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DAW’s Zombie Rabbit Cover of Doom

Yesterday, Mr. Coke Zero himself, John Scalzi, took my publisher to task for the cover of Zombie Raccoons and Killer Bunnies [Amazon | Mysterious Galaxy].  Others have offered up alternate covers, or just chimed in about how bad it is.

Disclaimers up front: Zombie Raccoons is the latest DAW anthology.  DAW is my publisher as well.  I was invited to write a story for this one, but the editor decided that my tale (”Mightier than the Sword”) fit better in her other project, Gamer Fantastic.  So I’m hardly unbiased.

This is not my favorite cover from DAW.  It didn’t really work for me, and I was happy to end up in Gamer Fantastic, which had a cover I liked better.

That said, I think the criticism is over the top.  Scalzi says he’s genuinely offended that a major publisher would produce such a thing.  (He also claims it will make blood shoot from your ears, but I’m chalking that one up to hyperbole.)

Is it a bad cover?  The editor loved it.  It certainly stands out, and it’s stirred up more buzz online than any DAW anthology I can remember.  On the other hand, the raccoon’s mouth gave me nightmares, and I find myself wanting to delete the Photoshopped rabbit and raccoon and see what’s behind ‘em, which seems to be a totally different piece of art.

I wanted to make a few other points, though.  Starting with the fact that, to my knowledge, DAW is the only major SF/F publisher still putting out a monthly anthology of short fiction.  These aren’t moneymakers; very few short fiction anthologies ever earn out.  But DAW continues to produce them, more reliably and consistenly than most SF/F ‘zines.

Does that excuse a bad cover?  Of course not.  But no publisher gets it right every time.  Sooner or later, no matter how good the publisher, they’re going to have a stinker.  I could fill the rest of this post with examples of bad cover art from Baen, Tor, and the rest.

That’s no excuse either, of course.  It’s not supposed to be.  It’s supposed to be a reminder than nobody’s perfect.  That when you’ve put out thousands of books over the years, you’re not going to hit it out of the park with every one.  It’s easy to sit around online and boast about how you could whip up a better cover in five minutes on Photoshop.  And hey, maybe you could.

Now do it 99 more times.  If you think they’ll all be brilliant, you’re sadly deluded.  Even award-winning artists produce the occasional stinker.

I wasn’t in on the meetings at DAW.  I don’t know what they were going for here.  Maybe the original cover didn’t work, so the bunny and raccoon were an emergency fix at the last minute.  Maybe they wanted to try something different, and they went for the over-the-top kitsch angle.  Maybe the artist backed out at the last second, leaving them only a week to whip something together.  Maybe, like the editor, they just liked this cover and thought it worked for the project.

I’m not saying Scalzi’s out of line in his critique; he’s not.  I like John a lot, and folks have every right to express their distaste.  No cover will work for everyone, and this one does seem to have failed for most.

But to say you’re genuinely offended by that failure?  That bothers me a little.  By all means, hold publishers to a high standard.  But people also say they want publishers to try things that are new or different, and every time you do that you risk failure.  High standards, yes.  Perfection?  I prefer my publisher to be human, thanks.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.


( 66 comments — Leave a comment )
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Oct. 3rd, 2009 04:41 pm (UTC)
I think that's possibly one of the worst covers I've ever seen from a major publisher. On the other hand, I think it's also pretty clearly *supposed* to be awful, which is I assume the point. I mean, one doesn't exactly expect high art (either literally or figuratively) from an anthology titled ZOMBIE RACCOONS & KILLER BUNNIES, and I'd say the cover is aiming for, and hitting, the idea of "bad but fun pulp fiction".

If, however, it's supposed to be a work of heartbreakingly brilliant art, someone has made a terrible mistake. :)
Oct. 3rd, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
I'm guessing that was the goal, but I don't know for certain. One way or another, I don't think it worked. Most of the reactions I've seen have been pretty negative.

That said, so what? Every house puts out a cover that doesn't work from time to time.

And wait, you mean it isn't brilliant? What about the way the raccoon's eyes evoke the subtle magnificence of the Mona Lisa? And the bunny's pose is a clear tribute to the statue of David. The juxtaposition of kitcsh and fine art creates a deep deconstructive appreciation in the truly discerning viewer ;-)
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:59 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:16 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Oct. 3rd, 2009 07:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cissa - Oct. 5th, 2009 10:30 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Oct. 6th, 2009 01:01 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - cissa - Oct. 6th, 2009 01:14 am (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Oct. 6th, 2009 01:25 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 3rd, 2009 04:53 pm (UTC)
I would comment, but it's difficult to type with all of this blood shooting out of my ears... :)
Oct. 3rd, 2009 04:54 pm (UTC)
Wimp. Get a couple of cotton balls and start typing.
(no subject) - deborahblakehps - Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:51 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 3rd, 2009 04:59 pm (UTC)
I fond my objection to the cover is not that it is bad (I strongly suspect it was supposed to be Extreme Kitsch) but that it looks cheap, and not in the "we had no budget and improvised with flair" way, either.

Also, a zombie raccoon should not have vampire teeth.

