Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Unexpected Intrusion of Television

UPDATED: See the end of the post for comments by John Parot.

It's all over the internet, at least if you visit the distinctly nerdy places I do: Penguin got some contestants on an irritating sounding become-the-next-great-modern-artist TV show to design a book cover, and then rushed the result into print. This is the underwhelming result:


The artist, John Parot, described his inspiration as "my reality and gay culture", apparently, which is part of my problem with this thing: it's about the artist and not at all about the book, which is a self-indulgent mistake. I don't mind the type, to be honest: at least it's hand-drawn, with all of the irregularities that entails, rather than being some free distorted font slaped on there. Overall, though, it's not much good, and the banner across the top makes it even worse.

Still, you only need to look at some of the other possibilities, and you can see how much worse it could have been. And I can't quite believe I just linked to the site of a "reality" show. Excuse me while I slit my wrists. Take a look at some of these hideous contenders, and you may feel the need to do the same:




This reminds me of the time Penguin asked musicians to design covers for them, and got a bunch of murky, shitty rubbish.

UPDATE: John Parot commented on this post, and I think it's fair to reproduce what he had to say here, to give his side of the story: 

Hi! I thought I'd enlighten some of you haters. You misunderstood some things. I was asked to create a book design for the Penguin Classic "The Time Machine". When we met with the representative we were asked to create a cover that would win new readers to these old classics. My inspiration for the piece was not my "gay culture" or gayness or whatever it was called. On the T.V show the producer showcased my professional artwork. They sited that in my profession artwork I reference my gay reality and it is a constant theme. This book and the design has nothing to do with being gay.

I grew up in a Library, my Dad is a historian and librarian. I grew up collecting paperbacks and have seen many covers. For this cover I was thinking of the gorgeous Milton Glaser Illustrations in the sixties as well as the classic psychedelic sci-fi of the 70's That is where the "jumble of purple/pink" colors comes from. It is stylized time machine. not the one described in the book, but one i wanted new readers to go into. Since the book is psychological as well as fantastical, I decided my machine would have a profile of a person, to echo the struggles of the main character.

What surprises me the most of all of you is no one has commented on the decline of the book cover from the 50's to the present. John Grisham covers anyone? The nineties were darker then some of the clunkers that were on the show last night! Finally, I love my cover and so do my new friends at Penguin. I would love to chat more on the subject. Come meet me. I will be signing copies of my design at the Vroman's:  Wed, June 30th.

23 comments:

Ian Shimkoviak said...

it's not horrible. My only complaint is that there is a lot of work like that out there. and I do agree that while a level of abstraction is in order for certain novels and refreshing for classics, there should be something about it that serves the book and is not purely for artistic satisfaction.

But I have to say, there is worse and in the end day by day i am more and more disillusioned with what publishers ask of me and what is being produced out there.

I think fiction, hands down, attracts the best and most interesting results and is perhaps most forgiving. You could technically rub a booger on a page and set some type and have a cover for any number of fiction titles.

To give you an example of what I mean (and this is for a great cover) check out this post over at the JM: http://jacketmechanical.blogspot.com/2010/05/template.html

it's harder to pull off a very interesting and compelling business book cover for example. Obviously content drives the solution, or should, but I think you can easily get away with and take greater risks and liberties with a title like this that will sell either fucking way.

Designers like David Drummond are more adept at providing striking visual solutions to otherwise boring titles (well, boring to me)... I know very few people who do it better.

sorry for the ramble. I'm stuck on a few title right now—all business books. Feel free to smash my viewpoint.

Craig D. said...

Re: The Time Machine, what the hell am I even looking at? Is that jumble of purple supposed to be something? There's abstraction and then there's total goddamned nonsense. And as a gay man, let me ask, what does gay culture have to do with this novel?

I don't think the Pride cover is bad. The Alice cover is decent conceptually, but the execution is crap.

Craig D. said...

The second Pride cover, that is. The one where you can actually tell what it says on first glance.

JRSM said...

Ian: I pretty much agree with you, to be honest, and having to design covers for business titles would be exhausting. I suspect the inherent conservative nature of the people writing the books (my assumption), coupled with the inherent dullness of the subject (again, my opinion) would make for a pretty deadly combination for a designer trying anything unusual. Drummond is a great example--his portfolio of books dealing with Canadian identity, and the number of ways he has been able to approach it, was very impressive.

Craig: That was my problem--it's all about the artist and his gayness, at least according to him, ratehr than relating to the book in any way. Apparently the Pride cover with the half-naked woman was also a self-portrait of the artist, and one of the other covers which I didn't show also made use of a self-portrait. I suspect the problem here is that 'artist' and 'designer' are not the same thing (though plenty of people are excellent at both), and I suspect that the sort of self-regarding people who would go on a show like this have a lot of trouble thinking from any viewpoint that is not their own, and envisioning any world that does not revolve around themselves.

Matthew Adams said...

It's time to grow beards everyone, and open the gates to let the barbarians in.

At least they couldn't be worse then this.

Mayowa said...

I am a total simpleton when it comes to cover design. But i'm kinda stunned at this.

That is a really really terrible cover.

Now, back to Wipeout...

Brian Busby said...

"Is John's work too abstract for a book cover?" the show's website asks. Not at all, I've seen much more abstract work used with great effect. The problem is that it's not very good.

Having now visited the show's website myself, I see they aren't all awful (though Frankenstein's monster peeing blood is disturbing). The worst betray a belief that what is being sold is their art, not the words between the covers. Here I refer to works like the landscape Dracula. The worst of these is Mr. Hyde with test tube, which features type of a size that is similar to that on the back of my monthly credit card statement.

