Friday, December 16, 2011

More on book covers...

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to post this piece on the Tin House Books blog discussing my ten favorite book covers. I posted a link to that piece here on my own blog, and commenter RF shared so many intriguing thoughts that rather than confine the dialogue to the comments field of that post, I decided it would be best to elaborate in a fresh post. I enjoy when people visit this blog and leave comments, but it’s especially exciting to read something as well written and in-depth as what RF wrote which is precisely why I wanted to expand on it.

Below, RF’s comments will be in bold and preceded by the initials RF while my responses will be in normal type. Before we begin, let me first share the ten covers I chose, in order up to my most favorite. I won’t reproduce my thoughts on each of them here, yet. For that, you’ll have to read the original post on the Tin House Books blog. But to understand RF’s comments and my own responses, I think it’s important to have some background.

All images in this post, unless otherwise noted, are presumably the copyright of either the artist, the publisher, or both.

10. Roadmarks by Roger Zelazny, cover by Darrell K. Sweet.


9. Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd, cover by unkown.


8. Creepy magazine, issue #28, cover by unknown.


7. Motorman by David Ohle, cover by unknown.


6. At the Mountains of Madness by H.P. Lovecraft, cover by Ian Miller.


5. The Inferno by Dante Alighieri, translated by John Ciardi, cover by unknown.


4. Multiforce by Mat Brinkman, cover by Mat Brinkman.


3. A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay, cover by Bob Pepper.


2. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville, cover by Claus Hoie.


1. Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake, cover by Mervyn Peake.


RF: This is an interesting exercise; it's made me recognize how rarely I really like a book cover, and how rarely my favorites are the ones which I actually think are beautifully designed. I think most of these are downright ugly.

I truly appreciate RF’s candor, and willingness to call me out on the perceived “ugliness” of many of my choices. I do think it’s important to note that the framework for that Tin House post was my favorite book covers, and not necessarily the most beautiful or beautifully designed. I did think it was fascinating that RF mentioned how rarely her favorites are the ones which are beautiful and that she, like me, sometimes experiences a disconnect between the content of a book and the trade dress.

RF: A lot of them are also grandfathered in from childhood.

Extremely perceptive, this. I have been thinking about this for almost a day now, wondering why it is that what matters to me most in terms of story, narrative, art and so on is the material I experienced as a child or young adult. These days, as a man in his early 40s, I almost never read anything new or contemporary, turning instead to the classics, mythology, and books from the 60s and 70s instead of diving into the dreck that clogs most bookstore shelves these days. Some, I think, would accuse me of having an underdeveloped or even juvenile aesthetic, unaware or unwilling to engage with subtlety and complexity. Bullshit. Honestly, I think a great deal of what passes for modern creative endeavor (or, I guess, post-modern since so much of it seems to be infected with that) is hopelessly and nauseatingly narcissistic and self-involved. I just don’t care about it. I have enough complexity in my own life, I don’t need it thrust upon me by others, whether they are authors or filmmakers or musicians. This may be a very unpopular thing to write, but it’s honest.

RF: There's the first edition of The Great Gatsby, which can still elicit a perfect mood in the right moment. I think there are excellent reasons why this never really detached from the book: it perfectly captures its interior darkness and humidity.


An excellent point, and a fine cover indeed. I do wonder though how much of this connection between the text and the iconic cover is simply due to the force of history and familiarity. Almost everyone who has read the novel has seen this cover, which, as RF mentioned, “never really detached from the book.” Has this become a self-fulfilling kind of thing?

RF: The Ballantine "hippie covers" to Lord of the Rings by Barbara Remington...




RF: ...and the beautiful Tolkien-drawn cover to the first edition of The Hobbit...


RF: ...at the opposite end of the stylistic scale, I guess. Remington's bold, delicate colors and air of abstract heraldry went deep into my reading of the books and sense of their tone.

This pleased me a great deal. I am incredibly fond of Barbara Remington’s “hippie covers,” and even though I first saw Tolkien’s own delicate watercolor covers to the early paperback editions, Remington’s images for me solidified that sense of fantasy and wonder although I think RF’s mention of heraldry is spot-on as well. I almost included Remington’s covers in my own list of ten favorite covers, but they dropped off near the end.

