Wednesday 26 March 2008

Great Artist, Great Cover, But...

Before getting on to the cover I'm here to post about, a bit of background:

Jason (real name John Arne Sæterøy) is a Norwegian comic writer and artist who has a small but dedicated following in the indie/art comics world. He has published a number of idiosyncratic and enjoyable graphic novels, which are available in English from Fantagraphics. What's most obvious about his work is that he tends to draw everybody as either a bird or a dog-like creature.

Here is the cover for his The Left Bank Gang, a story about Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce and Gertrude Stein as cartoonists and bank-robbers in 1920s Paris.

Here are a couple of pages from the book: the first is Fitzgerald and Hemingway discussing their private lives and their cartooning; the second has Hemingway visiting the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop. Click on the image for more detail.

And here are the covers of a couple of his other graphic novels. The first is a detective thriller, and the second a science-fiction time travel story.

Now, on to the actual cover I'm here to talk about. It's part of the wonderful Graphic Classics range, where comic artists design covers for various Penguin Classics. Another example is Charles Burns' cover for The Jungle, discussed earlier.

I'm no Kerouac fan. His writing seems both embarassingly earnest and quite clumsy, as well as incredibly self-important and navel-gazing. The front and back flaps Jason has designed for this edition capture that amusingly well, I think.

So, it's a good cover I admire by by a really good artist. Despite this, I can't help feeling it's something of a failure. Jason's decision to render the book's characters as more of his anthropomorphic creatures is (I believe) the wrong one. It will only make sense to his fans, and be bewildering to everybody else. After all, it's not as though he can't draw people: here's his Hemingway.

So in the end, I think this is a cover that's more about the artist than it is about the book. I can't help feeling that means it doesn't really do its job well.

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