Welcome back to Cover Chic, an occasional series where we break down, analyze, and avoid judging books by their covers for your entertainment!
We’ve spent some time discussing differences in US and UK covers, hardcover vs. paperback, and series that changed up their style before the series was over. Today, I’m traipsing merrily down the rabbit hole after one particular author’s covers: Neil Gaiman. Specifically, I want to geek out over the new covers that four of Gaiman’s works recently received: American Gods, Stardust, Anansi Boys, and Neverwhere.
Gaiman has been a strong voice in the speculative world for some time now. He has reached a point in his career where he can ask for things and have a good chance of seeing those things come true. I won’t attempt to rehash the story of how these four novels came by their new covers. Gaiman wrote about it himself, here. It’s a great story of how this collaboration came about; I recommend that you read it.
Disclosure! I’m a fan of retro artwork. These covers may not be your cup of tea. I love them, but if you don’t, that’s OK.
I cannot show you all of the different covers that each of these novels has worn over the years. It simply isn’t possible. If you are curious, however, you can lose a few hours looking back at the differing images that Gaiman’s books have carried by means of a simple Google search. Furthermore, many of the different covers have similar themes. I’m going to go over these in the same order that they were published most recently.
It is easy to see a theme when you look over past editions of American Gods. Lightning and trees are common images seen throughout the years. There wasn’t usually a lot of variation. The various covers stayed fairly true to the pattern. The motif even turns up on McGinnis’ new cover. Behold!
There’s a lot to appreciate here. The entire image feels epic: the dark clouds, the lightning striking in the background, and Mr. Wednesday’s pose all make for a powerful scene. It is interesting to see that McGinnis chose to paint Wednesday standing downhill from Shadow. He presents Shadow as the more powerful figure, despite Wednesday’s own status (hard to outrank a god). Consider: Shadow is pictured as a muscular man with broad shoulders, while Wednesday appears thinner. Shadow is black, wears a sensible, long sleeved shirt and blue jeans, while Wednesday is pale white and wears a white suit. Wednesday has the trappings of strength while Shadow has actual strength. It’s brilliantly done.
In a separate blog entry, Gaiman revealed the covers for the next three new editions. Stardust was the second novel released. Take a look:
It’s lovely! It definitely reminds me of older fantasy covers that I’ve seen in used bookstores. One of my favorite aspects is the Witch Queen hiding behind the tree, ready to take down Yvaine by any means necessary. I’m assuming that the man in purple is meant to be Tristran. It’s a suitably foolish portrayal. Tristran has a good heart but he is a bit of a ridiculous character. I don’t entirely agree with Yvaine’s portrayal here. She’s a feisty yet vulnerable character. Here, we see her looking calm and somewhat regal. Also, I wouldn’t want to go anywhere near that unicorn. That horn looks wonderfully dangerous.
Next came my personal favorite new cover of the quartet:
I must acknowledge that this cover doesn’t have a lot to do with the novel as a whole. The story, for those who haven’t read it, takes place in the same universe as American Gods, but is not considered a sequel. The man on the cover is Mr. Nancy, one of the best supporting characters from American Gods. The novel, however, revolves around Mr. Nancy’s sons, Fat Charlie and Spider.
That being said, I still love what McGinnis has painted here. It’s from the beginning of the novel, which takes place in a karaoke bar. The entire scene is delightful. Here you have an obviously old man surrounded by beautiful women, booze, and music. It suits Mr. Nancy’s character perfectly, even while it might not strictly go with the novel.
Neverwhere got the McGinnis treatment in November of 2016. It’s the most obvious departure from the story, but haunting nonetheless:
I have read Neverwhere many times. It’s one of my all-time favorite novels. I cannot say with any certainty that I know what McGinnis was going for with this image. Door, our heroine, doesn’t ever appear in anything as frail and flimsy as the pink dress that the young woman here is wearing. None of the women of Neverwhere are this fragile. Still, one cannot deny that the image is striking.
Overall, I love these covers. I couldn’t find any mention as to whether or not there were any more covers coming. When I decided to take a chance and ask the man himself, I was delighted that he took the time to answer:
So, neither a confirmation nor a denial. I hope so too, Messrs. Gaiman and McGinnis.
What do you think? Do you like the new covers? Prefer the older ones? Which Gaiman book would you like to see get the retro-chic treatment? Let us know!
For more information on Robert McGinnis’ artwork and history with the entertainment world, check out his profile on American Art Archives. WARNING: page contains NSFW images if you scroll all the way to the bottom.