Even the Animals Look Abashed
Posted on October 2, 2009 Posted by John Scalzi 123 Comments
Arguably the worst book cover by a major publisher, ever:
Seriously, now, DAW, wtf? I know there’s a recession on, but there must be a better class of 12-year-old you can hire to push about the “liquefy” tool in Photoshop. I get that you were aiming for “chintzy, kooky fun” but you landed on “Fourth grade class project on Lulu.com,” and that just isn’t cool, and more to the point, you should know the difference. Were I an author in this particular anthology I would be sad I couldn’t show my friends the book I was in without them asking how much it cost me to publish it. I’m frightened to show it to graphic designers I know because I don’t want to be sued for damages when it causes blood to shoot from their ears. And as a reader, I can say the cover makes a really excellent argument for owning a Kindle.
Basically, I just look at this cover and don’t understand. I’m not entirely sure why this cover genuinely offends me a bit, but it does. I think it’s because it’s not unreasonable to hold major publishers to a higher standard than we would hold, say, some guy self-publishing from his basement. Hope the stories are good, at least.
I don’t mind Killer Bunnies, whack em with a paddle, but Zombie Raccoons really creep me out.
On the cover, whatever.
I thought Sarah Palin’s new book was called “Going Rogue?”
It wouldn’t get my vote in a Fark Photoshop contest.
Yep, that’s a terrible cover.
On the other hand, I don’t recall that the cover for Bunnicula was that much better and that was hands down the most popular book amongst my second grade classmates. Maybe kids aren’t embarrassed by bad covers.
(I can only assume that a book about zombie raccoons is a kid’s book. The killer bunnies could be for grown-ups, but not the zombie raccoons.)
I actually have trouble believing this is a real cover. At first I thought it was a joke cover.
Even the worst of the DTV horror covers I’ve seen were not this bad. -Not that the title is much better.
If I owned this book I’d have to hide it so none of my friends saw the cover.
Never has the phrase “stripped book” seemed so right.
The cover has a kitschy charm to it… like some 7th grade art assignment resulting in a visit to the school psychologist. The truly offensive part of the cover to me is:
“15 all-new stories about the creatures-some alive, some not-who may be prowling right outside your door….”
Do they need to pretend a collection of stories about vampire/zombie/rabid bunnies or raccoons is anything but an attempt to capture the “You would never believe how bad this book is..” crowd.
For some reason this cover reminds me of the movie “Rabid Grannies”… Fun at first glance but impossible to look at or watch for more than 5 minutes…
God in heaven. You can see where they smudged/blurred the bunnies edges to “hide” the piss-poor cut job they did.
If killer bunnies were good enough for Monty Python, they should be good enough for you.
Yes, but the covers for Bunnicula were at least CUTE. The originals, anyway.
Kids looking for cute are going to be scared, and kids looking for scary are going to think this is stupid.
It’s like they tried to hit Maine and Florida simultaneously and drowned in the Atlantic. Actually, they’re so far off, I’d like to change my answer to “…and drowned in a sewage treatment pond in Iowa.”
AND FURTHERMORE, you can totally find pictures of bunnies yawning that look like killer attack yargh face-eating rabbits. No photoshop needed.
Yeah, I don’t even know. For bonus ugh points – most publishers pay the same amount to the cover design guy as they do for the illustrators, so the odds are good that the person behind that made a stunning hourly wage for something that was slapped together in no time.
@Romeo Vitelli (#10): The Mothy Python killer bunny had more taste in its teeth than that whole book cover can ever dream of.
That being said, if I had that book, I’d show it to *everybody* just to freak them out. If I knew any graphic designers, I’d show it to them twice because I’m evil/annoying that way.
The sale of this book without its cover is authorized. If you purchased this book with a cover, you should be aware that you have no taste and graphic designers will someday deface your tombstone with well layed-out graffitti. Neither the author nor the publisher deserve your pity or payment for the sale of this ugly ass book.
The cover gives me a laugh and is reminiscent of the 50’s horror movie posters. The cover doesn’t say, BUY ME as a must read. They could have used a saber toothed rabbit, but that would have been cheesier.
“Neither the author nor the publisher deserve your pity or payment for the sale of this ugly ass book.”
Well, no. The authors (in this case plural, as it’s an anthology) have absolutely no control over the cover art, so they can’t and shouldn’t be blamed for it. And of course the cover isn’t an indication of the quality of the work inside, which may be very good. I think the cover works against the actual writing, though. So in this case the authors deserve at least some sympathy.
Is it a hardcover book (which would allow me to remove the cover and bury it in the kitchen garbage) or is it a paperback?
Because it’s self ghettoizing.
Let’s try that again — your comments section doesn’t let me double bracket quotes.
“I’m not entirely sure why this cover genuinely offends me a bit, but it does.”
Because it’s self ghettoizing.
Yeah, I think that’s definitely part of it.
I’m not an ad man, but it seems to me that maybe this isn’t the train wreck you think – maybe it is actually pure unfiltered genius.
I mean, for any advertising, what you want is for people to be aware of your product, right? And this is obviously generating buzz.
Look here! Free publicity and full-page advertising from no less than the legendary John Scalzi.
