Art is something I spent a lot of time in 2013 getting more knowledgeable about. I found a lot of incredible artists to geek out over, and a lot of really poorly executed pieces to decry. For the Juice Box Awards I look at two things, the quality of a cover’s illustration and its overall design. The two are inexorably linked, particularly when it comes to covers. While many awards only look at the artwork, typically an illustration, I want to recognize the overall composition of a cover. As an example, Richard Anderson composed this beautiful image, and then the art director inexplicably mauled it with the type setting.
Of course, some of that is on the artist because he really didn’t give Irene Gallo, Tor’s Art Director, much space to work in without obscuring the image, but still… it’s a beautiful illustration and a pretty tragic cover. Another example with Marc Simonetti’s art in a French edition of Terry Goodkind’s The First Confessor:
Here the art director is fighting the cover art entirely by blocking it out to create a letterbox effect. Unlike the Anderson cover previous, Simonetti leaves a tremendous amount of space across the top for type setting. It makes me wonder at all why Bragelonne commissioned such a beautiful painting at all. Boggling.
Nevertheless, my goal with the Juice Box is to recognize both aspects–the illustrator and the designer. Let’s get on with the show. I present my lengthy short list of the best covers of 2013, with the winner at the end. My top five covers for the year are marked by commentary.
#5) YOU by Austin Grossman with art by Superbrothers.
While the image itself is great, lifted almost directly from the very popular Sword & Sorcery EP mobile game, it’s the type setting that makes it sing. The old school video game lettering is pervasive, but smartly used as an outline only on the author’s name. It prevents the background illustration from being overpowered by the text and most of said text is at the top, making a nice space for the Superbrothers to show their sweet pixels. Just a really COOL piece of cover design.
#4) Quintessence by David Walton with art by Kekai Kotaki
I get a little silly for Kekai Kotaki, whose art is always beautifully polished. Similar to the YOU cover, Tor art director Irene Gallo designs the typography and framing to highlight the gorgeous illustration rather than detract from it. Having read the book I find the cover slightly misrepresentational of the actual subject matter within. Nevertheless it’s gorgeous work combined with an art director happy to get out of the way. I’ll muse here for a moment by asking, is cover design easier when the author is of a stature that does not necessitate giant type face?
#3) Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie with art by John Harris
Space ships! Most space ship art looks very generic, as though it could have been done by any number of artists. I could never say that about a John Harris piece. Working in oil and canvas, Harris’ work always looks a little like watercolor or paint daubing with colors ever so slightly bleeding into one another. I often feel like his pieces are spacescapes viewed through the heat distortion of a jet engine. I absolutely adore his style and its on full display here. Two things really stand out for me. One, it’s basically flat, with very little sense of depth. Two, the entire series of three books is being covered with segments from the same painting, which, from a design perspective, is really cool trick. I’ll point out here again, the design team has used transparent lettering to keep the illustration from being lost. Love it. (Big ups to Lauren Panepinto and Kirk Benshoff at Orbit.)
#2) Love Minus Eighty by Will McIntosh photography by Erin Mulvehill
(Another one designed by Lauren Panepinto and Kirk Benshoff!) If you’ve read the book you understand why this cover is so powerful. If you haven’t, you can still appreciate how dreamlike and haunting it is. To provide some context, Love Minus Eighty is about gorgeous women who’ve been frozen after death in the event some rich lech wants to pay to revive them into indentured wife-itude. The cover, for me, depicts one of those women reaching out as she’s switched off, sinking back into the black nothingness between visits from possible suitors. It’s disturbing how beautiful the piece is under those circumstances. Any other year this would be the finest cover of 2013…. except….
The winner of this year’s Juice Box Award for Best Cover is…
#1) The Lowest Heaven ed. by Anne C. Perry and Jared Shurin with art by Joey Hi-Fi
The cover for The Lowest Heaven is not some great masterpiece of illustration, a departure for Hi-Fi who usually produces very grandiose images. Rather, it is pure that functions as an operation both of the text within and its purpose of book covering. I lack the words to properly describe it. Perhaps, it’s the equivalent of artistic and literary Feng Shui, a perfect harmony of beauty and purpose. Yeah, I like that.
Congratulations Joey Hi-Fi! You get a special edition Juice Box Award thanks to your name. I present the first ever Hi-C Juice Box Award! (Sorry, you’ll have to imagine it because I’m too lazy to actually photoshop in some new art onto my golden juice box. You understand, I’m sure!)