Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A Tale of Two Covers

An earlier post about some of the cover art that I like and dislike generated some interesting discussion, leading to this post. I may make this a regular ‘series’ where I compare cover art that I like with what I dislike. Now, I’m even less valid as an art critic than a written word critic, so keep in mind that this is just my opinion. I’ve had no relevant training, so actual artistic technique and form won’t be a big influence on me. This is all what I think about the cover art – how I react and any emotional response that it evokes. It's about how this particular cover art works as art for the book it's attached to.

For my first go at this I’m going to compare the cover art of two books by the same artist – Michael Whelan. Both of these are what I would consider to be a traditional (epic) fantasy cover art, which I generally dislike. One works for me, one, doesn’t.

Starting out with the bad – the first offense and most noticeable aspect of this cover are the two characters to the left. Both are looking whimsically off into the distance, with the woman almost (but not quite) pining for the man. It would be much worse if the woman were actually in some sort of worship of the man, but it is still implied. Ugh! This is about the worst offense fantasy cover art makes – it’s belittling to women and insulting to the tastes of readers. Does the woman really have to be seen in such a subservient, worshipful way? It really does make me nauseous. At least she is fully clothed, though it’s only a small victory.

The rest of the cover is a bit to ‘pastel’ for my taste – I prefer dark, earthy colors when it comes to landscapes rather than pastels.

As for how matches the mood of the book itself – I’d call this rather pedestrian in that respect. It doesn’t directly contradict anything, though it hardly represents a scene from the book and doesn’t capture the mood – by this time in the story, things were dark and cold with little hope. A cover showing two people essentially basking in glory is just inappropriate, regardless of how the story actually finishes. Finally, these two people don't even come remotely close to my mental image for Simon and Miriamele.

This is an example of traditional fantasy cover that works. The central character is in a dark shadow, with his head slightly bowed. His stance indicates both a tense readiness and a heavy load – something along the lines of the weight of the world and his shoulders. The dress is perfect for this post-apocalyptic western feel and the dark, earthy colors reinforce it nicely. This is certainly the Roland we know – and I can here his perfect theme song in the background, Hurt as sung by Johnny Cash. The raven perched on skeletal remains and distant Dark Tower complete the cover. The mood is set and the cover even evokes an emotion actually related to the story – very well done.

So, what are your thoughts? It’s all subjective – some of you are bound to agree, while some will surely feel I’ve committed the gravest of insults with my opinions. Should I continue with the ‘series’?


Jen said...

i agree with you. i don't think the williams cover is *bad*, buit it does look a lot like some awful romance covers i've seen... i suppose it's aimed at fans of traditional fantasy who expect this kind of thing.

the dark tower one is perfect :D and the series itself is quite different from the usual fantasy stuff, too, so it's normal, i suppose.

Carl V. said...

Definitely continue with the series.

I generally like Michael Whelan covers and, unlike you, generally like traditional epic fantasy covers. This one isn't bad, in my opinion, it just isn't that good. Whelan has done some amazing covers (IF, of course, one likes that style of art). This is pretty pedestrian.

I like the Stephen King cover, very nicely done and 'dark' art is generally pretty cool.

There are several people who feel the way you do about traditional fantasy and sci fi art and I can see both sides of the coin. If you want to attract non-genre readers to these books...and all authors, publishers, etc. do...then I can understand the need to have book cover art that doesn't scream 'geek'. That being said, I don't see a huge difference between traditional fantasy art and say, the covers of Phillipa Gregory novels, Gregory MacGuire's (I know I'm spelling that wrong) books, etc. so I'm not entirely sure the arguement is as strong as people think it is.

In a perfect world books would have covers to cater to people like me, who love traditional covers (providing the art is well done) and covers that would attract non-genre readers. That will probably never happen.

I hope you continue doing these as talking about book covers is something I personally love to do: witness the Friday Favorites. ;)

Mervi said...

Please continue the series. It's always nice to see critique of the covers since most of the time the cover doesn't seem to have anything to do with the book.

I agree that the King cover is very evocative and very suitable to the book. I happen to like most of Whelan's work, though this definitely isn't one of his best. At least the woman is standing and the man kneeling. Very often it's the other way around.

Neth said...

Well, I'm glad people enjoy this - I'll likely continue it then.

-Carl, we just have a bit a different idea of cover art - and there's certainly nothing wrong with that.

As you can see - the cover for To Gree Angel Tower had two parts for when the book was broken into two volumes (originally they were the front and back of the cover). Unfortunately, in one of them the woman is in the 'standard' subservient, worshipful position.

Carl V. said...

I agree, Neth. The world would be a damn boring and annoying place if we all agreed on everything.

Isn't that 'standard' role the one women should be fulfilling? (kidding!!!!)

Okay, now I'm going to go put on my helmet for when my wife hits me over the head with a frying pan.

Anonymous said...

I have to comment, though it's way out of date.
I am scratching my head at the comments about the woman looking "subservient" in the GREEN ANGEL TOWER covers. They are both looking off into the distance, not at each other, Neither female is gazing adoringly at the man next to her. On one sid eof the cover the female is higher, on the other side, the male is. Isn't that fair and balanced?
ALL the figures are armed, not the men only. If you read the book, you'd come to relaize the figures are all awaiting a huge battle, and they are all determenined to fight in reflected in the attitudes of resolution.

Finally, the GUNSLINGER cover is not by Michael Whelan. It's a digital pastiche by and artists named Steve Stone, though the dumb publisher got the names wrong.


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