It’s awful. It’s bad. It’s juvenile in all the bad ways. But it does appear that it is getting word of its existence out there.
The bunny’s mouth just looks….wrong. Not scary, just wrong.
And if it’s zombie raccoons, then why does it have vampire teeth? And then there are the raccoon’s eyes. They stare at me and seem to say “Pity me. I don’t mean to look like crap on this cover.”
Maybe I spend way too much time on the internet, but I only find the cover to be… lame, rather than offensive. I thought publishers had learned by now. When in doubt, slap on some space marines, or some images of women with large breasts.
I was pretty sure there was a memo about that….
If it was the only cover of its type, I might go for the accidentally awesome argument. But it does scream “local author self-publishing”.
I’ve whipped up better covers in five minutes. Hell, I could do a decent zombie racoon and killer bunnies cover in an hour or two. Better than that anyway. Either we have a graphic designer who just isn’t trying or we have an utter newb to photoshop, but that still doesn’t explain why the art director let this go out.
Tariqata: This is the cover for my Bunnicula edition, and it is well-painted with proportional compositional elements. I assure you way more SKILLED effort was put into the Bunnicula cover than was put into the atrocity above. Also, some kids DO notice crappy book covers. Those kids grow up to be graphic designers. I was pretty damn picky about book covers for the longest time as a child, and would actively hide my covers if I thought it was embarrassing. (I still love the Bunnicula series, but I think it hits its stride in Howliday Inn–my favourite. The Celery Stalks at Midnight was my favourite title though.)
“My god, it’s full of ugly”
My first reaction to this cover (I saw an ad for it at GenCon) was the “Awesomely kitsch” one. It directly appeals to the same part of me that loved Albino Black Sheep (the flash aggregating website) and is learning to appreciate the awesome of horrifically bad B-horror flicks.
Personally, this triggers the same neurons that go “Wow” when I see cowboys riding a T-rex, or ninjas shooting blue flame. And that, my friends, is fun.
I can imagine it kind of looks like the illustrator had a decent illustration going in the background (top right corner and around the edges). But it was too bloody and violent or whatnot and it wasn’t what the publisher wanted.
Argument followed and eventually publisher said ‘eff it, I’ll do it myself’. Spends 15 minutes on google image search and copy pastes in some animals to cover up the half eaten naked lady on the cover and this is the result.
“I vant to suck your garbage. Er, no wait. Grrr, Arrggh. Braaaaiiinnns.”
Poor raccoon has an identity crisis and the bunny looks like he’s running away.
I’d be very confused in that world, too.
I kind of like it.
So sue me.
My second published story (and first in a dead-tree edition) will be appearing behind this cover. I’m not a huge fan of the cover, but, as you note, nobody asked my opinion of it.
Interestingly, when I showed it to a co-worker yesterday, she thought it was wonderful and noted that her mother was sure to run out a buy a copy of it.
Its… it’s… fugly!
I am some guy who self published from his basement (well, upstairs spare bedroom anyway) and even I think this looks like crap. But then I also have a degree in design.
I’d gladly offer my services to DAW for a small competitive fee, id it means sparing the world more covers like this.
The books I own that came from lulu look a hell of a lot better than that…
I too have a story in here. I’m actually somewhat amused by the cover and this discussion.
Regardless of whether or not I LIKE the cover I suspect that it will get attention (it is already getting attention – this will be comment 35 or more), but it also might look just fine on Halloween end-cap displays.
My followup on genreville here.
You inspired me :-)
I am a graphic designer and the cover is bad. The designer was going for a cheap schlocky horror movie look and they succeeded. But the problem becomes one of expectations. My expectation after looking at the cover is that the stories are so bad they’re good as opposed to genuinely good which I think does a disservice to the authors and stories. The title is goofy enough as is without making the art equally goofy. You could have hired any number of illustrators or designers that would have done a much better job keeping the art light and funny and still looking professional.
Wow, you kids today have no idea how bad SF covers can be. This one barely moves the needle toward bad.
Terrible covers from major publishers? You have no idea.
I’m sorry, but I disagree. Yes the cover his HORRIBLY done, bad photoshopping skillz, and the font is sooo B-movie, but its so obviously horrible its intentional, which means this is Kitsch, tongue-in-cheek mocking of the undead fiction genre. Its, frankly, hilarious, and it makes me curious as to whether or not the stories within are also kitschy, tongue-in-cheek lampooning of the undead genre. In so, I’m totally interested in buying it: I’m so sick of vampires and zombies being taken so damn seriously.
If my fluffy warp bunny’s teeth ever looked like *that* (yes, I have to and do check ’em for health) she’d be in to the vet the next morning.
As noted in the entry, I’m aware they were aiming for kitsch. In my opinion, however, it merely achieves bad. There were lots of better ways to hit Kitsch than half-assed Photoshoppery.
IT BURNS MAKE IT STOP
That said, there’s at least evidence on that cover that the artist had some training, even if s/he was required to use it for ridiculous ends.
You know a pro did it on purpose because they used Helvetica for “Zombie Racoons.” Despite everything else, no way in hell were they going to use Arial.
