Thursday 21 January 2010

How to Make a Chinese or Japanese Book Cover

If you're designing a cover for a book by a Chinese or Japanese writer, or with a Chinese or Japanese setting, it seems that there are some compulsory elements which must be included. For variety's sake, there are four elements, but you MUST use at least one of them. Advanced designers, of course, may use two or more.

Element 1: Blossoms (preferably cherry, but anything red or pink will do)


Element 2: Fans (preferably held so as to partly obscure a woman's face (or genitals), and if you can get blossoms on the fan, you get bonus points)



Element 3: Dragons (for use only on crime novels, or other exciting tales)


Element 4: Female Necks (preferably that of a geisha, but any female neck will do in a pinch)


You'll notice that only women are allowed on the cover of Chinese and Japanese literature. Ideally, they will be either expressionless (some might say demure or inscrutable), or at most vaguely melancholy.

For more on this trend, see this article from Hyphen Magazine, which features a brief interview with ace designer Henry Sene Yee. It was that article which also drew my attention to two covers featured above, those for On a Bed of Rice and The Street of a Thousand Blossoms.

(To be fair, I ought to note that several of these covers are actually very nice--it's just that they lose rather a lot of their impact because of the familiarity of the elements used.)


Matthew Adams said...

What they should do is give these books to those pod guys and get them to design the covers.

Variety will abound as covers of space knights with laser swords will adorn books like Peony in love, and a photo of Hemmingway in Africa will be the main selling point for On a bed of rice.

I reckon every book that comes out of asia should have a kung fu master, ninja or samurai on it. And the really good books would have all three on the cover.

Readymade said...

It used to annoy me much more that covers of Asian lit published in English almost always featured just one kind of Chinese-Japanese-Korean-looking woman in various states of undress. Then I realised that the majority of published books in English unashamedly put all kinds of women in various states of undress on their covers. Sex sells. /shrugs

Brian Busby said...

Matthew's comment had me running - sprinting - to see whether Tutis published anything by Onoto Watanna. Sadly, it seems they do not. That said, BiblioBazaar offers an edition of Tama featuring Heathcliff's bicycle.

Interesting to note that the cover of the 1910 first edition incorporates compulsory element #1.

Vintage Reading said...

Excellent post. Saw a disply of Japanese books in Waterstones the other day and they'd actually included an Amy Tan title in there! I suppose they thought 'vaguely oriental' and bunged them all in together.

Tulkinghorn said...

You forgot carp and sunsets. See the link to the recently published "Boat to Redemption by Su Tong: