Monthly Archives: January 2012

Creative Pathos

Some videos for a frantic weekend:

The band Walk Off The Earth performs a cover of “Somebody That I Used To Know” by Gotye. (If it gets stuck, click off the ads at the bottom.):

 

The short film “No Robots” by Kimberly Knoll and Yunghan Chang:

Irish artist Frank Buckley makes commentary art in an abandoned office building by building a home out of shredded Euros:

 

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Visiting Book Cover Developments

The always wonderfully droll Jim C. Hines has a fun blog post wherein he attempts to position himself as ladies on fantasy book covers, including one of his own, are drawn and finds the experience painful. We find the experience hysterical with pictures like this:

Go check out the post at:

http://www.jimchines.com/blog/

This of course brings up the issue, why do they pose the women in those odd positions? It’s actually a complicated cross-influence over many years. Comic book art was a major influence on fantasy and SF art, the comics and paperbacks and magazines all being sold together in the olden days and the comics were lovers of tortuous positions for women from the start.  The cover art out of fantasy and SF art developed its own stylistic ticks, particularly for sword battles, and a period in the 1970’s when there was a distinct, highly successful movement of art that included barely clothed females, leading to the belief that fantasy fiction was obviously filled only with sex, violence and pulp, which was a rather simplistic view of both the fiction and what was being done in the various art. Nonetheless, the cover art certainly often leaned toward tortuous positions for women characters depicted.

The current positioning of women on fantasy book covers  draws on both comics and fantasy art, but has a more complex development.  Laurell K. Hamilton’s highly successful Anita Blake series, a contemporary fantasy series that had been rapidly building up an audience in the 1990’s, underwent a change in cover design at the turn of the millennium. The design was drawn largely from thriller mystery cover styles, with added elements to indicate sensual erotica asspects of the series:

This and some other fantasy covers happened to coincide with a large expansion of titles of paranormal romance from category romance publishers, who had been developing a paranormal romance market since the 1990’s. Combining fashion photography styles, glitz novel cover treatments and again suspense styles with a bit of a 1980’s cast, the paranormal romances used mostly photographic shots of partial female or male bodies in dark, shadowy colors or silhouetted figures turned away or partially away from the camera, sometimes in embraces or drapery:

 

Jacqueline Carey’s bestselling Kushiel’s Dart series also took up this style but as paintings with a more traditional fantasy art look:

 

Very quickly, art departments developed a combo of fantasy art painting, photography and suspense styles to produce more vivid partial body and full figure looks, particularly for the contemporary fantasy novels:

 

 

When it comes to a female main character on the cover, art departments have a hard time resisting doing an altered photograph with a fantasy art/comics impossible spine placement style. Not only is it in those major art traditions, but putting a woman in a goddess position  it is also a tradition of mythological paintings and of some suspense and military  suspense works. Apparently, there is a strong belief that kick-ass women cock their hips, which unquestionably comes out of fashion photography:

 

But publishers play with things as their needs dictate. Right now, amid secondary world fantasies, there is a heavy contingent of just showing a sword or other weapon on the cover. In contemporary fantasy, figures are still popular, but a more spy suspense look is being used to deal with more spy and military stories and consequently the women are posed straighter on covers. Paranormal romances are frequently going back now to couples in embrace, either photographic or by painting.  Historical fantasies are favoring figures put into landscapes. These things will change over the next year and seldom be uniform, but the certain thing is that book covers will continue to draw in from many different traditions and continue to offer idolized portraits of women, or their body parts.

 

 

 

 

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Don’t Try This At Home — “A Test of Skill” by Cynthia Radthorne

My buddy Cynthia Radthorne is not only a talented fantasy author, but she’s been getting more and more attention as a graphics artist, doing book covers and the like. Her newest picture is getting a lot of buzz and I can see why:

 

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When Good Book Reviews Go Bad

During the holiday craziness at the end of 2011, several friends asked me what I thought of author Glen Duncan’s now notorious book review of Colson Whitehead’s zombie novel Zone One in the New York Times, in which he pairs “genre” novels with porn stars and praises Whitehead’s novel by mostly ignoring that book and using the review as a platform to claim that works like his own novel, The Last Werewolf, can’t be properly understood by fantasy fans:

www.nytimes.com/2011/10/30/books/review/zone-one-by-colson-whitehead-book-review.html