I have to say this cover inspired me. But after I stacked my computers, software, Steven Heller books, light table and colored pencils in the back yard chimenea and lit a match, I had an epiphany. If we could convince this design team to put their pitch strategy in writing — if we could get between covers the tactics and strategies that the art director, illustrator and designer used to sell this stinker — why, they’d be zillionaires, we’d all have vastly enriched skill sets and America just might be on its way to a new dawn.
I LOVE this cover. I’ve done 7 books with DAW and this is my favorite because it is totally B movie kitsch. In a business where covers are often unrelated to content or part porn I found it refreshing to have a cover that was funky and retro instead of trite or overworked.
It’s not just bad Photoshopping, it’s bad design. Even the composition hurts to look at.
It kinda makes me wonder if the “artist” submitted a rough proposal, and the rough is what they went with.
I’m delighted for you that you love it, but I have to say that if this is your favorite cover out of seven, someone in DAW’s art department needs to be fired, yesterday.
That’s pretty harsh. All the DAW covers were good and some more so than others but I like it because it is B movie. Look at the movie posters of the 50’s, the pulp art of the Drive In theater. DAW has been very good to me and while I believe all publicity is good publicity I do believe you go too far in asking for someone to be fired.
I’m thinking that anyone who thinks this is an acceptable form of “B-movie kitsch” needs to, quite honestly, go put some actual B-and-lower movies on their Netflix queue, absorb, and see the difference.
I recommend starting with Barn of the Blood Llama.
PS. Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. :) ha!
Granted, it might not be the best cover ever… but don’t go bashing a book because of its cover… It is not fair for all of those who spent both their time and money on it… How would you feel if you write a book, which took you years to do, and in five mins I step over it and tell the world not to waste their money on it? The fact that it might be your least favorite cover does not mean it might be for the rest of the world as well…
*Don’t judge a book by its cover*
Pixelfish, way back at 25: Maybe I’m just a philistine. (My design-savvy partner makes me feel that way occasionally!) But that’s the Bunnicula cover I was thinking of, and … I’m not a fan, to put it mildly.
“Look at the movie posters of the 50’s, the pulp art of the Drive In theater.”
Kerrie, I was a professional film critic for several years and have written a book on science fiction films. Trust me, I have seen quite a lot of 50s sci-fi/horror movie posters. I can assure you that if someone presented this cover to William Castle, he would have sent it back.
No, really, he absolutely would have, since all Castle’s films generally had going for them was the marketing. Look at these posters. They’re awesome, and your cover, I regret to say, has very little in common with them. As noted before, I’m glad you like it. I don’t, and think they could have done rather better.
If you believe someone in DAW’s art department doesn’t deserve to get fired, okay; you’re the editor here. They should at least rate a stern talking to, however.
I’m not aware of bashing the book for anything other than the cover, nor really has anyone else here, so I’m not sure why you think anyone is. I personally assume the contents are just fine. Wish they had a better cover to promote them.
I told myself I wouldn’t comment on this. Part of my mind kept saying, “No, don’t do it!” Oh well, I can’t help myself. I have to ask the question: Does anyone else think it looks like the raccoon is hunching the bunny?
The other part of my mind says: Hey, this will probably sell some books.
I’d like to see the art behind the uncomfortable raccoon and startled bunny. Can someone hook us up?
It’s worse than Baen. And it looks like a perfectly good cover is hiding behind the bad taxidermy.
What, exactly is the purpose of the book’s cover? If it’s just to protect the inner pages then it could be nothing but white cardboard with the title stamped on it in 14pt Ariel.
But the cover serves a much larger purpose – it’s an advertisement for the book. A graphic summary, the one that catches my attention and makes me pick it up and read the actual summary on the back and then look inside.
In this case if DAW expects to catch my attention and compete for my limited book buying dollars using this cover, well then it is FAIL. Because, seriously, if I saw this on the shelf at Barnes & Nobles anywhere outside the humor B-Movie review aisle, my brain would edit it out of my visual cortex and it would never reach my awareness threshold levels. To me, the cover says “this book is full of crappola from authors we don’t give a shit about, go spend your money on the Heinlein reprints with the cool scifi covers that we actually put some effort into.”
If the purpose of book covers if partly to sell the damned book – this one lost DAW money when it comes to me (Ok that’s a lie, now that I know Brenda Cooper has a story in there I’ll go buy a copy despite the horrible cover. DAW should thank Scalzi for this post, otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten my money).
Yes, the writers in here are quite good. I am a big fan of short stories and I hope people will order this book from Amazon or a local book seller. the short story market needs promotion and is a genre under appreciated by the current market. I recommend Zombie Raccoons of course but I also recommend Gamer Fantastic, (I didn’t care for the cover but the stories are fabulous.) All my authors are wonderful writers who deserve individual praise. Thanks to Scalzi for the attention and for the writer appreciation he creates. (Even though my book lost to his on the recent HUGO.)
I think Jim @55 has found the secret truth to this cover! Someone at DAW knew that if they leaked the cover to Scalzi he would rave against the art and force us all to read more about the book than we would have otherwise. Shewd move, DAW.