As an aside, many many artists have lent their visions to Tolkien’s great epic and there is an astonishing variety of approaches. One of the artists whose work has always resonated deeply with me is Cor Blok.


His paintings were chosen for both the 2011 and 2012 Tolkien Calendars and seem to have set off a firestorm of controversy, especially in the Amazon reviews section. This troubles me because it seems emblematic of the creeping death that is devouring modern aesthetics. We as American consumers are presented some corporate vision of a property, one which always caters to the lowest common denominator of broad appeal, and that vision is then enshrined as the only acceptable one. Talented artists like Alan Lee...


...and Ted Nasmith...


...have for years provided visual explorations into Tolkien’s world and their work is indeed brilliant, imaginative and magnificent. But Tolkien’s books, like their readers, are a vast mosaic and there is, or should be, room for a wide variety of responses. The venom which greeted these Cor Blok paintings is unexpected and deeply disappointing because what it seems to say is that there is only one way to “see” or “show” something and any vision that does not adhere to, or imitate, that house style is “crap” or “stupid” or “the worst art I have ever seen.”

RF: The Tor adult cover of Ender's Game. It's a wholly generic sci-fi image, but I spent some serious teenage times staring at its icy, ultimately amorphous militarism and many bullshit medallions. It's that amorphousness that keeps me with it.


My earlier response, which I’ll simply reproduce here, was “Funny that you mentioned Ender's Game. I read that based on a strong recommendation from my wife, and quite enjoyed it, but can recall despising the cover. To me it always seemed utterly soulless and bland and actually interfered with my desire to read the story. Then again, as I have mentioned many times, I am hardly the most subtle of illustrators and for good or ill tend to occasionally favor the freakish, iconoclastic, and deliberately obtuse over the subtle.” It bears mentioning though that I absolutely loved RF’s mention of “many bullshit medallions” on the cover. Seriously.

RF: (While browsing Amazon for the image above, I came across this presumably fan-made cover [unless "Ender's" goes sans apostrophe these days], which I immediately liked better than any real one. It suggests decay on many scales, and sums up a lot of what I still love and hate about Card.


True, a much more visually interesting and thought-provoking cover. I wonder though how successful it might be to a new reader utterly unfamiliar with either Card or Ender’s Game? This, to me, calls to mind some of the more effective and experimental science fiction covers of the 70s, but since the genre was so much smaller back then and there was less money at stake, it seems that publishers were much more willing to take chances on cover designs than they are today.

RF: What else? There are plenty of modern covers that I admire, but I'm still finding myself thinking almost exclusively about ones that made a dent in me young. Like this hideous edition of Steppenwolf...


RF: Which I still own, and which has little to do with the book inside, but somehow does contain its synaesthetic, gender-collapsing fervor in a way that absolutely no later image has. You just can't go classy with Steppenwolf.

Having never read Steppenwolf I can’t comment on how appropriate this cover might be for the book, but I do remember shelving many many copies of this paperback during my years working in a used books store and I was constantly fascinated by it. The entire messy sprawl seemed so overdone, so florid, so voluptuous and cheesily sensual. I was always kind of smitten with it simply because, as RF alludes to, it was the polar opposite of classy. It certainly does make a dent, but whether this dent is good or bad seems to vary by reader.

RF: In the more modern arena, Finder: Dream Sequence by Carla Speed McNeil; again, not a pretty cover by any means, but a perfect image for what's inside...


Again, I have not read any of McNeil’s Finder books although I am told they are excellent. I agree that this cover is gorgeous and has a great deal of visual appeal and interest. RF brings up an interesting point though. Just how important is it that the cover image be a “perfect” match for what is inside? Are we all truly judging books by their covers? I understand how, from a marketing point of view, this is the single greatest factor driving cover design, but do we now look at everything through the shrewd capitalist lens of marketing and sales? I don’t know the answer to this at all, but it is something I think about a great deal.

