Wednesday, January 23, 2008
This came up a few days ago when I looked at the cover for Vertigo's upcoming original graphic novel, Incognegro.
Now hey, this sounds actually like a very interesting book. But the cover design turned me off a bit. It wasn't that it wasn't designed nice. It was designed great. But it was too slick.
I don't see the trend in the packaging of current graphic novels (originals, now, not reprint trades) as going the way of Slick. Some of the most successful GNs from other companies have a much more original look -- sometimes rough-hewn, sometimes minimalist, sometimes pop-arty. But, the main factor in all these GN's is their originality.
Take, for instance, the cover to Persepolis:
There is nothing on that cover that screams to me a "house style" or the aesthetics of the publisher. It's just the book itself -- a original entity. It also intrigues the reader by its minimalism, the simple design elements directing the onlooker's eye to the book's main character and the "set" art style the book will be using. The cover design is an organic outgrowth of the book itself -- interior and cover working together to produce a whole.
By contrast, the cover to Incognegro itself looks like an ad. Not just an ad -- a DC house-ad. And it tells me nothing about the uniqueness of the look of the GN or its art.
Then consider the case of Sentences, another Vertigo graphic novel. I was enraptured and intrigued listening to the narrative of the novel's writer, M. F. Grimm, on NPR some months back. But, the cover for the GN once again totally turned me off. I see that they were going for an "old skool" high-school notebook/graffiti look, but again -- it's still too slick. It's "old skool" with a Slick brush, "rough edges" rounded out and prepackaged.
Compare that to First, Second's Notes For A War Story. That's truly rough edges; texture, the life and breath of that volume.
Lastly, there is the excellent Vertigo GN Pride of Baghdad. Now here's a book I recommend to people all the time. However, this cover would have really benefited from a less crowded, lush approach. In my mind's eye I see a far simpler cover with a wide shot of the lions from the book in silhouette walking across a war-torn landscape. It would have far better evoked a sense of their journey and struggle and isolation. But, most importantly -- I think it would have struck a greater emotional chord with the viewer.
I think in all these examples, what Vertigo tried to do was package & design these graphic novels as NOVELS. These designs take the works as far away from their "comic book" roots as possible. But, I think this is a bad strategy. People buy graphic novels because they want graphic novels. If they wanted novels, they'd buy novels. This goes double for the recent packaging of Jodi Picoult's run on Wonder Woman as "novel-like" in design.
To be fair to Vertigo, they do have books that far better reflect the current aesthetics in graphic novel cover design. Take, for instance, Gilbert Hernandez's Sloth. There is no mistaking this as anything other than an organically Hernandez work. It fits in well with offerings by companies like Fantagraphics & Top Shelf. Or Rick Veitch's Can't Get No, printed in a unique horizontal format.
There is also the topic of Vertigo's reprint program, which I think incorporates a very successful book design, one that benefits from more of a "Vertigo" branding and uniform "multi-volume" approach.
The bigger point is, beyond book covers: Vertigo's original graphic novel publishing program, especially in the face of competitors both in comics & traditional publishing, has started to develop a rep for being Slick. Cold, calculating in its creative aspirations. It really needs a rough edge, some juice, some excitement. Or maybe DC has that already someplace else.