Cover Story on BN.Com

DragonbornBarnes and Noble has a new video series on its web site about the cover art of books. This episode features Judy York, the illustrator behind a few bodrillion covers.

Some of the behind-the-scenes footage I saw in Marianne Mancusi’s Cover Story a few months back, but the shots of the illustrator at work were, for a geek like me, fascinating. Michelle Styles, Jade Lee, and C.L. Wilson’s books get some screen time, as do, I believe Marianne Mancusi and Eve Kenin’s cover art.

However, York’s discussion of Jade Lee’s Dragonborn in which she says she wants the model to look “powerful” begs the question: how is draped across some dude’s middle in a harem costume “powerful?”


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  1. 1
    ilona andrews says:

    However, York’s discussion of Jade Lee’s Dragonborn in which she says she wants the model to look “powerful” begs the question: how is draped across some dude’s middle in a harem costume “powerful?”

    That a classic “Conan” grab-his-thigh pose.

    Let me demonstrate:

    Mmm, Frazetta:

    Very old school.  I thought it was a Conan book when I saw the cover.

  2. 2
    Laurie says:

    The only thing my mind can feebly suggest to rationalize that is to wonder if she meant the male model?  Because if she specified the chick, then I have to wonder if she’s gotten ‘strong’ confused with ‘constipated’.

    Actually, that doesn’t help.  He has the same expression.

  3. 3
    KTG says:

    Well, she is holding him up. So powerful! Like the third leg of a tri-pod?


    Tri-pod! Yes, metally I am a 12 year old boy.

  4. 4
    KTG says:

    *head desk*

    mentally! not metally!

  5. 5
    katiebabs says:

    Perhaps model has fainted into Powerful Conan like man because he is so virile with his abs of steel?

  6. 6
    Robinjn says:

    I agree, Frank Frazetta all the way. And, since I fell totally in lurve with Conan the Barbarian when I was 15 (what can I tell you, I had a strange and warped childhood), I’m also a huge, huge Frank Frazetta fan. His work is so powerful. Even his supplicating females have a “don’t mess with me” resonance that is missing from the many who imitated him.

    If only we had someone like him working today in cover art:

  7. 7
    DS says:

    Her other covers are female back ones.  Maybe the fact the models are facing forward???  While I didn’t particularly care for the Jade Lee book I read I had bought it because of the cover—which should teach me some sort of lesson.  I would mention the title but all I remember was that it had tigress in the title.

  8. 8
    RStewie says:

    Wow.  I had no idea those ladies were so…volumptuous.  I wish those WERE the covers of more romance books.  Makes me feel good about my body!

  9. 9

    Yes, the leg-cluching female can probably traced back to early pulp SF novels.  I had a flash, even, of Princess Leia on the cover of the first Star Wars book, although I don’t know if that is a made-up mental image.

  10. 10
    Kalen Hughes says:

    I was have a Boris Vallejo flash back, but I can see Frank Frazetta too. *sigh*

  11. 11
    phadem says:

    I actually like the cover. Like some of yas, I’m a fan of Boris, etc. and love to peruse his artwork and others like. It’s certainly not going to catapult women into the idealistic, equalized future of the sexes, but damn if she don’t gots her man. Story done, right there.

    *makes note to purchase book*

  12. 12
    amy lane says:

    Well, dudes—all she has to do is move her hand to his balls…talk about who’s got the power now!!! 

    Seriously—can’t be easy for the romance cover illustrator—“Oh yay—more man-titty and enhanced boobage…and, yes, the perpetual look of insipid adoration!!!”  I’m sort of a fan of the old sci-fi Conan things…maybe just the fact that she’s facing a future as he-man’s barbarian queen is supposed to be powerful?

  13. 13

    I like the Dragonborn cover.  The woman doesn’t seem to be cowering, and her expression doesn’t convey fear or submission.  It’s an homage to a certain cover style or artist, not insidious anti-feminism.

    This pose will always be provocative, but is it offensive?  I tried to picture it done in a contemporary cover and imagined a closer shot, maybe of a woman unbuckling a man’s belt.  Why can’t a woman on her knees be powerful?

    Or is it her slave costume that makes the position unpalatable?  I agree that he looks stronger, ready to fight dragons, while she seems merely amorous and protective.

  14. 14
    MoJo says:

    Why can’t a woman on her knees be powerful?

    Goodness yes.  Got the power of the world between your teeth and all it would take is just one chomp…

    But I digress.

  15. 15


    I also immediately thought of the Princess Leia pose myself. Is this the one you are remembering?

    I adored this Star Wars poster as a little girl. I thought Leia looked so much prettier—yes, as a small girl the word was definitely pretty—and more active than she was in the movie. Anyway, I, too, am a fan of old school SciFi/ Fantasy covers… well the good old school ones that is.

  16. 16
    Ann Aguirre says:

    I think y’all don’t understand the power of the models’ pose. See, she’s threatening his manhood. It looks like she’s submissive, but in actuality, she could totally pounce and twist off Mr Winky in a lightning fast ninja move if he doesn’t smile just right, faster than plucking the stem from an apple.