I’m getting a kickback, I am!
In all seriousness, however I do agree one should judge the book by its contents.
Jim, you win again with the Sarah Palin comment–drat you.
Secondly, for those who are thinking this is a kid’s anthology, it isn’t.
Third, I love short stories, and so have a lot of anthologies edited by Martin H Greenburg. It used to be that his name on the cover meant I’d like a majority of the stories. Having just recently finished last year’s fantasy anthology (Better off Undead) my first thought it is see this as an outward sign of the decreasing quality of the stories there within.
As far as a reader’s reaction, as I said, I love short story anthologies and will usually grab anthologies by Martin H Greenburg. I saw this one (spine out) picked up up, saw the cover, and then hurriedly put it back down before anyone saw me holding the book.
This cover is just plain unfortunate.
Jim, if you get this anthology, can I borrow it when you’re done?
As long as you ship it in a brown paper wrapper.
Yes you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s… erm.
I have to say, looking back at what I turned out for cover art (a good few years ago now), I realise now I could do a lot better these days. Artists grow as they age, much like slime mould, and their standards advance too. So I would say more have a long chat with your artist, rather than fire them. Chats can sting, but so can dentistry; but fixing a cavity with a fire-axe tends to make recovery difficult.
That said… I think I know where this cover was trying to go; the sort of “So Apalling It’s Funny” that compells a lot of people to watch re-runs of Fireball XL5. The same way the Gorn is funny: It, and his fight with Kirk, are comedy gold because they’re so bad. But the problem with trying to create the “So Bad It’s Good” thing is that neither of my examples were trying to be funny – they were trying to be deadly serious. It’s not something that’s amenable to spontaneous creation. By attempting to Go There Deliberately, you’re by definition trying too hard, and almost certainly doomed to cringeworthy failure.
Also, canted text only ever works in a clean, sans-serif font. So there, too.
It almost seems like someone brought Paint to a Photoshop contest.
Personally, I think it wouldn’t be nearly as horrible if the mechanics of it were better. Take similar elements and combine them in the same way, but done by someone with actual PS skillz… I think it’d be a much more acceptable cover. One that might get closer to achieving the “b-movie” look.
If you want B movie Kitsch, you can check out Paizo Publishing’s Planet Stories line or Subterranean Press’s Retro Pulp tales or some of the amazing work on Hardcase Crime or Leisure Books Gabriel Hunt Adventures. Those are all really good retro-kitsch. They have a point of reference in the world of art. They’re part of an ongoing conversation. And the artists all have skill. Skill is important.
Some people think crappy velvet paintings are good. Of course, they’re not. They’re *bad*. But at least they look exceptionally bad. This cover isn’t even exceptionally bad. It’s not a catastrophe, it’s an apathetic splotch. It took no skill to make. *I* could make that cover, and I have no real artistic skill.
Look, a books cover is part of it’s contents. I know this because I buy beautiful books in part, because of the cover design. It may only be really important to those of us who like and appreciate art and design as important. But if you don’t really think about art, why have a cover on it at all? Just put the name of the book in big letters on the front.
You want a really amazing cover? Possibly the best design work I’ve seen in years? Michael Chabon’s Maps And Legends. Someone put an intense amount of work into that cover.
Wait. That’s a real cover? I saw it earlier and thought someone was making a joke.
What the crap is wrong with that poor rabbit’s mouth?
DAW covers have never been my favorite, but this one makes me cry a little inside. I feel like I need to go apologize to my CS4 suite and offer it counseling for the evils its brethren have been reduced to committing.
Josh Jasper: I’ve been meaning to buy Maps and Legends solely because of the slipcovers. So awesome. I just haven’t because I have so many books already. (And I know I’m remiss but I’ve never read any Michael Chabon. But he does have several nice covers.)
Oh, and speaking of velvet paintings, lets not forget this contribution:
It kind of looks like something Tom Cruise would sell on TV at 3am. And if you CALL NOW, you get a second copy FREE!
@65 – It is too wide.
Bunnies do tend to look slightly insane when yawning, but their mouths just don’t open like that.
I am sure fluffy warp bunnies everywhere are disapproving of this cover.
Mmm. Warp Bunnies. Thank you for the new furry antagonists.
Can’t sleep. Warp Bunnies will eat me.
I _must_ buy this book for my middle niece – she is currently deeply into the _Twilight_ books ;-)
I was just thinking, as I eat soothing chocolate to ease the sting of critique, perhaps I should invite those of you with graphics skill to design my next cover. Meet me on Facebook for details.
I almost hate to admit it, but I kind of like the cover. It’s refreshing in its retro, kitschy honesty, like Snakes On A Plane or Mega Shark vs. Giant Octopus. Not that those were great movies, but I can’t imagine this is exactly a Pulitzer candidate either.
(Of course, that’s a bad thing from a marketing angle. Even if I find it entertaining, the fact that I look at it and say “Yup, that’s a bad book” is a problem.)
@ Kerrie Hughes –
I’d take your challenge, but searching Facebook, I found more than one Kerrie Hughes.
Which one are you?
