The Many Faces of Scott Westerfeld’s “Leviathan”

After last week’s look at Jane Eyre over the years, I thought I’d take a look at something a little more recent over a shorter span of time: Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan, an alternate history steampunk rendition of WWI. (Plus, I really enjoyed this book.)

To keep me on track, I shall list:

Semantic Unit = cover art
Genre =  book covers
Style = …

I’m going to stop right there at style for a second because that’s where my train of thought really begins. Both the covers for Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan (above) maintain a dark, mechanical, masculine style. I am wondering if this is more a reflection of our perceptions of WWI (lots of metal, dark, gloomy) or an advertising strategy to draw in more young male readers despite the fact that one of the two main characters and perspectives is a girl. (She’s a girl pretending to be a boy so she can join the Air Service, but a girl nonetheless, and male readers are notoriously unlikely to read books with female protagonists.) If that’s the case, does our ideology dictate that dark, metal, gloom, etc. equals male?

Here’s a little something in comparison.

 Meet one of the Japanese covers for Leviathan, posted on Westerfeld’s blog in late 2011. First, it’s a painting (whether digital or traditional, I’m not sure). That alone is a little odd as Leviathan is a Middle Grade/Young Adult title, a category in which I’ve seen a rise in photo-manipulation and a drop in painted book covers. Moreover, while the clothing on this cover is still relatively dark, it has a completely different style from the other two. The lighting is much brighter, the font less wide and heavy, and the clouds and possible wind combine to give it a light, but adventurous atmosphere.

Is this one of the Japanese covers because the Japanese market uses more painted book covers or because they wanted to attract a different demographic? Or does this type of cover appeal to the same demographic in Japan, but that demographic is used to a different style than its American counterpart? I don’t know enough of the Japanese book market to say, but I’d love to know.

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This entry was written by Kel and published on February 9, 2012 at 8:58 am. It’s filed under Book Covers, Kelly's Posts, Semiotics and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “The Many Faces of Scott Westerfeld’s “Leviathan”

  1. This is a great comparison. The first set of book covers really do emphasize industrial, cold war. The boy on the cover of the second of the two looks brave and honorable, despite the machinery surrounding him–not to mention the blood-red colors as well. These two books look serious and heavy.

    In contrast, the Japanese book has, like you said, more of an adventure quality to it. For some reason (maybe because it’s depicted as a painting?), in my head I’m equating this version with the likes of Huckleberry Finn or Tom Sawyer. The boy holding the gun does notch up the seriousness of the cover, but it doesn’t seem as *real.*

    It’s hard to believe both covers are for the same book…

    • kelpeterson on said:

      I’m kind of tempted now to track down some other Japanese/Spanish book covers and see how they compare with their American counterparts. Of course, there are so many cultural/business variables in play, I don’t know how much “analysis” of the reasons behind each stylistic choice I’d be able to identify, so much as observation.

      Having read “Leviathan,” I can say that each of these covers brings out different elements of the story, but I think I like the Japanese version best. I’m a sucker for that painting style … and clouds. Always a sucker for clouds. 🙂

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