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Cartoon People on the Cover

Instead of seeing real looking people on these covers, I have been seeing a lot of cartoon covers of people instead. Six months ago I loved these covers. I find myself getting rather tired of them now though since there are so many of them. They appear to be used more on light, comedic contemporary romances than on women’s fiction. Perhaps Elizabeth Bevarly is one of the more exciting comedic talents whose work is accurately depicted by these cartoon covers. For those of us who have seen screwball film comedies from the 1930’s and 1940’s, her work is a very close, present day equivalent. Her most recent novel, Her Man Friday, has been well received by readers and reviewers. I had a good time with it and it reminds me of Preston Sturges’ comedies from the 1940s, like Palm Beach Story or The Lady Eve.

The scenario is of an investigator, Leo Friday, who is hired by the board of directors of a major corporation to investigate the disappearance of millions of dollars of its funds. They send him to the home of the CEO of the corporation, with a bogus cover story, to ascertain if anyone in his household is responsible. Friday meets the CEO’s social secretary, Lily, is attracted to her instantly and then discovers that she is probably his likeliest suspect. She is up to something but it is a real comedy of errors for him finding out exactly what that is.

The cartoon cover only shows their legs and feet but that is sufficient to convey the whole wacky tone of Friday’s investigating the heroine. Those feet sure look as if they are itching to match up as well since Lucy’s foot is sneaking under Friday’s pants’ cuff. Avon’s art department makes these cartoon covers from collages consisting of pieces of colored construction paper instead of drawing or painting them. It does suit Bevarly’s novel but I wonder if Avon will be putting another cartoon upon her release for 2000 or if I can count on something else. Avon has churned so many of these out that I don’t think I’m going to be up for another by then. This cover is eligible for our 1999 Cover Ballot.

Exploring The Sub-Sub Genre

I took another sub-sub route with romance when I decided to try a multicultural romance. A really big surprise for me was that Signet, the publisher who produces those awful Regency Romance covers (which I discussed in an earlier column), produces really good covers for some of its other romances. The ones I found and read properly fit into the multicultural contemporary romance category although Signet calls them fiction and has them shelved in African-American literature in the bookstores.

My first such book was The Color Of Love by Sandra Kitt. It utilizes an absolute knockout of a cover. For one, it goes for the boldly contrasting yet universally appealing color scheme of black and white. It is hard for an artist to go wrong with this color foundation in a design. Next, it uses a silhouette of two faces, a female one in black and a male one in white. That is exactly what the story is about: a biracial romance between a white cop and an African American illustrator.

There is an accent of colors of the rainbow with those colors being strands of her hair. You wouldn’t want any more color though because the black and the white contain the main image impact. The artist/illustrator also makes the features of each consistent with their race. His nose, mouth and shape of his head differs sharply from the same features on her. Only this profile view would have made the difference this visible. This was a gutsy cover, as it should be, because it is a gutsy novel dealing with a subject which is still controversial to many people.

Signet does not credit its artist/illustrator/designer by name which is a shame, since such excellence should be noted.

There was never any doubt in my mind that this novel is romance and not women’s fiction. The central conflict is whether Jason and Leah can have a relationship and then, an even harder question, get married. Jason couldn’t be in a worse profession for biracial tolerance. He is a New York City cop who works with at-risk juveniles. Leah meets him after Jason’s young son died in an accident. Jason is wandering around Leah’s neighborhood in a daze, looking like a homeless person, not a cop. Leah is a commercial artist in the publishing industry (book covers, no less!) who brings Jason some coffee when she sees him outside her home. From there, we encounter every hurdle this remarkable couple faces as they try to be together. An amazing array of people in their lives try to get each to drop the relationship. Although there are a lot of secondary characters who interact with the lead characters, the dramatic focus never leaves the two of them.

Recent Depictions of People

I think I can easily put 1999’s Summer’s End by Kathleen Giles Seidel into the women’s fiction grouping. There is a romance in the novel between Amy and Jack but it shares equal time with the blending of the two families which occurs when Jack’s widowed mother’s marries Amy’s widowed father. All of the members of both families come together one summer at a fairly primitive set of cabins set on a Minnesota lake. It has been owned by the senior Legend for decades (no flush toilets, you bathe in the lake, no phone or phone lines, no electricity, and so forth – egad, I’m glad it wasn’t me!). Every character in this novel has to work out a relationship with another character, creating a constant shift of emphasis. Seidel pulls the characters together so seamlessly through these changes that nothing jars you out of this utterly absorbing story. Amy Legend is also an Olympic gold metal figure skater who has turned professional and her relationships are typically troubled by this factor. However, Jack, her romantic counterpart, has no problem with it. I have yet to meet a novel of Seidel’s I didn’t like – this one was no exception.

I’m happy to report that the cover really ties into the novel nicely. The front shows Jack and Amy sitting on the end of the dock on the lake with one cabin behind them. Then you open to the stepback and there is a painting of Jack and Amy which looks pretty much the way I imagined them. Another Seidel lover complained to me that Amy’s hair was too long in the stepback. However, I noticed that a man, John Ennis for Harper publishing, painted the stepback. I reported back to this reader that I imagined to this man, her pageboy is short hair. Some men do indeed consider that long hair is always midback or longer! The stepback also appears on the spine of the bookcover. This cover is eligible for our 1999 Cover Ballot.

I have trouble categorizing Mary Alice Monroe’s (aka Mary Alice Kreusi’s) Girl In The Mirror, which was nominated for the 1998 contemporary RITA. Significantly, an author she thanks in her acknowledgments is Diane Chamberlain, whom I’ve already indicated is difficult to classify. The plot revolves around Charlotte, a facially deformed woman, who you first see in very painful encounters with men because of her face. Finally, she has her face fixed by a plastic surgeon so that she is beautiful instead.

She then becomes a successful film actress. Her romantic interest is Michael, a Hispanic in Los Angeles, who has had to temporarily abandon his architect’s career to help run his family’s landscaping business. There are several dramatic plot twists in this novel but one which comes to eclipse all others is that Charlotte’s jaw implants are rejected by her autoimmune system. Her doctor tells her she’ll have to have them removed and she refuses because she will no longer be beautiful. However, she will not return to being deformed by their removal since her reconstruction work is still fine. Another key man in the story is her agent who also does not want her to get the surgery because it might ruin her career. He becomes a very sinister force in her present and, surprisingly, from her past.

The cover is wonderful because it was so well thought out. Unfortunately, MIRA does not credit the artist/illustrator/designer. The artist photographed either a painting or a drawing of Charlotte and transferred it to textured oriental rice paper. However, we can only see her face from mid-nose to her hairline. Her facial deformity is all in the lower, unseen portion of her face. By transferring this image to the paper, it sunk into the paper, became partially opaque, and almost disappeared. Thus, it now has a mysterious quality which seeing the painting directly would never convey. Also, the expression around her eyes is one of worry and fear which is what this news regarding her surgery does to her. Look at the border that runs around the image of Charlotte. This is what the photograph leaves behind as residue when a photo image is being transferred to another surface. The cover drew me to this book since I had never heard of the title before, or the author, when it was released in summer of 1998. Then I read the blurb and decided to give it a try.


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