Call me boring, but I believe simplicity is best. Especially when it comes to covers for books and DVDs or posters for movies. I often question the choices artists make when they design such things because too often, the end results are cluttered or confusing.
This isn’t a new pet peeve of mine: I remember looking at the cover of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when I was about eight and wondering why there was so much stuff. Mary GrandPré is a lovely artist and thankfully, her work improves over time – in particular, the chapter illustrations get less cartoonish – but I’ve never understood this impulse to show ALL THE THINGS! on the cover. Each part of this illustration is beautiful and cool, but together they’re a little overwhelming. It’s hard to know where to look first, what your eye is supposed to be drawn to. It’s also confusing because it appears to be a single chaotic scene when in reality it combines, oh, probably at least five. I love scenes on covers and whatnot, but not if they’re misleading. I like to have some idea of what I’m going to read/watch, you know.
However, the real reason I was motivated to write this post lies with Doctor Who. I’ve seen covers for the DVDs and CDs a lot lately, because I listen to the scores often and looked on Amazon to see how much some of it costs. And I do not understand these covers. They’re really quite ridiculous, aren’t they?
While the DVD cover for series four clearly doesn’t show a scene it is, again, confusing. My biggest issue is that it makes the Tenth Doctor’s past companions seem much more important than they really are. Oh, Martha had a few episodes at the beginning and Rose would show up for a couple minutes at a time as a kind of teaser for the finale, but Jack isn’t even important until the very end. And regardless of how frequently or infrequently they may appear, they’re not the point – if the DVD case makes you excited for those three, you’re in for a surprise. Because what you get is a bunch of episodes with Donna.
Who is the best companion ever, but that wasn’t my point.
Similarly, this promotional poster for The Fellowship of the Ring is messy. The only way this could possibly be a scene is if Frodo were the biggest member of the Fellowship and everyone else was tiny. Now, hobbits are small, but I doubt anyone would think Sam is really small enough for Frodo to hold him in his hand and put the Ring on him like it’s an inner-tube.
I think this is actually one of the better cluttered posters because the artwork is so gorgeous and dramatic, but still. There is entirely too much here: Frodo, Merry, Pippin, Sam, Legolas, Gimli, Galadriel, Gandalf, Aragorn, Arwen, Boromir, and all nine of the Nazgul, plus an overlay of the One Ring’s inscription. I would much rather see Frodo on his own, or the Nazgul with the One Ring design, or perhaps Frodo with his fellow hobbits.
Now, the DVD case for series-four-without-the-specials is much less cluttered but doesn’t tell me anything. If I looked at this without no knowledge of the show I would not think, “Oh, this is a show about an alien who travels through time and space in a blue box and fights bad guys with his human friends.” I would look at this and go, “The fluffy-haired guy with the awesome suit and his shy friend like lots of explosions and light.”
Apparently this as good as Doctor Who‘s covers are going to get. It’s not as “busy” as the others
but why does Amy have to be on there I don’t like her . Although it’s not a scene, it’s actually quite brilliant. The Impossible Astronaut is important in series six and seeing Eleven, the Ponds, and the TARDIS reflected in their visor is a neat perspective. It’s not crowded – all that’s there are the big parts of the show. This case actually tells you what features in those particular episodes.
As I wrote above, I believe the best designs are simple – sometimes just a symbol will suffice. No, The Hunger Games doesn’t have a gorgeous cover with illustrations in fifty billion different covers, but it doesn’t need to. It shouldn’t. It’s dark and bleak and is about people not having a lot – so anything else wouldn’t have the right mood. It’s also easy to see what the focus is: a small pin with the image of a bird. Right away, we know that it will likely be important, and it is. It becomes the symbol of Katniss and the rebellion.
Want a truly great cover? Here you go. All of Riordan’s books have stunning covers. This picture tells me that the story is about a boy who swordfights, and it’s probably set in New York City, and there’s a storm brewing that makes me think of danger. It shows only Percy, so it’s not cluttered. As it shows only one scene, it isn’t confusing either. It’s rather striking. The Lightning Thief has one of my all-time favorite covers.
What do you think? Do you like the illustrations with lots of “stuff” or do you prefer the simpler designs?