Idea, a solid B. Execution, a C.
Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:02 pm (UTC)
I agree with this, and find myself with nothing to add. But I rarely let that stop me from commenting anyway :-)
Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:01 pm (UTC)
I've seen a lot of people talk about how they hate the cover, but the more I see it the more I enjoy it. But then, I love kitschy stuff. With so many bland covers out there (do we really need another urban fantasy cover showing off the female protagonist's butt?) this is exactly the sort of thing that would make me say "Wait, what?" and pick it up for a closer look.
Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
Yes -- even if it fails, I'd still give DAW points for trying something different and new, as opposed to yet another butt cover with the heroine's head/face cropped off!
(no subject) - cissa - Oct. 5th, 2009 10:32 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
I like your attitude :)
Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:03 pm (UTC)
Given the theme, I kind of thought they were going for...kitschiness?

Edited at 2009-10-03 05:04 pm (UTC)
Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:06 pm (UTC)
I think so. I think you can debate whether or not they succeeded, but I'm assuming that was the idea.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
Somebody had to do it :-)
Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:29 pm (UTC)
When I saw that cover weeks ago before I'd ever heard of the anthology, it made me laugh. It was so over the top that it made me want to pick up the book and start reading it. How many covers do that? I was, and remain, unoffended. I could point out quite a few far more traditional cliched covers which _do_ offend me, however ...
Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:08 pm (UTC)
I don't really like it, but it's definitely one of the most memorable covers I've seen in a while. And I love that the over-the-top worked for you.
(Deleted comment)
Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:06 pm (UTC)
My first published on paper short story (as opposed to published electronically short story) is in this book and I'm thrilled to have it in the book.

To those who say the cover offends, feel free to buy the book, rip the cover off (and even send the cover to the DAW art department with your comments) and read (and, I hope, enjoy) the stories that were previously between the covers you discarded.
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:10 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - shsilver - Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:50 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - adaveen - Oct. 3rd, 2009 07:34 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - jimhines - Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:09 pm (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:34 pm (UTC)
I have to admit, I did not like the cover when I first saw it as a reader - but it got my attention. It's the kind of cover you think about later (whether you like it or not) and that is a good thing.
Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:11 pm (UTC)
It clings in your mind like a zombie raccoon, fangs sinking ever deeper into your memory, while those undead claws dig away at your resistance...

Or something like that.
Oct. 3rd, 2009 05:42 pm (UTC)
I love it. In fact, I'd be disappointed if an anthology called "Zombie Raccoons and Killer Rabbits" had a tasteful and subtle cover. I think it's fantastic.

It's perfect for the anthology and it tells me that DAW doesn't take itself so seriously that they're not worth listening to any longer. Don't we get enough of that from "literary" publishers?

My 16 and 17 year old sons would buy it on the cover alone and I suspect that there's a great deal of young SF/F readers that would as well.

Art is supposed to produce a mental and emotional space, evoke feeling and convey an atmosphere. Just because you don't want to go to that space, doesn't make the art less brilliant or effective. This cover is art doing it's job. Bravo!

PS: Please note that we all watch old Ed Wood movies and MST3K around here, which may explain a lot.

Edited at 2009-10-03 05:43 pm (UTC)
Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:12 pm (UTC)
"I'd be disappointed if an anthology called "Zombie Raccoons and Killer Rabbits" had a tasteful and subtle cover. I think it's fantastic."

I think that's a very good point!
Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:03 pm (UTC)
I have to say, it's a rather stand out cover. A bit... frightening, which may have been the point, but I'm not sure it's frightening in the way they intended.

I have to say though, I love that you used DOOM in your title. It's one of my favorite words. Heh.

Oh, and I read your slush pile poem. Epic. *nods*

Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:13 pm (UTC)
It seems to work for some people, but I've also read a number of folks saying they were turned off by it. So overall, I don't know that it was a successful cover ... but it's definitely memorable :-)

And thanks! Glad you enjoyed the poem!
Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:24 pm (UTC)
LOL-I'm one of those people who appreciate kitcshyness--and what could be more perfect for that than an anthology about zombie animals? Really! Sure, perhaps the cover might have been artier if it had been painted in a 1930s hyperbolic magazine style (the kind with bug-eyed monsters carrying barely clad women with huge breasts who were about to be violated by said BEM) but this is like the new tacky.

In fact, now that I've heard about this book, I'm going to look for it in the bookstore, and hope they haven't sold out to the teen horror loving crowd! I'd love to know what the writers in the anthology came up with for zombie animals.

(and yes, I have a fine arts background, too)
Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:29 pm (UTC)
I think "The New Tacky" should be the next big genre movement.
(no subject) - derekjgoodman - Oct. 4th, 2009 04:17 am (UTC) - Expand
Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
My wife and I just started laughing when we saw this; her sister has a rabbit that would have fit perfectly on that cover.

Yes, it's over the top, but it's the sort of kitcsh that will draw in readers. It evokes that 50's movie poster excess yet goes up and tweaks your nose for being so serious.

Now, if only they would have put "Gerbil Vampires" on the cover too...
Oct. 3rd, 2009 08:06 pm (UTC)
Maybe they can do gerbil vampires for the sequel?
Oct. 3rd, 2009 06:40 pm (UTC)
I dont think that Scalzi is the target audience for the anthology, the cover is glorious in its tackyness, and eye catching. Half the battle is getting the book picked up and looked at.

Short stories arent my preferred reading material, but I buy the anthologies because people I know are in them, and I can ususally find a new writer I havent tried. I see buying the book as helping a friend out.
Oct. 3rd, 2009 08:07 pm (UTC)
The cover definitely earns a second glance, I'll give it that much :-)

Re: Scalzi, maybe if they taped bacon to the zombie raccoon?
(no subject) - martianmooncrab - Oct. 3rd, 2009 08:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
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Jim C. Hines


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