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Submitted on
July 10, 2013


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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:… And while you're at it, have a look at John's blog, where he discusses this and many other

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.
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I was born and raised in Minnesota. It warms my heart to know such a great convention exists in my home state. I hope that one day I can attend. As for the cover art, well I have artists in my family, and have always had a deep appreciation for work that was crafted with some thought, rather than slapped together stock photos. Not a big fan of collages. The exception to that being a recent piece I saw where the artist famous for making different worldscapes combined several of his previous images into a line of portals, surrounded by a new work establishing where the portals were hung. However, having struggled with finding artists to work on various projects over the last couple of years, I can imagine it's more than just the bean counters wanting to take the shortcut. Sometimes it is hard to find an artist willing to work on a project they didn't choose. I can sympathize, since I certainly would rather be working on my own projects as well! But I am not an artist. The worlds I create, I create with words, or code. I can take ship statistics and economics and create complicated, realistic simulations, but I can't create a great logo for it, or make it look beautiful. So if I ever publish a novel, I want my cover to be like a Boris original. I want it to be striking, unique, relevant to the story, and made for my book. My cousin just had his first book published, and I am sad to say his cover is a true collage. Nice looking, sure, but not an original stroke anywhere.
I have always preferred artwork to photographs on novels. I have always loved the art of Boris in particular.
Nice writeup Drell, seems timely. I was just mentioning in an Arcas journal about the decline of skilled artist cover art in favor of rushed photoshop work and how many young illustrators are just gunning for concept art in games/movies instead because that once thriving field is dying/dead. Wish I could've heard his suggestions to keep good art alive for books. Simply forming a private enterprise/guild may not have any affect on the economic realities of a flagging business model.

The same dilemma seems to be happening to CGI studios working for big Hollywood productions, struggling just to survive in the face of bankruptcy and marginalization, a craft that takes infinite patience and talent (of which I yet to acquire!). I think the real deal is that lack of business knowledge on the artists seeking commercial success and their opposition, the greedy publishers/film studios. The battle is quite lop-sided, the big film corps have got a hard-nosed litigation infastructure. Artists need to look at their work as a labor of service, not love, emotion, time when it comes to dealing with their "clients" in regards commercial deals like this. The singular minded business-people who buy their work look at it as simply that, eye candy to sell a product. That's not to say marketing yourself isn't artist key, it entitles one to certain level that mere technician/plebe can't have, the level of being informed and connected to a culture a pure businessperson can't hope to access. That's why they'll pay grab that demographic the average schlep can't with half-ass work.

My honest answer to lame book cover art is less people are buying cover art compared to the champion days of the 70's with Chris Foss & others and getting e-books without any art instead. But with more e-book readers someday becoming full color and other forms of entertainment seeing a giant economic shaft in regards to the artists, I must say...artists in the U.S. may have to take a giant lesson from the ole' Hoffa days of collective bargaining and form tough-as-nails collectives within their skill-set to stick it to these greedy bastards who make hundreds of millions while the artists go unemployed.

Power leads to more power, no matter what your racket. Jimmy Hoffa
Gah, so lame not having an edit feature, I meant "marketing yourself as an artist isn't key".
"Is key" never comment when you can't sleep! *credibility eroded* Wink/Razz
IvanTehCru5h0r Jul 10, 2013  Hobbyist General Artist
CON is always fun
If you return hunt me down.
Arcas-Art Jul 10, 2013  Professional General Artist
In regards to book covers, I have a new pet peeve pertaining to e-books. When you see a piece of cover art being used to sell the book on a site, that should mean said art is part of the package you're buying. Often it's not and the only "cover" you have is a publisher logo adjacent to the book title. A case in point is my recent Kindle purchase of "Fleet of Worlds". The paperback features a beautiful piece of cover art, as does the Kindle sales page. But it's no where to be found in the actual purchase, This PISSES ME THE F*CK OFF!!!! It's not only false advertising, but it's taking advantage of the reader for the publisher's profit. THIS HAS TO STOP. I want to see angry mobs with pitchforks... and if they don't appear, I'll just clone my angry self and make my own mob.

It's really sad, but the publishers have become the enemy of both the readers and the writers, it seems. Not to mention the artists!
Phaeton99 Jul 10, 2013  Professional Digital Artist
I should really send a thank you email to Mr. Picacio: his talk on the future for illustrators (cover artists or otherwise) was precisely the topic I needed expert advice upon — and I did not expect such a thorough presentation. Prior, I really was uncertain about what option were worth even considering.

(BTW, it is clear that we were at the same place past weekend — I wonder if we actually crossed paths without realizing) :D
DrOfDemonology Jul 10, 2013  Professional Writer
Okay, now I'm really jealous. I wish we had that kind of a sci-fi Con here in Montreal.

But I'm glad you had a great time! :)
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