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:

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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Filed under book publishing, SFFH

One response to “Visiting Book Cover Developments

  1. Pingback: “Ask A Goblin” Goes Live | The Open Window

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