Friday, July 18, 2008

Click on covers to enlarge and read text

"Calypso" as Semiotic "Text"

I am working on bringing out a new novel and I'm currently having an interesting exchange with my publisher about the design of a cover. Now in general, I am not one to insist on perfection in this regard. In the end, the story will speak for itself and must stand or fall based on its own intrinsic merits. However, one doesn't want a cover that actually carries a strong counter message to what the story is supposed to be about. Take for example this first cover that my publisher sent me-and compare the flirting duo on the right with the "blurb" on the left (due to the Blog template, all three covers appear above).

On the left, we are told that this is a novel about existential hubris, but an entirely different idea is given by the picture. Here, a red-haired femme-fatale looks directly at the reader with a knowing glance, while the infatuated man stares off into space. The "blurb" suggests subtlety and complexity, nuance and pain. The picture, however, delineates an entirely different set of binary oppositions: flirtation and love, master and servant, a simple linear story line and two-dimensional characters. Of course, from a semiotic point of view, both the written and the visual information are "texts" that we must "read"--and they are giving out different messages.

The second cover is perhaps even worse. This seems to include too much information of a confused and non-relevant kind. Some kind of cosmic storm rages in the background while entwined hands seem to suggest everything and nothing in the foreground. As a "text" this picture scatters significance fairly aimlessly in an attempt to be profound. In the final analysis, it has nothing whatsoever to do with the text on the left. At least the first cover was in the same ball park, even though it misinterpreted the written text. In the case of the second cover there are really no points of similarity to misinterpret.

In the end, I decided to go with the third cover. The rather inane jollity of the first cover has disappeared and the mood has become definitely ominous to match the darkly nuanced text on the left. There are again the two figures of the man and woman, but now there is the essential conflict and obsession suggested by the text. The surroundings are dark and shadowy and the place of action seems strangely sunken in the ground. Furthermore, there is the suggestion of potential violence: a theme that is also present in the written text itself. Finally, the colors, heavy door and sunken place of action goes some way towards suggesting a Mediterranean context to the story (the action actually takes place in Italy). By no means is the cover perfect: the suggestion of sexual violence is too overt and dominant. On the other hand, the essential message of the artist's text does seem to be significantly more in unison with the written text on the left than either of the other two. It is a cover that I can live with,

Now I move on to another task--the proofing of the written text itself.


Anonymous Derrida said...


8:31 AM  
Anonymous Laforgue said...

Che verita!

7:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You chose the best.

12:02 PM  

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