August 9, 2014

Maybe girls will buy it if it's pink...



That's Penguin's new cover for the Roald Dahl classic "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory," as seen at "The five worst book covers ever." The other 4 are so much less bad that it's scarcely worth pretending this is a real listicle (even if writing a listicle were something worth aspiring to).

The worst book covers I ever saw were on display at the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, where I traveled in 1993. This was in the days before digital photography when I traveled without a camera in what I consider my "Get Me a Table Without Flies, Harry" period. On page 33 of what I call my "Amsterdam Notebooks" — at the bottom of the second image — I wrote and sketched about the various copies of the diary, translated into many different languages, with the Spanish version — "Cuentos" — featuring a smiling blonde girl and the French version reproducing an 1877 Renoir portrait of a rosy-skinned blonde woman in the most absurdly comfortable, cossetted circumstances imaginable:

21 comments:

David said...

porn. pure porn.

Fernandinande said...

I like the Penguin edition of "A Farewell to Arms" with the armless penguin on the cover. (did I see it with a link from this blog?)

JimT Utah said...

The Princess Bride cover is much worse than the other three. I have the 1984 with the cover shown.

jimbino said...

I think it funny that there is a whole series of pink tools on offer at Amazon.

http://www.amazon.com/Ladies-Pink-Tool-piece-Boxed/sim/B00279U69W/2

They should at least vary the colors a bit to help ladies distinguish between left-hand and right-hand screwdrivers, wrenches and hammers.

Mary Beth (the commenter) said...

The "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" cover looks like it belongs on a book about JonBenet Ramsey.

They should put a photo of a young Roald Dahl on the cover. That might help sell a few copies.

dbp said...

I kind of like the design scheme. It must be admitted that it bears little resemblance to the main story focus. The cover could be Veruca Salt--not really the kind of person you want your daughters to emulate.

Quaestor said...

It's all a matter of cropping. Zoom out from that 1877 Renoir and you'll see the cosseted blond is waiting to have her head shaved and her arm tattooed.

Pardon the crude joke. Much of this bad cover art question boils down to remarkable niggardliness in the publishing industry. Instead of commissioning an original cover the art department will often get an instruction to find a royalty-free image and then put some royalty-free typography over it. There. Done. Next project? It's profit enhancement, which is not in itself un-praiseworthy.

In the case of the Renoir girl used on the cover of a French edition of Anne Frank's diary I'd surmise that the person tasked with searching the image archive, which in 1993 and before consisted of turning through pages of actual bound catalogues, was easily satisfied for one reason or another. Perhaps it was late July or early September. That's when the quality of anything French approaches the nadir.

Maximizing the profits from a run of The Diary of Anne Frank should be very easy, I mean it's all gravy isn't it? Who are Anne Frank's heirs? Who owns the copyrights? If a publishing house prints an edition of her diary with an inappropriate or distasteful cover, shouldn't the heirs have standing to complain?

Actually the people who should complain are the artists. Say what you will about the pulps of the mid-20th century -- the low literary standards, the pittances they paid -- at least they gave a leg up to some major commercial artists. When I was a kid my peers bought Marvel and DC comic books. I bought Analog magazine, the last and most refined publication in the pulp tradition. I never subscribed because I liked to visit the neighborhood newsstand, but from age nine until college I never missed an issue. Each Analog had an original commissioned cover, usually by Kelly Freas, usually inspired by the featured story within. Freas was just an illustrator, his works weren't "illustrations," they were works of art unto themselves. Analog still exists, but in a much debased form in my opinion. Tastes change. Art has suffered. We've had this discussion before, methinks.

Quaestor said...

Freas was just an illustrator

Typo. Should read: Freas wasn't just an illustrator.

FleetUSA said...

Back when I met Patricia Neal's secretary. All interesting people!

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

I think the cover for The Princess Bride nearly equals this one. In both cases: What were they thinking?

William said...

Could have been worse. The Chocolate Factory cover would have been more perverse as a cover for the Anne Frank diary.......I actually read that Signet edition of 1984, I wasn't disappointed. There were, by the standards of the day, a few pulpy sex scenes in the book, and the horror scenes were genuinely scary. At a certain level, 1984 succeeds as a trashy novel.

tim maguire said...

The princess bride cover is appalling. The bell jar cover is (unintentionally?) disturbing because the reflection in the mirror is not from the angle at which the mirror is held and it looks like not quite the same woman.

Freeman Hunt said...

I dunno. The covers for 1984 and The Bell Jar were pretty funny. The Princess Bride looked like it was for an entirely different book.

CWJ said...

Mary Beth,

That was my wife's reaction as well.

Anonymous said...

"Tolkien exploded: 'What has it got to do with the story? Where is this place? Why emus? And what is the thing in the foreground with pink bulbs?' When the reply came that the artist hadn't time to read the book, and that the object with pink bulbs was 'meant to suggest a Christmas tree', Tolkien could only answer: 'I begin to feel that I am shut up in a madhouse.'" -- Humphrey Carpenter, Tolkien: a biography

Will Cate said...

It's supposed to be Veruca Salt, right? The spoiled little girl who eventually blows up? Maybe the cover is intended to be kind of... subversive.

rhhardin said...

I have Dance at le moulin de la galette over the computer.

One thing I eventually noticed is that all the women have the same face.

Much as is achieved today with makeup.

Ann Althouse said...

Renoir is insipid.

rcommal said...

What a misrepresentation, is that cover. Not just a bad cover, but also a gross misrepresentation.

rcommal said...

---

Separate reaction from a different place:

"...and we went on eating a duck, then..."

I just LOVE that bit, in particular: "...and we went on eating a duck, then...".

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

Renoir was the reverse of "insipid" at the time.