Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Questions about surprising covers

A blog that bears the tasty name Chocolate Cobwebs posted a shot of this cover recently, and I was surprised when I noted the book's author and title. The illustration seemed a bit nervous for a collection of Golden Age mystery stories, even by someone like Sayers, who had a way of latching onto a viewpoint or subject well before others did.

Then I thought again. This cover, according to Ms. Cobwebs, is from a 1963 edition of the collection, which had first been published in 1928. By 1963, angst and nerviness had presumably become popular enough that such a cover might be more in keeping with the times than it would have been thirty-five years earlier.

This, in turn, sparked a string of further speculation, which I will happily save for some other time. For now, this question: What book covers or jacket illustrations, crime-fiction or otherwise, have you found surprising, and why?
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Michael Walters posts a link to a site maintained by his book-cover designer, Richard Tuschman. The site has some gorgeous images, and Tuschman's blog offers interesting insights into the process of book-cover design.

© Peter Rozovsky 2008

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19 Comments:

Blogger John McFetridge said...

The new Penguin covers of Howard Engel's Benny Cooperman books are both surprising and terrific.

For the first time I want to buy books I already own because of the new covers.

Also, once in a while on the Elmore Leonard forum people post French covers of his books because they're so good. I guess I say this because the French aren't really known for their cowboy traditions, but surprisingly, the French western covers are really good.

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the nudge to look for Benny Cooperman again. I've been looking for the books on and off since I read about Howard Engel in the The Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide to crime fiction, but I've had no luck. The Penguin Canada Web site says it won't ship outside Canada, and the U.S. covers are not nearly as good, so Engel's publisher is doing what it can to ensure I don't read his books in the editions I want. I'll just have to order from a Canadian store.

OK, so much for that rant. The cover of Memory Book in the new edition is especially striking and amusing, all the more so because of its connection to Engel's own struggle.

Your remark about Elmore Leonard's covers reminds me of Karl(?) May, the German writer who had such success writing Westerns without having ever been anywhere near the American West.

June 18, 2008  
Blogger GJG said...

If I KNOW the author from previous reading, the cover of the newer book is of no big deal. However, just the opposite is true if I have never heard of the Author---now the title and the book cover make all the difference in me picking up the book to peruse it and decide to buy or check it out of the library (on fixed income here, and books are an expense I can't indulge in all that often)

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I wonder when and where publishers started giving serious attention to their covers. One landmark would probably be the advent of the trade paperback in, I guess, the early 1980s. I think that was when Vintage started issuing thin, higher-priced, slickly produced editions of contemporary American writers in distinctive editions whose cover designs went heavy on pastel colors.

I suppose publishers have long issued books with distinctive looks, be it the stodgy old Penguin classics, the livelier, color-coded new ones, or the gorgeous dust jackets Modern Library used before it started issuing its books in what look like plain brown wrappers.
Have you ever been surprised by the cover or jacket of a new edition of a book that you had previously read under a different cover?

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Lauren said...

I read most of Ngaio Marsh in elderly, ragged editions with very vintage covers, and was quite surprised when I started getting hold of reissues which had smart black bands top and bottom, with a tasteful but brightly coloured image in the middle. It made the whole experience feel rather less twee, actually.

Worst covers I've experienced tend to be the 'two in one' volumes that get issued from time to time, particularly when the author is more prolific. I know the reader gets good value that way, but does that really leave nothing left to pay a designer?

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Linkmeister said...

Oh, Lauren. I have a couple of Ace Doubles which have two novels or novellas between the covers, but one side of the book has cover art for one of the stories, the other for the other story, but rotated 180 degrees!

I see why, but I don't like it.

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Lauren, that comment would gladden the hearts of the editions’ designers and publishers. I suspect that the twee factor lay behind the decision on the Sayers cover.

Two-for-ones can allow designers as much space as one-for-ones if the books are bound back to back, in effect with two front covers and no back cover (the two books are mutually upside down.) The problem that causes in today’s world is where to put the Universal Product Code.

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I posted too soon. Linkmeister, we noticed the same phenomenon, another example of Hard Case's tributes to the old-time paperback originals. At least those older books didn't have to deal with the UPC and where to put it. And Hard Case commissions original paintings for all its covers, so at least its twofers give artists some extra work.

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That big, blank rectangle on the Spider Web cover is where the UPC goes, of course, which brings up one more problem for publishers of the contemporary back-to-back twofers: They have to decide which cover gets marred by the UPC. Clever designers and artists could work it into the design, I suppose.

June 18, 2008  
Anonymous Karen C said...

Lauren - I agree about the Ngaio Marsh covers - I've got a collection of them working ahead from the 1940's and they were great old covers - same with the earlier Agatha Christie novels that I've got - although most of them were bought starting in the 1950's (by my grandmother I hasten to add), with the original un-PC titles into the bargain.