RF: By the same token, the cover of Finder #27, which I actually do think is magnificent on its own, and which I keep by my desk with the Solar Brothers...

(Note: These Solar Brothers are drawings of my own, some of which RF must own since I have sold most of them.)


Agreed, another beautiful and very suggestive image. Somehow though, and I don’t mean this as a pejorative, it is very comic-book-ish. Which is appropriate, given that it IS a comic book cover.

RF: The early '90s Vintage editions of Crime and Punishment and The Brothers Karamazov, with their complementary cross motifs and the perfect, perfect colors (I guess I've learned in the past fifteen minutes that my book-cover preferences are almost exclusively about color)...



Of course. Color can have an enormous impact on perception and emotion and I, for one, am relieved that your cover preferences are driven in large part by color. I actually have a great deal of respect for that, and for what it says about you as a reader and a thinker.

RF: And, fine, I guess I'll cheat and add another comic, Obata Takeshi's cover for Death Note vol. 1. Another artist who likes cross motifs. Maybe not as thoughtful in their use, but also not as totally unlike Crime and Punishment as one might imagine, though with a totally different genre hat. I like the endless, obsessive detail of Obata's cover art, and its unapologetic bombast, and his frank disinterest in the faces (though elsewhere he is almost too interested in them)...


Hmmmm. Here, I think, our paths may diverge the most. Taken out of context, this is a highly effective cover, visually striking and executed very well. But given the context of its intended audience, the heavily and almost miserably serial-oriented nature of manga (with some titles like One-Piece and Dragon Ball running on for years and years and dozens and dozens of volumes with no real meaning to each storyline other than to set up the next) I think these cross motifs might be too easy a target. To me it’s like painting a crucifixion scene but making Jesus a highly sexualized nude woman with large breasts. Sure, at first it seems provocative and highly-charged but ultimately it is shock value and quite shallow at that. Although I think I should back up and say that yes, manga rarely tries to pass itself off as anything other than cheap disposable entertainment, so my comments above about context should be re-phrased. Provided there is an awareness on the part of the reader that what they are engaging in is just that – cheap disposable entertainment only, and not high art (whatever that might mean) – I can accept shock value and obvious visual cues.

RF: (Oh, Jesus -- I'm sorry that I completely misread your cue and started going off on my own favorites instead. I just got caught up in the meme. The Voyage to Arcturus cover got me thinking about Lord of the Rings, and about the disparity between your cover-preference-orientation and mine, and before I knew it, I was talking.)

No apologies necessary at all. I deeply enjoyed your comments and they provoked a lot of thinking in me. Agreements and disagreements are equally valuable to me, and I hope this isn’t the end of the dialogue at all. Thank you, sincerely, for sharing this, RF.

9 comments:

Charlie van Becelaere said...

Matt - I'm thinking that seeing the Voyage to Arcturus cover here means you found a copy.
I still haven't found another of that edition (I only have an e-book version right now), but I'm still looking.
Glad you got yours!

Matt Kish said...

Charlie, I was indeed lucky enough to end up with 2 copies, almost at the same time. It was very good to have this book, and I am looking forward to the project.

RF said...

Alas! I am ashamed to say that my candor was not candor; I was describing my own choices as generally ugly, not yours -- although I did think that of yours, too (but I'd have used a softer word, which is a lesson of some sort).

(Your Lovecraft, Lindsay, and Peake covers are beautiful, though, in my opinion.)

Honestly, I think a great deal of what passes for modern creative endeavor (or, I guess, post-modern since so much of it seems to be infected with that) is hopelessly and nauseatingly narcissistic and self-involved. I just don’t care about it.

I always wonder how many artists fall into narcissism entirely because they're afraid of being thought uncool and lose themselves by playing to feedback.

It's pretty hard to be both hip and good, though some do manage it -- though often by producing something so good that it becomes hip.

(You could also say of book covers that it's hard to be both beautiful and effective, with most of the same implications.)

I almost included Remington’s covers in my own list of ten favorite covers, but they dropped off near the end.