My reaction was of course: poor Colson Whitehead. Not only are Whitehead’s views not in line with Duncan’s, (his response to those wondering why he would ever write a zombie novel was “don’t be such a snob,”) but his big Times review could have easily been assigned to a writer like Lev Grossman, China Mieville, Charles Yu, David Eggers, Catherynne M. Valente or Jeff VanderMeer, who have a clue what they are talking about regarding fantasy fiction, rather than a writer who saw the review as an opportunity to audition for media gigs as a 1960’s curmudgeon.

Whitehead, however, has been frequently paired up with Duncan in media coverage for Zone One, (Duncan’s Werewolf is published by Whitehead’s publisher’s sister house, Knopf,) and it was this reason why I was asked about the book review. Back in the summer, the Wall Street Journal, whose interest in fiction is practically non-existent but whose interest in what big movie deals are percolating was attracted by Justin Cronin’s deal for his vampire apocalypse novel The Passage, did an article that incited a wide ranging discussion on SFFWorld. The article couldn’t be just about The Passage for WSJ purposes; it had to be about a proposed “business trend,” and so it was about how non-genre, “literary” writers were recently now turning to genre fiction, presented as the land of the non-literary, to make money:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702304520804576343310420118894.html

The article included Duncan, who also had a film deal, and Whitehead, and several other authors.

http://www.sffworld.com/forums/showthread.php?t=31197

In the discussion at SFFWorld, I pointed out that Lev Grossman, who was covered in the piece, was not new to this type of fiction as he’s been steeped in the community for years in his work as a critic and then as a writer, and two of the authors touted in the article, Melissa Marr and Michael Koryta, had never been anything else but genre novel writers, Marr writing her YA fantasy series and Koryta writing crime novels. Most of Duncan’s previous novels as well have been suspense and SFFH. His best known novel before The Last Werewolf, I, Lucifer, was a fantasy novel, and there has been no real indication that The Last Werewolf is somehow enormously different from how he’s written his other works, except this time he has had the resources of Knopf behind it in the U.S. The WSJ article was, as has often come up before regarding the imaginary fiction culture war, a bad social science and market research piece that included factual errors, as were Duncan’s assertions into Whitehead’s review about the thinking of fantasy fans, and the follow-up Times piece he got himself, in which he swears it was completely fine to disservice Whitehead in favor of his tirade because some Amazon customer reviews of Whitehead’s novel supposedly proved his point about the rest of us.

I said at the time of the SFFWorld discussion about that Wall Street Journal article that Whitehead had been too lukewarm in his quote in the article for my tastes, but since then in marketing Zone One he’s impressed me. I also said that I hoped Duncan’s novel did well and that this would help other authors get attention as well, even if he was propagating an outdated credo as a PR strategy. So my friends asked if I still had that wish, in light of Duncan’s engineered controversy with the Whitehead review. And the answer is that I do still wish Glen Duncan success, because success for one book helps the rest and success for a fantasy novel helps all other authors doing fantasy, not simply in sales but in media attention, wider awareness, and the kind of understanding about readers of fantasy, science fiction, horror and suspense that Duncan rejects. The Last Werewolf was a bestseller and I do not wish the series ill. For every Michael Chabon, Junot Diaz or Jonathan Lethem, who not only write like a dream but actually understand the historical context and literary power of these types of stories, there’s going to be a Glen Duncan, clinging to a fading dream of an empire that never was and being kind of a jerk about it.

Am I, though, going to read The Last Werewolf? Probably not. There are other writers whose work I value more highly and there’s only so much time in the day. But Zone One by Colson Whitehead? That is a novel I’ll likely try to read at some point. After all, Glen Duncan recommends it, even if he did so as sort of a backhanded compliment.

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Happy New Year — May You Soar This Year

To celebrate the start of the crazy new year that is 2012, here’s a partial demo of a new, original song, Summer’s Rain, by the ridiculously talented Briannah Donolo (auditory only video.) Finish this one and put it on the up-coming album, Briannah!

 

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