Saturday, December 18, 2010

Face Off

Ever since 2007, those of us at The Rap Sheet have closed out each year with a look back at some of what we considered to be the finest crime novel covers of the previous twelvemonth. It’s our small way of acknowledging the often-unheralded graphic designers who, though they don’t write the books we read, nonetheless play a vital role in encouraging us to pick up those works in the first place. Frankly, most of the crime-fiction jackets we see in stores nowadays are quite pedestrian and dull, either employing identical varieties of imagery (especially shadowy running figures and vague but ominous nightscapes) or, even worse, duplicating stock photography we have already spotted on other book fronts. It is the least we can do to applaud concepts that go beyond the typical, that draw our eyes through distinctive means.

Our annual judging panel comprises four people with at least some background in design: novelist Linda L. Richards, who’s also the editor of January Magazine; graphic artist, illustrator, and photographer David Middleton, who serves as the art and culture editor of January; Kevin Burton Smith, the editor and creator of The Thrilling Detective Web Site; and yours truly, J. Kingston Pierce, editor of The Rap Sheet. Over the last few months, we’ve all pitched in our nominations for “great covers.” Linda’s assessment of the panelists’ nominations strikes me as correct: “Kevin’s choices all seem starkly graphic, Jeff seems pulled by great images, I am moved by really terrific typography, and I know from David’s comments that he’s big on how all the pieces fit together. (Um ... not surprising, considering he’s a working designer!)”

From a longlist of more than two dozen outstanding examples, published on both sides of the Atlantic, the four of us voted for our favorites, narrowing the list down further to just 10 jackets, each of which offers intriguing atmosphere, interesting and appropriate typography, and creativity that exceeds the norm. Now we’re asking Rap Sheet readers to help us pick the best crime novel cover of 2010.

After you’ve looked closely over the nominees featured below (arranged in alphabetical order by title), scroll down to the end of this post, where you will find a box in which to vote for what you think are the best choices among this final bunch. Feel free to choose as many jackets as you think deserve praise. We will leave this cover contest open for the next week and a half, until midnight on Wednesday, January 5. After which we’ll announce the results.

By the way, if you think we’ve neglected to mention some particularly handsome specimen of crime-fiction front published during 2010, please let us know about it in the Comments section of this post. With your alternative suggestion, try to include a Web address where we can all go to study your nominee ourselves.

Click on any of these covers for an enlargement.


Andi Shechter said...

You guys chose wonderful examples! thanks. I had not seen many of these (reviewers of course often don't see the final but the ARC which does not always have cover art.) And I admit it, you sent me in search of a book i did not know, but which got my attention from the cover. And alas, is not in my public library.
The subtlety in some of these "you gotta LOOK" designs is splendid.

RJR said...

Wow, I don't understand why mos tof these covers are even on the list. I must have NO taste.


YM Klein said...

The cover for VILLAIN raises an interesting question regarding "best" covers. While it is graphically very strong and ingenious, it has little to do with the book it adorns. I suppose it is a noir novel and that's a noir cover, but that's about it. So are "best" covers simply the graphically most striking or should they be revealing of the book inside as well?

Gar Haywood said...

Andi's right, you guys came up with some fantastic choices. Not a dud in the bunch, with the possible exception of the DEADLY DUES cover, which may be just a little too simplistic.

Clara Stephens said...

I thought Rut was too simplistic and City of Dragons was way too busy. Those two seem to be the odd two out. Just not as good as the rest.

Anonymous said...

Some great ones there but you guys obviously missed THE BLUE VIRGIN. That cover said it all--women in the story, set in Oxford, mysterious, and with a blue color wash all at once!

Kevin Burton Smith said...

Interestingly, Clara, both Rut and City of Dragons got thumbs up from me for exactly the reasons you objected to them.

One thing to consider: these are BOOK covers, meant to attract attention on a shelf in a bookstore, not a 72 dpi scan maybe 200 pixels wide on a computer screen.

The impact of some of these covers in the real world is not to be sdismissed. Trust me -- I work in a bookstore, and most of these covers fairly leap off the shelf.

Anyway, there is no 100% rule for cover design (or any art form, for that matter) -- what works works, and personal taste is often, well, personal. But certain things seemed to find a consensus among the judges this year: cleverness, wit, freshness and a certain boldness in approach.

It wasn't so much that we rejected nostalgia (far from it, in fact), but in most cases we chose those covers that offered more than just a simple retread of previous era's design tropes. A certain modern "spin" if you will was evident in many of our choices.

Of course, you can't please everyone. Some folks would be very happy if we had just limited our choices to lame, poorly designed retro pastiche covers featuring men wearing fedoras. And other people are probably disappointed we didn't choose more covers with cats on them.

(One twinkie a few years ago objected to a cover on my web site that featured a man smoking a cigarette -- it was okay he was shooting someone, but the blatant use of tobacco offended her)

I'm actually hoping Jeff will post some of the comments from the other judges and readers. It might be fun. Besides, of course, the always entertaining foot-in-mouth spectacle of me trying to pin down something as nebulous as why some designs work and others don't.

Jack Getze said...

I love the CITY OF DRAGONS cover exactly because there's so much to look at. Everywhere I gaze, my mind starts making up another tale of Chinatown. I wonder about the girl in the red dress, those old cars, the intricate design of the green box border.

Todd Ritter said...

While all of them are pretty awesome, and I especially love the cover for Rag and Bone, I have to go with The Detroit Electric Scheme. As an author, that cover makes me jealous. (Well, all of them do, but that one makes me the most jealous.)