The font they use for Tolkien's name is also pretty exquisite. It's interesting how it's larger than "Lord of the Rings" and bolder than the title, as if Tolkien, like Proust and Austen, is one of those artists whose identity is summed up entirely by their surname.

[Cor Blok's] paintings were chosen for both the 2011 and 2012 Tolkien Calendars and seem to have set off a firestorm of controversy, especially in the Amazon reviews section.

I've vaguely heard of that. Blok's art isn't much to my taste, but it's fantasy art that isn't heavily representational, and I have to appreciate it for that reason. Recently -- and due in large part to your Moby-Dick art -- I've been increasingly interested in symbolic and sensory and (again) sort of heraldic illustration. I often find very representational images of my favorite stories viscerally uncomfortable to look at -- most of all in film, about as representational an image as you can get -- but on the other hand, it's possible to draw something that examines the story more in terms of what it generates within the brain. In general, at least for me, this is nonrepresentational except in brief filmic clips.

(OH NO I BROKE THE COMMENT LENGTH LIMIT, HERE COMES PART 2)

RF said...

True, a much more visually interesting and thought-provoking cover. I wonder though how successful it might be to a new reader utterly unfamiliar with either Card or Ender’s Game?

It's true. Ender's Game seems fiendishly hard to cover properly -- there have been so many, and they're almost all crap, and they're so many different kinds of crap. I blame the material. There are some striking images in the book, but they're almost all inseparable from their tactile component (going through the giant's eye; bouncing around the Battle Room; blood draining into the water recycling system). That's what Card did best in his prime, tactile stuff, bodies.

RF brings up an interesting point though. Just how important is it that the cover image be a “perfect” match for what is inside? Are we all truly judging books by their covers? I understand how, from a marketing point of view, this is the single greatest factor driving cover design, but do we now look at everything through the shrewd capitalist lens of marketing and sales? I don’t know the answer to this at all, but it is something I think about a great deal.

It is a very weird art form, when you think about it. How is someone supposed to sum up the power and appeal of a book in a single image, often without reading the book and working under a deadline for money? It's a lot like copywriting (my job), and indeed jacket copy probably has the exact same challenges. My point was more aesthetic than marketing-based, but they are inseparable, aren't they? The idea that a book's cover should explain it perfectly is as new as the idea that engagements are sealed with diamonds, and as pervasive.

***

(I can't figure out what bit to quote, but I hear you about cross motifs in manga and their general cheapness. Death Note uses them cheaply, too, although still the best of any manga I've seen -- i.e. it actually does have a hero who's obsessed with his own martyrdom, and a Western anti-villain whose attitudes suggest a Christian background. I think it achieves tragedy through unapologetic pulp, like Blake's 7 -- though the anime adaptation is better. Not one I'd hold up to detractors as an example of anime and manga as High Art, though, no.)

Matt Kish said...

Ha! So, my choices were indeed ugly but you'd have used a "softer word!" For some reason, that gave me great joy to read! But please, you need not use any "soft words" with me. If you something is ugly, please say so. We'll never get anywhere otherwise, and I find disagreements as pleasant as agreements.

"I always wonder how many artists fall into narcissism entirely because they're afraid of being thought uncool and lose themselves by playing to feedback."

This threw me a bit. I'm still very uncomfortable with the label "artist" and don't think of myself as one, but having published a book now I do spend a lot of time thinking about "what's next" and what perceptions about me and expectations of my work might exist. For myself, I feel quite the opposite of you mention. Narcissism doesn't feel like a "fall back," it feels like what I am being pressured toward. I think so many people expect deep personal revelations, public displays of shame and failure, and ultimate personal redemption that to NOT plunge deeply into one's own self for material seems to be the biggest sin. At least in the eyes of a marketer.

"You could also say of book covers that it's hard to be both beautiful and effective, with most of the same implications."

I think this is true of a lot of art, especially when it is yoked to capitalism. Very good point, RF.

"The font they use for Tolkien's name is also pretty exquisite. It's interesting how it's larger than "Lord of the Rings" and bolder than the title, as if Tolkien, like Proust and Austen, is one of those artists whose identity is summed up entirely by their surname."

