Monday, May 2, 2005

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cover story

Cover, Sin City Book 1: The Hard Good-bye Cover, Sin City Book 2: A Dame to Kill For Cover, Sin City Book 3: The Big Fat Kill

Count me as one of the people who is underwhelmed by the new covers for Frank Miller's Sin City books.

I do like the idea of a uniform trade dress. Now the books look like part of the same series or family. The type and layouts aren't too bad either; it's a change, and they give the books a little bit of refinement, an amusing contrast with the subject matter.

But viewed as a group, they blur together. Especially the first three, above - with the same type treatment, artwork treatment, and shade of red, they could do with more prominent individual titles to set them apart a bit.

Cover, Sin City Book 2: A Dame to Kill For Poster of Goldie from Sin City

This could be just my personal taste talking, but I feel that one of the strongest elements of Frank Miller's artwork is the stylized shapes he creates, almost like sculptures. They are dynamic and they in turn form stunning shapes in the negative space around them. Sometimes they seem to me like snapshots, almost freeze-frames of choreography. And they stick in your head (or at least my head) like retinal afterimages. I've never been a huge fan of Sin City, but there are times when I've been seriously tempted to buy the poster of Goldie's first panel (right). I mean, wow. That's memorable!

So to me, the treatment of the artwork on these new covers removes that dynamic element, flattening the art. The negative space is cropped away, eliminating the movement. The pictures are pretty, but they lack the iconic quality of the previous covers.

Compare the original and the new covers of Booze, Broads, and Bullets, for example:

Cover, Sin City Book 7: Booze, Broads, and Bullets Cover, Sin City Book 7: Booze, Broads, and Bullets

Also, I feel officially stupid. Can anyone tell me what that is on the cover of the new version of Family Values? I've never read the comic and I can't make out what that image is. Is it a box? Is it someone's clothing?

Cover, Sin City Book 5: Family Values

Edit: One cover image removed and one cover image replaced after it was pointed out that they weren't the official covers. Thanks for the heads-up, Dorian!

8 comments!     click to join in

1 David Fiore   (10:54pm - May 2, 2005)

I think you're absolutely right about those covers!

The only thing Miller's books really have going for them is that they throw some genuinely unhinged imagery at you (to go along with the unhinged--and, to me, extremely unappealing--philosophy)... that's also why the movie works (even on me!) as well as it does--despite the fact that I think it's pretty despicable!

Box in that craziness and there's nothin' left! The Chip Kidd Dark Knight design does a similar disservice to the material, in my opinion.

2 Dorian   (11:55pm - May 2, 2005)

I'm in total agreement with you, but there's just one thing: those aren't the actual covers for "Hell and Back" and "Booze, Broads and Bullets." At least, they're not the covers that shipped to Diamond accounts or are in Amazon's database. The actual cover for "Booze" is actually a slight improvement over this one, but I think I like this "Hell and Back" cover more.

I think Kidd wanted to replicate the look of the Black Library reprints of Dashiell Hammett and Jim Thompson books. Which is odd, because those covers are about ten years old, and last I looked not on the current printings.

3 Kitty   (7:38am - May 3, 2005)

Dorian - you're right! Thanks for the catch! I double-checked and saw that the two odd covers are from Titan books. Are they making their own editions with covers based on the designs that Kidd did for the first three? I've swapped in the correct cover for Booze, Broads, and Bullets, and I've removed the comments about (Titan's) cover for Hell and Back.

David - I'm with you. Now that I think about it, the artwork is pretty much the only thing that ever drew me to Sin City. I'm not a genre fan; I don't care about the story or the fact that he's doing a send-up/max-out of noir. But like I said, I'm definitely drawn to the artwork to the point where I'll just stare at individual panels for a while. It's got such energy! And sadly I don't think it's reflected on the covers.

4 Mister Wolf   (7:47am - May 4, 2005)

No kidding!

Hmmm.... Imma rethinking my own bookcover desgins. Maybe boxes are UNIVERSALLY bad.

5 Kitty   (8:05am - May 4, 2005)

Hey Mister Wolf, I'm with you. That was always the ongoing big critique of my design projects - why is this all in boxes, why do you need the information in this strip here, why is this bit boxed off like this. Especially in my website project; man, that thing was nothing but boxes at first!

In these covers, the red strips for the type are okayyy ... they're distinctive and help set off the type. They just don't do anything for me - they seem like a quick solution, they reduce the dynamic of the cover, and they don't interact with the artwork much.

6 liz   (7:49am - May 6, 2005)

Hey Kitty,

Maybe I'm just a child of the TV Guide generation, but the first three books you show would make me think they are all the same content with random covers ("Collect all three!").

That last image looks like clothing on an out-of-perspective chair. But the more I look at it, the less I am sure...

7 BeaucoupKevin   (11:48am - May 6, 2005)

What I've also noticed is that the spines don't feature an easily-readable title, which vexes me to no end. I understand that Chip Kidd's going for a certain design ethic that, normally, I respond to very well, but it doesn't work at all with Sin City.

8 Jeph!   (6:00pm - May 6, 2005)

The "Family Values" cover is a guy. The boxy thing is a big weird cowl he's wearing on his head, kind of like Marvel's A.I.M. agents. See his eyes peering angrily out of the slit in the center?

The two strips heading off to the left are his scarf (it's snowing, after all), and the stuff on the right must be some fabric bunched up on his shoulder. I think we're seeing his body more or less in profile, and he's turning his head towards us.

He looks kind of like a ninja. Does "Sin City" have ninjas?


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