Happy Birthday director James Whale, born on this date, July 22nd, in 1889. Whale directed Universal’s classic Frankenstein, The Bride Of Frankenstein, The Old Dark House and The Invisible Man. (Images via Universal Monsters Tribute)
Photographer Peter Coulson shoots fashion model Rhiannon Tragear-Ragg for KissKill Lingerie in a “noir is a color” styled suite he calls For Your Eyes Only – Part 1.
The backseat of a vintage auto may seem like an unlikely location for a photo sessions, but in Coulson’s lens and with Rhiannon’s poses, it becomes a hothouse noirish den of iniquity. The suite was styled by Jane Carrodus, with Rhiannon’s hair managed by Dani Fuentes. Feels like you’re right there on Mulholland Drive or your own burg’s lovers lane, tossing your pint of Old Grandad and your clothes aside to climb into the spacious backseat on a sultry summer night, doesn’t it?
(Images via Fashionising.com)
Driving cross-country to a destination wedding a few years ago (dreadful fear of flying) I was amused to pass by “Kum & Go” service stations throughout Minnesota and the eastern portion of South Dakota. Gave me a chuckle (and you need something to chuckle about as you cross the endless miles of farms, ranches and prairies). I realize that the chain is named after the founders’ initials (a K and a G), but didn’t anyone point out to them that some are bound to make some off-color jokes about their name? Even if only dopey high school kids? Well, their gas was fine, and the coffee and snacks were as good as any interstate gas station’s Hostess and hot dog rack cuisine can offer.
When it comes to Tumblr, I seem to ‘Kum & Go’ myself. I like Tumblr. Some don’t, but I do. There are a lot of intriguing blogs there. It’s incredibly easy to use (images vs. text, etc.), and combines conventional blogging with a quasi-social media aspect in a way that regular blogs – here at WordPress, or anywhere – can’t quite match.
Had a couple of bad starts under the kylemarffin.tumblr.com moniker some time back, only to get unexpectedly hacked by what I’ll always assume were Russian mobsters (just sounds cool) and had to leave in a hurry, with personal emails and more getting infiltrated and corrupted. Came back a few months later, determined to do it right that time, with two separate Tumblrs – one for Noir, crime, mysteries, vintage pulp and paperback art…and a separate one for vampires, Gothic literature, general horror and ‘dark culture’. That effort was going mighty fine there, with hundreds of followers joining along in a pretty short time. But trying to maintain a ‘main blog’ (kylemarffin.com) and a Pinterest page (pinterest.com/kylemarffin/) and two Tumblrs stopped being relaxing and fun, and became like a second job. And I have a first one already, thank you. So, the two Tumblrs were abandoned, sadly.
I confess: I miss Tumblr. And I miss the incredible pace of adding followers there. It’s nice to know someone is actually viewing your posts and reading your little missives. That is why we all do these things, isn’t it? A couple years here and I’m just over 300 followers. In prior Tumblr attempts, Id topped twice that in a matte of weeks. Tumblr is just…bigger. Much bigger.
Tumblr critics claim it’s little more than redundantly reposted porn, and there’s no question hat there is an awful lot of that there. But saying that it’s all that’s there is like claiming that Pinterest is nothing more than baking, crafting and endless ‘My Style’ boards. Yes, there are those at Pinterest, in abundance. But there’s so much more.
Other friends and associates manage just fine, damn it, and with multiple platforms playing off one another, and their lives don’t seem overwhelmed. Well then, maybe I can too.
So, if you’re at Tumblr as well as here at WordPress. Do go to kyle-marffin.tumblr.com and follow me. I imagine there’ll be some amount of shared content at kylemarffin.com (WordPress ‘main’ blog) and at kyle-marffin.tumblr.com, but by no means will they be redundant, duplicate blogs. Follow here, follow there.
Come and go, as you like.
Universal’s Revenge Of The Creature, which I may or may not be watching tonight, stars Lori Nelson as a lovely Ichthyologist, and the film’s scream queen. Mot fifties film fans know her for teen bad-girl roles (or for appearing in bad movies), including Hot Rod Girl and Untamed Youth. Talk about 1950′s kitsch, huh?
