Looking at multiple covers for the same book: Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors

While looking for covers to include with my recycled review of this book (scheduled for re-publication in the distant future), I came across 4 different ones and thought it might be fun to do a comparison of them. I didn’t specifically check, but they will be either from different countries and/or different editions, although they actually look like they were designed with slightly different reader demographics in mind.

The first thing you notice on the first cover is the title, which is good. The title and author’s name are nicely balanced with the focus point of the image (the candle) leading from one to the other with a vertical line. This is a gothic-style cover with swirling smoke and a candle in an old-fashioned candle-stick reflected in a multi-faceted mirror and thus manages to convey not only the title with imagery, but also a hint at mystery and possible horrors (the slightly “off” appearance of the candle and stick), and even romance, because it’s so soft. It blends into the black background utilise the whole cover area, leaving no big empty spaces. The old fashioned title lettering suggests handwriting, the cover is quite well balanced and while the overall cover is rather generic it is also elegant and simple. It’s also the only cover on which the title is bigger than the author’s name. Judging from the absence of blurbs on the front, I am guessing this could be the dustcover image from the first edition hardcover.

Verdict: Somewhat generic but well-designed, well-balanced and effective. Seems designed to appeal to romantic goths and fans of horror and supernatural fiction.

Looking at this second cover, we see a solid black background with distinct blocks of text and a jumbled, centered image that contains a preview of what one can expect upon opening the book. The wavy surface of the ornate mirror frame and the way all the elements of the “reflection” blend together suggest a dreamy, perhaps even nightmarish, quality. This cover is not as unified as the previous one, containing not only advertising (on the red stripe), but also a blurb, and colours in the image and the red stripe clash with the black background. The cover image looks a bit lonely with all that solid, empty black around it. The title has been shunted to the bottom of the cover and is almost like an afterthought compared with the author’s name, which is incidentally in bigger lettering than the title. The image is the first thing the eye lands on, followed by the author’s name, and lastly the title. The big letters at the top and the red stripe make the design a bit top-heavy.

Verdict: Eye-catching but not well-balanced. Seems designed to appeal to fantasy fans.

Here we have another cover with a solid colour background, but this time in purple, which makes it less heavy than the previous one. The playful Monty Python-esque cover image with the suggestion of tentacled horror takes center stage, and while the title is in smaller letters than the author’s name, it is more prominent because of its location and colour – the title is in white while the author’s name is in black and blends into the background. The lime-green background of the image clashes in an almost eye-watering way with the purple and ensures that the book will be noticed from a distance. The black-clad man in the image leads the eye towards the elongated frame with the title, and reading the the rest of the cover text then comes naturally to the observer. This cover has even larger swaths of solid colour than the previous one, and no text above the image, making it somewhat bottom heavy.

Verdict: A cover that stands out. Seems designed to appeal to fans of paranormal fiction and alternative history literature.

 The fourth and final cover exists in two variations - let’s call them 4a and 4b. Here we again have a black background, but it isn’t separated from the image by a frame like the black in the second cover and the purple in the third cover, which makes both versions look like one image with text rather than a background with an image and text. This makes for a more unified look. The uneven lettering suggests both a reflection in moving water and text seen through swirling smoke, thus subtly mirroring the title. The ornate but empty candelabrum seems to suggest the the contents might have to do with history or antiques, and also gives it a gothic flavour.

These covers utilise the negative space and the uneven text to balance out the design. Without the blurb (incidentally not the same one on both covers) there would have been too much negative space, but the blurbs lend balance, especially the longer one on cover 4b.

Cover 4a has a clean but disordered look, whereas 4b has some added elements to make it look not only disordered but scuffed and worn and goes better with the scuffed lettering. It also gives an illusion of the book being old and much read.

Verdict: Well-balanced and understated compared with the others. Seems designed to appeal to fans of historical fiction, gothic thrillers and even classics. 4b is my favourite.


Dorte H said…
I can see the first one is romantic (which is usually not my taste) but it is certainly also mysterious. I think it is a gorgeous cover while the others strike me as too dark and not very remarkable.

Interesting post!

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