Hot...or not. Cover-art article

Discussion in 'Cover Design' started by lawrence, Jan 18, 2013.

  1. lawrence

    lawrence Lore Master

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    Came across this : BBC News - The battle against 'sexist' sci-fi and fantasy book covers on the BBC site today.

    Quite an interesting piece. I have to confess being a fan of the way females are often portrayed in fantasy art and online games. As a male it's hard to resist the appeal of a beautiful elf dressed rather less conservatively than Galadriel. I do recognise that it is 'unreal' and even a tad silly (going into combat in a mithril-plate bikini doesn't seem that wise. Lots of bare skin in between the protected bits!)

    But still, isn't part of the appeal of fantasy the element of striking visual beauty, be it drawn in landscapes, cities, or the male and female forms? Also, the focus in the article is the female depictions. But men are equally portrayed as eye candy on covers. For example, the Conan covers featured alot of masculine flesh alongside the scantily-clad girls. That said, I think there is alot of room for heroes that are more than mighty of arm. Aragorn leaves Conan in the dust imo. Anyway...have a read of the article.
     
  2. A. E. Lowan

    A. E. Lowan Dark Lord

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    Oh! You beat me to it! I was gonna post this one lol On an interesting note, I think this is also the guy who got into the "pose off" with John Scalzi a while back.
     
  3. Kevin O. McLaughlin

    Kevin O. McLaughlin Mystagogue

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    I'd argue that a Conan cover with him in a loincloth and a woman in an armor bikini is not sexist, as they're both wearing revealing/unrealistic clothing. ;)

    We DO often see covers which show the males in something that looks like it make sense, more or less, and females in attire that simply doesn't.


    That said, the "sexy woman on the cover" bit isn't always about attracting men. For example, lots of romance genre novels have a scantily or partially clad woman. That's not to attract men - that's to attract women. Likewise, the scantily clad woman on the cover of a lot of urban fantasy isn't targeted at male readers - it's targeted at female readers, mostly.

    "Sexy women" on a cover is a win-win for the publisher because it works for both men AND women. Men are attracted to the sex appeal of an attractive female image; women's eyes are attracted as part of the wish fulfillment role fantasy fiction plays for many readers.
     
  4. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Dark Lord

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    One thing that's always bothered me with the idea of "realistic" is that the idea of everyone in full plate isn't exactly realistic either. The cost of plate is incredible and if it doesn't fit right (read: not custom made/adjusted), then you probably have openings and are much less able in battle.

    In a poor world without a concept of "proper decency", it makes sense for poor characters to be naked. If some level of decency is a concern for poor people, then they would wear the minimum, which would be something along the lines of a loincloth or bikini (outside of battle). Granted, if you have the money, then you should dress for the occasion, but the number of people that can do that are very rare. On the other hand, if you are a famous person, then you probably have some level of ornamental armor. In real life, we have ridiculous ornamental armor for males that is not something anyone in their right mind would wear into battle; on the other hand, we don't have many examples of warrior females in real life, so they never really got much ornamental armor. In a fantasy land (depending on the mores of that land), it makes sense for females to have ornamental armor of the sort found with chainmail bikinis and even more ostentatious examples. For something gladiatorial, then it would make sense to dress the gladiators in armor of that sort for the effect and not care about the effectiveness.
     
  5. lawrence

    lawrence Lore Master

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    oops sorry Aelowan :)

    Interesting thoughts. Just shows that its not black and white, and that its not just about male readers wanting pin-ups populating the realms of fantasy writing.
     
  6. Alexandra

    Alexandra Lore Master

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    Is it truly a win-win? From the article: "According to 2012 data from publishing industry analysts Codex Group, less overtly explicit covers in fact have a wider appeal among general readers. Codex Chief Executive Officer Peter Hildick-Smith remains puzzled why science fiction and fantasy publishers sell sexualised covers.