Nelson was set to marry big-time star Tab Hunter, presumably to help cove rip his closeted lifestyle, and the relationship was tabloid fodder for a while back then. By the early sixties she switch primarily to television roles, working for over 50 years and well into the 21st century. Ms. Nelson is still with us at age 81, bless her.
Was supposed to be doing a birthday party thing tonight (not mine, I’ve had enough birthdays, thank you) but now the celebration looks to be postponed. So, though I expected to be out tonight, maybe I’ll be in to watch — you guessed it — Svengoolie on MeTV at 9:00 PM CST. (I really don’t get any kickbacks from the station, though it is headquartered locally.)
Tonight it’s Universal’s Revenge Of The Creature from 1955, their sequel to The Creature From The Black Lagoon from the preceding year. Like the original, this was initially released in 3-D. The early portions of the film replay similar scenes from the original, with an expedition prowling the Amazon backwaters to capture the Gill-Man. Once caught, he’s brought to a Florida Oceanarium for study by Professor Clete Ferguson (John Agar doing more of his always reliable work in 1950′s horror and sci-fi semi-classics), hunky always-in-his-swimtrunks Joe Hays (played by John Bromfield), and Ichthyologist Dr. Helen Dobson, played by the decade’s-sometimes-bad-girl Lori Nelson. Of course, the Gill-Man falls for Lori Nelson’s scientist character, busts out of the Oceanarium, stirring up trouble in the South Florida resort scene till he’s shot to pieces while clinging to a buoy in the harbor.
Hey, we even get a brief scene with a very young Clint Eastwood (his first film role, I think) playing a goofy lab assistant with a peculiar fondess for lab rats. Revenge Of The Creature isn’t quite as good as the first film, though way better than the third and final installment in the Creature series (The Creature Walks Among Us from the following year). But it’s all good fun. If I’m not helping to blow out birthday candles, or whatever, I’ll be watching it.
The current issue of Writer’s Digest magazine has an interesting article by Grace Dobush, “Books By Their Covers – Learn How To Navigate The Book Design Process From Front To Back – Whether You’re Self-Publishing Or Going The Traditional Route.” I’ll assume that Dobush is either a designer herself, or involved in the field in some capacity, since in addition to articles in Wired and Cincinnati Magazine and a crafting book of her own, she’s appeared in HOW magazine, a graphic designers’ professional journal (which I subscribe to myself).
Not sure I agree with everything in Dobush’s article, but it’s a very good read and an excellent primer for anyone nearing the end of their manuscript or its final edit and thinking about the cover art…particularly those who may choose the indie, e-book or self-publishing route. (Those lucky enough to snag a regular trade book publisher’s contract are unlikely to have any say whatsoever in the cover art discussions anyway.)
Dobush covers (oops!) everything from graphic arts 101 issues and terminology to advice on how to locate and work with a designer. How much all that might cost would understandably worry a writer. Dobush quotes one author saying, “If you went to school with a bunch of designers who went to the Rhode Island School Of Design, you can probably get it for a six-pack of beer”.
Well, perhaps she’s on the low side there. Top-notch design grads would demand a twelve pack and pretzels, I’m sure.
On the other hand, she mentions author Kim Boerman’s experiences working with a designer to do the cover art and an accompanying website for her book With Love…The New Generation of Party People. Boerman spent about $20,000 with the designer, which makes me hope she sold a lot of books.
Whether you’re bribing artists with brews and munchables, writing a modest check, or forking over twenty grand (?!), the importance of superior cover art is obvious to all of us who write, publish, or hope to do so someday. I’ve seen bad and amateurish results on Kindle eBooks, CreateSpace books and self-published and micro-press titles and you’ve seen them too, and we both know that poorly done covers impact our perception of the materials quality and ultimately, our purchasing decisions. Quality design and execution aside, getting the right ‘look’ or style for the cover is just as essential. There are definitely a lot of cues in book cover art that alert us to genre, subject, content, tone and more.
When I see an empty swing or a discarded kid’s shoe or stuffed animal on a mystery novel, I move right along. I know the novel will be about a child who’s been kidnapped, gone missing — or worse — murdered, and that’s just an area I don’t find entertaining in any way.
