Thursday, April 30, 2009

Art Rant: Headless Torsos

Okay, I admit it. I read paranormal romance.

There. I've said it.

Yes, I know I'm an intelligent, modern woman who believes in feminism, equal rights, etc. but part of me really, really loves a love story with a happy ending. If that love story involves full moon nights, faerie tale creatures, demons with souls, or a little bit of magic, all the better. Yes, sometimes it's cliche, and sometimes it's smutty, and sometimes the premise sounds good but I still end up throwing the book against the wall in disgust. Even my ability to suspend my disbelief has its limits.

But what I really hate about paranormal romance is the cover art.

Seriously. Here we have an ENTIRE GENRE that is being marketed toward women. Many, many of the publishers in this genre have been around for many, many years. Some of them are small presses and epubs, to be sure, but c'mon Harlequin, you're not new at this. But, oh, the awful cover art! Most of the time it looks like someone just got their first pirated copy of Photoshop and are mucking about with the filter section and blend modes. You can almost hear their inner fifteen year old girl thinking oh! I can make him blue! Blue is dark and spooky and fantasy looking! Maybe he has a magic tattoo! And he turns into a werewolf, so lemme just cut and paste a werewolf back here! And a full moon! And a CASTLE! Maybe there is a little BLOOD!!!

There are so many cliches in the ParaRomance cover art slop bucket that it ought to be hard for me to pull out my least favorite. It's not though, and unsurprisingly it's one of the most common cliches in the romance genre period:

The Headless Torso

I envision the auditions for these covers as a pectacular version of A Chorus Line. The art director flipping through model photos and muttering about needing a torso that really tells a story. One with pathos. One with some real expression. Maybe this guy gets cut because his shoulders aren't empathetic enough, or this one because his nipples aren't manly enough. Screw the face. Who cares if the guy's face is hot? Women want man-tits to look at! After all, it's not like we have some of our own.

Sex sells, right? And these covers are all about peddling the sex. They might as well ditch the title and artwork and just print "smutty sex scenes within" and be done with it. It's not like any of us actually read these for the plot, after all, and sometimes skim over the too long, kind of boring sex scenes (two whole chapters for a sex scene, by the way, is WAY TOO MUCH. Also, the next author who calls it a "clitty" I will punch in the crotch. So, knock it off).

These covers do nothing to tell me anything about the story. I should probably thank someone for that, because at least they don't have yet another cut and pasted image of the same freaking wolf floating around nebulously in the background. God forbid you be able to somehow get across that they're a shapeshifter without having floating wolf heads in the background... oh wait. Sometimes they do that too.

And a bonus! Floating lion heads and TWO headless torsos! And some claw marks! Thank goodness it's an ebook cover and no one will have to be seen in public, carrying that badge of shame.

Isn't it bad enough that pararomance already suffers from the social stigma of being thought of as women's soft core porn? Does it have to be branded that way, too? I'm not normally a fan of graphic design cover art, but at least it has some dignity. Or, you know, give it a painted cover more reminiscent of modern sci-fi or fantasy books. Something other than headless torsos, please!

Of course, it's entirely probable that the only reason these guys keep getting everything above their lips cut off is to disguise the fact that there are only three men in the entire world who look like that. Or maybe they're too embarrassed about being on these covers to show their faces. Yeah, that's possible too.

Still, none of these covers strikes me as even the least bit appealing. In fact, of all the books shown here, I only own one of them (and no I'm not telling which one), and that only because I'd read a review that intrigued me enough to ignore the cover. As a woman, if there's going to be a fantasy man on the cover for me to drool over, I want to see his face. I want to see at least a hint of intelligence lurking behind his (hopefully not photoshopped so they're neon green) eyes. I do not want to be left staring at his nipples and wondering if he waxes. (Because if he turns into something with four legs and a tail once a month, he's probably normally a lot hairier than these covers would have us believe.)

Sadly, though, even some of my favorite authors have been falling prey to the headless torso plague, lately. I won't post their covers here because I feel badly for them. It's almost as if some zombie had been noshing on their covers. You don't want to put that in public. It's depressing.

Surely, something has to give. Perhaps the models will rise in revolt! "Can't you love us for our feet?!" They will cry, "Or our noses?! We have noses! Bob over there has some really hot ankles, too! We can't take our shirts off in public without being recognized and pelted with new copies of Acheron! Have you seen the size of that thing? It hurts!" Or maybe the art directors for these publishing houses will finally get a clue.

Something. Please. If you don't do it for me, do it for the nipples.

Please, think of the nipples. They're so cold...

