This week I talked about What is Visual Rhetoric, Typography, and Color Theory.
So taking everything as a whole, let’s see what’s going on with some of these covers, shall we?
Keep in mind: These are not critiques. These are analyses of what I think is going on in these covers. My opinion is but one. You might feel and see something else entirely. Visual rhetoric is one part science and two parts opinion.
The Future of Us by Jay Asher and Carolyn Mackler
There are two main visual objects going on here. 1) The girl and boy and truck in the background 2) the fuzzy overlay that looks like an out of reception tv screen but is actually binary (like The Matrix). Both of these visual objects are very important to this design.
The overlay makes seeing the two characters difficult. They are out of focus, no discernable features. The way they are standing – alarmed, clutching each other – and looking off page at something we can’t see, sets the scene for tension. We don’t even have to have read the summary to know that.
The code overlay reminds us of The Matrix, and what we know of The Matrix is that the characters are living inside a computer program and everything looks perfectly normal but when they leave the program everything is scary and weird and dark. This cover is very dark and so I wonder if we will get a similar set up – one piece of the kids’ lives are fake and bright while the reality is dark and ominous.
Let’s move on to the text. This is a normal weighted, sans-serif font. We are meant to focus in on the word “future” for two reasons. It is 1) at the very center of the cover and 2) the “f” extends both above and below the rest of the word and was left lower case on purpose. You can tell this is on purpose because of the “F” in the word “OF” is upper case (as are all the rest of the letters.)
Since “future” is so important for us to notice, combined with the programming code, without having read the summary we can expect technology is about to really mess up their future. Because the two characters are clutching each other the way they are, we can also assume that the title also references their relationship.
The authors are left at the bottom in much smaller point of the same font used for the title. The “&” is colored to match the boy’s shirt – a burnt copper color which is, not by accident, the only real color in the whole picture. The references to the author’s other publications are even smaller and set at the same stair-step angle as the title. This information is not important, but it does add weight and balance to the bottom half of the cover, and I think that anchors the other visual objects that are harder to pin down.
(For the record, I actually really love this cover. I can’t even tell you why.)
Summary: It’s 1996, and less than half of all American high school students have ever used the Internet. Emma just got her first computer and an America Online CD-ROM. Josh is her best friend. They power up and log on–and discover themselves on Facebook, fifteen years in the future. Everybody wonders what their Destiny will be. Josh and Emma are about to find out.
Hourglass by Myra McEntire
When I first saw this cover it actually took me several glances to really understand what was going on. And then *mind blown.*
Ok, so, the main visual object here (the girl) does not appear in the upper left. Instead, the cover blurb by Beth Revis was deemed more important. As anyone who has picked up enough books can attest, that’s not uncommon. But it is small type, and stays out of the way of the main visual object.
The visual object on this cover MAKES this cover. Check the girl out: She’s walking DOWN the wall. The shape of her body (the extended back leg) and the extended hair and dress, fill the page pretty completely. Check out the back toe too – it is bent at a weird angle that suggests she’s dragging it and unaware that it looks broken. It is both creepy and graceful.
Check the purple wallpaper – purple is very big right now on supernatural covers – combined with the tapestry print of the wallpaper and a girl walking down a wall, I immediately think Traditional Gothic Ghosts. Freaky, creepy, skin crawling GHOSTS. The girl reminds me of the Exorcist girl. This cover gives me the creepy-crawlies, and I really love that. I think traditional Gothic flavor is trickling into a lot of book covers these days. Check out The House of Dead Maids and Anna Dressed in Blood for other recent examples.
I am not sure what font is being used for the title – but what we know of it is that it is an italic typeface with some pretty intense swashes. (Swashes are like super flourished serifs.) This font is interesting too – most swashes swash left, but the “h” swashes right. Look at the position of the tip of the swash on the H and G – they line up. I think this is interesting but it is a little confusing – I personally think this font would be better used on the cover of a historical romance. I feel like there is a little tug-of-war contradiction between the font style (romantic, elegant) and the main visual object (creepy, gothic, horror-ish).
