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...


  1. I am not a fan of photomanipulated covers in general, especially ones that are remakes of previously illustrated covers that didn't need redoing (Terry Brooks books are bad about that).

    I too have noticed this predisposition for the headless torso covers. It not only happens to the males, but to the females as well. I think they've started doing this because if you leave out the face of the character, it allows you to fill it in with your imagination while you're reading rather than having a badly photomanipulated man with ultra bright photoshopped eyes defining what the character should look like right off the bat. But, if you're like me, you like to see all of an interesting character and a hint of some kind of plot on the cover to draw you in to reading it.

    By the same token, if the character on the cover looks NOTHING like how he or she is described, I get annoyed (mostly at the artist for not paying the right attention to the character and story). Sometimes they're just better off cutting off the heads if they can't get it right.

    Sometimes it can work, I think, if the body is interesting enough or shows a back view, like Kushiel's Chosen, where we are then left to imagine the facial features and have a lovely tattoo to look at. A friend of mine did an interesting blog about book covers and characters that you might find interesting here.

    I could go on about how bad photomanips are replacing illustrations because of a growing propensity for cheap and fast, but that's a rant for another time.

    It's also an interesting point to say that even as strong confident women, we like to indulge the stories where we lose a little control to the darker forces in the universe. Such conundrums are we! No wonder my boyfriend is always confused about what women want. XD

  2. LOL! As an occasional virtual cover artist who is instructed to include decapitated torsos on the odd assignment or three, this tickled me to death! Fact is, many of these covers don't even have art directors; the authors themselves request what they want to see on the cover. So, you get nipples and floating lion heads. It's cheap (meaning inexpensive), as stock photos cost anywhere from $6.00 to $250.00 (and pay for these covers is frugal.) If you don't use the head, you can keep recycling that torso over and over and over. And here's the kicker: most readers don't examine the covers all that closely. The image might give them an overt clue as to the genre, but that's as far as it matters to them. Some HAVE mentioned they'd rather not see such an overtly sexual image, so they aren't embarrassed reading the book on the bus or wherever. The covers matter MOST to readers who are, themselves, artists. But sadly, above all, this particular breed of art is all about the marketing. And chests sell.

  3. What irks me is that if it was books for men, and there were boobs and hips with no heads, the editorial would get sued over objectification of the woman and discrimination. But apparently objectification of the man is OK.
    And probably cover art is one of the main deterrents for me to buy those novels, I cannot imagine going in the bus to work while having such a sex-sex-sex cover with me.

  4. Lol! I'd say I'm more attracted to a handsome face than a torso that looks like every other cover. How but some ice blue eyes and black hair?

  5. I don't mind the objectification of men. I mind the decapitation! If there must be oiled up torsos on my covers, please, let them have their heads at least!

    Yes, it smacks of cheap to me. Far more than a marketing decision. And it's been proven many times over that authors often have NO idea what sells a book, visually. That's why we have art directors.

  6. I think that Susan Grant is a prime example of the wrong direction cover art is going.
    Personally I was sold to "Your Planet or Mine?" by the coverart But then "The Warlords Daughter" came along, Oh woe!! As you have pictured. But whyyyy??!?!?

  7. AHAHAHAHAHAAAA!! Just ran to the bookshelf to check and guess what? Heads! Even a BACK! Although there are still nipples and cheesy tattoos (which are at least part of the story...). Proof: Lords of the Underworld. And I've read these while using public transport. I'm hardcore like that ;)

  8. Poppy: Yes, but Lords of the Underworld falls prey to another Pararomance cover art mistake--not paying attention to character description. Lucien's cover has a GORGEOUS guy on it, with his face fully visible (the only one of the Lords covers so far that has that)... but he's supposed to be so scarred and ugly that most women shudder when he draws near. Seriously WTF? Also the cover of Darkest Fire has a very human looking male on the cover... and the main character in that is supposed to be a demonic looking guy with horns, fur, and cloven feet. Again WTF?

  9. Melissa, you made me laugh, LOUDLY! You're so right. I was so caught up in my "heads" excitement that I forgot about those grievous errors. I think I've just become numb to bad cover art; I _expect_ it :( (Just had a thought: would love for the Pararomance people to redo the Classics tee hee hee... Ohhhhh, Mr. Darcy... It would signal a total fan-girl meltdown all over the world!)