Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Cover Art – Are Publishers Finally Getting It?

I’ve ranted about it before, most message boards have discussed, and people like Lou Anders have posted about it often – cover art. I read this great essay on cover art (via Tobias Buckell, but have seen it mentioned a couple of times elsewhere). In general, it seems that the publishers of SFF have finally realized that we aren’t all teenagers or 45-year old males living in a basement and playing with action figures. Just as many SFF readers appear ‘normal’ as ‘geeky’ and our aesthetic tastes range widely. I like the direction most cover art is going right now, but there is still progress to be made.

I’ll just give a bit of insight into my tastes before signing off.

The Good

The Bad

And The Ugly
(Not really different from the bad, but it felt incomplete without the ugly.)


Carl V. Anderson said...

Coverwork definitely has a big impact over whether or not I will buy a book. By and large I enjoy the books that TOR has been putting out recently. There is fantastic cover art by Jon Foster, John Harris (the Scalzi books), John Jude Palencar (is there a theme here?), Stephan Martiniere, Donato Giancola to name a few.

What annoys me with recent trends is re-releasing books with amazingly plain, ugly covers. The reissue of George R.R. Martin books comes to mind. They look like Danielle Steele covers.

Neth said...

Well Carl, we may disagree a bit on cover art tastes - I don't have a problem with the plain covers of GRRM books these days. It's much better than the typical art for epic fantasy.

IMO, plain is better than the 'traditional' cover art for SFF books.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Yes, I'm sure we do have some different tastes. I hate the plain covers because I feel like publishers are doing that merely to save a few bucks in the printing process rather than because of any degree of creativity. I'm not a big fan of fantasy books that have busty, unrealistic comic-book women but I don't have a problem with art that reflects the story. The artists that I mentioned above are all extremely talented people many of whom have artistic style that hearkens back to more 'classic' works. I don't mind a cover that makes the book look like a fantasy or sci fi book, after all that is what they are. To me those who feel that these aren't legitimate literature are simply narrow minded. I honestly don't feel that most of the recent cover trends scream 'I'm a fanboy', but that's just my opinion. Probably my favorite cover work out there right now is the Kinuko Y. Craft covers for Patricia A. McKillip's books. They remind me so much of medievel tapestries...there is so much going on. And you can tell that she has either read the books or gotten really good thumbnails of them as each little detail of her work is a reflection of the story.

I think you're examples of what is 'bad' are definitely one's I agree with and I like most, but not all, of your examples for what is 'good'. By and large I just want a book cover to have some bearing on the story it is trying to sell.

I read once in one of Keith Parkinson's art books that he was asked to paint a woman in to a painting he had finished for a Terry Goodkind novel, I believe, when said woman was not even in the story. To me that is the kind of 'sex sells' mentality that shouldn't go into book cover art.

Neth said...

Different tastes is the norm in this world - and you seem all around more passionate about art the I do (I love your blog posts - you generally pick out some good ones).

I absolutely agree that cover art should match the book in at least some way and I loathe a 'sexing it up' kind of mentality.

Carl V. Anderson said...

Thanks! With the amount of work a successful artist has to do I am sure that expecting them to read every book they are given as a cover assignment is unrealistic, however I feel that the most successful ones are those where the artist is also a fan of the story. That's where I think we both have the same hopes with the Jordan calendar. I want to see winning pieces that you can tell were done by someone who is a true 'fan', not just an artist who sees this as a chance to get noticed. You'll be a better judge of that than I since you've read and re-read them all.

RobB said...


Michael Whelan's TO GREEN ANGEL TOWER Bad?


Sorry bout that, but I happen to really enjoy the themed art of the MST books. You can see Simon's progression as a character on each book and the way DAW split the volumes from 1 hardcover to 2 paperbacks was cleverly done with the double cover.

Race said...

Damn it. I want my chicks in chainmail bikinis with a dragon lurking in the background!

I like the Vellum cover, I love the HC versions of PoN.
I don't like the Tigana cover at all though.

The WoT covers are horrible, even though tI do have a fondness for DKS. He drew the covers to almost all the books a read as a kid afterall.

What I dislike is the changing of cover style mid series ala ASOIAF. now my books don't match!

Also to add to the artist Carl names, as I love Martiniere and Giancola, I'd name Picacio as top nothc too, although his penchand for throwing a blue face into almost every cover is a bit strange. ;) I also like both Youlls, and Dave McKean.

I've got links to most of my favorites websites on my blog.

Neth said...


I like the way DAW split the cover - that turned out well. As for the art - well just about any cover that has guy/girl with long flowing hair staring off into the sky in nice shiney (or not) medieval armor is something I'm not going to like. I just don't prefer those 'traditional' fantasy covers. Generally Whelan does it better than most (I love his Dark Tower work), but it's still not to my taste.


I'm a fan of the HC of PON as well - and the tpb aren't bad either, if not as good. I just didn't want to get carried away.

I think what I like about the Tigana cover is that it's difference stands out. It has an oriental feel about it (though the book isn't oriental at all) which is different from most fantasy.

Carl V. Anderson said...

I have to go with Neth on this one. I have seen some fantastic Whelan covers, but I don't like the one pictured at all.


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