Everything Is Nice

Beating the nice nice nice thing to death (with fluffy pillows)

Posts Tagged ‘book covers

SF Art Awards

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SF awards season has begun and, to be honest, I imagine you are already well aware of this. So I’m not going to post the shortlists for the BSFA Awards or the Kitschies. I would, however, like to discuss the Best Artwork category for the BSFA Award and Inky Tentacle for the Kitschies. The BSFA Award is open to all artwork, not just book covers, but this year it happens to be made up of five covers so a direct comparison is possible. I am going to start with that award since, as a BSFA member, I get to vote for this award so these comments also represent my ballot. (I’m going to reproduce small images to give some context but it is worth checking out the award sites to see the full details of each cover.)

5) Ben Baldwin for the cover of Dark Currents (Newcon Press)

This is, as far as I’m concerned, a nothing image. The content is uninteresting, the execution is poor (the relative sizes of the different elements are all out of whack and look like dodgy photoshop layers) and its got a crap ‘pirate’ typeface slapped on the top. If you look on Baldwin’s website pretty much everything on there is better than this.

4) Dominic Harman for the cover of Eric Brown’s Helix Wars (Rebellion)

A traditional science fiction cover and my response to traditional SF covers is much the same as this. You wouldn’t catch me reading this on the train. We have explosions, we have a fancy spacesuit, we have a lot of lazers and even more orange. I also can’t help but notice that our stalwart hero is looking directly at the reader whilst rather caverlierly firing his gun at something out of his (and our) line of sight. And why does a laser rifle need a massive banana clip? Appropriately, this is worldbuilding every bit as shoddy as you’d find in a Brown novel.

No Award

3) Si Scott for the cover artwork for Chris Beckett’s Dark Eden (Corvus)

A good match for the novel which takes place on a planet without sun is therefore illuminated only by bioluminence from its flora and fauna. The specific image of the insect is then embellished with abstract whorls which make the whole thing appear uncanny and disquieting.

2) Blacksheep for the cover of Adam Roberts’s Jack Glass (Gollancz)

An inspired idea to translate the iconography of science fiction into the iconography of Christianity. I’ve no idea if there is any relevence to this beyond the title of the novel but it works perfectly.

1) Joey Hifi for the cover of Simon Morden’s Thy Kingdom Come (Jurassic London)

Joey Hifi is, simply put, the best cover artist currently working in SF (Hugo nominators, take note). His work for Lauren Beukes and Chuck Wendig has been outstanding and this cover doesn’t disappointing. He layers two simple images – the radiation symbol and an atomic explosion itself – over other and then sketches the results of these into the image itself. I particularly like the little details where the rifle and the mushroom cloud break the line of the symbol. Nice placement of title and author too.

This makes an interesting link to the Inky Tentacle since, due to the relationship between Jurassic London and the Kitshies, Hifi’s cover is ineligible. This is a shame and makes me doubly keen for it to win the BSFA Award. In contrast tot hat award, the Inky is a juried award which this year was judged by Gary Northfield, Lauren O’Farrell and Ed Warren. They are all professionals so you would imagine it to be judged to different criteria than those used by the members of the BSFA but I was still surprised that there was no overlap. I had thought the Blacksheep cover for Jack Glass might make it.

I’d like to start by discussing two images: Peter Mendelsund’s cover for Flame Alphabet by Ben Marcus (Granta) and Dave Shelton’s cover for his own A Boy And A Bear In A Boat.

Both are bold images that lack any genre reference point. The cover for The Flame Alphabet, in particular, fits very neatly into contemporary literary fiction design and conveys little about its contents. The novel itself is obviously science fiction so the cover is equally obviously eligible but is this enough? A Boy And His Bear In A Boot is less abstract – a clever joke, in fact – but the same applies. Well, if it is good enough for the judges.

Next we have two of my favourite cartoonists: Tom Gauld’s cover for Costume Not Included by Matthew Hughes and Oliver Jeffers’s cover the Terrible thing That Happened To Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne.

Gaunt is just Gaunt which is to say marvellous. God on his laptop is a classic Gaunt touch and I love the reptillian hood smoking a fag at top right. Just a shame it has to have the Angry Robot logo (even re-drawn) on the front. Unfortunately, whilst I am a fan of Jeffers’s own work, this image does nothing for me. Which leaves La Boca’s cover for The Teleportation Accident by Ned Beauman.