    'My guess is that it has simply evolved as category convention, allowing book buyers to instantly know that a given book is in one of their preferred categories,' he said."

    In other words, tis an old habit and old habits die hard.
     
    Devor likes this.
  7. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Marketers and business men and, I would say, fantasy authors tend to be from an age group, gender and background which would be attracted to sexy, edgy messages. But those aren't the people who buy the most products or read the most books. It's a problem that's well-known and well-documented and spreads cross-industry. The creatives and the messengers just aren't in the same group as the people they're trying to talk to. Their edgy and sexy ideas go wrong a lot.


    I mostly enjoy your comments, Kevin, but I think this one stands as an exception to that. First, it would be a mistake to equate Romance readers with Fantasy readers, and to then assume that the messaging which works in Romance would (or should) work in Fantasy. They're not, they're entirely different brands appealing to readers in entirely different ways.

    And second, it would be a mistake - and kind of an offensive one, I would think - to assume that women readers are just a homogeneous block of people who want to dream about being sexy. I'm not really inclined to make a big deal about the ethics of sex appeal, but that's just not true.

    Take a look at the covers of fantasy books which were actually written for women and the absence of overt sex appeal speaks volumes.
     
    Last edited: Jan 19, 2013
  8. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Dark Lord

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    I don't agree with everything that he said, specifically the idea of "wish-fulfillment", but it is documented that women appreciate both male and female images. Getting away from the romance genre, look at, oh I don't know, every magazine ever. Women's magazines have women on the covers, men's magazines generally have women on the covers. The women's magazines would not have women on the cover if their departments didn't say that having women on the covers works.

    I think maybe this is in line with the point he was trying to make.

    Now, I don't think that women are always going to want their images in skimpy outfits!

    One area I've never looked into or heard of is the idea of photographs versus constructed artwork. I've always assumed that men are perfectly fine lusting after a drawn image of a woman (for instance, Lara Croft, Tifa Lockheart or Batgirl), but women are less likely to do this unless the character is portrayed by a real-life actor (for instance, Christian Bale as Batman, not Batman). Is this an area anyone's read research on?
    (Disclaimer: Obviously I am not saying "all women" or "all men" do this. I am asking about trends.)
     
  9. Alexandra

    Alexandra Lore Master

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    Women's magazines do not always have women on their covers, at least not in Canada. Homemaking/cooking and interior styling/home decorating magazines, generally regarded as women's magazines, often have no one on their covers. Fashion and beauty magazines that rely heavily on advertising from the respective industries always have young attractive women on their covers because these types of magazines consider themselves to be aspirational (Vogue is a prime example of this train of thought); even a middle-aged out-of-shape writer such as myself can aspire to be just as youthful looking and attractive as the teenagers or pop culture celebrities on the covers of fashion magazines if I bought all the beauty products and wore the trendy clothes. Tis ridiculous, but makes many other middle-aged out-of-shape business people bags of money.

    Fantasy writers and publishers of fantasy do not have to worry about such nonsense. They know, or should know, that their readers are not aspiring to be warrior princesses, sexy sorceresses, or Tinker Bells and therefore tis not necessary to try to seduce readers into buying their products with juicy covers. I still think tis just a habit perpetuated by what is, at its heart, a conservative industry resistant to change.
     
    Last edited: Jan 20, 2013
  10. psychotick

    psychotick Dark Lord

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    Hi,

    I have a horrible feeling we're overthinking this. In marketing one of the first things that people should do is know their audience, and the audience for sci fi and fantasy generally begins as teenage boys. Obviously this is a sweeping generalisation, but my thought is that its really that simple. If you want to sell say a book or a magazine, and you know that a large chunk of your audience are teenage boys, you create covers that attract them - i.e. scantily clad women mixed with robots and spaceships and werewolves and whatever else. (Boys are far more visual than girls).

    Then, as they get older maybe the artwork isn't so important, and maybe the writing and the ideas are more important, but its like smoking - hook em young and keep em coming back.