Pride and Prejudice is painful, but I think the worst is the Carroll, which is reminiscent of the work of a 15-year-old. Now, why would I say such a thing? Well, my grade nine art class was once assigned to come up with posters for a stage production of Alice. If memory serves, at least half of the works submitted were in keeping with the concept above.

Was mine one?

No comment.

JRSM said...

Matthew: My beard is already coming in nicely.

Mayowa: It's not Penguin's finest hour, by any means.

Brian: The non-blood-peeing Frankenstein isn't bad. From what I read, the chap who designed it actualy took the trouble to go away and read the book, was amazed by how good it was, and created his cover based on his fresh reading. Most of the others seem to have been going on vague memories of films of the book.

db said...

The naked chick with the Pride and Prejudice cover got Jane Austen's spelling wrong.

JRSM said...

Ah, wonderful! Of course she did!

John said...

Hi I thought I'd enlighten some of you haters.
You misunderstood some things. I was asked to create a book design for the Penguin Classic "The Time Machine". When we met with the representative we were asked to create a cover that would win new readers to these old classics. My inspiration for the piece was not my "gay culture" or gayness or whatever it was called. On the T.V show the producer showcased my professional artwork. They sited that in my profession artwork I reference my gay reality and it is a constant theme. This book and the design has nothing to do with being gay.

I grew up in a Library, my Dad is a historian and librarian. I grew up collecting paperbacks and have seen many covers. For this cover I was thinking of the gorgeous Milton Glaser Illustrations in the sixties as well as the classic psychedelic sci-fi of the 70's That is where the "jumble of purple/pink" colors comes from. It is stylized time machine. not the one described in the book, but one i wanted new readers to go into. Since the book is psychological as well as fantastical, I decided my machine would have a profile of a person, to echo the struggles of the main character.

What surprises me the most of all of you is no one has commented on the decline of the book cover from the 50's to the present. John Grishem covers anyone? The nineties were darker then some of the clunkers that were on the show last night! Finally, I love my cover and so do my new friends at Penguin. I would love to chat more on the subject. Come meet me. I will be signing copies of my design at the Vroman's Wed. June 30th
http://www.vromansbookstore.com/penguin-party

JRSM said...

Thank you for your comments, John. I've added them to the original post, so that people who don't venture down here can read your side of the story.

Mike Lemanski said...

Great cover, abstraction is whatever you perceive it to be, there is a sense of mystery to the cover which conveys well against the idea of time travel and the unknown. thumbs up from me.

Mae said...

Actually, the Pride and Prejudice one isn't so bad. The Alice one is horrendous.

dollymix said...

As someone who (so far) watches that show and also reads your blog I figured I might as well comment. It's worth noting that a) the contestants only have a day or so to produce a cover, and b) were assigned books that they would not necessarily have read (and how many people read The Time Machine these days anyway?) and were not able to read them and also do the project without risking running out of time.

Overall, I think the end result is pretty good, certainly not great but also certainly better than a ton of book covers out there. And in much the same way that Project Runway has made a lot of people interested in fashion who might not have been otherwise (e.g. me), if it makes the average viewer take a little more notice of book covers I don't think it's a bad thing.

zenski said...

John, I'm so gratified to hear about your inspiration. As a SF collector, the moment I saw it, I thought it looked like a volume in Damon Knight's ORBIT series of anthologies. It's simple, stark, colorful, and anything but obvious -- reflective of what the SF of the time was. The cover itself is a literal time machine to an earlier, edgier period of the genre (and when it sold a lot more titles). Congratulations. I'll be picking up a copy -- and trying to find a way to remove that ghastly banner!

C. Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

The naked Pride and Prejudice cover is just morally, incredibly, outlandishly wrong. Tutis anyone?

But at least the artist had the balls to respond to you and be polite.

Steerforth said...

I thought that the Time Machine cover was better than some I've seen, but the others were breathtakingly bad.

I agree with John about the decline in the quality of cover design - in some quarters. My geek heaven is Camilla's bookshop in Eastbourne, which has a whole secition dedicated to old Pelican paperbacks. I see very few modern covers that rival the quality (and wit) of the ones from the 1960s.

Biblibio said...

The first "Dracula" cover is actually rather interesting. It (surprisingly enough) really called to mind the atmosphere and imagery of the area in Romania where the "real" Dracula was from.

Some of these are creepy/disturbing/of questionable quality, but others aren't too terrible. Amazing? No. Bad? Some. But I actually kind of like "The Time Machine"'s cover - it's different, a little strange, but that kind of makes it a little interesting...

Bob Fingerman said...

Actually, with the exception of the Bravo "Winner" banner, which does detract, I think the cover for The Time Machine is pretty striking. It certainly is eye catching and I like the lettering.

The others, however, are rubbish, especially the Austen. Jesus, my eyes!

Thomas at My Porch said...

I love the cover design and I think it has a very old school Penguin quality to it. But I LOATHE the fact that they junked it up with the Bravo banner. I was going to order it until I saw that.

Don't even get me started on the hideousness Pride and Prejudice cover, both are bad, but the one with the woman and the hat is far, far, worse because it couldn't be more antithetical to Jane Austen.

Maggie said...

I like it. I also like the Alice in Wonderland cover. The first P&P cover is too confusing at first. But it's definitely different. I can't say that the professional book cover designers for various pub houses always create awesome stuff. In fact, most of the time I'm disappointed.

ghrency said...

Its very interesting..


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