Friday, 18 March 2011

A Book By Its Cover

This week I'd like to start by taking a look at one of the most prestigious UK prizes for the best book cover: the V&A Book Cover Illustration Award.
Some of the entries for this prize are simply stunning and proper works of art! This made me wonder, because I'm not quite sure how the artistic part works in publishing. I'm pretty sure designers don't read every book they've been asked to design a cover for. Do they get a general idea, or they just go with what the title tell them?
A few covers bring to the surface the content of the book. I call them 'literal' because I like to translate Italian expressions whenever I don't know the right word in English, so please forgive me. If I could say it in English, it would be something on the line of 'it does what it says on the tin', the 'tin' being the book jacket! ;)
Although, then, it really depends on the country which publishes the book, and it's funny to see how the American and Canadian covers for this book are so dissimilar from the European ones!
This makes me wonder: are Europeans intrinsically shallow, and base their reading decisions exclusively on the appearance of the book, while Americans merely look at the size of the tome and the amount of pages they get for a buck?
All 4 covers have this strange sense of panic and inquietude. A lot of trees, and in 3 out of 4, there's also the reference to a female character. I personally was attracted by the second cover... again it must have been that turquoise which I looove! But I also would have liked the 1st one. I wouldn't have recognised Highgate cemetery, which is an amazing place - go and take the tour there, save the cemetery! - but the picture gives away something about the plot of the book.
The third option is simple and nice enough, but it doesn't give away much in terms of content. It would definitely inspire me as some kind of Goth story. Or...Neil Gaiman...Coraline anyone?
I don't care much for the 4th option. It's pretty generic, and reminds me of other book covers. The first title that I would instantly connect to cover number 4 would probably be The Virgin Suicides by Jeffrey Eugenides - a very nice book -, or Alice Munro's Runaway - a collection of stories which on the other hand I totally HATE.
Can you see what I mean? Cover number 4, in my opinion, is just bland, and could apply to any kind of generic fiction involving a female character.
I think the first two covers are instead very detailed and unusual. Two identical twins, dressed up entirely in white, in a weird place - in the first cover - or in a romantic setting - second cover -, but the colours are not right, there's not enough softness in the focus to make it look like a title out of an Harlequin series. 
That's what I thought as soon as my eyes caught a glimpse of the cover.
It might sound like a long, boring assessment, but it realistically happened in a couple of seconds. That's really all you need in order to be attracted or repulsed by a cover. 
I appreciate that graphics must be going crazy in the attempt to create a proper artistic cover, so I really want to know if they at least get a brief of the story. I wonder if the author has a saying in all that.

There are then some styles that have become incredibly common, and every time I enter a bookshop, it seems like the same book is being sold over and over again.
One interesting artwork that I've seen copied a million times by others, and of which books I don't remember the titles - I promise I'll look into it properly! -, is Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer.
The mind behind the cover is Gray318, and you can see some of his other works here. He must be an aficionado, because he's created all the UK covers for Foer! And you definitely can see that the author is the same. 
Is this just a matter of consistency when it comes to a certain publisher, edition and author, even if this in not a series? I find it understandable to use the same style when it comes to a specific series, written by one author, or even, say, the classics. But should it be the same with contemporary titles, which are not plot-related to each other?

I'll explore all this, next week ;)

Have a lovely week end and happy belated Paddy's day!

No comments:

Post a Comment