This is Myra’s first book, so her name is pretty unimportant to the design. Also check out arrangement of the three typographical elements: the blurb at the top, the title, her name all form the shape of an upside down triangle – much like the top half of an hourglass!
Summary: For seventeen-year-old Emerson Cole, life is about seeing what isn’t there: swooning Southern Belles; soldiers long forgotten; a haunting jazz trio that vanishes in an instant. Plagued by phantoms since her parents’ death, she just wants the apparitions to stop so she can be normal. She’s tried everything, but the visions keep coming back.So when her well-meaning brother brings in a consultant from a secretive organization called the Hourglass, Emerson’s willing to try one last cure. But meeting Michael Weaver may not only change her future, it may change her past.
Who is this dark, mysterious, sympathetic guy, barely older than Emerson herself, who seems to believe every crazy word she says? Why does an electric charge seem to run through the room whenever he’s around? And why is he so insistent that he needs her help to prevent a death that never should have happened?
Stalker Girl by Rosemary Graham
So first, the main visual object is the camera which fills the entire surface of the cover. The secondary visual object is the couple at the center. It is a loving embrace and they are looking off into a desaturated distance (which makes them the most important objects in the shot.)
The thing I like about this cover is the incorporation of the title and author name into the design. It isn’t just slapped down somewhere- it has purpose. Bent around the iris of the camera, it looks like a camera brand name. I even like that the author’s name is in red – my non-digital camera has information about the camera in the same spot in red. I love this detail.
The title “STALKER girl” brings attention to the word “stalker” in all uppercase. At first I didn’t like the blue italicized font used for the word “girl” until I started really thinking about it. When you think of a stalker, you think of an old creepy guy who lives in his parent’s basement and takes pictures of pretty girls and follows them around and scares them in dark parking lots. You NEVER think of a girly girl (as hinted by the baby blue text color and italics) as being a stalker. So with the emphasis on “girl” we can assume that there is a girl stalking a boy and his girlfriend, taking pictures of them from behind. Very unique. Very creepy.
The only thing that bothers me is that you can’t see anything looking down the iris of a camera, and that ruins the effect for me. I get the imagery they were going for, but the camera is pointed at us and yet is showing a view of someone else. I think it would have been more powerful, maybe, if we were looking through the camera as if we, the audience, were participating in the stalking (CREEPY). Artistically it is fine, I suppose, but I can’t help but feel like something is off because of it.
Summary: When Carly’s mother ends her relationship with her boyfriend, Carly is given two options for the summer: either go live temporarily with her father and stepmother in Ohio, or take a job at Stony Hollow, an exclusive sleepaway camp at which her mother is the Interim Director. Opting to take the camp position, Carly finds that she desperately misses city life and is unnerved by ordinary sounds in the woods, but soon falls in love with Brian, her fellow kitchen worker and a talented musician. Summer camp comes to an end all too quickly, and Carly finds herself back at her expensive Manhattan all-girls prep school, while Brian rents an apartment in Brooklyn. Greater exposure and praise of his band lead to an increase in female fans, heightening Carly’s insecurity and resulting in an irrevocable split in the relationship. When Taylor, Brian’s new girlfriend, arrives on the scene, Carly’s obsession and stalker tendencies go beyond the pale, leading to unintended and fateful consequences.
The DUFF by Kody Keplinger
I have never been crazy about this cover, even though I loved loved loved the book. (Sorry Kody. But the book really is wonderful. I have purchased 2 other copies over the last year for friends.)
The main visual object should be the girl’s face – it takes up the entire book cover. But unfortunately, the title treatment becomes the main visual object, and a garish one at that. It is the first thing we see, helped by the color and the heaviness of the sans-serif font (it looks like Arial Black.)
The title of the book is The DUFF, which stands for designated ugly fat friend. It’s an ugly term, and the main character is described as being one. Naturally, you’d want the title to mimic the look of the girl – you make it garish and heavy. The letters are fat, they kind of hurt your eyes, you don’t want anything to do with them. Making the letters stair step like that paints them across the girl’s face, masking whatever might be beneath. Like the girl in the story, the girl on the cover’s identity is tied to the giant DUFF on her face.
