Lonely Planet began life in 1973 when Tony and Maureen Wheeler made the trip of a lifetime – a honeymoon from London to Australia, across Europe and overland through Asia – with nothing but a car, a few dollars in their pockets and a sense of adventure. Perhaps a lesser known fact is that Tony Wheeler also created the Lonely Planet logo and turned his hand to illustration in the early days. We delved into the archives and caught up with Tony to learn more about the legacy of the logo.
Tell us about the first guidebook…
Our proposed book was too big for Tomato Press’ small printing press in Melbourne, but they put us in touch with David Bisset who had a larger press in his basement and agreed to print 1500 copies. I drew maps of the countries we’d visited, crudely drew illustrations, and we pasted up the typeset galleys to produce a book which came out to precisely 96 pages.
We needed two more things – a title for the book and a name for our fledgling publishing house. The title was easy; the book was about travelling across Asia on a tight budget, so we called it Across Asia on the Cheap.
Where did the name Lonely Planet come from?
Finding a name for our publishing business was less straightforward. We ran through dozens of names over bowls of spaghetti and glasses of cheap red wine in a small Italian restaurant on Oxford Street, London before inspiration hit. I’d been humming the opening line from the Matthew Moore song Space Captain, sung by Joe Cocker in the classic rock and roll tour film Mad Dogs & Englishmen. ‘Once while travelling across the sky,’ I sang, ‘this lonely planet caught my eye.’
‘No,’ said Maureen, ‘you’ve got the words wrong. As usual. It’s lovely planet.’
She was right, I always got the words wrong, but lonely planet sounded much nicer. I sometimes wished we’d come up with a more business-like, more serious name, but it’s certainly a name people don’t forget.
When did you draw the logo?
I sketched it for Across Asia on the Cheap in 1973, the same year Lonely Planet was founded. It was the first Lonely Planet title ever published. The book was hand stapled and trimmed in a basement flat in Sydney. I also drew the sketchy illustrations that feature on the front cover.
How has the logo changed since you first sketched it?
In 1975 I redid the logo with Letraset, a typeface that I thought looked good, and it really hasn’t changed that much over all the subsequent years. I’m proud of how it’s retained its original identity!
When you sketched the Lonely Planet logo did you have any idea would last so long?
No, I had no idea the logo would survive so long! It’s a bit like the Nike Swoosh which I think somebody sketched in a couple of minutes and was paid $20 for it.
If you could change anything about the logo, what would it be?
Nothing! I think at some point they did pay somebody real money to improve it, they might have made the circle a bit thicker or something, but no real change.
Do you still get a buzz seeing your logo lined up on bookshelves across the globe?
Absolutely. Who wouldn’t?!
Do you still sketch while travelling?
No, I take far too many photographs but I do keep a diary every day and carry a little notebook for when I can’t note something down on a phone or iPad. I love taking out-the-window aerial photographs, some of which can be seen here. I keep thinking, however, that sketching would be a good thing. The last time I can remember actually sketching something was because we stayed in the very flash Al Maha Desert Resort an hour or so out of Dubai about 15 years ago; our room came with an easel and a bunch of coloured pencils. You can see the sketch below.
Tony’s illustrations and snaps