Hypnerdic

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A Month of Creative Madness -and- A Publisher Deserving of Attention

It is November, and that means I can say goodbye to luxuries like friends, sanity and a consistent sleep schedule.  Yes, children, it is National Novel Writing Month.  For the next thirty days, I will regurgitate fifty thousand words of the roughest, most unpublishable writing possible, in the hope that I can someday turn it into a shiny finished product.  Or just to prove I can.  Or any of the myriad reasons people do this.

For my own part, I do it because it’s the only way I can kick myself in the ass to sit down and write for more than a day or so.  Throughout the majority of the year, I have tended not to get any writing done at all.  This has only recently been changed since I put the 10k Club together in August, but it’s a long road to consistency.

Of course, having to focus most of my free time on writing terrible cliched fiction means I won’t have much time to post in the next month, so this page may be a little quiet for the next few weeks.

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Just a couple of posts ago, while deriding Darryl K. Sweet, I plugged a book called “Objects of Worship”.  I still haven’t read it, because my reading list is long and I am easily distracted by shiny objects and the internet, but I think it’s important to take a moment and focus on the book’s publisher, ChiZine Publications.

Canadian fans of genre fiction may already be familiar with the name ChiZine.  The magazine that has borne that title for years is well known for its focus on dark speculative fiction, with a preference for stories that bend the lines of genre.  In short, this magazine is fucking weird.  The stories I have read on their site have all been profoundly bizarre, and tend to leave me with a simultaneous desire to sit down and write, and to curl up in a corner and wait for the bad things in my brain to go away.

Not terribly long ago, in the grand scheme of things, the publishers of ChiZine decided to start focusing on the publication of novels and anthologies.  Their pledge is to publish one title a month, twelve per year.  For the moment, they’re being picky, inviting authors to publish with them rather than accepting submissions.  Based on their list of recent and upcoming titles, they were clearly thinking of quality when they made that decision.  their current catalogue seems filled with books that are innovative, original and, not surprisingly, really weird.

Just like their well-established magazine, ChiZine Publications wants to publish books that take established genres and give them a rough twist, leaving something that is one part imagination and one part heebie jeebies.  For my own part, I’m looking forward to getting my hands on “A Book of Tongues”.  I’ve been itching for a good weird west story, and if “A Book of Tongues” delivers like I think it will, then it will cement me as a firm follower of ChiZine’s releases.

I can’t conclude this post without talking about the covers.  A colleague of mine is quoted on ChiZine’s site praising their covers, and it is praise well deserved.  It was the cover that put “Objects of Worship” in the post that focused on “The Gathering Storm”, and in that post I sang Erik Mohr’s praises.  You can see from their catalogue that this is not an isolated case.  In a field saturated by terrible cover design, Mohr is turning out some of the most beautiful art that ever graced a book jacket.  In all areas, it seems that Brett Savory and his crew are focused on bringing quality to the surface.  I look forward to seeing where they take the field of genre fiction in the next few years.

Titles currently available from ChiZine Publications include:

The World More Full of Weeping

The Choir Boats

Objects of Worship

The Tel Aviv Dossier

Monstrous Affections

Horror Story and Other Horror Stories

Filaria

A Book of Tongues and Chimerascope are currently available in limited edition hardcover from Horror Mall.

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November 1, 2009 Posted by | Art, Books, Fiction, Ramble | , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Terrible Disease

Let’s take some time away from our ongoing examination of the lunatic fringe of literary culture to examine an affliction that has plagued genre fiction for decades.  I am referring, of course, to Terrible Cover Design.

TCD can affect all kinds of books, from classic literature to university textbooks, but statistics have shown that the demographics most profoundly impacted by this condition are Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror.  Countless works of genre fiction have suffered from symptoms that range from poorly executed medieval paintings, common to Fantasy, to terrible CGI, commonly suffered by Sci-Fi books, and the two manifestations common to all genres: failed photorealism and the ubiquitous tramp stamp in leather pants.

Today we are going to look at a recent example of all that is wrong with Fantasy cover art, provided by the latest forthcoming instalment of The Wheel of Time, “The Gathering Storm”.

Someone was paid to draw this

Someone was paid to draw this

This image, like all cover art for The Wheel of Time, was perpetrated by Darryl K. Sweet.  Remember that name.  It is the name that brings suffering to the eyes of Fantasy fans.  He works exclusively for Tor, which tells me that either the decision makers at Tor know absolutely nothing about art, or that they simply do not give a fuck.  I’m leaning toward the latter, because it’s Tor.  They’re pretty much the biggest name in Fantasy publishing, and they know these books would sell if they put Brian Peppers on the cover in a metal bikini.

