My short list for Cover of the Year is six books long (see below). There’s not really a connective thread between them except that none are photograph based — a trend I loathed in lasts years award, and I continue to find repellent Additionally, you’ll see no hooded men because hooded men are still lame and tired.
So what is my criteria? I’m so glad I asked.
I have four basic tenets in evaluating cover art. First is relevancy. A cover must relate to the book. Second it has to evoke something — wonder, mystery, fear, awe, movement, whatever. Third, I like things that are different. I’m sick of the same old covers going for the same old audience. Give me art, not RPG manual doodles. Fourth, turn me on. Physically. This is only partly a joke.
Just like last year, 2012 has a clear winner. I’d like to say that it’s based on the cover I’m awarding the Juice Box to, but I have to admit to myself, and my readers, that it’s almost equally as much an achievement award to the artist for the incredible work he did this year for Tor and Tor.com. Before I get into that, I present, my six favorite covers of 2012:
Joey HiFi’s style is always clear, a mosaic style assemblage of smaller pictures that resolve into a larger image. He works best in black and white, creating a stark and eye catching design that never ceases to amaze. Last year his Zoo City cover stopped traffic and the one to my right for Chuck Wendig’s Blackbirds is no different. It’s an easy choice for my short list for a variety of reasons, but I think the one that seals the deal is that there just isn’t anyone else out there producing covers that look like HiFi’s. It’s an original, and I love that.
My second choice comes from artist Will Staehle whose primary modus operandi is very graphic prints that would often look as good on a t-shirt as they would on a book cover. His best known work is probably the cover for Michael Chabbon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (here). Since then he’s gone on to do several odd, but cool covers for Ernie Cline’s Ready Player One (here) and A. Lee Martinez’s Chasing the Moon (here). His best work so far though has come with Angry Robot, first with Adam Christopher’s Empire State (here) at the end of 2011, and then this year with Christopher’s Seven Wonders. His most recent cover makes awesome use of perspective. Although I’m not totally in love with the colors, I’m having a blast with the 7 being built within the image. Easily one of the coolest covers of 2012.
The next two covers are both figure realistic, treading the line between photo realism and painting that I’m not always willing to bite into. In both cases something special about the cover allows it to overcome my bias. In the case of Raymond Swanland’s painting for Joe Abercrombie’s Best Served Cold reprint from Subterranean Press it’s the overall cover design. Monza, the novel’s main character, has been beautifully rendered in typical Swanland style — dynamic — yet it’s the vivacity of the type setting for the title and the simplicity of the author’s name that make it something special. It’s a cover that begs to be set on a shelf and displayed, which, last time I checked, is pretty much Subterranean’s reason for existing.
Similarly, Chris McGrath’s painting for Max Gladstone’s debut Three Parts Dead does almost the same thing in an entirely different artistic style. McGrath’s covers are rarely dynamic, relying instead on mood and tone to convey the pulse of the novel. He often emphasizes earthy tones, brown in particular, that lend everything an organic, gritty feel (see Thieftaker, Alloy of Law). Books with McGrath covers always code authentic, never whimsical. It’s a perfect fit for Gladstone’s novel, albeit one that perhaps over communicates the urban fantasy nature of what is really a more unique high fantasy cum legal thriller. Either way, it’s a special book and special cover.
Of course, because I’m a sucker for a beautiful painting, my final two covers, and the winner of the best cover of the year, are just that. Donato Giancola nearly ran away with the award this year for his stunning and slightly psychedelic cover for Elizabeth Bear’s Range of Ghosts. The truth is the painting isn’t really done any justice by the text overlaying it; I strongly suggest visiting the unimpeded painting over at deviantART. I consider Bear’s novel one of the best pieces fantasy fiction released this year, and the cover captures the novel perfectly with the melding of the horse, flowing hair, and obscured night sky. Giancola has done it again with the cover for Bear’s second novel in the series, Shattered Pillars.
Even still, Giancola’s cover doesn’t touch the work done by Richard Anderson, the artist of this year’s Juice Box Award Winner for Cover of the Year. I mentioned above that my recognition of this cover was partially a result of Anderson’s brilliant work at Tor.com. Allow me to demonstrate:
Like my favorite artist of 2012, Kekai Kotaki, Anderson does concept work for Guild Wars. His stuff always feels epic, grand, and evocative. I find he always has an emotional center, often one that resonates perfectly with the fiction he’s trying to capture. On top all of the incredible paintings above, Anderson’s cover of Sergey and Marina Dyachenko’s The Scar stands above all.
I give you the 2012 Juice Box Award for Cover of the Year:
Congratulations! Sip that Juice Box until it collapses into a wet cardboard ball of goo.
Side note: Shout out to Julie Dillon who’s doing amazing work, but hasn’t broken through on to an in-print cover yet (to my knowledge).