But some of my all time favourite covers are the early pulp writers - Marc Brody / Carter Brown and their ilk - the covers are car crash fascinatingly horrible :)

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The Richard Tuschman site to which I like in my original comment has some gorgeous current covers. The Mystery File blog is a good source for old covers. It's not an art site, but its discussions of older books are usually illustrated with shots of the covers, and some of them are tasty. I do believe Carter Brown has turned up there a time or two.

This discussion has me eager to see the Ngaio Marsh covers, originals and reissues.

June 18, 2008  
Blogger Chocolate Cobwebs said...

Thanks for mentioning my blog in your entry, Peter! How exciting to see my humble Sayers paperback has generated so many comments.

I'm also a fan of the older Ngaio Marsh covers. I have some 1950s and 60s Book Club hardcovers of Marsh's work with some great cover art - so much nicer to look at, hold and even read than the new paperbacks.

I often buy second hand books based solely on the fact that I like the cover art. Fortunately, more often than not, the story inside has lived up to the cover.

June 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

You're welcome. I've been surprised since I started paying attention to blogs about books that covers are often subjects of discussion. The closest I've come to buying a book for its cover was my brief collecting of the old Modern Library books. I saw a lovely collection of them in a used bookshop recently. It was near closing time, but I may go back and look it over again.

June 19, 2008  
Blogger Lauren said...

Regarding Ngaio Marsh: as a teenager already embarrassed that she was reading such 'old-fashioned' books, the updated versions came as a great relief; as a somewhat wiser adult, the originals were vastly more interesting.

I read nearly all Agatha Christie's books in the same neat but dull paperback editions - beige with Christie's name in red, blue or black titles and an illustration. My mother filled in a few gaps with much older volumes, which made Christie look much more pulp than I'd ever anticipated! (Actually, the range of Christie covers is mind-boggling.)

Snazziest recent crime covers on my shelf belong to Frank Tallis's Liebermann Papers series. I have my problems with the books, but they're really beautifully produced. And distinctly coloured. So is Boris Akunin, generally.

June 19, 2008  
Blogger Vanda Symon said...

My Ngaio Marsh book covers vary from the simple but stylish 50's hardbacks previously mentioned to awful things with BBC TV Drama actors plastered across them.

When I trot down to the local second-hand bookshops to get more, I literally get to choose one by the cover as they'll often have the same title in different guises. The local author is a popular choice here in New Zealand.

June 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That same Chocolate Cobwebs blog illustrates at least one Christie cover that was darker in tone than I'd have expected of Christie. That makes Christie a good candidate for any discussion of surprising covers. Boris Akunin's covers are lush and elaborate, at least the Erast Fandorin one. Frank Tallis, I shall look into.

I also like the Europa Editions cover of Carlo Lucarelli's De Luca novels. And I like the books, too. I'll have to check again, but I seem also to recall thinking that the new James Bond covers looked a bit pulpier than I'd have expected, which made them a bit of a surprise. Perhaps the publisher thought that covers playing up the spy aspects might not have quite the appeal they did when the Bonds were new.

June 19, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Vanda, that sounds like it could be a description of a lady's wardrobe -- "vary from the simple but stylish 1950s hardbacks" to "awful things with BBC TV Drama actors plastered across them."

In any case, you have reminded me that I have read just two New Zealand crime authors: Ngaio Marsh and Paul Thomas. Any more recommendations? You may recommend yourself, if you wish.

June 19, 2008  
Blogger Vanda Symon said...

Naturally I'd recommend myself (it would be silly not to). My second novel 'The Ringmaster' comes out in August, and a German translation of my first book 'Ein Harmloser Mord' which was 'Overkill' in NZ is due in October.

Paul Cleave is a New Zealand author who is having huge success in Germany. His first novel 'The Cleaner' made it to number 2 on Amazon, Germany. His writing is fairly graphic in its violence and I've enjoyed his books, but felt rather yucked out. 'The Cleaner' is told from the perspective of a serial killer who works as the cleaner at the Christchurch Police Station. His third title, 'Cemetery Lake' is next to read on my bedside table.

New Zealand is a bit scant on Crime Fiction Writers, so could do with more. Paul and I are doing our best to keep crime writing out there. To make a vast generalisation (debate welcome) New Zealand writers seem to be bent on producing 'literature' not genre fiction.

June 21, 2008  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thanks for the recommendations. My German is rusty, but Ein Harmloser Mord sounds like a rather charmingly ironic title. And I like the idea of a serial killer working in a police station. That he works as a cleaner is even better.

Some of the Australian crime-fiction sites are really Australasian sites, so I could get some names of NZ writers there, too.

June 21, 2008  

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