    And though I hate to point out the obvious (too often) one of the interesting things is that the market has grown, and now includes teenage girls. Anyone want to guess what the shorts of the Twilight series are about? Why the actors are all pretty boys who seem to be allergic to shirts? Basically its selling to teenage girls. Interestingly the book covers aren't, but there are plenty of other books in the genre that are.

    Is this sexist? Does it degrade the genre? Don't know. But does it sell? Yes. And that in the end is what counts.

    And in terms of the article, why are people fighting it. My thought is that a cover can only do so much to attract an audience. It's the writing that will keep it.

    Cheers, Greg.
     
  11. Alexandra

    Alexandra Lore Master

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    Yes I agree, but isn't that often the nature of forum discussions? :)
     
  12. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis magnanimus Moderator

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    Alexandra likes this.
  13. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Sweeping . . . . and untrue. I couldn't find a demographics breakdown, but if a book is geared towards children, it's usually classified as Young Adult and doesn't even appear in the Fantasy section of the bookstore.
     
  14. lawrence

    lawrence Lore Master

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    That's a pretty amusing alternative cover shot, steerpike!

    I put my hands up and say that if I am scanning over books or magazines (any genre) my attention will be caught by a beautiful female depicted therein. It doesn't mean I am looking for books illustrated in that way, but inevitably it is an effective way of giving me pause to at least consider reading the strap-line and blurb. I am equally likely to notice any other kind of striking artwork, from inanimate still-life compositions to dramatic design/logo renderings. If the tone, colours, images etc all conspire well enough together I will most probably take notice of their 'hey come over here' whisperings. I am highly visual, loving art as much as the written word. Millions of people are just the same.

    The Old Testament has a fascinating account of mighty beings (generally understood to be angels but its a point of debate) that were so enamoured of the beauty of the daughters of men that they gave up their positions in the heavenly realm to take human wives here.

    We might prefer that our literature be packaged differently, we might aspire to be less like moths drawn to flame, but the appeal of the human form is an ancient and deeply ingrained fact, and therefore a powerful marketing tool.
     
  15. psychotick

    psychotick Dark Lord

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  16. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Dark Lord

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    Is anyone attracted to specific cover artists? For instance, I can recognize Luis Royo's artwork and it always catches my eye. That might not translate to a sale, but it at least gets me to pick up a book and read the back cover.
     
  17. Devor

    Devor Fiery Keeper of the Hat Moderator

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    Thank you for pulling data. But quite a lot has changed since 1977 when this was written, and Science Fiction is not Fantasy. Among other things, fantasy can be less technical and more approachable to women, modern fantasy trends darker and older, and the whole genre has grown a lot from recent titles that have gone mainstream or else were successful cross-medium, since fantasy stories have actually become filmable.

    Your target market, of course, doesn't have to be every fantasy reader out there, but you'd be smart to at least consider the recent trends in what people are reading.
     
  18. lawrence

    lawrence Lore Master

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    Can't say I am familiar with particular artists, though I came across Justin Sweet a while back, he has some great work. I looked up Luis Royo's covers, amazing detail and light, if a little too raunchy for my taste :p
     
  19. Zero Angel

    Zero Angel Dark Lord

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    A lot of his covers are not as "raunchy" as his artwork.
     
  20. Jamber

    Jamber Mystagogue

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    I agree wholeheartedly with Alexandra's point.

    For writers who want to appeal to a basically male (heterosexual) audience, the sexualised female on the cover probably does what it should.

    But for writers who want cross-gender or female appeal, it would make sense not to assume a male (and heterosexual) gaze. The trouble is we're all used to the tradition, I suppose...

    I can say for myself I don't go past sexualised females on covers all that often, unless there's a whole lot else happening. I do make an exception (when need be) though: Terry Pratchett, because he's so wonderfully humanist. :)
     
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