Max, I’m the one with the Zombie Raccoon Icon. :)
All the Bunnicula comments have me reminising about the days when we read Bunnicula and it’s sequels with our kids (and end up with cats named Lyle and Chester, didn’t have bunnies or dogs to name at the time).
The eyes of the raccoon are just wrong and not in a scary, good kind of way. The cover is so hideously bad it’s almost mesmerizing. What kind of drugs was the artist either taking or refusing to take?
Actually, the cover of Mega Shark Versus Giant Octopus while bad, isn’t anywhere near as bad as this cover you can see it here.
It’s nothing special, but it isn’t horrible.
Kerrie, it’s the crew at DAW who were in charge of this cover who John has a beef with. His implication was that if this cover was the best out of seven then that’s six other books with even worse covers. If that’s the case, there are much better designers out there who should have a crack at that work.
They have obviously never seen the vampire bunny in the University museum in Newcastle upon Tyne. Now that is scarey.
I can tell you one thing. This thread has given this book exponentially more publicity than it would otherwise have received. So this may end up being one of DAW’s better-selling anthologies.
There is no such thing as bad publicity!
That said, I’m not going to bitch about every craptacular DAW cover, so they better not plan that as part of their strategy.
A long time ago I was in love with the title of a novel I wrote. My agent hated it. I conceded that it was a love-it-or-hate-it title, and that people seemed evenly split over it. He replied that a title that turns of 50% of its potential audience is a failure no matter how much I might like it. I couldn’t really argue with that.
That’s why this cover is a failure. You can like it all you want. You can plead the kitsch defense all day. But judging by the comments above 90% of the potential audience for this book wouldn’t be caught dead (yuck yuck) reading it at Starbucks. A cover that makes a readership stay away in droves is a failure.
Aw c’mon! That cover is a hoot.
I laughed when I saw the pic. I didn’t expect to see the actual book, but there was in all its glory on the filing cabinet as I was making coffee. They’d sent a copy here to the newspaper to be reviewed. A startled “Oh my god” in a newsroom can be funny and scary at the same time.
The zombie raccoon is a hoot.
I too have a story in this anthology, and I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the lot.
It has been my experience that covers are to get people to pick up the book. Just touching it raises the odds of it being purchased.
And yes, I’m thrilled with all the chatter on the net about this one.
Thanks for the boost.
I have to agree with #85 here, that cover would get my attention and make me pick up the book to see what was going on there. My take is essentially along the lines of “it’s so bad it’s good,” except, well, not really GOOD but, amusing, at least.
And personally, I could give a crap what people think of what I am reading or what the cover of what I am reading is like. If I did, I’d have to hide all my pornorific looking Laurell K. Hamilton books and you can be damn sure THAT isn’t happening (for the record though, I did start reading them long before they started giving them those covers)! I don’t care how good/bad/ugly/ridiculous a cover is, I care what’s between the covers. And if a cover happens to make me pick up a book (rather than the spine that I normally see on the shelf), and check out what it’s about, then more power to it. But it certainly won’t drive me away.
@69: I owned a bunny for seven years. I know that mouth is too wide; my question is, what abomination of the liquefy tool brought this on?
Props to Scalzi for scooping Photoshop Disasters on this one.
Looks like they were going for a “Weekly World News” vibe. The cover reminds me of some of the more egregious photoshops you used to see in the supermarket tabloids back when they went for aliens and mutants rather than celebrity paparazzi shots. This is backed up by the title, which is something straight out of a 1990’s tabloid headline.
Methinks they went a way bit too campy for their own good.
Steve nails it. It’s actually not a good thing if a book has a cover that turns away a substantial portion of it’s audience even if it gains a lesser handful of new people. That’s simple math.
I don’t know. This cover didn’t work for me personally. But to find it genuinely offensive … that bugs me.
If we accept that this cover fails for most people, so what? It’s one cover. One failure.
Folks have every right to critique and complain. I’m not trying to claim otherwise. It just feels a bit over the top to me, and I think there’s a big difference between “This cover doesn’t work for me” and “DAW has personally offended me with their dentally-impaired mutants.”
I think the cover does it’s job. The sort of people who want to read stories about killer rabbits will LOVE the cover.
I know my teenaged sons will and so will millions of other young SF/F fans.
Granted, they also love Ed Wood movies…
But I like the cover. I would pick it up and read the back and probably buy it for them. They would see the cover and spend their own money on it if the summary on the back was intriguing.
Mission accomplished, I’d say.
I’m not precisely offended by the cover. But it does make me uneasy. It’s partly because as a graphic designer, anything that looks like you handed it off to [insert relative here] often means that there’s an unwillingness to pay graphic designers what they are worth, since Photoshop is so ubiquitous these days. Why pay designers when there are nephews and clipart in the world? seems to be the thinking. That said, there’s a lot more to design than merely placing elements on the page. We spend a lot of time learning what makes those elements work, and there’s a lot of intuitional choices we make that are based on years of practising our skills. You might get lucky with a photoshop newb but chances are, you’d be better off paying the designer. (I am not saying that’s what happened in this case, although I still would be curious as to why the art director let this go out. I mean, there’s campy and then there’s legibility. Then too, killer bunnies and a raccoon zombie are already the stuff of camp, why execute them poorly?)
