I just spent the fourth of July weekend in Minneapolis, Minnesota, attending CONvergence, and I have to say, of the many SF conventions I've been to, this one gets things just about perfect. It's only problems stem almost exclusively from the fact that that its attendance threatens to overwhelm the wonderful facilities they've worked with so well for so long.
This was an energizing convention for me. The variety of science, skepticism, science fiction, and art programming was galvanizing, and the mood of creativity and expression was infectous. For four days, just the delight of the unexpected and brilliant hall costumes coming around the corner put a permanent stupid grin on my face. (Susan, accompanied by Death of Rats, from Terry Prachet's DiscWorld novels, was a personal favorite. And an unnervingly good Weeping Angel from Doctor Who stuttering its way down the hall raised goose bumps!) The convention attracts an unusually wide range of ages, from teen age anime and console gamers to those older folks who were introduced to SF by reading ink deposited on thin sheets of dead trees. Presenters include researchers, science educators, writers, media stars, and (of particular interest to me, visual and plastic artists).
Probably the most relevant speaker to the DA community was the Art Guest of Honor, John Picacio, the Hugo and Chesley award winning cover artist. I met John in 2004, at the Worldcon art show, and have happily watched his rise to the top of the field. The man's energy, determination, and business sense are second only to his tight, almost unbelievable abilities with pencil and brush. He continues to delight me with his virtuoso line, and innovative composition.
As useful and inspiring as his discussions of technique and problem-solving were, Picacio's take on the direction that genre art, and the changing landscape of the book cover marketplace were the subjects that galvanized me. I have been watching with increasing dismay as book covers become nonspecific to the book, based on art director's or marketing director's briefs. This trend has escalated to the point where outside artists are frequently not hired, and a Frankenstein monster is cobbled together from stock art resources by the art department themselves. These efforts run from the embarrassing (in most cases, my intro Photoshop students could do better) to the ghastly. They all deprive an artist of work, an author of a powerful sales incentive, and the audience of a book which works as a whole to tell a story. The only beneficiary are the bean-counters. The buying public pays the same, whether a Michael Whalen or a anonymous art department intern concocts the cover.
This trend is something that Picacio has campaigned against vociferously. He maintains, with the synergies of a publishing singularity, we should not be put in a position of an "either or" choice about good, experience enhancing artwork, but, rather, should expect-and demand- an "also and" experience.
While doing so, he has also, understanding all too well where these trends could lead, been thinking hard about how genre artist's can continue to make a living. Not willing to take the smaller amounts offered for cover art, and the accompanying expansive increase of reproduction rights stipulated in today's contracts, he's been looking into other ways to generate revenue, while maintaing ownership of his artwork.
His personal solution was to form his own company, Lone Boy
. To get a taste of his first project, take a look here: 4.bp.blogspot.com/-K80Er8T5zOo…
And while you're at it, have a look at John's blog, where he discusses this and many other topics:picacio.blogspot.com
So what do you think of trends in book covers? As professionals, what has your response been to the "less money for more rights" situation? As consumers, what do you think of the increasingly freakish hodge lodge of photo stock and bad photoshopping that has been cropping up? I'll be interested in hearing your voices.