Archive for December, 2009

Best Book Covers of 2009 – Part 1

Posted in best book jackets on December 27, 2009 by Jacket Whys

There’s been a lot of talk this year about e-books replacing traditional books and I have wondered what it means for book jackets and book design. Will an image on a screen be the book cover of the future? Will it matter?
The current year’s crop of excellent book jackets beg my own answer to that question – a resounding YES! It will matter! I’ve posted here digital representations of three of my favorite book covers of the year, and two of them are jackets you must see for yourself to truly appreciate. Printing techniques – embossing, metallics, various varnishes that change the look of the light reflection – you simply cannot get a sense of the artistry here without feasting your eyes on the hardcopy.

This book may be my number one pick for the year. Not just the cover, but the whole book design. The Monstrumologist is historical fiction/horror by Rick Yancey (Simon & Schuster). It poses a true dilemma for me. The cover has a magnetic pull I find it difficult to resist – and the reviews tell me it is not the kind of book this squeamish reader can stomach. So what is a reader to do? The book has sat in my reading pile for weeks  now, begging me – “just give it a try,” the small quiet voice says. “You can stop the minute it gets too gory,” it tells me…
Then the guy on the other shoulder reminds me of how distressing I find this kind of book. Blood, guts, gore is a no way, no how read for me. So the book remains in my pile. Waiting. Daring me. Will I have the courage?
The eerie lighting, the mysterious backlit life in a jar. Where are we? Whose hand? What is that in that jar?
Historically many of us have scoffed at the use of metallics on books as gimicky. The raised, slightly tarnished gold rectangle of the title is not gimicky here. It is in perfect keeping with the design, looking like a plaque on the picture. A blood-smudged plaque…
The cover photograph is by Jonathan Dorfman. The book was designed by Lucy Cummins, and the design doesn’t end at the cover. Many small details add to the total package. End papers support the eeriness with small medical drawings of various body parts and organs. The ink drawings are depicted in the negative – white against a black (or dark grey) background. Chapter headings are interesting, and random pages include drawings of medical instruments in the white margins, bleeding out to the edge of the page.
The UK version – ICK! I would pass this by in a heartbeat! Maybe the lesson here is that what you don’t tell on a cover can be more effective than what you do. When I was looking for links for this book, I found a blog posting where two of the three titles listed in this post were mentioned – both in regards to the more interesting covers to be had here in the U.S. What’s left to the imagination is creepier by leaps and bounds.

As a design element, I’ve always loved the look of stripes juxtaposed against pattern. The peppermint here has that effect. This was another cover that stopped me dead in my tracks (pun intended ;-). Large closeups – closeups that render an image larger that the way it would normally appear – tend to work well on book covers. Here, the clarity of every wrinkle on the lips, the yellow light reflecting back, and the stark line of the mouth shape – all set off-center and against a pleasing warmish white (but not skin-toned) background, is so arresting that it is hard to pass by.
When I first saw Pretty Dead by Francesca Lia Block (HarperTeen) I didn’t even notice that vampire tooth… I know, I know – I should have, given the year of vampire books. But the candy-colors belied that detail for a second look. I like being fooled like that. It makes me think this vampire book is different. This one stands out. (And it’s Block! Of course it will stand out!)
The jacket photograph here is by Karen Pearson/Merge Left Reps (Pearson’s comment on shooting the photo) and the design is by Jennifer Heuer.
I like the title text with fonts fitting the words they depict. I’m not as sure about the placement, and do wonder about the little shape outlined in white on the tail of the P. I do not like it when a beautiful cover is cluttered up by quotes. Clearly somebody believed Cassandra Clare could convince someone to read Francesca Lia Block (what????).
Small negatives, though, in a cover that scores a hit with me.
(An aside, the cover depicted on Block’s website has a bigger mouth, and a black peppermint. This one is more effective. Kudos to the designers/marketers for the right choice)

This is another book where the whole book design is thoughtful, interesting and well integrated. I’d seen the cover online on Westerfeld’s website and thought it was good. Steampunk stuff is cool these days.
But when I ran across the book in a bookstore, I wanted to own it. As an object. The combination of metallic inks, with faux tarnish, and the many raised elements, combine to make a book cover that has to be seen in the hardcopy to be appreciated.
Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld (Simon Pulse) is designed by Sammy Yuen Jr. and illustrated by Keith Thompson. The map on the endpapers is fascinating. Many illustrations of various animals and objects meld to form a map of Europe in 1914. The colors are muted suitably to match the subject. I’d like to have a framed, mounted copy to hang in my house (see it here at a cartographers guild forum).
The layout of the pages is open and sprinkled with illustrations of various sizes.
A beautiful package for Westerfeld’s story.