Also, when stuff like this shows up, you have to deal with a small minority of clients who are probably the target audience for this cover and think it really is the bee’s knees and wouldn’t get the irony if it batted them in the face. They want you to put a bevel on all their text and use a lens flare and basically uglify whatever designs you come up with. To quote from Dorothy Sayers’ Murder Must Advertise, “That the great aim and object of the studio artist was to crowd the copy out of the advertisement and that, conversely, the copy-writer was a designing villain whose ambition was to cram the space with verbiage and leave no room for the sketch; that the lay-out man, a meek ass between two burdens, spent a miserable life trying to reconcile these opposing parties; and further, that all departments alike united in hatred of the client, who persisted in spoiling good lay-outs by cluttering them up with coupons, free-gift offers, lists of local agents and realistic portraits of hideous and uninteresting cartons, to the detriment of his own interests and the annoyance of everybody concerned.” While, in theory, the client is always right if you want to get paid once, if you want the campaign to be successful, and to be something you’d be proud to place in your portfolio, sometimes you have to educate the client about why their idea isn’t so awesome. And it’s made exponentially harder when they say, “But I saw a book that had done just that on the cover.”
If I hadn’t earlier gotten carried away with the snark, for which I apologise, and if this had been presented to me on ConceptArt or one of the other art sites where I offer critiques, I would have noted the disparity of styles between the cartoony background and the photo manipulated foreground. I would have pointed out that there are four competing fonts, three in the title itself, and that the angles of the title fonts does not lend itself for swift consumption. I’d angle for a cohesive style across the board, use no more than two fonts, and corral my tipped title into a more readable angle. I would also note that if Ironic Campiness was the effect intended, I would note that Ironic Campiness extends across multiple categories, including pulp (which this could have evoked, but doesn’t given the mishmash of other elements), generational kitsch (not present), and the cultural mocking of the poorly executed. (Which is kind of where this is landing.) If you have a reader in a bookstore, who sees this cover, what will their reaction be? Consider that the Venn diagram of the this reader does not always cover cultural memes or internet in-jokes. My personal reaction to seeing a mishmash cover with poor Photoshop in a brick-and-mortar book store is that it must be the effort of a local author who self-published. Is it possible this interpretation will be fairly common? Then, how can we maintain the campiness of the cover, while giving small visual signals to the casual reader that this cover isn’t as sloppy as it seems? One might frame the photoshopped photos as if in a tabloid. (I believe Scalzi’s Agent to the Stars uses this effect.) One might re-render the rabbit and raccoon as an illustration–old timey, Bullwinkle-esque illustrations signalling an “irony” or “retro” alert to the reader’s mind. One could more realistically emulate pulp covers, as one reader upthread noted. There is a difference between emulating the quirky styles of yesteryear (which look primitive compared to some of the CG illustrations we produce now, but offer wonderful compositional and design elements) and producing something that most people think they could whip up in ten minutes.
Kerrie: I’ll meet you on Facebook. :)
Good lord. Who on earth is going to stock that?
I’ve seen (and had) covers that weren’t to my taste, but that’s spectacular, that is.
Tariqata @ 50: I see what you’re saying, and I’ll see if I can’t clarify a little further on why I think the Bunnicula cover is a better cover.
The title has plenty of visual room, the illustration is competently executed and easily parsed, the style is suited to the age range of the book’s audience, the composition isn’t distracting or all over the place. It is not among the world’s most awesome covers, I will admit, nor does it introduce any design elements that seduce the eye and demand my gaze. It is, all in all, competent.
You, as a consumer, have a different reaction. It’s not your thing. That’s perfectly a-ok. Lots of things aren’t my thing either. Frederick Remington, for example, is not my thing. But I can still look at a Remington painting and see the technical competency of it.
On the other hand, I look at the above cover, and I see competing compositional elements in disparate styles that don’t mesh. For one thing, the angles of the title cant away at odd directions, making it hard to consume the title in one gulp, and harder to remember. The bunny and the raccoon are at equal sizes (which is not always a problem) but it does mean you have two major visual elements tugging on your attention at the same time. My eye is drawn first to the bunny–and incidentally the bottom half of the title. Which tips me down into the bottom right corner. IF I haven’t moved on to the next book by this time, I might go back up to the raccoon and eventually complete my perusal of the cover, but it’s not presenting a quick digestible visual for my brain. It’s pulling it in six different directions. (And I’m not saying that there isn’t a wonderful lure to the things you don’t notice on the first pass, but that there doesn’t seem to be any composition here.) It’s not that zombie raccoons aren’t my thing, but the visual clues on this book are not evoking a sense of design. The elements are actively working against each other. For many people that will manifest as on a subtle level, either inspiring dislike or distrust that the contents contained within will be competently executed. Because aphorisms aside, we really really do judge most books by the cover before we can judge them by the contents.
If I placed this book next to a book from that bastion of non-awesome, Publish America, and asked you to pick which one was self-published, would you be able to tell?
Jim @ 90 – It’s not that the cover is offensive in its imagery, it’s offensive that so little work and care went into a book put out by a major publisher.