This has really grown on me. As with Thy Kingdon Come, the designer has taken a classic image (in this case the famous Lousie Brooks profile) and repurposed it. By simply stuttering the image, La Boca manages to evoke the setting, genre and tone of the novel whilst creating a memorable cover that stands on its own feet. This is my undoubted winner and I suspect the judges will agree with me. Rash, I know.

My personal shortlist for a combined award would have been Si Scott, Blacksheep, Joef Hifi, Tom Gaunt and La Boca. But what were the deserving covers that were missed off both shortlists?

Written by Martin

18 January 2013 at 13:33

Posted in art, awards, books, sf

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Pulp Friction

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Exhibit A: The prologue of Railsea by China Miéville.

This is the story of a bloodstained boy.
There he stands, swaying utterly as any wind-blown sapling. He is quite, quite red. If only that were paint! Around each of his feet the red puddles; his clothes, whatever colour they were once, are now a thickening scarlet; his hair is stiff & drenched.
Only his eyes stand out. The white of each almost glows against the gore, lightbulbs in a dark room. He stares with great fervour.
The situation is not as macabre as it sounds. the boy isn’t the only bloody person there: he’s surrounded by others as red & sodden as he & they are cheerfully singing.
The boy is lost. Nothing has been solved. He thought it might be. He had hoped that this moment might bring clarity. Yet his head is still full of nothing, or he know not what.

Exhibit B: The new cover for Railsea by China Miéville.

Talk about tonal dissonance and false expectations!

Written by Martin

15 November 2012 at 11:24

Posted in books, design

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You Can Only Have Nice Things When You Can’t See The Spine

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Solaris are reissuing James Lovegrove’s back catalogue and, despite the fact they are only appearing as e-books, they have commissioned some lovely new covers by Pye Parr:

Worldstorm is my favourite but The Hope works really well on a dual level. Imagined Sleights and Provender Gleed are the weakest of the bunch – muddy and lacking an iconic image to really nail the title – but they are a vast improvement on the original Gollancz covers and Parr is to be applauded. So too are Solaris for commissioning him; it is nice to see a publisher taking both ebooks and design seriously and I’m looking forward to the two remaining covers. A mystery remains though: if Solaris are taking so much care with these re-issues, why have they given his current series such bloody awful covers? Maybe it is actually true what every publisher thinks and everyone who ever visits a bookshop is really blind and mentally ill. I’m not convinced.

Written by Martin

29 November 2010 at 22:28

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Lightborn Vs Version 43

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Today I received two books from Orbit and, whilst I am looking forward to reading both, it was their covers that particularly struck me. Here is Lightborn by Tricia Sullivan:

And here is Version 43 by Philip Palmer:

The cover for Lightborn was designed by Nathan Burton and art directed by Duncan Spilling (more here, including larger image). The cover for Version 43 was photographed by Eric Westpheling and art directed by Lauren Panepinto (more here, including larger image). Both covers take radical yet radically different approaches to complimenting the work behind them

Lightborn has a stark, monochrome cover depicting light being split by a prism where, instead of producing a rainbow, it simply fans out in a grey wave. As well as harmonising with the title, it signals a novel with serious intent and presumably a dark future. It reminds me a bit of Gollancz’s paper space opera series but I’m worried it is too non-descript (the typeface is also very small for a novel). However, when I mentioned this cover on Twitter several people said that they thought it would stand out by virtue of the fact it is so different to other SF covers.

In contrast, I really do think Version 43 stands out. The cover is split between text and image and both are highly distinctive. The top half is a blue bold background with a really strong and unusual typeface (as well as a small element of graphic design). The bottom half is a photo an Action Man figure with several more in silhouette. Again, this harmonises with the title, a disposable figure in a conformist society. The protagonist of the novel is a cyborg cop, “more programme than man”, and the harsh light, stern expression and menacing shadows set a hard-boiled tone. It isn’t quite as instantly brilliant as the similar cover for his previous novel but it is pretty damn good. From comments elsewhere, it is also seems to be divisive though.

Written by Martin

29 September 2010 at 10:59

Posted in books, design, sf

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Here Be Dragons

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Fantasy readers tend to complain if their novels don’t come complete with a pretty map at the front. Non-fantasy readers tend to take the piss out of them for this. Best Served Cold by Joe Abercrombie laughs in the face of all this:

Having only seen it online, I had just thought it was a continuation of the imitation parchment covers for the First Law Trilogy. It was only when I had the thing in my hands I realised they had (brilliantly) put the map on the outside. It gets even cleverer. As the novel ranges across the continent of Styria, the page bearing the geographical title of each section is printed on a greyscale close up of the relevant area of the map. The jacket only credits the two illustrators but it appears to have been a real team effort:

Original concept from Simon Spanton (I believe), expanded upon by my editor Gillian Redfearn, who then put the brief together and assembled the team to carry it out (kind of like the A-Team, but with more artistic accumen and less mercy), and co-ordinated the project. The sword was painted by weapons expert Didier Graffet, the map was drawn by map-master Dave Senior, adapting my own scrawl, then the whole was combined and made to live by designer Laura Brett (also responsible for the First Law covers), who added the spatter, coins, parchmenty effects, and lettering.