Monochromatic or duo-toned macro still life tabletop shots of boudoir accouterments like handcuffs, a whip, a single stocking, an empty Louboutin on its side, or a wisp of lacy lingerie pretty clearly says Fifty Shades Of Grey knock-off…which for me, at least, is a signal to keep browsing elsewhere. Pointy ears spells fantasy, a spaceship says science fiction, goggles signal Steampunk, and so on. Whether we mean to or not, we tend to browse bookstore and library shelves with an eye for these and many other cover cues – searching for what we like, and usually bypassing what we don’t.
I can think of a couple of excellent mystery/crime fiction series that I’ve really enjoyed that used good but possibly inappropriate cover art. Amanda Matetsky’s Paige Tuner mystery series covers were classic Chick-Lit format, from the stylized illustrations to their colors and fun-n-funky typography. But the novels themselves weren’t like that at all. They’re set in 1950’s Manhattan, where the heroine, Paige Turner, works in a lowbrow, pulpy true crime magazine. The workplace scenes are period-perfect and Matetsky makes them come vividly to life. While these aren’t gritty noirs by any means, the author doesn’t shy away from the crime-stuff at all. These novels begged to have Hard Case Crime style cover art from contemporary illustrators like Glen Orbik, Michael Koelsch or Ken Laager, who can emulate the style of the Golden Age of paperback originals and their artists like Robert Maguire, McGinnis, James Avati. After all, the whole Paige Turner series is set in the 1950’s pulp-publishing milieu. I’m glad I overlooked the ‘sassy’ cover art on that first Paige Turner mystery long ago, because I’ve enjoyed them all (and dearly wish she’d write some more, tough I fear that’ll never happen). But the cover art almost steered me away.
At the other end of the scale is the series of reprints of Stuart Kaminsky’s excellent Toby Peters mysteries done by Simon & Shuster’s iBooks. Designed by Mike Rivillis, these all used Richie Fahey photo-illustrations for their covers. Now I love-love-LOVE Richie Fahey (plug his name into this blog’s search box to see some of his work right here, if you like). The Rivillis/Fahey covers are great, really. I’m just not sure if their Toby Peters mysteries. Kaminsky’s Peters series are crime fiction and are set in 1940’s Hollywood. But they’re quirky, funny, poignant…but by no means ‘noir-ish’. Rather, they’re quite light on the violence, and with only one requisite sex scene per novel (usually with the door closing on the bedroom at some strategic point before the goings get too…well, too).
Both Matetsky’s Paige Turner series and Kaminsky’s Toby Peters iBook editions use very attractive cover art. Professionally done. Professionally executed in every way. But maybe, just maybe, not the right cover art, and relaying the wrong cues to potential readers and buyers.
My own ‘Kyle Marffin’ projects (keep in mind that I work under more than one pen name) have been lucky when it came to cover art. For the two currently available, Gothique – A Vampire Novel (The Revised Edition) and Waiting For The 400 – A Northwoods Noir, the same designer did the cover designs, photocomposition and digital imaging for the feature photos. I was able to stand on the sidelines for the Gothique photo shoot, bartering a folio of cemetery and mausoleum photos I’d taken for the privilege. The session included shots for other titles as well for efficiency, and I even contributed my own black leather bike jacket for the vampire model (trooper that she was) to toss atop her black tank, mini and tights as she repeatedly flung herself back against a cinder block wall for shot after shot, trying to keep her fangs in place.
As I said, lucky.
Sure, there are cover templates available at Amazon’s CreateSpace. Sure, you have a niece who fancies herself a painter. Sure, you think you can do good caricatures.
Fight the temptation. We all scroll through WordPress Reader, Pinterest boards and Tumblr dashboards filled with indie-published, micropress-published and self-published print books and eBooks with some questionable cover art that makes us wince But there are a lot of great articles on cover art and graphic art how-to’s available online, Read ‘em and do what they say, but be sure to keep all those cover art ‘cues and mis-cues’ in mind while you do, so your cozy kitty-cat mystery isn’t mistaken for another S&M/bondage romance, or your cutting-edge adult vampire novel isn’t lost amidst the YA/teen fangless bloodsucker series. Heck, why not give Grace Dobush’s Books By Their Covers article in Writer’s Digest a peek? Like I said before, I may not agree with everything in her article, but it’s still six info-packed pages to start with.