I can tell you at the Sci Fi bookstore where I work, the horribleness of DAW covers in general has elicited frequent commentary.
This one is especially bad. Which is saying a lot for DAW. Seriously.
I wasn’t in on the meetings at DAW. I don’t know what they were going for here. Maybe the original cover didn’t work, so the bunny and raccoon were an emergency fix at the last minute. Maybe they wanted to try something different, and they went for the over-the-top kitsch angle. Maybe the artist backed out at the last second, leaving them only a week to whip something together. Maybe, like the editor, they just liked this cover and thought it worked for the project.
I don’t know. I’m not thrilled by the cover, but I don’t think you can make the leap from “I don’t like this”* to “The publisher doesn’t care, and didn’t put any work into it.”
Knowing the people working at DAW, I guarantee you they care. It’s possible something slipped through the cracks. Maybe they failed this time around, depending on who you ask. If you choose to be offended by it, that’s your call. But it’s not one I can understand or buy into.
Jim, I’m not saying that the publisher didn’t care, but the work on its own was poorly done, and doesn’t exhibit any skill. It could be that it was pushed out late because of problems.
I’ve worked on projects that shipped out as finished when they shouldn’t have, and they always suffered for it, and it almost always would have been better to wait.
All I know now is that I want to find this book and check out the stories, cover be damned. (and all this cover does is make me laugh)
I sincerely think you’ve expecting too much from a cover for a book about zombie raccoons and killer bunnies. Will the target readership for such an anthology really give a toss?
That’s embarrassing: can’t even spell my own surname using this tiny keypad I just borrowed.
Fair enough, Josh. I forgot to note that DAW is my publisher, so I’m hardly unbiased here.
Steve — don’t underestimate the passion of the undead varmit fen! Not unless you want the vampire gerbils to show up on your doorstep.
An alternate reading of your comment here is DAW saying “Eh, the sort of person who would buy this doesn’t care, so why should we?” Which is a fairly contemptuous reading of the market.
And no, actually, I’m not expecting too much out of the cover, based on the title. That title should have inspired a cover that rocks, rather than slap-dash Photoshop crapitude.
Jim C. Hines:
“I don’t know. This cover didn’t work for me personally. But to find it genuinely offensive … that bugs me.”
Why? The thing’s offensive. It’s badly-designed, poorly-executed, half-assed, tossed-off crap that devalues the content inside. It’s the sort of cover to me that suggests that DAW doesn’t actually care about the book, because if it did, they would have spent an extra day or two actually taking the concept and exercising competence on it.
Unlike others here, I actually do expect a major publisher to make an effort for every book they release, wacky title or not. I don’t believe DAW made an effort here, and if they did, then someone in the art department has a job they’re not qualified for. This cover is at best a mock up cover art concept, something that the art director shows at a meeting with the sheepish comment “Of course, this is just the idea; we’ll fix it later so it’s actually cool.”
I’d expect that as well. I also expect that, given the financial realities of short fiction anthologies, these anthologies aren’t going to get as much time or money as the novels. Which doesn’t excuse crap covers; but it also means they’re less likely to measure up to those novels.
I don’t know what DAW was thinking with this. My guess is that they wanted to for the kitsch. You explained way up above why they missed the mark on that, and I can’t disagree. But I think there’s a big difference between “We tried for this and missed” vs. “We don’t give a crap.”
I said before that I don’t like the cover. But I’m seeing a fair number of people who do. I think overall DAW turned off more readers than it drew in with this one, but it’s by no means a total failure. It definitely attracts attention, and as noted above, it’s generating more buzz than any DAW anthology I can remember. Probably not for all the reasons they would have liked, but I’d still be curious to see the sales numbers on this thing in a few months and compare it to their other anthologies.
Maybe you’re right and the powers at DAW just didn’t give a damn, but that would greatly surprise me, given that they do a pretty careful and thoughtful job picking these anthologies.
I suspect there was an effort here, though. Not as much as you’d get on the next Pat Rothfuss or Tanya Huff book, but still an effort. I’d also concede that their effort fell short, given that the negative reactions (my own included) seem to outnumber the positive. But I’m not willing to toss out accusations of incompetence, or to take personal offense that they put out a cover I don’t like.
The talented Janet Chui whips up a cover concept sketch in under 20 seconds that’s better than this, still “cheesy”, and visually interesting all at the same time.
See, the difference between Janet’s cover concept and DAW’s cover is that I wouldn’t actually be so appalled by a book with Janet’s work on it that I’d avoid it.
Jim – But I’m not willing to toss out accusations of incompetence, or to take personal offense that they put out a cover I don’t like.
As I’ve said elsewhere, there’s plenty of art out there I don’t like, but don’t think is actual crap. I’m not a huge fan of John Harris, because there’s almost no reason to choose between one space battle on his cover paintings or another. But they’re still done with skill. This particular cover shows a lack of competence. Pixelfish @ # 94 explains exactly what’s wrong with it, and a competent designer would have avoided that.
Look, I’ve had jobs where I’ve screwed up before, but I’ve never tried to deflect the blame or make my mistake seem like it wasn’t one. If I’ve been incompetent in the past, I work past it and get competent.