  17. 17
    Ocy says:

    That’s a powerful woman?  I’d hate to see her interpretation of a submissive one.

  18. 18
    SonomaLass says:

    Put me in the camp that says “scantily clad and can’t stand up by myself” does not say “powerful” to me.  Not that a woman dressed like that, in that position, couldn’t have power, but that’s not what the image conveys.

    Conan covers and Princess Leia as Jabba’s slave both occurred to me, as well, but the series (my eyes! my brain!) that first came to mind was John Norman’s Gor series.  I’ve never liked these books, but I’ve read bits and pieces, because all my [male] D&D;and sci-fi buddies in college thought they were amazing.  Go figure.
    Here’s an example.

  19. 19
    Jo Bourne says:

    Hmmm … Yes.  The pose is pure hommage a Frank Frazetta.  It’s almost camp.  I see it as signalling, ‘Here be swords and socery,’ to the passing reader.

    Nice body on the dude.  I do wish they’d give these poor half-naked men some chest hair. 

    The cover artist may be talking about a ‘powerful’ expression on the woman’s face.  There’s a certain ‘You knock him down and I’ll stomp on him,’ look about her.

  20. 20
    Chrissy says:

    How pathetic is it that all I can think of now is The Tick?

    “It takes a mighty thigh to fill the tights of justice, Arthur.  And I am mighty!”


  21. 21
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    I must be selectively dyslexic—when I glanced at that cover I was certain the title read “Dragonomicon”, (which I think is far more interesting than “Dragonborn”, by the way.)

    As for the cover art—pure Frazetta/Vallejo sendup, definitely.  It doesn’t scream female empowerment to me as much as it does “camp.”

  22. 22

    Aside from the fact that she’s fit and showing off her stomach like Xena Warrior Princess would when she’s scantily clad in much the same manner, I don’t see the woman on the cover as remotely powerful. I understand she could be in a position of power were she to take him in hand (so to speak), but since she is not in that position on the cover, I can’t say that counts for much. In fact, the way she’s draped on him it seems like she’s being dragged along or needs a prop to hold herself up. This screams, “rescue me.” It’s classic Conan style, I would agree, but if York was shooting for “strong,” she missed the target and hit something on the opposite wall. Maybe that’s as strong as the character gets though? I haven’t read the book to be able to say, but I’d be curious to see how much the art reflects the character.

  23. 23

    Wow, her work is really photoshopped and bland, and her models are insipid and contemporary looking… in tacky polyvelvet costumes to boot!  I suppose it’s better than using stock images from Corbis, but it’s still, IMO, a few steps down from the days when Pino Daeni was illustrating covers.  Now that guy has talent- he can paint like nobody’s business.  I wish I was as half as good as he was.

  24. 24
    LeaF says:

    I had a flash, even, of Princess Leia on the cover of the first Star Wars book, although I don’t know if that is a made-up mental image.

    Same thought flashed through my mind immediately when I saw this cover. On closer inspection, it looks as if the artist/photographer was attempting to portray a sort of “protectionist”, expression for the female model (while running her hand down his 6 pack or 12 pack – whatever).

    Anyone notice the men on the front of these book covers are getting more muscular “lumps” in their “pack” – lol. I guess it is meant to be a turn on for us “sexually deprived” females. But – I also digress.

    I read some reader reviews on Amazon and may pick up this book. Doesn’t sound like a half bad read.

  25. 25
    Twitch says:

    Oh, York! There are so many ways to convey a strong female and yet still draw attention to the man. Too bad she hasn’t seen examples such as Gustave Moreau’s Jason (of the Argonauts) and Medea. I don’t mean to totally swerve the conversation to a whole different direction, but at least even an old-fashioned painter can convey a sense of confidence to a female which stands behind the Greek hero. They both look like allies as well as lovers, and I totally love Medea’s proud expression at her man. If I were to do a cover conveying a conan-eque hero as well as a strong heroine (without overdoing it) that painting would be the first thing to inspire me. The cover’s female model looks too much like she’s gonna duck right behind him. I wouldn’t be really impressed, unless she’s only doing it to avoid some strong dragon breath by using him as a human shield.

  26. 26
    Suze says:

    I have to agree, I don’t think either person on that cover looks powerful.  Not being savvy about visual design, I’m not sure what you could do to that to make them look that way, but I’d start with the postures.

    He’s leaning back, letting his sword dangle.  She’s hanging off him with her legs at an angle that would prevent her from moving quickly.

    Maybe the fact that they’re not in a defensive, action-ready posture indicates that they’re so powerful they don’t need no steenkeen defensive abilities?  Maybe that dragon sneaking up behind them is going to incinerate their foes, making them powerful by association with dragons?

    Sigh.  I loved all those Conan, Tarzan, Gor, Pellucidar, Barsoom books.  Covers and stories.

  27. 27
    Wryhag says:

    Derivative=unimpressive.  And the multiple-hip-fracture look?  So NOT sexy.

  28. 28
    Wryhag says:

    Forgot to add—s.o.b. must have a hella sixpack going, though, to allow for that kind of grab-on.  If only he’d been on the Titanic . . .

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