Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Cover stories

A post about the covers of James R. Benn's Billy Boyle novels in this space last year generated a lively discussion of art, war, publishing, history and aesthetics, among other interesting subjects.

Benn, kind enough to remember that discussion, sends a new article of his own about the cover of his latest book, A Mortal Terror, the sixth Billy Boyle World War II mystery.

It's good stuff, full of photos, drawings, and glimpses of how artist, author and designer thought at various stages. Like the earlier discussion, it offers a link to the wonderful Web site maintained by designer Daniel Cosgrove.
***
Benn was a member of my "Flags of Terror" panel at Bouchercon 2010, which makes this an appropriate time to mention that Bouchercon 2011 approaches rapidly. This year's conference happens a month earlier than usual — Sept. 15-18 — and if anyone wants to hold Bouchercons every eleven months instead of every year, I won't complain.  Visit the Bouchercon Web site for information, and I'll see you in St. Louis.

© Peter Rozovsky 2011

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13 Comments:

Blogger adrian mckinty said...

Peter

If I remember correctly I was one of the naysayers on that previous Benn cover, but I have to say I really like this one. Nice moody atmosphere that captures the flavour of Benn's books.

I thought there was a missed opportunity in that Kings Speech movie...if Bertie had gone to the loo at his speech therapist's flat, the cheeky Aussie could have said "I suppose that was the Royal Flush."

July 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Your success in this year's Bulwer-Lytton is getting to your head, isn't it?

I'd say you had questions rather than objections, since Mr. Benn and, in one case, I, were able to answer you satisfactorily. I'd call that comment string a frank ahd productive exchange of views.

July 27, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

It's interesting that when artists illustrate a royal flush in poker they usually pick hearts as the suit. I think this might be a hangover from Alice in Wonderland? It adds another layer where clubs or diamonds wouldn't. The ace of spades is of course the death card which might be nice in a wartime novel, except that it might generate confusion because that was one of the insignia of the 101st airborne which is not Billy's regiment if I recall correctly.

July 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I found this example, for one, which suggests you may be right: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/royalflush/royal-flush-book-seven

A darker palette such as the one on Benn's cover might well call for one of the red suits to add a splash of color. Diamonds may be a girl's best friend, but they don't get much respect when it comes to cards.

Billy is an officer on Gen. Eisenhower's staff. I don't know what this would mean for any regimental affiliations.

July 27, 2011  
Anonymous James R. Benn said...

Adrian: The Spade was not the symbol of the 101st. Rather regiments within the 101st, in WWII, used playing card symbols as unofficial markings. The 506th Para. Inf. Regiment (famous from the Band of Brothers) used the Spade on their helmets. Other regiments used Club, Diamond, Hearts.
Cheers,

Jim

July 27, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

I like the cover, too. Soho Press is to be congratulated.

Unfortunately, I've never had much input into my covers, though publishers have run them by me, as a fait accompli. I have protested at times, once quite angrily, to no avail. As it is, covers can offend me for more than one reason: they are totally wrong for the time of the book (anachronisms), they are a cheap grab from the first Japanese-themed photo collection on Google images, they have nothing to do with the content, and they are artistically displeasing.
I have worked with my own covers, and now I have PhotoShop. I can already improve on a lot of stuff I see on top-selling mysteries. This is another form of rebellion for me. :)

July 27, 2011  
Blogger Crosby Kenyon said...

Thanks for the link to the evolution of a book cover. It's always fun to follow the creative process.

July 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I.J., those covers to your books are not at all ugly, but yes, they are anachronistic by seven or eight centuries.

(For those scratching their heads at the above, I.J. sets her books in the 11th century during Japan's Heian period. The covers are reminiscent of ukiyo-e woodblock prints, which flourished in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.)

July 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Crosby, it may be especially interesting for those of us who traffic in words to see the process involved in creating images.

July 27, 2011  
Anonymous I.J.Parker said...

The Penguin covers are better than those by SMP. But the artist is a manga artist, and that is a tad too mod for my books. Good colors and lines, though. No I also have lots of other covers in foreign countries. Not all are ugly, but many are anachronistic and hardly any ever fit the story. For that matter, the Penguin covers don't fit either. The artist did not read English very well, so I know he didn't read the books. My worst cover was French: an early 20th century photograph of a prostitute for ISLAND OF EXILES. I was livid.

July 27, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I'll have to take a look for those foreign covers.

July 27, 2011  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...

James

Thanks for that. I remember seeing it on the helmets in Band of Brothers and just kind of assumed that it was a sort of unofficial insignia for all of the 101st.

I also have vague recollection of special forces units putting Aces of Spades in the mouths of dead V-C in Vietnam, which I think Coppola then recycled for Apocalypse Now.

July 28, 2011  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Adrian and Jim, I've just found this, on the multiple origins of the ace of spades' role in war"

"US Army footage from 'Operation Baker' 1967 showing US troops putting Ace of Spades in mouths of dead VietCong/NLFThe Ace of Spades has been employed, on numerous occasions, in the theatre of war. In the Second World War, the soldiers of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the American 101st Airborne Division were marked with the spades symbol painted on the sides of their helmets. In this capacity, it was used to represent good luck, due to its fortunate connotations in card playing. All four card suits were used for ease of identification of regiments within the airborne division following the confusion of a large scale combat airborne operation. Battalions within the regiments were denoted with tic marks or dots, marked from top clockwise; Headquarters at the twelve o'clock position, 1st Battalion at the three o'clock, et cetera.

"Some twenty years later, the Ace of Spades was again used by American soldiers — this time as a psychological weapon in the Vietnam War. US troops believed that Vietnamese ancient traditions held the symbolism of the spade to mean death and ill-fortune and in a bid to scare away NLF soldiers without firefight, it was common practice to leave an Ace of Spades on the bodies of killed Vietnamese and even to litter the forested grounds and fields with the card. This custom was believed to be so effective, that the United States Playing Card Company was asked to supply crates of that single card in bulk. The crates were often marked with "Bicycle Secret Weapon".[6]

"The Ace of Spades, while not a symbol of superstitious fear to the NLF, did help the morale of American soldiers. It was not unheard of for US soldiers and Marines to stick this card in their helmet band as a sort of anti-peace sign.

"More recently, in 2003 a deck of Most-wanted Iraqi playing cards issued to U.S. soldiers during Operation Iraqi Freedom; each card had the picture of a wanted Iraqi official on it. Saddam Hussein got the nickname "Ace of Spades" as his was the face which adorned that card."

July 28, 2011  

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