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Cover Art Reviews: Bone Crossed and Knife

Melissa's pick: Bone Crossed

Artist: Dan Dos Santos
Author: Patricia Briggs
Publisher: Ace / Penguin

If I hadn't already been following the Mercy Thompson series, and hadn't already been a fan of both Patricia Brigg's books and Dan Dos Santos's artwork, this cover would have sold me on both. I saw the cover art on Dan's site months before the book was due out and could hardly wait to get my hands on it. Even better? Instead of going straight to paperback like the previous three books, Bone Crossed was released in glorious, full-size hardcover, making this gorgeous cover a showcase piece for my bookcase (if only I had ROOM on it. :D).

What makes me love it? While the book has some romantic undertones, the cover doesn't cater directly to the traditional paranormal romance crowd. No faceless torsos or photoshopped werewolves, or glowing eyes. Instead we get the hint of the supernatural in a spectacular tattoo that sleeves her entire arm (and can I just say YAY for showing a woman with a REAL tattoo and not a girly butterfly on her back?). Although her outfit is clearly designed with the "sex sells" concept in mind, too, it's not blatant. She looks like she could actually work in her clothes, and has. Mercy, the character in the book, is a mechanic, and a damned good one (again, not your typical profession for a heroine), and the cover shows how strong she is and how willing she is to get dirty to get the job done. Having read the series, too, I can also say that when I saw the cover for this, I knew what the rain symbolically meant--which does somewhat heighten the impact of the image. That aside, however, it's a beautifully composed scene, and the lighting and palette really set the tone for the book.

What would I change about it? Maybe a teeeeeensy bit less cleavage. Other than that, not a thing at all.

Louisa's response to the Bone Crossed cover:

I first saw this cover when I went to stay with Melissa and her family a few weeks ago - it was on the top of a very large pile of books that she set down in front of me and gave me firm instructions to read. With the Mercy Thompson series, I needed no convincing. I'd already brought the second book on the plane with me. I fell in love with this cover right away and picked it up several times just to look at it. It's more than just a pretty girl standing in the rain. It tells you who Mercy is as a person - what she does, where she works, a little about her ancestry (note the earring) and the tattoos clue you in further, especially the one on her stomach. Yes, it's the details that do it for me. I love it when books use full illustrations like this for covers instead of simplistic, generic photomanipulations and this is one of the ones that always comes to mind when I think of good cover art.

Louisa's pick: Knife

Artist: Brian Froud
Author: R. J. Anderson
Publisher: Orchard

I'll hold my hands up and say I haven't read this book yet. It's on a list (an Amazon Wishlist, to be precise) of books I've been recommended but haven't gotten around to buying yet (I have to pace myself. If I bought every book I was entranced by immediately, I wouldn't have the money for internet). However, it came very highly recommended by Sarah Rees Brennan, a very wise and funny author I generally obey without question, and it had a Brian Froud cover. Brian Froud? Brian Froud fairy? SOLD.

I think Brian's art, as a general rule, is either gorgeous or adorable or both, and this is both even in its simplicity - just the heroine, Knife, standing in the centre of the page. What I like is that she is not your typical wide eyed, guileless and gentle fairy in a flower petal dress. She has a scowly, stubborn little face, wide planted feet and fists firmly planted on hips and the kind of attitude that tells you to keep well out of range of her tiny fists.

Excerpt from Sarah B's review:
KNIFE: Come no closer human, or I will stab you with my magnificent blade.
PAUL: ... Did you nick that letter opener from Dad's desk?
If there were a fairy version of Lyra Belacqua, this is how I would picture her. She draws you in as a character and looks kickass despite obviously only being a couple of inches tall (and can I just say how impressed I am that Brian Froud could convey her size so clearly without anything else on the cover to compare her to) and she makes me want to read her story. The colours and the glow are beautiful and create a darker, mystical mood and a sense of adventure - at least that's how I see it.

Melissa's response to Knife:

Crap! Not Froud's cover, because this one rocks. I mean it's crap that the awesome Froud cover is UK only and our US cover (and title) makes this look like a completely different book. Over here in the US, the book with the awesome title "Knife" is changed to "Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter" and the wicked looking cover has been replaced with precisely what Louisa was glad Froud's cover wasn't: a "typical wide eyed, guileless and gentle fairy in a flower petal dress." The US cover artist is Melanie Delon, whose work I admire on a technical level but... seriously? WHY did they whitewash this character so badly on the US cover and make it look like a book for *very* young girls? I guess because the target market in the US is only girls ages 9-12, when it looks like it would probably appeal to a wider age group. The Froud cover is spunky and fun, and would likely appeal to teenage girls and adults who read YA fic. The Delon cover is pretty... but definitely more suited to pre-adolescent girls who think that faeries are pretty and sweet. From what I can tell of the book, the faeries in this book are anything BUT pretty and sweet.