I like balance in design, but see where the D is brought to the left edge of the cover using the word “The” to anchor it, but the second “F” doesn’t meet the right side of the cover at all? The lack of balance really bugs me here.
The red words inside the yellow letters tell us what the DUFF stands for. I think it looks kind of awkward, but I like how it slows you down to read each word, like each word has a period after it. You are the Designated. Ugly. Fat. Friend.
This is the author’s debut novel so her name is tiny at the bottom, in the same yellow, but another color is introduced “a novel by” is in pink. I honestly don’t know why you’d want to emphasize that.
Here is what I do like: I like the face of the girl. I love the color of her bubble gum and how it matches the color on her eyelid. She’s got somewhat round cheeks, a weird shaped nose, and lots of freckles. I don’t think she’s much of a DUFF, but anyone who has read the book can attest, that’s kind of the point. I also like that she’s got some attitude there with her bubble and her straight on stare.
As far as color goes, I think there is way too much going on here. I have no idea what to focus on and great designs have to have an anchor, a focus point so you can figure out how to “read” the visual rhetoric.
Summary: Seventeen-year-old Bianca Piper is cynical and loyal, and she doesn’t think she’s the prettiest of her friends by a long shot. She’s also way too smart to fall for the charms of man-slut and slimy school hottie Wesley Rush. In fact, Bianca hates him. And when he nicknames her “the Duff,” she throws her Coke in his face.
But things aren’t so great at home right now, and Bianca is desperate for a distraction. She ends up kissing Wesley. Worse, she likes it. Eager for escape, Bianca throws herself into a closeted enemies-with-benefits relationship with him.
Until it all goes horribly awry. It turns out Wesley isn’t such a bad listener, and his life is pretty screwed up, too. Suddenly Bianca realizes with absolute horror that she’s falling for the guy she thought she hated more than anyone.
Small Town Sinners by Melissa Walker
This is a great example of the use of symbolism to say more than what is obvious on the cover. Unlike most of the other covers we’ve looked at, the blurb and author name are at the top while the main visual object and title is at the bottom. This can often look weird, but here it works really well. Let’s take a look at why.
I actually want to start with color because color plays a big part in why this cover works so well. First, the top half of the cover is washed out and out of focus. There are two colors here – white and green. The lower section of the cover is in sharp focus, with black, gray, and white being the predominant colors while that bright apple red sticks out as your main visual object and compliments the flavor of green at the top. Beautiful choices. The white, gray, and black used in the middle section of the cover (her shirt, the title, the ground) are supposed to act as monochromatic background so that the two pieces of color really pop.
Let’s start with the apple. Ah the apple. The symbol of women’s downfall from grace. The symbol of innocence and innocence broken, of all American apple pies and the color of love. Here the apple has been bitten into – the forbidden fruit tasted, and the shape of a heart emphasizes that. It also emphasizes the corruption of love and innocence by being bitten out of the forbidden fruit. Forbidden fruit – the apple – has also been used to symbolize virginity. I’m guessing that’s what’s happening here too. Holy religious symbolism, Batman!
The girl is in white – another color of innocence. The way she is laying on the ground (never a place for a young lady to end up) with her face covered by her hand, we can only assume something shameful has happened here. This underage girl has probably lost her innocence, though whether it was her choice or it was forced is hard to tell. I’m going to assume the heart signifies trust or love. Possibly ill-fated. Possibly wrongly given and betrayed. I don’t think it matters that we figure out what exactly happened. The enticement is in reading and finding out if our suspicions are correct.
Something else that is interesting here is that there are two different fonts at work on this title. That does not usually go over well and often looks unprofessional, but here, again, it works. Here’s a tip: when pairing two fonts together, one should be serif while the other sans-serif. From the same family, two fonts can look terrible together.