This, in a weird way, goes back to some of that self-involved egomania I was mentioning earlier. I always resent seeing a book where the author's name is larger than the title. I don't think I had ever made the connection with these Tolkien books, being so fascinated with all the tiny figures. But when I see that, I often feel as if the cover is saying to me "The story doesn't matter one bit...you'll buy it because you buy everything by this author." Such crass commercialization. I makes me want to never stop puking.

"Blok's art isn't much to my taste, but it's fantasy art that isn't heavily representational, and I have to appreciate it for that reason."

YES! You summed it up so well! I am so sick - sick to DEATH, honestly - of art, fantasy or otherwise - that is so representational. More vile, visceral, pukish response from me.

"Recently -- and due in large part to your Moby-Dick art -- I've been increasingly interested in symbolic and sensory and (again) sort of heraldic illustration. I often find very representational images of my favorite stories viscerally uncomfortable to look at -- most of all in film, about as representational an image as you can get -- but on the other hand, it's possible to draw something that examines the story more in terms of what it generates within the brain. In general, at least for me, this is nonrepresentational except in brief filmic clips."

Those are some very very kind words, and it is humbling to think that something I made could provoke, even in a small way, that kind of response. That means a great deal to me though, and it's in this alchemy of creating art, exchanging it with the world, and receiving these thoughts that we are enlarged.

Matt Kish said...

It's true. Ender's Game seems fiendishly hard to cover properly -- there have been so many, and they're almost all crap, and they're so many different kinds of crap. I blame the material. There are some striking images in the book, but they're almost all inseparable from their tactile component (going through the giant's eye; bouncing around the Battle Room; blood draining into the water recycling system). That's what Card did best in his prime, tactile stuff, bodies.

I had never thought it through quite that thoroughly but you're right - Ender's Game would be a fiendishly difficult book to illustrate or provide a cover for. In that sense, perhaps you are right that the vague, generic scifi cover with the "bullshit medallions" was the best way to position the book to a prospective buyer. Even having read it twice now, there are still large portions of the narrative that utterly defeat my natural tendency to mentally illustrate everything I read. Odd.

It is a very weird art form, when you think about it. How is someone supposed to sum up the power and appeal of a book in a single image, often without reading the book and working under a deadline for money? It's a lot like copywriting (my job), and indeed jacket copy probably has the exact same challenges. My point was more aesthetic than marketing-based, but they are inseparable, aren't they? The idea that a book's cover should explain it perfectly is as new as the idea that engagements are sealed with diamonds, and as pervasive.

All true. And that makes me sad. I know I am hopelessly, horribly, irritatingly naive and childish in my hopes for art. I don't like to think about how important sales and commerce are to all art - from galleries to book covers - so I simply live in denial. At the heart of it, I understand that a book cover is like an exotic dancer and it has one purpose only - to get you to part with your money. I'm just not sure how I can accept that yet. I am still quite confused about it all and choose to follow the safety of some high road, you know? That "beauty is all" or something silly like that. I guess there's a balance in there somewhere, but I was never very adept at subtlety, compromise and complexity. Perhaps there is a lesson here for me after all.

***

(I can't figure out what bit to quote, but I hear you about cross motifs in manga and their general cheapness. Death Note uses them cheaply, too, although still the best of any manga I've seen -- i.e. it actually does have a hero who's obsessed with his own martyrdom, and a Western anti-villain whose attitudes suggest a Christian background. I think it achieves tragedy through unapologetic pulp, like Blake's 7 -- though the anime adaptation is better. Not one I'd hold up to detractors as an example of anime and manga as High Art, though, no.)

I am astonished, and a bit in awe, of how deeply you've read into Death Note and I truly have a lot of respect for that. I read the first 3 or 4 volumes and it began to get hopelessly complex. Well, scratch that. I began to feel as if it was asking for too much mental energy for something I thought of as perhaps not worth the effort. You build a compelling case for a re-examination though. When it comes to manga, as with so much of my comic or visual reading, art drives the narrative for me. Some of my favorite manga are Tekkonkinkreet and No. 5 by Taiyo Matsumoto, more or less anything Tsutomu Nihei (almost barren of story, really, but gorgeous) and the utterly juvenile over the top groos-out fest that is Berserk.