But we’re not here to examine the motivations of cynical publishing executives.  We’re here to examine the many ways in which this latest example of Mr. Sweet’s work is godawful.  But first, a disclaimer.  I have never read the Wheel of Time books, in large part because I was put off by the terrible covers.  As such, I will have to limit commentary on things like character design, as I am unfamiliar with the characters and the setting.

The very first things that jump out at me are the layout and colour scheme.  The old artistic cliche of putting the title at the top of a generic medieval painting is deeply aggravating to me.  From that image, I learn nothing about the book except that it probably contains a man and a woman, and that the man might only have one hand.  Beyond that, the cover says “completely unremarkable medieval Fantasy.  Move along.”  The colours only make it worse.  According to Sweet, no one in Robert Jordan’s Fantasy Universe knows how to colour coordinate their renn faire costumes.  On the dashing, constipated gentleman, we see bright red, blue, brown, white and purple.  Seriously, pick three and stick with them.  And primaries pretty much never match.  Anyone working in a visual medium ought to know that.  Combining such terrible colours with the generic medieval painting cover layout leaves me with the strong impression that this picture was painted in 1974, rather than 2009.

The next most grievous flaw I can pick out is the people.  The gentleman standing front and centre, apparently offering to fist the sky, is presumably the protagonist of the story, or at least one of them.  That being the case, these books might actually be interesting, if only because I’ve never read a fantasy novel centred around a hideously deformed hero.  The arms are the first problem I notice.  I’ve been told that he’s supposed to be missing a hand, so I’ll ignore that.  What I cannot ignore is the fact that his forearms apparently stopped developing when he was fourteen years old.  His head, meanwhile, kept growing independently of his body until he was twenty-five.  According to his facial expression, he is either trying to pass a kidney stone, or wearing a vibrating codpiece.  I can’t tell.

As for his lady companion, I can’t help wondering how she hasn’t exploded out of that blouse yet.  Frankly, it looks like someone tried to rip it open, but lacked the strength to overcome her girdle.  Judging by her messy, straw-like hair and the possibly-eager expression on what I assume was intended to be her face, I can conclude that she was interrupted in the early stages of a vigorous sexual romp.

Actually, everything I’ve listed up to now makes a strange sort of sense if you put it all together.  Maybe this cover isn’t the atrocity it appears to be.  Maybe it’s a candid tableau, taken from the scene of a moving personal drama.  Two medieval detectives, investigating a mysterious Victorian house with a hole in it, are overwhelmed by their desire for one another.  Their passionate encounter is interrupted by the young man’s frustration as he realises his underdeveloped arms are unable to rip open her blouse in proper manly fashion.  He raises a fist to the heavens, but chronic degeneration of his facial muscles makes it impossible for him to truly show his anger and misery.  If only we could hear their conversation in this moment.

“It’s okay, I can just untie it!  Your childlike forearms are very sexy.  Really!”

“Why, God?!  Why can’t I have the arms of a grown man?!  Or make proper facial expressions?!”

Being totally honest here, that’s a book I would read.

It is possible that some of these qualms are settled by the content of the book.  There could be a perfectly good reason for a medieval setting to contain a house that looks like it was built in the 1800s.  I can only assume there’s a reason for said house to have a gaping black hole in place of a front door, even though the windows clearly demonstrate that there are lights on inside.  Perhaps the hole is a portal to a dimension of pure darkness.  Or maybe they hung a black curtain over it to keep the bugs out until the repair guy shows up.  So maybe a few of my complaints are less valid than I purport.

That possibility does not excuse the basic issues of layout, colour and elementary human anatomy.  Any professional artist should be well educated in those areas.  Hell, I know professional artists and graphic designers who get queasy at the sight of Darryl K. Sweet covers.  People who could outdraw him with broken fingers, but don’t make a quarter of what Sweet probably takes home for one of these covers.  Why is a guy who would fail a high school art class responsible for the covers of one of the biggest Fantasy series’ of the last twenty years?  It’s disheartening, to say the least.

To make me feel better, I will close with an example of cover art that doesn’t suck.

Objects of Worship, by Claude Lalumiere.  ChiZine Publications.  Image by Erik Mohr

Objects of Worship, by Claude Lalumiere. ChiZine Publications. Image by Erik Mohr

Solid grasp of both human and animal anatomy, inspired combination of negative space and minimal colour, contrasted against a strong splash of red positioned to draw the eye to the title.  A simultaneous balance of beautiful symmetry and deep-level creepiness that is as attractive as it is repellant.  This, my friends, is a cover.

October 22, 2009 Posted by | Art, Books, Rant | , , , , , , | 8 Comments