Saturday, June 09, 2007

Book Covers

I'm catching up with my Publishers Weekly issues that piled up while I was on vacation and since I'm back. The May 14th issue has a nice little 2-page article on book cover/jacket design as discussed by a couple of bloggers. This bit bugged me, from Covers (apparently, the site just gives examples of covers):
"Science fiction has so much horrible, crappy book cover design, it's
despicable. Especially considering how imprtant the things they're addressing
are: How do humans behave in the future? Where are we going? Who will we become?
All of these questions are being asked by many sci-fi authors, and yet the cover
design often defaults to an illustration of the events therein. borrriing.
Well, excuse me. Boring? Well, when the art isn't well-done or not to my taste, I don't like it, but the only boring SF covers I've seen are the ones that aim for pseudo-intellectualism by focusing on text and no art, the splash of color behind authors and titles and nothing else. It's bad enough with branding (overall design for an author) to pick out a particular title as I recently had to check every Vonnegut carefully to find the ones I wanted. But to not have a pleasing illustration to grab my eye?

Sure, I like artsy fartsy covers. The stark cover of Cormac McCarthy's The Road suits it, but if all covers or most of them were like that, that would be boring. I have to wonder if the person behind Covers gets sf (not sci-fi) or how much cover art is part of the genre. Science fiction covers have been collected in books of their own. Their artists have coffee table books out of their works. Where would sf be without Michael Whelan, Paul Youll, Jim Burns, Bob Eggleton, Stephen Youll, Donato Giancola, David Mattingly, and so many others? When I read 1984, it was my parents' copy with a pulp cover (can't seem to find a url to grab for this, but it's the 1955 cover on this page). It may be cheesy to look at now, but it still holds more interest for me than the copy that was out when it was a school assignment, a boring white cover with the numerals 1984 and Orwell's name.

Where would WorldCon be without its art show? And the World Fantasy Con (which I have never attended)? Where fans with enough money can buy original cover art? Or perhaps prints? Illustrative covers are part of the genre. And it was the sexy guy on the cover of Wen Spencer's Alien Taste that got me to pick up the paperback and thumb through it. I bought it because it seemed like a quick read and it was. It was also addictive and got me hooked on the series. I got others hooked, all because of a cover depicting the protagonist in a sorta scene from the book.

There have been plenty of horrible covers in sf, fantasy, and mainstream fic, but not because they illustrated the story. Covers don't have to be symbolic. They just need to be eye-catching and not turn-offs to the majority of the public. Personally, I would prefer to have it easier to find the title on books where the author's name dwarfs everything else.

In reading through the other comments about specific covers and types of covers, it is clear this is subjective. Especially when the two cover critics disagree on the more conceptual covers. Which then begs the question: What really is good or poor cover design? I would think if it sells books, it works. But would the public buy a book they want despite the cover? No simple answers. All I can say is that I've actually replaced books I own because I like the newer edition's cover better than the one I had. And a bad cover never stopped me from getting a book I really wanted to read.

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