The less said about the American version the better but at least the paperback edition had character. Anyway, I know I’m very late to the party but this is still worth saying. The book itself is bloody good too.

Written by Martin

6 February 2010 at 00:54

Posted in books, design, sf

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Two Themes For Saturday Morning

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Book covers:

  • Caustic Cover Critic marvels at some wildly inappropriate book covers from Tutis Digital Publishing.
  • Orbit do some in-depth research into what makes a fantasy book cover. Swords and glowy magic, apparently.
  • Elsewhere Sherlock Holmes goes pulp.

Stuff in the paper:

  • Peter Bradshaw doesn’t like The Time Traveler’s Wife but does like The Butterfly Effect. Me too.
  • Adam Roberts reviews Kim Stanley Robinson’s new novel which strikes me as a better use of a couple of hundred words than these round ups. (Same contributor name fail though.)
  • Jeanette Winterson has written a fantasy children’s drama for the BBC.

Written by Martin

15 August 2009 at 11:57

Posted in books, design, films

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Things To Come

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Torque Control has linked to the rather good Art of Penguin Science Fiction. James Pardey is to be congratulated for putting this to together but I would quibble over this remark:

One final point: the Penguin sf covers presented here are neither exhaustive nor intended to be. Aesthetics are every- thing for a website called The Art of Penguin Science Fiction, and in this regard many of the later covers have little to offer. Thus they are excluded, and from 1977 to 2009 all coverage (no pun intended) ceases. For as the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein once wrote for very different reasons, “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent”.

For example:



Written by Martin

28 April 2009 at 14:01

Posted in books, design, sf

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Penguin Potters

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You will probably have seen at least some of the rash of imitation Penguin Classics cover designs doing the rounds. MS Corley has just done an excellent set for the Harry Potter books:

They really show how anaemic the adult covers Bloomsbury put out are. Corley has also done Lemony Snicket and The Spiderwick Chronicles.

Written by Martin

18 February 2009 at 16:48

What A Difference A Day Makes

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A couple of years ago Chris Cleave published his debut novel, Incendiary, a thriller about a terrorist attack on the Emirates Stadium. It received a major marketing push, including adverts on the tube, but, unfortunately, happened to be published on the same day as the tube bombings.

I’ve not read the novel but by all accounts calling it a thriller is slightly misleading. The publisher was clearly happy to mislead though because the cover screams thriller. Just look at the typeface. So it was with considerable surprise that I came across the new paperback edition in Borders.

It is about as radical a change in design as you can imagine. They both directly relate to the contents of the novel but emphasise completely different aspects. It continues a re-positioning seen in the recent film adaptation, the audience the marketing is trying to attract has clearly shifted from men to women. This does make sense but it is still a startling contrast.

Written by Martin

8 December 2008 at 13:10

Posted in books, design, films

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The Ideal Falling Motion Of A Body

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It hit her hard when she first saw it, the day after, in the newspaper. The man headlong, the towers behind him. The mass of the towers filled the frame of the picture. The man falling, the towers continuous, she thought, behind him. The enormous soaring lines, the vertical column stripes. The man with blood on his shirt, she thought, or burn marks, and the effect of the columns behind him, the composition, she thought, darker stripes for the nearer tower, the north, lighter for the other, and the mass, the immensity of it all, and the man set set almost precisely between the rows of darker and lighter stripes. Headlong, free fall, she thought, and this picture burnt a hole in her mind and heart, dear God, he was a falling angel and his beauty was horrific.

Don DeLillo, Falling Man, 2007

DeLillo’s character is discussing Richard Drew’s infamous photo from which the novel takes its name. It is the obvious cover for the book but at the same time it is not the sort of image that you can slap text over and use a sales pitch. Instead the publishers have used a photo by Katy Day Weisberger which takes the opposite approach, moving back, rising up, relegating the Twin Towers themselves to the back cover. It is an equally fitting companion to the work DeLillo has produced. (The UK paperback cover also removes the clever but perhaps ill-judged typographical trick from the original cover.)

Written by Martin

23 October 2008 at 17:57

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