RF said...

For myself, I feel quite the opposite of you mention. Narcissism doesn't feel like a "fall back," it feels like what I am being pressured toward.

Well, there's the narcissism of building a brand around your personal traumas and victories, and then there's the narcissism of working solely on style, thinking of what would be impressive rather than what's meaningful to you, constructing an appealing shell to avoid exposing the shape of your thinking.

I was thinking more of the latter type. Both could be fallbacks for different people, but the latter is a danger for me in a way that the former probably isn't.

Even having read it twice now, there are still large portions of the narrative that utterly defeat my natural tendency to mentally illustrate everything I read. Odd.

Yes, it's remarkably anti-visual. I really do have strong feelings about Card; in Ender's Game, he's very bad and very good at once. The fact that you can't get a handle on the scale of any of the rooms; the long stretches of dialogue without attribution; the "oh, did I mention that everyone was naked in that scene?"; the fact that Ender and Graff, heretofore the novel's protagonist and chief antagonist, spend six months alone together in the middle of the book, in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy that implicates them both, and somehow by the end of this mostly undocumented period they're giggling-type friends -- why does it generally come across as a series of good decisions?

I don't like to think about how important sales and commerce are to all art - from galleries to book covers - so I simply live in denial.

What interests me is that this has worked for you so far.

At the heart of it, I understand that a book cover is like an exotic dancer and it has one purpose only - to get you to part with your money.

I guess I take a somewhat more optimistic view. Do you also think that way about album covers? I recall a King Crimson tribute somewhere among the Moby-Dick art; that didn't seem like the act of a man who thinks of all covers as cheesecake.

By the way, I was discussing the book with a friend today, and she brought up a key question: is that Pyramid Head on page 147?

Well, scratch that. I began to feel as if it was asking for too much mental energy for something I thought of as perhaps not worth the effort. You build a compelling case for a re-examination though.

You're talking to an accredited Death Note Fan, although I have my issues with that one, too. I did recently return to the manga and gave up after a few volumes. I love Obata's bold, contrasty art, but I find the series itself to be airless and caricatured and self-limiting, obsessed with the grotesque and always tending towards it. It's the anime adaptation, I guess, that I really care about -- also imperfect, particularly late in the story, but it was written by people who weren't afraid to refocus it on character and away from grotesquerie. And Kappei Yamaguchi's L is my favorite anime voice performance, more even than Yuriko Fuchizaki as Anthy in Utena, which is saying something.

Some of my favorite manga are Tekkonkinkreet and No. 5 by Taiyo Matsumoto, more or less anything Tsutomu Nihei (almost barren of story, really, but gorgeous) and the utterly juvenile over the top groos-out fest that is Berserk.

Never seen any of these, or heard of half of them -- I thought I knew the names in manga pretty well, but obviously not. I'll have to look them up. I did see the anime of Tekkinkinkreet and loved it.

Matt Kish said...

Well, there's the narcissism of building a brand around your personal traumas and victories, and then there's the narcissism of working solely on style, thinking of what would be impressive rather than what's meaningful to you, constructing an appealing shell to avoid exposing the shape of your thinking.

I was thinking more of the latter type. Both could be fallbacks for different people, but the latter is a danger for me in a way that the former probably isn't.


I can see the perils of both, and with visual art I can definitely empathize with the danger of the latter. I have at times come very close to that, and having a blog where friends and strangers can comment on one's art is a mixed blessing. The feedback is often wonderful and yet the encouragement can become addictive without an almost brutal kind of self-discipline leavened with a lot of reclusive behavior.

Yes, it's remarkably anti-visual. I really do have strong feelings about Card; in Ender's Game, he's very bad and very good at once. The fact that you can't get a handle on the scale of any of the rooms; the long stretches of dialogue without attribution; the "oh, did I mention that everyone was naked in that scene?"; the fact that Ender and Graff, heretofore the novel's protagonist and chief antagonist, spend six months alone together in the middle of the book, in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy that implicates them both, and somehow by the end of this mostly undocumented period they're giggling-type friends -- why does it generally come across as a series of good decisions?

