Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Cover Grrrrrl

By Cornelia

Yesterday I got sent a jpeg of the proposed cover for my next book, which I think is wonderfully spooky and PRETTY, in a dark angsty kind of way.

It got me thinking about what I like and don't like in book covers. Two of my favorites ever were designed for novels by Darcey Steinke, which is cool because I like Darcey so much (we were on junior year abroad programs in Ireland together in 1983--me in Dublin, Darcey in Cork).

Here's the cover of her first novel, Suicide Blonde:

And here is the one for Milk:

And here is Darcey herself, equally great looking:

Here are some covers I found at a fantastic website dedicated to the art thereof:

Roz Chast and Stella Gibbons, two great tastes that taste great together....

Designer: Roz Chast
title: Cold Comfort Farm
author: Stella Gibbons
publisher: Penguin Classics, 2006
available at

This one I think plays wonderfully on traditional illustration connected to the subject matter, plus which the red is just so sumptuously perfect:

Designer: Mark Melnick
title: Chance
author: Amir D. Aczel
publisher: Four Walls Eight Windows, 2004
available at

And speaking of sumptuous, this is one of the most slyly erotic covers I think I've ever run across:

Designer: Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich
title: Eat Me
author: Linda Jaivin
publisher: Broadway, 1998
available at

Though this is a close second, and perfect for the subject matter:

Designer: Jasmine Lee
title: History Lesson for Girls
author: Aurelie Sheehan
publisher: Viking Adult, 2006
available at

This one is a great update, don't you think?:

Designer: Gregg Kulick
Illustrator: Gregg Kulick
title: Brave New World
author: Aldous Huxley
publisher: Harper Perennial, 2006
available at

This one is just plain beautiful, to me:

Designer: Charlotte Strick
title: The Noodle Maker: A Novel
author: Ma Jian
publisher: Picador, 2006
available at

Here's one I love not so much, especially since the short film on which it's based is so iconic:

Designer: Brian Barth
title: Bambi vs. Godzilla: On the Nature, Purpose,
and Practice of the Movie Business

author: David Mamet
publisher: Pantheon, 2007
available at

The film in question:

Couldn't they at least have added this:

plus this?:

Some of the most memorable covers ever are from children's books I've known and loved:

N.C. Wyeth's paintings for Scribner's are particularly gorgeous.

And there are many other Scribner's dust jackets I think were beautifully and thoughtfully designed:

This one was published in 1934.

This one was published in 1960, and is probably the worst design I've ever seen for a book. Can you imagine anything LESS evocative of The Great Gatsby?:

I looks like something out of an SRA reader nightmare. What were they thinking in 1960? Makes me kind of happy someone discovered LSD.

And then sometimes it's not the dust jacket which is the most beautiful thing about a book, but the cover beneath. I love the blue of this, the gold, the design of the type itself:

It reminds me of my very favorite kitschy painting:

Maxfield Parrish, "Stars," 1926

Just remember, though, as Bo Diddley said, you can't judge a book by looking at the...

What are your favorite covers? Which ones do you remember best from your childhood?


  1. Cornelia, love your book cover! The others are great, too. Not everybody is swayed by covers, but I look at them very carefully and appreciate the artistry that goes into each one. I have that The Great Gatsby with the boring cover on my bookshelf. The cover price was $1.25, but I got it used from the UW bookstore for 95 cents. Mine doesn't have a date on it.

  2. Cornelia, I love your new cover. As to ones I like, this is one of my personal favourites. I also love this one.

    Book covers from childhood? Not sure any really stand out and stick in my head, other than Call of the Wild, but that was a really old cover, not sure if there are any versions of it still around today.

    And that Great Gatsby? That blows.

  3. Love this post....From childhood, I remember the covers of my Nancy Drew books and my Winnie-the-Pooh books. I also have fond memories of some of my parents' album covers; Judy Garland's "Live at Carnegie Hall", in particular - it's still one of my all time favorite records.

    And I adore the cover of "Crazy School". It so rocks ;-)

  4. I like your cover but the title is brilliant. Not like the English use brilliant. But, really smart kind of brilliant.

    All I'm saying is that
    Crazy School is a good title.


  5. Ms. Read:

    Please be advised that we represent the State of California Avocado Growers ("SCAG"), and we object to your prurient portrayal of one of our products on the bookcover of "Eat Me."

    For the record, SCAG does not object to guacamole, as long as it is not too spicy. SCAG does not object to Mexican pickers, as they are not too pricy.

    But we do object to any portrayal of the avocado in a pornographic context. Nor do we believe that any right-thinking American male would use a sliced avocado to perform an act that rhymes with "dingus."

    Perhaps you and your gal pals are practitioners of a new form of literature with which I am not intimately familiar. What is it called? "Chick Lick?"

    In any event, please forthwith stop libeling our product or face consequences in a court of law.


    Irwyn P. Schmutz, Esq.
    Schmutz, Scheiss, & Schmegegee
    Rancho Cucamonga, CA

  6. C,

    Love the cover for Crazy School ~ absolutely perfect!