Jim C. Hines:
I’m not aware of asking you or any other person to join in a chorus of accusation regarding incompetence, so your unwillingness to do so is fine with me. However, it doesn’t change the fact that I think this is incompetent work, and I think it’s perfectly legitimate for me to say so.
Also, of course, I don’t particularly care whether other people profess to like it. It’s their perfect right to like it, and in a general sense lots of people like things I don’t. However, whether people like it has nothing to do with whether it’s a competently done piece of work. This is just a guess, but I very highly doubt that the people saying they like this particular cover would look at a competently done version of the same art concept and say “Oh, I hate this.” That people like it at all is a testament that the concept is fine, it’s just the execution that stinks. And it does, a lot.
Dude — I’ve groped you in public, battled you for Coke Zero, and even got to witness your strange glitter fetish. Do you have to do the full name thing? I feel like I’m being chastised by my Mom.
I have a lot of respect for your experience and expertise in the industry, and if you have the time, I’d love to know what in your opinion would have been required in order to take this concept and turn it into a competently produced cover.
Repeating that it stinks and it’s incompetent doesn’t do much, and I’d genuinely like to hear your thoughts on what would make this a competent work.
Jim C. Hines:
I’m not typing out your full name to admonish you; I usually type out the full handle of whomever’s responding so there’s no ambiguity.
As to what would make it a competent work: Start with Pixelfish’s comment here.
This cover horrifies me and offends me, because my husband is and out-of-work graphic artist. (Michigan’s economy sucks badly.)
It offends me because some no-talent hack was paid to create this cover instead of my reasonably-talented husband.
re: Jim Hines at 108:
Had no idea that Scalzi harboured a glitter fetish. The things we learn…..
I remember reading an article interviewing an editor, where they were discussing a particularly difficult writer who refused to change anything about his manuscript after receiving comments from said editor.
Interviewer: “What will happen if he continues to resist?”
Editor: *shrug* “We’ll put a cheap cover on it.”
Make of that what you will.
You want bad? The Sphere edition of Poul Anderson’s The People of the Wind isn’t half bad, but the American cover is a travesty of a hexapedal tetrapod, complete with arms, legs, wings, and a beak instead of the lips and teeth the race actually had.
I don’t recall who did the cover for Analog, I can say that the Sphere cover comes a damn sight closer.
Oh wow! I’d totally pick that book up!
*Much* more interesting than the usual genre cover, no matter what the compositional crimes it may or may not have committed.
PS. The racoon’s eyes are *totally* the best bit! I still laugh whenever I look at them.
My favourite bad cover is the German version of Lois Bujold’s The Warrior’s Apprentice: Der Kadett. The rictus grin on the main character is the frosting on top.
Clearly the publisher either did this on a budget that was way too low, or the folks in charge have never heard of a kill fee.
The thing is, all the other bad covers mentioned look like someone put effort into them. Even the clip-arty covers for the Discworld paperbacks in the US have more executed flair. Even your average DAW monthly anthology has covers where someone spent some modicum of brain power.
So indeed, the other covers look bad, but the difference is that it appears someone with art training actually tried. This cover looks unprofessionally lazy, and I think that’s where a large part of the “WTF” comes from.
If it looks like it was put together in Powerpoint by interns—actually, I would argue drunk interns—this is not a good sign. Actually, I think they should’ve just gone with the cartoony background thing. The pstde-on-yay! raccoon and rabbit seem kind of… insulting, actually, to whoever did the background.
Proof that you should always judge a book by its cover
John Scalzi @17:
Late reply (hardly check the net on the weekends), but just to clear the air, I’m fully aware that the authors had no hand in the cover and are the ones getting shafted the most. I was just trying to follow the original warning text close and “Neither the author nor publisher…” has a more poetic official-sounding flow than just “The publisher…”, but fair enough calling me out on it.
Perhaps I should have gone with “Neither the publisher nor their 5 year old kid who knows how to use MS Paint…”, but that’s not fair to the kid either. :)
Sorry. I think it’s a great cover, especially for an anthology of 15 stories about zombie raccoons and killer bunnies. Kind of in the same way that the covers of Chaosium’s Cthulhu Mythos reprints are at once awful and at the same time the best possible for the material.
If you’re reading an anthology about zombie raccoons and killer bunnies, this is what the cover *must* look like. Boris Vallejo doesn’t quite get it done here.
The people who are sneering at it wouldn’t be reading the material anyway. Yeah, yeah, “Old Man’s War”, Hugo, Campbell, whatever. Wouldn’t be reading the material anyway.
One-hundred twenty-one comments here so far (and more on some of the sites referenced in the comments above) and not one review of the contents yet posted on Amazon.
I confess, as author of “BunRabs,” the second story in the anthology and a story which was very well-received when I read it at GenCon in 2008), I have an interest in the book being well-received and read. I, too, find the cover ghastly, but even my own wife’s reaction was “What do you expect for an anthology called ‘Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies’?”
Rather than talking about the cover in a vacuum, why not all read the book and chat up how the stories deserved a better cover?
Donald J. Bingle
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