“Small Town” is an italicized font (no swashes) and looks like handwriting. It’s got a down home look – the handwriting that should be on the label of homemade jam and jelly. “Sinners” however, is in a serif font, but a special one. Check out the serifs – they don’t appear on every corner like most serif alphabets, and the few spots they do appear look more like devil horns and hooves. Check out the “Ns” in particular – you rarely see half serifs like that pointing left, they usually point right (like swashes.) Check out the “I” too – it looks like a formal column, like in a church maybe? And also like a knife. There’s a lot of religious symbolism here. I feel for the girl on the cover.
Summary: Lacey Anne Byer is a perennial good girl and lifelong member of the House of Enlightenment, the Evangelical church in her small town. With her driver’s license in hand and the chance to try out for a lead role in Hell House, her church’s annual haunted house of sin, Lacey’s junior year is looking promising. But when a cute new stranger comes to town, something begins to stir inside her. Ty Davis doesn’t know the sweet, shy Lacey Anne Byer everyone else does. With Ty, Lacey could reinvent herself. As her feelings for Ty make Lacey test her boundaries, events surrounding Hell House make her question her religion.Melissa Walker has crafted the perfect balance of engrossing, thought-provoking topics and relatable, likable characters. Set against the backdrop of extreme religion, Small Town Sinners is foremost a universal story of first love and finding yourself, and it will stay with readers long after the last page.
Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier
The reason I brought this cover up is because it bamboozled me. When I purchased it (I’ve read only the first few chapters so far) I thought I was getting a book very different from the one I got. I did not read the back, which is my fault. Fortunately, the book is quite good so far!
Anyway, let’s look at this cover as if I didn’t already know what it was about – how I saw it originally.
The color, of course, is the most important part of this cover. The primary visual object is the girl’s picture at the top, but you could make an argument that it is actually the satin red background that steals the show, particularly because the title references it directly. It’s a gorgeous color, the same color as crushed velvet theater curtains, jewels, and blood. It’s the color of passion and of love.
The picture at the top is locket-like, something old fashioned. The girl’s hair and clothing also make me think this is an 1880s girl. The silver flourishes play a big part in this design, and because they extend from the four corners, it makes me think the cover is trying to look like a book. I know I know, a book trying to look like a book. How avant-garde.
The matching silver is used in the title, which is a serif font, but also a special serif font. Serif fonts do not tend to be very flourishy, or very ornamental, but this one has a beautiful swooping R and Y. The curves of the B and the D aren’t hard and measured, but feel more fluid an curved. The other text fills the space well and disappears in the space.
And the time piece at the bottom? Unfortunately it disappears in the flourishes. I never even noticed it until I sat down to do this analysis. And remember, I own this book. Having noticed it now, it still makes me think Victorian.
So when I first saw this cover and chose to buy it, here’s what I thought it was about: I thought it was a re-imagined English-born fairy tale, maybe Snow White because of the title and the color of the cover. Passion and love are pretty part and parcel to Snow White’s tale.
It is actually about a girl with the supernatural ability to time travel. She meets a boy with the same gift and they travel through time to both the 18th century London, and modern London (where she’s from.) There’s something fishy going on with her birth and that she’s not supposed to have this ability. I was way off base!
Summary: Gwyneth Shepherd’s sophisticated, beautiful cousin Charlotte has been prepared her entire life for traveling through time. But unexpectedly, it is Gwyneth, who in the middle of class takes a sudden spin to a different era!
Gwyneth must now unearth the mystery of why her mother would lie about her birth date to ward off suspicion about her ability, brush up on her history, and work with Gideon–the time traveler from a similarly gifted family that passes the gene through its male line, and whose presence becomes, in time, less insufferable and more essential. Together, Gwyneth and Gideon journey through time to discover who, in the 18th century and in contemporary London, they can trust.
Even now, knowing what it is about, I still don’t see the time traveling bit. It still screams “FAIRY TALE” to me. Maybe it will be a bit of a fairy tale in the end, but I think this is a good example of a beautiful book cover that does not accurately portray the story inside.
What do you guys think?