    Of the current releases my favorite cover is Tim Maleeny's Stealing the Dragon ~ superb art work and a great tie in to the story, which is also most excellent!

    And from my childhood ~ the cover on Island of the Blue Dolphins...I remember this very sad looking Indian girl with lonely eyes...her face was the entire cover and I just knew she had a story to tell...


  7. Oh, Janine, I remember Island of the Blue Dolphins as well... That exact same cover.

  8. Woo hoo for the cover of THE CRAZY SCHOOL! And a double woo hoo since they kept your original title.

    My current faves are the retro noir covers being issued by Hard Case Crime. Does it get any better than that?

  9. Patty: thank you! And that's so funny you have the same edition of Gatsby. In Scribner's defense, I think they had a line of books with that cover. But STILL...

    Sandra: Those are great covers, and of course I love yours for
    Suspicious Circumstances

    Rae: Please do NOT get me started on album covers... at least not until another Wednesday! That would be fun to post about.

    Jim: Thank you. In the American sense.

    Mr. Schmutz, esq.: Dude, that's a PAPAYA. When was the last time you saw an orange-fleshed avocado with dozens of tiny black seeds in the middle? I think they call that slander.....

    Janine: Yes! Tim Maleeny's cover is gorgeous AND totally apt... and I remember Island of the Blue Dolphins too, but it was a picture of a girl sitting in profile on top of a big rock in the middle of the ocean.

    Louise: I meant to mention the Hard Case covers--LOVE them!

  10. Say, there's only one artist/illustrator in your list, Cornelia. All are 'designed'. Currently, the publishing industry, from our point of view, is frequently forgoing any kind of art for an editor photoshopping a 'design'. A lot of illustrators are currently struggling to survive. My husband was in a four month slump of non-work and is only now coming out of it. I've found sales for him and whole new buyers base and enthusiastic mature fans of his work. It's been paying the bills for the last several months. Now he's chugging back to a better work level.

    So, while the crime fiction industry has always had a great eye for design and photography for book covers, our industry is failing because of budget cuts and the almighty publisher's cause for making more money by making their product look 'mainstream', ie. NOT science fiction or fantasy.

    BTW, Nancy Atherton's 'Aunt Dimity' books were recently given a makeover and the beautiful art that normally graces her books have been replaced by a vapid 'design' - probably to save money. Or to save themselves paying an artist what they're worth. I'm not entirely onesided or naive about the facts of marketing and promotion by the publishing industry, but the writers and artists do deserve some respect.

    Cornelia, your new cover DOES look WONDERFUL, and I'm looking forward to reading it. :-D

    Sorry to be a wet blanket. I actually have a lot of books that have favourite art on them. :-D Particularly children's books...


  11. My copy of The Great Gatsby (gotten for free from the book shelf at the El Cerrito recycling center) has this cover, which I kind of totally love.

    Yours reminds me a little bit of this, but not in a bad way.

  12. Marianne, you are not a wet blanket at all, and I am so glad you shared your perspective on this.

    I tend to think of artists' work appearing INSIDE the books more, especially children's books, which is truly stchoopid of me.

    Something that upset me recently was the news that the magnificent drawings in the Laura Ingalls Wilder books will be replaced, I think with photographs(!), because the publisher felt that kids today wouldn't "relate" to the original artwork.

    Hard Case Crime is using wonderful original artwork for their covers, and Megan Abbott's excellent books have great cover art as well:

  13. I imagine Mr. Schmutz' wife/girlfriend/paramour (assuming he's straight - not that there's anything wrong with that) also laments his inability to distinguish a papaya from an avocado.

    BTW, great cover for the new book.

  14. Daisy, I love that Gatsby cover. I think that's what was on the edition we read in high school, but I never noticed before that the eyes have little reflections of naked women in them. COOL!

    I think that's the original Scribner's cover, which makes the 1960 version even more gag-making.

  15. My most recent favorite is the cover on James R. Benn's Billy Boyle.


  16. I'm reading (staring at photos in) a book about home exteriors right now and I have to say your cover is spooky and evocative. NOT what one wants in a home exterior, but perfect for a book with that title. I also love the tonal, almost smoky b/w quality of it. Nice.

    I particularly remember the cover of Jacob Have I Loved, barefoot girl on the beach, beloved sister in background - at least that's how I recall it. Maurice Sendak's artwork stands out too, but that's picture books. There was also this one teen model who kept showing up on all these YA angsty romances I read. I SO wanted to be her - didn't matter the character who she was supposed to be this time, it was just HER I wanted to be.

    Right now, I'd like to be a papaya and I can't quite figure out why.

  17. Mjoy,

    If you like the cover to Billy Boyle, then you'll probably like the original covers to Justin Richards young adult series about the 'Invisible Detective'. I just got two more of those to read!!. :-D


  18. Cool cover for the new book, Cornelia! Suitably spooky. And Suicide Blonde's a book I enjoyed from way back!

    The cover on Tana French's new book In the Woods is fabulous. Very tactile and very creepy.

  19. This discussion at Readerville is indispensable... (Did I spell that right?)

    I love your cover, C-C. xo