Friday, June 18, 2010

Covers to Make Me Vomit

I have a discussion about credibility and professionalism with my students every term, and it goes a little something like this:

"What would happen if you'd built a really strong relationship with your doctor. You'd gone to her for 10 years and never had any quibbles. One day you find yourself in horrible pain and simply MUST go to the doctor's office, but when you arrive you discover that the doctor has had a family emergency, is out of town for three weeks, and she's chosen a replacement to cover for her. Just when you're ready to crumple under the pain of your condition, in walks the replacement...

Cut-off jean shorts, a holey Hawaiian shirt, hair that looks like a muskrat is nesting in the back of it, and there's a distinctive smell of body odor surrounding him. When he opens his mouth, out comes a voice akin to Keanu Reeves. 'Duuuude, you've got problemmms.'"

Inevitably, the students say they'd bolt from the room (and one stoner in the back says his doctor is EXACTLY like this and brilliant). I always point out that the replacement physician might have great  things to say and be a brilliant graduate of Johns Hopkins Med School, but as humans we DO judge based on appearances (right or wrong), and that our credibility can be damaged by the way we present ourselves.

I hear the crack of a bat in my head as the point is hammered home to my students. Go me!

How does this all relate to books? The job of a book's cover is to build its credibility and SELL IT. What I'm finding is a trend of really empty, conceptless covers that make me want to vomit. Here's a sample:

I freely admit that I am often swayed by covers. I am often tempted by covers. A beautifully crafted cover may be the nugget of goodness which prompts me to inquire into the substance of a book. I'm not so shallow as to assume that a cover will ruin an author or their story, but if we're talking about first impressions, the books above will not tempt me in the slightest. I personally get so sick of seeing the same repetitive "type" of cover, I could absolutely cry.

Beginning with the books above, there is a plague of "beachy" books. I assume publishers are playing into that whole "beach read" phenomenon, but a few things turn my stomach lately: feet, sand, water, feet and sand and water together, and washed out blue covers featuring a Pantene haircare model.

*swing hair to the left, swing hair to the right*

While they are pretty, they don't really *say* anything--to me, at least. They all look so similar, I have a tendency to pass them over unchecked.

Another seemingly endless and annoying trend in publishing is the headless woman. I won't go into much detail about this one because Sassymonkey covered it, but there are an astonishing number of female heads being lost these days. I've seen a lot of hips, I've seen tons of torsos, but heads are endangered.

Books can be art, and there are many books which embody art. For a prime example, visit Jim Tierney's website and blog. Jim is a recent graduate with a degree in illustration, and his books are simply stunning. I'm especially fond of his Jules Verne series he designed for his thesis project.

If you visit his site, you can see the details in all of their stunning glory as well as a video of how the covers came about. Every time I look at these books I find new and wonderful details that make them all the richer for the references they provide to the books' contents. They really are representative of Verne's work.

I realize that it would be far too expensive to have covers like these on every book, but they are such a beautiful example of how a well-designed cover can enhance the contents of a book and show them off in their best light instead of simply buying into a trend.

A while back I discovered Frances's blog, Nonsuch Book, and became an instant fan. Frances is a collector and a lover of beautifully designed covers, and her sidebar is almost a work of art. Occasionally she spotlights an especially beautiful or well-designed book or series of books. One of my favorite of her posts lately is called "penguin-centric." Designer, Amy Fleisher, decided to have a little fun with the Penguin mascot and Frankenstein, Dracula, Pinocchio, and The Invisible Man. I would totally buy them. Go take a look.

Finally, my very favorite cover designer is the weird and wacky Chip Kidd. Author of The Cheese Monkeys, he is probably one of the most famous cover designers in the business. My favorite part about Kidd is the fact that his style is so flexible. Looking at his gallery of covers, they're varied, finely crafted, and they just look thoughtful.

In short, I guess I would say I'm a cover snob. I'm far less likely to judge a book by its contents, but I'm quick to gag when the cover sucks.
I would love to hear which covers you've loved and hated lately.

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