About

Introduction and all that

This is a personal project by Melbourne-based graphic designer, Jennifer Wu.

Cover Remix was created as a way for me to make a comment on issues in genre fiction using the tool of my trade: visual language.

This project aims to challenge the status quo of genre book covers, either humorously or critically. It subverts cover archetypes in a punchy, yet understated manner, using the very genre’s visual language. It achieves this by taking existing covers (sometimes using the one, sometimes combining several) and “remixing” them, as it were.

The seed for this project was planted in June 2011. Originally Cover Remix was simply an exercise for me to improve my technical and conceptual skills (and it still is), but I soon took the idea on as a kind of personal crusade.

I hope you get something out of Cover Remix. A laugh. A thought. A violent compulsion to hurl. Something. Better yet, please send me your thoughts by leaving a comment, or suggest a cover for me to remix!

A design exercise turned critique

Cover Remix covers all genres of interest, but it mostly scrutinises young adult fiction, which is what triggered the idea in the first place.

Recent years have seen an enormous influx of novels for young people. There are volumes and volumes of romance and contemporary and fantasy and paranormal fiction now. You only need to head to your nearest bookshop to scan the numerous shelves in the genre sections to find you’re not at all lacking in choices.

Fantastic! you think. Yes, it is fantastic. More choice in reading material can only be a good thing, right?

Well … yes. In a way.

The problem shows itself when you look closer at that YA section. Why does that cover look remarkably like that one, that then looks like this one? Why are there all these deathly pale girls on those covers? Hang on, doesn’t the main character in this story have a mixed ethnicity? Why do I feel like I’m in a supermarket trying to decide which shampoo to buy?

The fact that covers look the same isn’t exactly the crux of the problem. The problem is what actually is on these covers. The more cover art I looked at in my research, the more disappointed and appalled I became. I’m certainly not the first to raise issues about covers in YA fiction and just how problematic they are—ideologically, morally or culturally. Tropes may be a signifier of a particular genre, but more implicitly they are symptomatic of a kind of sickness in cover design that is uninspired at best, and offensive at worst. That they are perpetuated also demonstrates a continued demand.

Granted, it makes sense that a genre assumes a certain visual logic. After all, a genre does pander to a certain type of niche and it sure as hell makes it easier for a new or old reader to connect with the contents of a novel very quickly by identifying particular archetypes.

However, we’re discounting one important fact: readers are a more discerning and intelligent lot than they let on. Great stories have unique voices—voices that entertain, enthral and excite readers just as much as they may challenge, teach and caution. So why aren’t we seeing that being visually reflected on covers?

Perhaps these so-called cover trends reveal a market overwhelmed by demand, with mediocre stories being hurriedly churned out only to merely graze readers’ appetites. We need more variety in storytellers and storytelling; we need publishers who are willing to take those chances on them. Perhaps then will we start to see a healthier array of diverse genre fiction, which will in turn mirror a healthier look for genre fiction.

The fact is, the compromise between thoughtful design, personal taste and the-powers-that-be is always a slippery one—that’s the reality of business. A design’s success is always relative to its connection with its audience.

I don’t dare assume this project will have any positive effect, but I hope its more visceral nature will encourage a positive discourse and, more importantly, action. With the prominence of digital media chumming up with traditional print now, the possibilities now are simply endless—if only we can move on from the rhetoric.

Disclaimer

Yes, these cover designs look familiar—and if they don’t, then I’ve failed—but they are parodies (spoofs, satire, et al). These are not actual book covers for actual novels, though I’ve maintained a professional quality for each of them, which is designed to help the farce. It is not my intention to defame or shame a particular creator or creator’s work.

All artwork featured on this site was created by Jennifer Wu, unless otherwise specified.

Acknowledgements

Adele of Persnickety Snark, for her valued opinions and support.