Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Cover Comparisons.

Sometimes I feel more like a technician than an artist. I go through the motions; work the machine; build the ad; collect the paycheck. But once in a while my artistic side will emerge and ravage Tokyo. Or whatever else happens to be handy.

A couple (few or so) weekends ago Heather and I were in a huge used bookstore here in downtown Colorado Springs. For the longest time it was called "Four Corners" and I bought all my books there. Then a while back (like... years) they changed their name and for the life of me I can't remember what they changed it to. And this keeps happening.

I look up at the new name above the door as I enter the building and say to myself, "Oh yeaaaahhh!", then I buy a book or three, leave and five minutes later I've forgotten the name. I think it's "First..." something. I tell myself that this is a sign that I don't really care what the name is, but I really fear it's because my brain is hardening and I'm becoming more resistant to change, "In MY day...".

How was THAT for a tangent?

So anyway, we were in THE bookstore just browsing around and found ourselves in the Horror section. I'm pretty sure we walked there, but I really wasn't paying that much attention to where we were going. My eyes were running over the covers and my mind was having it's little artsy thoughts, "not bad...kinda cool...I LIKE that...that's crap...not too bad..." and Heather was talking about how good Peter Straub's work is.

I looked at the books she was referring to and one of the covers just leaped out at me! Not because it was good necessarily, or – you know – haunted and thirsting for my blood like you might expect, but because it looked very similar to one of the other covers I had just glanced at. Similar enough to trigger that feeling of instant recognition.

I quickly looked back across the shelves until I located the other book and then did a side-by-side comparison. I launched into total art geek mode before Heather's laughing eyes. She was totally impressed by the amount of crap I droned on about. That's what I'm telling myself. Leave me alone!

I suggested that I should get the books, scan the covers and blog about it and she agreed that it was a fun idea. So. Having fun yet?

I bought the crap one and Heather already owned the Peter Straub book and was willing to loan it to me for this post. Here they are. Time to get my geek on.


"Ghost Story" © 1979 by Peter Straub, published by Pocket Books, first printing April 1980. No artist named.


"The Ghost of Veronica Gray" © 1985 by Ken Eulo, published by Pocket Books, first printing August, 1985. Cover artwork © 1985 by Lisa Falkenstern.

It really should be obvious to anyone which cover came first. The one that doesn't look like it was done by an intern. I do have to say this: after a google search for Lisa Falkenstern I discovered that she has illustrated far more book covers than I have and some of the ones I was able to look at weren't bad at all. So... Good for her.

Maybe this was an early cover and I'm being horribly unfair. Perhaps it was even the fault of an art director that had been with Pocket Books for decades and won't let go of the past. I know what that's like (not our current art director; someone from my previous job). Or it may have had a rushed deadline.

Now I'm feeling guilty. But will it stop me?

Nah.

Let's begin the autopsy.

They both share the same title font. In 'Ghost Story' the illustrator extended the 'Y' to accommodate Peter Straub's name and the 'G' has a tail. I'm not sure how typesetting was done in the early to mid 80's. I'm not really a graphic designer. I don't get all giggly over fonts. Just suffice it to say they are the same as far as I care and we will go from there.

Moving outward we get to the outline on the letters, which also ties into color usage. On 'Veronica' the outline is black which isn't too far from the violet that was used for the upper half, and the letters were kept white. Pretty snoozy (to use a phrase our current art director uses). In contrast, the artist for 'Ghost Story' used red, which against the dark blue background totally lifts the title off the cover and calls attention to it.

Moving to the background colors now. 'Ghost Story' uses dark blue and silver (looks grey, but is silver ink). This gives the scene a bleak feeling. Good idea for a horror novel. 'Veronica' uses violet and cyan with a tinch of magenta. This gives the scene an Easter feeling. Okay, I'm being a bit flippant there. What it doesn't scream though is horror. Horrible, sure, but not horror. Although, I will say the bad color choice is what first drew my eyes to that book, so there's something.

Let's talk lastly about style choice. The unknown artist for 'Ghost Story' went with a graphic feel. All flat images. Stylized house and tree. No other scenery details. No shadows. Knife-edge hill and sky separation. Very consistent within itself.

'Veronica'... damn. This is going to take a bit.

Okay, it seems as though Lisa liked the graphic style and wanted to improve upon it, but didn't really have an idea of how to do it. Instead of the gradually sloping knife-edged hill she went with a knife-edged semi-circle (and you can't see it but the circle continues on the spine). Why? I don't know. I can't even guess really. I'm baffled.

Then, having decided on a flat graphic feel for the background she puts a photographic house at the tip of it. Like a nipple with shutters. And tosses on one of the stupidest drop shadows under it that I've ever seen. The thing had to be put there because she felt there needed to be a shadow, but couldn't determine what it should look like. It doesn't even match the light source that would be needed to allow the OTHER stupid shadow in the picture to exist.

Which leads to the other source of shadow on a flat graphic style background: the running girl. She doesn't look scared so much as misshapen. And about to fall off the side of the cover. And her shadow ends in a point. It was like Lisa realized she was going to run out of ground for the shadow to fall across after she passed the hem of the dress and figured, "Fuck it. It's a paycheck. I'll just turn it into Cheech the Wizard's shadow."

Baffling.

So, in conclusion. I'm glad to see that the quality of Lisa's work has improved over time, and everybody has to start somewhere. I have no doubt that the creation of this cover was surrounded by circumstances that I am unaware of. I can tell that it was obviously inspired by the cover of Straub's book, and since Pocket Books published both books there is no real harm done, but it didn't improve upon it in any way whatsoever. It's almost the level of 'okay' fan art. A fan that missed the point. If it had been me I don't think I would have put my name on it for fear of something like what just happened happening.

One thing that she can say to me however that I absolutely cannot argue with is that she is getting paid to do one of the things that I have always wanted to do. Even if she did it badly. K'Ching!

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Afterward: Okay, no fault of Lisa. 'Veronica' is not a compelling book. I figured since I bought it I may as well read it. Yargh. It *might* get better, but I'll never find out. And in fewer pages than I gave 'Veronica' to grab my interest, 'Ghost Story' has totally managed to intrigue me. I will be reading it to the end, and possibly seeking out more of Straub's work.

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