copyright 2014 by Gary Pullman
It may be true that one cannot tell a book by its title, but, fortunately for those of us who enjoy visual as well as literary art, publishers keep trying to prove this maxim wrong.
As a result, they—or the artists whom they hire—occasionally offer us some aesthetically pleasing cover art.
This is especially true when the novel between the covers is erotic horror.
Here are a few cases in point.
Dark Seduction: Tales of Erotic Fiction, an anthology of short stories edited by Alice Alfonsi and John Scognamiglio, shows a woman's hand, holding a single, long-stem rose against her bosom, the ample cleavage of which is framed by the decolletage of her black dress. The background is also black, so that her hand, her cleavage, and the rose alone are visible, which emphasizes them, both in themselves and as parts of the composition as a whole. Her flesh is pale, so the sleek skin highlights the crimson drop of blood that the piercing of her right breast by the rose's thorn produces. The red letters of the subtitle match the red of her blood, connecting the rose and her vital essence. Why, one may wonder, is she—whoever she may be—surrounded by darkness? Just as the color of the rose matches that of her blood, the black surroundings match her black dress, suggesting that she is one with the night, as she is one with life and beauty. She is a dark figure who inhabits a dark world. Surely, though, she is more than a lady of the evening; she is a queen of the darkness, a vampire, perhaps, a femme fatale whose beauty lures the unsuspecting and the unwary to their deaths. A beauty who feeds upon the lifeblood of her victims, she is a monster, a creature of the night, despite her apparent tenderness and loveliness. She is herself the embodiment of the “dark seduction” which awaits the reader between the covers of the book she adorns. Several of the titles of the short stories in this bouquet of flowers, as the word “anthology” literally means, suggest that romantic passion, not good intentions, may pave the road to hell: “Private Pleasures,” “Dark Seduction,” “Good Vibrations,” “Satisfaction.” Whether the stories can deliver the passion the book's cover art implies is a question that each reader must answer for him- or herself, but the pale woman in the black dress certainly promises the reader good times.
Blindfolded, the topless blonde raises a hand, to block someone or something, as she stands in an inverted triangle, blackbirds in flight through the fog that obscures a tangle of treetops behind her. Her other hand covers her lower abdomen. Has she escaped mysterious captors? Is she a sacrifice, about to be sacrificed? Is she prey, awaiting the attack of a predatory man or beast? Any of these scenarios is possible, but none is certain; the painting of the damsel in distress leaves open all these alternatives and as many others as a reader might imagine. However, the title of Selena Kitt's volume, Shivers, suggests that the reader may quiver as much with fear as with lust. . . if he or she dares to open the book to find out what waits inside.
A naked shoulder, arm, breast, and side is all that is visible in the darkness, these parts of the female anatomy and the author's name (“Polly Frost,” in white), the tagline, (“Extreme Erotic Fantasies,” in tan), the main title, “Deep,” in black, and “Inside,” in white), and, deeper down, the subtitle, the first four words in fleshly tan, “Ten tantalizing tales of,” and the remaining two in white, “supernatural erotica.” The piecemeal presentation of author and the main title, above, and the subtitle, below, the breast makes the woman's torso a striptease act, of sorts, which communicates, piece by piece and word by word, the message of erotica and horror that the cover art promises is in store “Deep Inside” the covers, where such stories as “The Threshold,” “The Orifice,” “The Pleasure Invaders,” “Viagra Babies,” “Test Drive,” and “Visions of Ecstasy,” among others, wait.
For authors, these images of sex and death may do more than suggest good times. The can also suggest how carefully planned design and composition can speak volumes in and of themselves. A writer, however, can provide such images only through description. He or she should plan his or her depictions of invitation and danger, of promise and peril, of temptation and destruction as meticulously as the artist paints his or her visions. By studying light and intensity, hue and shade, color and contrast, size and shape, density and texture, direction and distance, perspective and space, background and foreground, color and effect, depth and focal point, the writer can maximize his or her descriptions, making them do more with less to shock, terrify, disgust, and horrify. Cover art, like advertisements and posters, offer good ways for writers to study and to see, just as written texts can teach visual artists how to allude, be ironic, use hyperbole or understatement, wax metaphorical, be symbolic, or personify.