The Monstrumologist: In 1888, twelve-year-old Will Henry chronicles his apprenticeship with Dr. Warthrop, a scientist who hunts and studies real-life monsters, as they discover and attempt to destroy a pod of Anthropophagi. Ages 14+. Reviews: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. Book Trailer.
Pretty Dead: Beautiful vampire Charlotte finds herself slowly changing back into a human after the mysterious death of her best friend. Ages 14+. Reviews: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.
Leviathan: In an alternate 1914 Europe, fifteen-year-old Austrian Prince Alek, on the run from the Clanker Powers who are attempting to take over the globe using mechanical machinery, forms an uneasy alliance with Deryn who, disguised as a boy to join the British Air Service, is learning to fly genetically-engineered beasts. Ages 12+. Reviews: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7Book Trailer.

Deliciously Creepy!

Posted in best book jackets, book covers, book designers, book spines, fonts, illustration on December 20, 2009 by Jacket Whys

2009 - Smith - Tentacles - spineI came across this cover online recently. It was an instant attention grabber and I ordered it ASAP. It went directly to my shortlist for best 10 of the year. The designer/ illustrator, Phil Falco has been added to my watch list. Turns out I was already a fan – just hadn’t connected the dots yet.
When I received the book, I wished the art was a little bit better, or maybe just reproduced better, or maybe just a little less muddy? The cover representation I’ve seen on a few websites is much brighter and bluer – and better – than it is on the actual book. And that’s why I’m featuring it here, but not on my top ten list (close!).
I think this will grab readers’ attention. I like the lighting. It’s mostly dark, but backlit part of the tentacle is a nice glowy red. I love the tentacle rising up from the bottom of the page and the sense of the water disturbance. The juxtaposition of title text with the composition is super – and it’s carried through the design of the inside of the book. I’m not sure if I risk serious copyright infringement by showing it here, so I won’t. But the title page is uniquely designed. The page is printed black, with the same tentacle art coming in from the left side. The suction cups and the title are the only thing that are light in color.
One of the pages preceding the first chapter has an illustration of a giant squid. And the contents page is really different, divided vertically by “Parts.” I know this description isn’t describing the design clearly enough – so find this book and take a look!
Had to show the spine as well. I think this one will show up on the shelf.

Tentacles by Roland Smith (Scholastic 2009): After the mysterious disappearance of their parents, Marty and Grace go to live with their scientist uncle and accompany him on, what soon becomes, an increasingly dangerous expedition to New Zealand to track a giant squid. Ages 9+. Reviews 1, 2, 3, 4. Sequel to: Cryptid Hunters.

How to Digitally Modify a Stock Photo

Posted in book covers, book designers, stock photos on December 18, 2009 by Jacket Whys

One of the things that drives me crazy is when a designer chooses a couple of stock photos that may (or may not) relate to the book, and superimposes one upon the other. Usually it just looks like a kooky double exposure to me.

This post on David Drummond | Covers is a thoughtful digital modification of a photo. In this case, it was an author recommended photo, not stock. But the same works for stock.


Posted in best book jackets, book covers on December 8, 2009 by Jacket Whys

I’ve been deliberating… over the year’s YA book covers. I tend to consider myself a cover cynic – but I’ve really had to work to choose a shortlist of 30. Traditionally I choose ten top favorites of the year, but I’m not ready to eliminate 20 from my shortlist yet! I need time to think it over. So stay tuned.

Since I started this blog, it seems more and more blogs/booksites are choosing bests, or offering choices for your vote. Amazon’s contest really caught fire this year. Many blogs linked to it. Their lists were by category, so there were some teen books to vote on. Did you vote? Most posted links to the contest, but here’s a blogger who posted commentary on Amazon’s choices.
Joseph Sullivan at The Book Design Review asked independent bookstore owners to nominate their favorites. You can vote on them (bookstore by bookstore) at his blog – here’s Part I. 2 picture books and 1 YA (Pure by Terra McVoy) made the first group of faves.  And here’s Part II. 2 picture books here, but no YA.
The Book Cover Archive has the Top Ten Covers of the ’00s (one for each year,  including 2009)  And how about this one: Suburban Vampire is asking for nominations for the best vampire covers in several categories.

Do you have a 2009 YA book cover you feel strongly about? I invite you to post your own favorites in the comments.

UPDATE: More bests: From Jacket Knack: Julie’s Picks, Carol’s Picks.