Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Fallen Angels

Two of Bernini's Angels on the Ponte Sant'Angelo in Rome
(sometimes, the artist earns the drama....)

After several days of being lo-tech (actually, no-tech) in Portland, Oregon, I've now found a free wi-fi connection and will type and post this from the lovely World Cup Coffee and Tea House in Powell's Books. I feel sure you can pick up the Powells vibe as you read - this bookstore is one of the country's best, and I'm in Heaven. There are used books on the shelf along with new, and the knowledgeable used book buyers have a store-specific database for making good Buy/Sell decisions, so the selection in each section is strong. Oh, I love this place and wish it were in my own backyard in Seattle. Plus it's an independent bookstore, so no qualms about shopping local here and supporting the Indies (as in not shopping at that online place which will remain nameless, though if you were to guess that you could find its name in a book of Greek mythology, you would be right. As in large Greek super-women.)

Speaking of being in Heaven, today I want to show you two well-designed jackets (and one horrible one, tossed in for fun) about earthbound angels. You can muse and reflect on how different they are. I haven't read either one, so this preview is strictly about the visual appeal of each. I like them both - despite how different they are.

One is the jacket for the soon-to-be-released (October 13th) young adult book, HUSH, HUSH by Becca Fitzgerald.

I hope to have an interview up soon with the book's designer at Simon and Schuster, Lucy Cummins. Spectacular job - James Porto did the actual photography for it (Clue: It involved a trampoline.) I would have loved to be at that photo shoot! The angel, mid-flight, is seemingly penetrated by a shaft of light from above, his back arched with pain, his wings disintegrating in mid-air. Wow - this one stopped me in my tracks. This does what cover art should do - demand that you pick up the book, look more closely at the photograph, touch it, read the jacket copy, read the publisher's description, read the first paragraph. The art work is mysterious (what exactly has just happened?) and unique (how did they ever get that photo?) The overall effect duplicates an underwater shot, though it is aerial. And the farther the feathers drift from the angel's body, the more blood-red they get - the opposite of what you might expect. So there is a subtext to figure out. The YouTube trailer for the book is here - I think it leans a bit heavily on melodrama, but there's no faulting the cover for the real drama of that photo. Sometimes, drama is earned, as is the case with Mr. Porto's photograph. When an angel is struck down by God-As-Light, is that a moment for subtlety? Clarity, yes, and we see the photo clearly.

The second jacket I recommend to you offers a 180-degree turn the other direction - toward sweet whimsy. It's the cover of Sharon Creech's latest book, UNFINISHED ANGEL, which was released just a few weeks ago by HarperCollins.

The story is for 9-to-12-year-olds, and the simplicity of the cover is what appeals to me. I like the graceful, even font of the author's name and the understated line of text below it ("Winner of the Newbery Medal for Walk Two Moons.") You could draw that dove over and over and never quite get the same quizzical look on her little face (and how do you get a look on a beak????) The rainbow quality of the line suggests hope of a certain kind, as well as just the slightest hint of Heaven (the equivalent of Hush Hush's shaft of light from above?) It's just the smallest extra touch - again, a subtext - but it's perfect.

Two books about what I assume are very different angels!
If you want to see a great little YouTube video put together by Sharon Creech (I love the way she tries to calculate in her head how long it took her to write the book!) you can see it

Compare either of these wonderful jackets to the almost goofy cover of Fallen: Aerie by Thomas E. Sniegoski, with its unexplainable mix of fonts and its visual hyperbole.

( I mean, there's drama and then there's DRAMA!! Give me the lower-case option, any day. Unless we're talking Shakespeare - who would never let a dog upstage him. )


  1. Just discovered this blog. Love it!

  2. Thanks, Sharon C. Your work takes up a large portion of my Master's thesis, so I think that means I'm a fan.

    What I love about the Hush, Hush cover is that it's not the cropped photo of a torso or other body part that publishers seem to think are the only images teens will like lately. It's far more sophisticated, as is the Unfinished Angel cover art for middle graders.

    The problems for me with The Fallen: Aerie include the fact that it's cluttered, the typeface for the author's name doesn't fit the style, and the title is nearly unreadable, lost in the emanating rays. The subtitle ought to be dropped another half an inch or so. And a few other things, but I'll stop there.

  3. Sharon - Wonderful to see you here! I just love the cover of Unfinished Angel, as you can tell.

    Carol - What bothers me about The Fallen: Aerie is this: Everything. It's muddy, muddled, a mess. Placement of the subtitle is so strange & off-kilter, and the gothic font makes the whole thing look like a Nazi recruitment poster. Plus the angel looks like Heathcliff, just in from the moors - not exactly in line with aforementioned Nazi poster. Plus the dog - the dog? Was he really necessary? I think this is a case of a marketing department pushing an artist too far - and not understanding that less is often more.

  4. And from a distance, that creature that sits above "Heathcliff's" head can turn into the nose and mouth of some otherworldly being--its eyes become the nostrils and its collar becomes the lips. Intentional? Just weird? All in all, the cover is amateurish. I feel for the author.

  5. Hi, Carol! So glad you love the cover of Hush, Hush. I screamed the first time I saw it ;)

  6. Becca! It was Julie who blogged HUSH, HUSH first, just for the record. I saw it for the first time just last week, on the shelf here in Ottawa (the one in Canada). Not only is it a stunning image, but it grabs you from way across the room.