Monday, March 22, 2010

About Face

Within just minutes after being born, they say, babies can already recognize--and prefer to look at--the human face over any other image or pattern. It's burned into our psyches, I think. There's a phenomenon where even grown-up people think they see human faces in things like grilled cheese sandwiches or turtle bellies, or in the scorch marks on the surface of an electric iron. (Incidentally, if such an image is thought to be of a religious figure, this perception is known as a simulacrum. The more you know . . .) I, myself, once saw the image of [insert Name of Religious Figure here] under a viaduct near my house:
That's the viaduct. Now here's a close-up of the simulacrum:

Ha, ha, ha, ha, haaaaaa. I jest. But there's no question that we humans have an ability to group any set of random visual elements that vaguely resemble two eyes and a mouth together and perceive the grouping as a human face, a gestalt, if you like. So perhaps that's why full-frontal, face compositions crop up on book jackets from time to time. They quickly catch our eye. Here are a few I spotted recently:

Beyond the Mask
by David Ward (Scholastic Canada, 2006), a YA fantasy. It takes less than a second to see the "face."

This one jumped out at me the other day. It's Betwixt by Tara Bray Smith (Little, Brown, 2007), a fantasy YA. An irresistible image with an attention-grabbing chartreuse cover.

And third, have you seen this next one yet?

This is Happyface, by Stephen Emond (Little, Brown, 2010) a novel told (mostly) in illustrations and journal entries. Impossible not to notice this if it's facing out on the shelf. I don't have it here in front of me, but if I remember correctly, the jacket covers only the bottom 2/3 of the book, which is off topic, but kinda cool.

What about you? Seen any fresh faces lately?


  1. Love your Underpass Simulacra, Carol. That's a keeper. A couple of cool books about all this (the way we see faces where there are no faces) are The Face by Daniel McNeill and parts of The Object Stares Back: On the Nature of Seeing by James Elkins. I wrote a poem once about a Madonna-in-a-Grease-Stain news story.

    The most arresting face I've seen on a cover in the last few months is the one on BEFORE I FALL by Lauren Oliver. When I saw it, I thought, "This girl looks dead." Lo and behold, it's about a girl who has died. So what was it about the face - eyes open, lovely color, pretty and fresh - that made her look dead? No idea if it's a good book, but when I go to the bookstore, I keep looking at that cover and getting the creeps.

  2. P.S. A new book written by William T. Vollmann (Europe Central) is about to come out from ECCO Books - titled Kissing the Mask. Not a kids book, but a cool "face" cover.

    Link to the jpeg is

  3. Great post. The woman looks like Lauren Bacall or Ingrid Bergman, and the sax player looks like a friend of mine. The interplay of positive space and negative space makes the mind tilt its head.

  4. Heh, heh. I didn't think anyone could look like that sax player in real life. Thanks, Richard!

  5. Thanks for visiting and commenting, Richard. I love your blog, by the way (MY INNER ZOO) - here's a link, readers: