Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Books: Covers We Like by Ione

[Post edited to credit the Grendel cover to artist Brad Holland whose work, available to see at his web site, is absolutely astounding. Special thanks to another incredible artist Jeffrey Meyer for pointing this out in the comments.]

Welcome to the very first guest-curated Books: Covers We Like post! This is very exciting, and I hope to run many more of these from anyone who is interested in sharing their thoughts and favorites. If you'd like to contribute a post (and I'd be delighted if you did), read this right here and email me.

This first guest post was submitted by my wonderful and keen-eyed wife Ione. We've been together for almost 16 years and married for nearly 11, yet in many ways we have a very different aesthetic when it comes to art. Which always makes conversations about the visual world interesting. Without further delay, here is Ione's post and her covers...

5. The Fat Duck Cookbook by Heston Blumenthal, cover and illustrations by Dave McKean


If you don’t know anything about Heston Blumenthal, all you need to know is that the man is a culinary mad genius. I couldn’t afford the limited, slipcased, hardcover edition of the book (also lovely, but minimal in design), but the hardcover trade edition is gorgeous in a very different way. Dave McKean’s unconventional and otherworldly drawings capture the kind of frenetic eccentricity that Blumenthal is known for. Cookbooks usually have photographs of food on the cover, which can be appealing (food porn anyone?), but I was really drawn to this cover because it was so unexpected. And I have always loved Dave McKean’s work, so it was really exciting to see him illustrate and design a book in a genre that was unexpected.

4. The Darkangel by Meredith Ann Pierce, cover by Kinuko Y. Craft


I vividly remember picking up this mass market edition at a school book sale when I was in junior high. I was drawn to how delicate the image appeared, and how finely the painting was rendered on this little, cheap paperback. Compared to lots of other fantasy paperbacks I was used to picking up, which usually had poorly rendered, completely forgettable covers, this one had a haunting quality that I couldn’t ignore. It almost looked like a pre-Raphaelite painting (not that I knew what pre-Raphaelite meant when I was 11). Thankfully, the story was also really well done. No sparkly vampires in this one, thank goodness, although I do wish the title was a little less goth-sounding. The sequel, A Gathering of Gargoyles, also has a Craft cover, which is also very lovely. I never did find the last book in the trilogy, The Pearl of the Soul of the World, in a version with a Craft cover, sadly. But I’ve managed to hold on to the copy of the first book I picked up 25 years ago.

3. Grendel by John Gardner, cover by Brad Holland


I wasn’t a big fan of Beowulf when we read it in high school, but the cover of this paperback edition of Grendel was compelling enough for me to take a chance on reading a modern, somewhat existentialist take on the story. And I wasn’t disappointed. I think the cover is really amazing. It manages to be earthy and dreamlike all at once, and I love the ambiguity of Grendel’s emotional state. Is he howling with hunger? Anger? Loneliness? And the font choice is good, too—clean and simple, so it doesn’t compete with the figure. I know there are other editions that also have great covers, but this is the one that got me to read it.

2. Pyramid Car written and drawn by Scott C. (Scott Campbell)


This might seem like an odd choice, but this is truly one of the most brilliant little mini-comics I have ever seen. It’s probably hard to tell from the picture, but this tiny, stapled, photocopied book has a wonderful dark green velveteen cover, with the image in white paint. It’s wonderfully textured and makes you want to pick it up. And it’s such a silly tale of mummies and a couple of ancient Egyptians joyriding in a literal pyramid car that you can’t help but laugh when you read it. The best couple of bucks I have ever spent.

1. The Hearing Trumpet by Leonora Carrington, cover by Pablo Weisz-Carrington


Not only is this one of my favorite covers, but this is one of my favorite books of all time. Carrington was a Surrealist who created fantastic and bizarre images with both her paintings and her words. This book is about the misadventures of Marian Leatherby, an elderly woman who uses a hearing trumpet to hear what’s going on around her. Carrington’s son, Pablo, provided the illustrations for this book, which look much like the cover scratchy, spidery, simple black ink drawings. Although they are somewhat crude, I think they really capture the na├»ve spirit of the book. I love how Marian looks almost like a weird priestess on the cover, or like some strange nun from an alternate future. Oddly enough, there is an edition of the book that uses one of Leonora’s paintings for the cover, entitled “Baby Giantess,” which is a fantastic painting but I feel utterly wrong as the iconic image for the book.

ADDITIONAL DIVERSIONS

A fake cover for Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy, painted by Sean Lewis


I can’t remember how I stumbled across this image. But I have been repeatedly frustrated by the poor covers I have seen for multiple editions of Blood Meridian, which is one of my all-time favorite books. This fake cover was created by an artist named Sean Lewis, and I love how it’s visceral, which is how the book feels. I also like the fact that it’s an extreme close-up of an impending act of violence, and violence permeates the book. In my mind, this image really captures the spirit of the book, as bloody and horrifying as it is.

Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing for Every Page by Matt Kish, book, cover and interior design by Janet Parker, Diane Chonette and Alexandra Boyd




Minor caveat: I’m married to the guy that made this book. Personal bias aside, this really is a beautiful book, inside and out. The slipcase is well-designed and eye-catching, unlike a lot of slipcases that I have seen which are usually very plain. I particularly like the spine, which is a fantastic study in the use of font and negative space, excerpted from an image within the book. And when you slip the book out of the case, the impact of the wordless cover, front and back, is simply stunning. Intensely bold and bright, featuring an eye on one side whose gaze burns into your brain, and the iconic Queequeg on the other side, the book cover design is a unique work of art all on its own. And the best part is that all of the imagery is drawn from Matt’s work, which is unlike anything else I have ever seen. Sadly, the hardcover slipcased edition is pretty much sold out, but the paperback version is still lovely.

9 comments:

  1. The Hearing Trumpet! I didn't want it to end. And I love that Carmela is based on Carrington's real-life best friend, Remedios Varo, one of my favorite painters.

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  2. "The Fat Duck Cookbook" is so remarkable because the cover is so utterly unlike what anyone would expect a cookbook to resemble. If anything, it looks more like a storybook or picture book than anything else. Very odd, but in a good way.

    "The Darkangel" really skirts the line between beautiful fable and florid romance. Kinuko Craft is amazing, definitely, but I am certain nostalgia is a heavy factor in this one. Which is something I completely understand and emphasize with. The font treatment for the title is a bit garish though.

    As you already know from our past discussions, I prefer the Ian Miller paperback cover to "Grendel" seen here but this one is a close second. And I agree completely that the ambiguity of the cover is a big part of what makes it so magnetic.

    "Pyramid Car" is just genius, plain and simple.

    That "Hearing Trumpet" cover is extremely appealing because again it is so much a product of its time. Rough, almost crudely done, somewhat poorly colored. Something like this would never ever get past the art director at a big corporate publisher these days. Covers like this are proof that what's inside the cover is often unique, bizarre, and a labor of love and thus they are always risky but also instantly appealing.

    As for "Blood Meridian," I've beent thinking a lot about why all the editions we've seen have such monumentally dull covers. I think it's because McCarthy is a Big Name Author, and this his name alone is often enough to sell a book. Additionally though, a cover generally creates a strong impression in the prospective reader / buyer mind, and since McCarthy is a Big Name, his publishers want to do everything they can to be bland and vague which guarantees the sales of more copies since you can't really tell what the book is about.

    As for my book, well, it really is an amazing object, from the cover to the layout. Janet, Diane and Alexandra did a stunning job with it and I am endlessly thankful for that.

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  3. Christine, I think my wife will probably eventually chime in here, but Remedios Varo is one of her favorite artists as well. I know she has a few of her monographs and one of them is the only art book I know of that my wife has ever actually read completely, cover to cover, every bit of text. She is a voracious reader, but so often the text in monographs is dull of pointlessly adoring or stupidly critical (let's look at Rembrandt through the lens of Marxist deconstruction!) so there really must have been something there to draw her in.

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  4. Christine M.--I'm so thrilled to hear of another fan of both The Hearing Trumpet AND Remedios Varo. I love both Varo's and Carrington's paintings, but as far as I know Varo didn't write any fiction. And I know what you mean about the book--I wanted to keep reading about Marian and Carmela's further weird adventures!
    Matt--Sometimes it's hard to distinguish between sentimentalism and genuine aesthetic appreciation, so your point about The Darkangel is well taken. The story itself is definitely more fable than florid romance, and the cover doesn't really reflect that. But I still think Craft did a fine job, although I would agree--the font is just plain bad.
    I also agree with your assessment of Blood Meridian covers that are out there--I really hate the trend in making the author's name HUGE on a cover if they are well known, often making the title of the work itself seem less important. I guess you can chalk that up to the cult of personality that permeates American culture. Sigh.
    And of course, your book is just plain amazing, truly a feast for the eyes. And you can tell the ladies at Tin House loved working on the book design--the attention to detail is just breathtaking.

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  5. That John Gardner "Grendel" cover looks like it might be the work of Brad Holland, one of the best living illustrators.

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  6. Ione, I don't think you should be too hard on yourself about the nostalgia thing. Nostalgia is a huge driver of just about everything I do creatively, so I am the last person in the world who should be critical of that. I just know how nostalgia can often slightly skew our perceptions because I know full well it has that effect on me.

    Hopefully, I will be lucky enough to have Janet, Diane and Alexandra work on my "Heart of Darkness" cover and design as well. They really knocked this one out of the park.

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  7. Jeffrey, thank you very much for pointing that out, you were right (on both counts!) I've edited the post to credit Holland too.

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  8. I've always like that Grendel cover too! I also really like the interior illustrations, in particular the last few pages (sort of a coda in comics, I've always felt).
    Big ups for including The Hearing Trumpet, and Darkangel looks intriguing.

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  9. Joe, absolutely, I love those interior spot illustrations by Emil Antonucci. At first they look almost abstract, but within those clusters of wavy lines there is such a myriad of emotion.

    Also, Ione will be thrilled to know that she (and Christine M.) are not alone in their admiration for "The Hearing Trumpet."

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