Monday, October 3, 2011

Monday Covers: Evocative Images and Little Text

For these "Monday Cover" posts, I sometimes just browse through the Shelf Awareness newsletter for the more attractive or interesting cover in the bunch. This time, while I saw a couple of good nonfiction covers, I almost despaired of finding anything interesting in the fiction area....

Until I got down to the paid "advertioral" section. There at the very bottom, was this evocative cover for When The Dust Finally Settles.

The first thing that strikes me is the fact that it's both dark, and vibrant. The colors are all secondary colors, all blended, but still highly saturated: green, red-violet, yellow-orange. That alone evokes a muted intensity, something under the surface. The buildings and details up at the top are crowded, and yet lonely in the fact that there is a field between us and those buildings. It's lush with green, but feels barren in the stark, unidentifiable rows. (It could be rows of moss for all we can tell.)

Little (or No) Text

Here is something for the e-publishers to think about: We all talk about how we have to have a legible cover in thumbnail; use big fonts so you can see the title and author.

And yet, note also that the title here is small.

But Seth Godin has pointed out that with an ebook it doesn't really matter. It's not an actual physical cover -- it's a "product image" which goes next to the title on the page. He's leaving text off his ebook covers altogether now, and just going with an image.

I'm not sure I agree with him. The problem with leaving all text off the cover is that it confuses the issue. It's supposed to be a picture of the product. If the product is a book, well, a book has text on the cover. (This is why ebook-only publishers sometimes put little blurbs in tiny illegible text on ebooks covers -- to make them look like paperbacks) . A picture without text confuses the reader as to what they're getting. Is it a print or painting? Or are they getting the item depicted? If you write a book about a clown, the customer can't tell at a glance whether they are getting a clown costume, or a DVD of a clown's performance, or what.

That's why proportions are important as well. Last week, when I went looking for links for those short story recommendations, I kept coming across video and audio adaptations and spin-offs. In some cases it was hard to find the original book. The only thing that helped was that the CDs and DVDs and such were all different dimensions.

Right now, it's great to use the freedom we have to deviate from the norm... but we're still trying to communicate here. What will a "book" look like when there are no more physical books? I have a feeling we'll still be using some of these unnecessary elements as a cultural signal.

Evoking Other Books, Evoking A Genre.

The other thing I wanted to talk about with this cover is what it evokes intellectually.

The book is described thusly: "Narrated in part by a ghost, When the Dust Finally Settles is a novel focused on land, loyalty, and Southern racial politics in 1968."

I'm not a big fan of the Southern Gothic, but I am fond of its cousin, a genre you could call "Northern Noir." Things like the movie Fargo, and also like Archer Mayor's police procedural novels about a team of detectives in Vermont.

And that cover above immediately reminded me of a set of the older covers from the Mayor series:

I always really really loved these covers. I wanted to collect the whole set of Mayor's books with them. But alas they changed the style, and the later books never saw a cover like these.

The cover of When The Dust Finally Settles evokes the same feeling via the saturated colors and the countryside subject matter. The use of pattern within rows. The colors here are brighter and closer to primary colors, but there's a lot more black to mute them.

The other element that draws these covers together is the primitive style. The Mayor books are woodcuts, the one up top has the odd off-set proportions of a an American primitive painter. They both evoke the folk art of a deep-rooted culture.

Will I buy that book up top? Probably not. Like I said, it doesn't sound like it's quite my cuppa. Nothing against it, though, and that cover DID put it on my radar in a positive way. I'll grab a sample, and even if I never get around to reading that, the author and book will be in my mind when I hear about them another time.

See you in the funny papers.

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