Buying a Book for its Cover

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So you know you’ve done it. I’m sure we all have at one point or another. You know what I’m talking about, right? You walk into a bookstore and there it is… the cover that just jumps out at you. You see it and you know you have to have it. Maybe you skim over the description at the back for form’s sake, but you know it’s too late. You’re going to buy it no matter what.

You buy a book just for the cover art alone.

Don’t feel bad. After all, the cover of that science fiction or fantasy book has been meticulously designed by the publishing company’s marketing department to catch your eye — to intrigue you — to make you pick the book up off the shelf to find out more about it. But sometimes a piece of cover art is so overwhelming that you will pick up the book just to keep that cover image with you.

Sometimes the actual contents of the book suffer for this. How can it live up to the excitement that is depicted on the cover? The ideal situation is that book and cover work hand-in-hand to give the reader a satisfying experience. Sometimes it doesn’t always work out that way. Sometimes, on very rare occasions, the book is immaterial.

MDJacksn_Buying a book_Frazetta JongorPaperbacks have always been designed this way. When the pulp magazines folded it paved the way for the paperback industry and early, lurid titles used the best of the pulp cover artists to crete images that would attract potential buyers. Paperback covers were designed with enough steam and sinfulness built into them that the target market, mostly young men, found them hard to resist.

In the 1970’s this whole phenomena got pushed into overdrive with the arrival of a dynamic cover artist at Ace Books — Frank Frazetta. Frazetta’s cover paintings on a paperback covers began to get attention — sometimes more attention than the books themselves. Soon everyone wanted to have a Frazetta painting on the cover of their paperback to help sales… and if they couldn’t get Frazetta they were not above contracting an artist either with a similar style or who could do a direct rip-off.

Many of the paperbacks that I bought back in the 1970’s sported Frazetta covers. Usually the books were those of Edgar Rice Burroughs or Robert E. Howard, so I actually did read them and the text/cover art combination was satisfactory. Other times, as with Lance Horner’s book Rogue Roman, the cover was definitely the main attraction.

MDJacksn_Buying a book_Frazetta rogue romanRogue Roman was written in 1965. The original Pan edition had different artwork but when it was released in paperback by Fawcett it was given to Frank Frazetta to come up with a cover. His artwork featurs a muscled blonde man reclining in opulence as a Nubian slave presents to him a busty and nude redhead. Flanked by two more semi-nude slave girls who sit obediently at the blonde man’s feet. It may be that Frazetta didn’t read the book either as apparently his image doesn’t have much to do with the novel, but it’s effective.

I have nothing against Horner. I’m sure he was a fine writer and perhaps Rogue Roman is worth the read, but I must confess to have never even tried to read the paperback. Nevertheless, it has been a cornerstone of my paperback collection since I bought it back in 1970-something.

Covers by Ken Kelly or Jefrey Jones are ones that have prompted an automatic purchase. Here is the cover to a book by Andrew Offut. Offut continued to write stories featuring Robert E Howard’s character Cormac Mac Art. Now, Offut is a fine writer, but I have not cracked this book once. I bought it only for the Jeff Jones artwork.

MDJacksn_Buying a book_Jones Undying wizard

Covers today are not the same, of course. They are treated more like commodities now and a publishing company that tries to lure pre-teen boys into buying books by slapping on pictures of big-breasted fantasy women would be taken to task quite harshly today. Besides, the adult fantasy imprint is now separate from the new YA category, which features covers bereft of anything lurid or titillating.

Still, even today I will pick up a book if the cover is interesting enough. I recently picked up a book because it had a striking Gregory Manchess painting on the cover.

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I think that most people who have a visual inclination have done it at one point or another. Or is it just me? Have you picked up a book solely for the cover art? I’d be interested to hear if you have and, if so, what book?. Let me know. Leave a comment.

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