Oddly enough, in spite of how great an effect Ender's Game had on me, I tried only once to read the sequel Speaker for the Dead and was utterly defeated. One of the tiny handful of books I was simply never able to gain any traction with.

That bit about living in denial of how important sales and commerce are to art, and how this has worked for me so far...well, I guess that depends entirely on one's motivation for working. For measuring success. It only worked because those things - the money, the financial rewards, the low level of "fame" - were never benchmarks for me. It was always such an internally driven process and the publication of this Moby-Dick book has really been a bull in the china shop. I am still trying to sort this new paradigm out and having only mixed success.

I guess I take a somewhat more optimistic view. Do you also think that way about album covers? I recall a King Crimson tribute somewhere among the Moby-Dick art; that didn't seem like the act of a man who thinks of all covers as cheesecake.

I truly do admire your optimism and am struggling mightily to cultivate some of my own. I tend to be far too cynical and pessimistic, which is something I am not at all proud of nor do I think there is anything even remotely attractive about. It's petty, tired, unpleasant and unwanted but so hard to shake.

Whether I am right or wrong, I tend to draw some deep distinctions between the aesthetics of the 60s and 70s (King Crimson covers, Ballantine Adult Paperback books, Dragon's Dream publishing and so on) and the culture of the - what are we calling this decade? the teens? It seemed as if there was a far greater willingness to take chances, to do something for the sake of doing it back then. Now if something is not a guaranteed moneymaker, no one will touch it. I could go on and on about this, but I would break the comment limit on it. I suppose I am showing my wistful nostalgia again.

By the way, I was discussing the book with a friend today, and she brought up a key question: is that Pyramid Head on page 147?

Indeed it is, but for no real reason other than Pyramid Head looks quite cool and something about that nude male figure with the long sword vaguely reminded me of P.H.'s predatory and terrifying sexual appetites. Good call though!

...continued...

Matt Kish said...

You're talking to an accredited Death Note Fan, although I have my issues with that one, too. I did recently return to the manga and gave up after a few volumes. I love Obata's bold, contrasty art, but I find the series itself to be airless and caricatured and self-limiting, obsessed with the grotesque and always tending towards it. It's the anime adaptation, I guess, that I really care about -- also imperfect, particularly late in the story, but it was written by people who weren't afraid to refocus it on character and away from grotesquerie. And Kappei Yamaguchi's L is my favorite anime voice performance, more even than Yuriko Fuchizaki as Anthy in Utena, which is saying something.

I couldn't bring myself to watch the anime, primarily because I felt so worn out by my brief foray into the manga. Also, and this is another self-admitted weakness of mine, hype will destroy things for me permanently and irrevocably, regardless of their inherent quality. The hype around Death Note, at least in my circles, had reached such a deafening level of noise that even if the books had been the true words of a cosmic messiah here to save us all I would have turned away from them in disgust. Something else I am trying to overcome, since I am told that Toy Story 3, Up, Avatar and Hugo are all deeply moving and tremendously worthwhile films if I would just give them a chance.

Never seen any of these, or heard of half of them -- I thought I knew the names in manga pretty well, but obviously not. I'll have to look them up. I did see the anime of Tekkonkinkreet and loved it.

Well, I can't really recommend Berserk at all since it tends toward extreme and almost caricatured violence, gore and sexual content. Absolutely no subtlety at all and primarily successful in a brutally monstrous visual way. However, anything by Taiyo Matsumoto (Tekkonkinkreet) is well worth a long look. Nihei's Biomega has some sort of vague post-apocalyptic zombie story to it, which is actually rather standard and uninspired. The appeal, for me at least, is the art which consists largely of long, sweeping, gorgeously brushy architectural renderings of decaying buildings and vast cityscaped occasionally populated by deeply bizarre cyborgs. It is visual poetry really, but I am not certain what an accredited Death Note fan might thing since both visually and storywise they are in such stark contrast.