon named Screwtape to his younger nephew, Wormwood, charged with guiding a man toward “Our Father Below” (a.k.a. Satan) and away from God. Landau’s cover in the archive, from 1963, is a evocative hellish allegorical rendering of a demonic crucifixion. A child of the Great Depression and a progressive political activist, his personal artwork began to reflect more serious themes. Of note are the “Holocaust Suite,” a set of lithographs and a series of 10 stained glass windows at the Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Pennsylvania.
Landau taught at the Philadelphia College of Art from 1954 to 1957 and then at Pratt Institute for 20 years, eventually becoming the chair of the graphic design and illustration department. In 1983, he had a major retrospective at the New Jersey State Museum. He died on November 24, 2001, at the age of 85.