They’ve Done It Again…

So I was reading Fantasy Debut, one of my daily blogs. I was skimming the review Tia had of The Sellsword (Dragonlance) by Cam Banks, skimming because I could tell it wasn’t the kind SF/F that’s really to my tastes then I hit one of the last lines of the review:

I do have one major criticism, and it has nothing to do with the author. Vanderjack is black. So why does the cover feature a man with pasty white skin? I thought the cover was well-done otherwise.

Now I’ve blogged about this phenomenon before, most recently talking about visual media in, Hollywood Stop Whitening Characters! No Really! Stop It! and just over a year ago at Feminist SF – The Blog talking about books in Judging Books & Their Covers. I’m glad that others are noticing this horrifying trend and bringin attention to it. This is not something that’s over and done it’s something that is still happening with books that come out everyday.

I’ve really said most of what I have to say about this subject in the previous links however, I might have a suggestion: When I talked to my friend Jackie about this phenomenon, she mentioned that when she wrote a review of Larissa (one of the books in my Feminist SF post where the cover girl is white but the protag very clearly black in the text) she suggested that anyone who was outraged at the cover as she was, do this - tear off the offending cover and mail it back to the publisher with a note explaining why. 

I do advocate buying the book first (in case that wasn’t clear), number one so you don’t get arrested for vandalism and number two because I don’t believe in punishing the author for publishing decisions, which these almost always are. I don’t know that doing this will do anything to change the way the industry thinks and acts but at least it’s a constructive way to let the publisher know how you feel and get your anger out at the same time.

EDITED TO ADD – I just wanted to clarify in case it wasn’t clear in the the original post that I do not blame the author for this and if the book sounds like something you would enjoy I say go out and buy it. I love it when folks write POC characters in any kind of fantasy setting and I think we should all support that.

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11 responses to “They’ve Done It Again…

  1. A little background on this, not that it makes it any better.

    When I envisioned Vanderjack as a character in a movie, my instinct was to have him played by Vin Diesel. I’m a big fan of Diesel and after seeing him in Chronicles of Riddick he has the kind of build and look I was after.

    I had suggested him in my art suggestion notes, and I can only think that Vin Diesel’s ethnic background is not clear, obvious, or somehow strikes the right kind of connection that was needed. WotC has published Ergothians on the covers of their books before—Matt Stawicki did a cover for Day of the Tempest (book two of Jean Rabe’s Dragons of a New Age) in which Rig Mer-Krel, who is dark-skinned, is featured. Yet on the cover of Weis & Hickman’s Dragons of a Vanished Moon the Ergothian character Odila Wyndlass looks more Caucasian.

    I’m a huge fan of the cover of my book, but I also agree that the guy on the front isn’t really how I personally see Vanderjack. I would encourage folks to actually read the book in spite of that, but I guess I can see why you’d not want to go any further.

  2. Oh, Christ. This is just… wow. That this kind of thing keeps happening, over and over, is so tiring and sickening. I’m sorry I don’t have anything constructive to say about it. It’s just… such a combination of st00pid and disgusting it hurts my head.

  3. Cam Banks-
    Thanks so much for swinging by and clarifying, it’s always good to have the author’s views in this kind of discussion.

    I would encourage folks to actually read the book in spite of that, but I guess I can see why you’d not want to go any further.

    I hope my entry didn’t look like I was encouraging people to not read your book. I specifically tried to not say anything that might even sound like “don’t buy this book” because I don’t believe in any kind of a boycott of books that have this or other issues with the artwork because that punishes the author when (unless they’re a huge name like Stephen King) they usually have very little to do with deciding on their book cover. I actually think the book sounds good it’s just not my personal cup of tea.

  4. Ico-
    such a combination of st00pid and disgusting it hurts my head.

    You and me both.

  5. naamenblog, I apologize for not noticing your blog before. Unfortunately, Technorati is abysmally bad at picking up WordPress blogs.

    I thought Cam did a great job with Vanderjack’s race. I still don’t encounter other-than-white characters very often and it is memorable when I do.

    Cam; thanks for providing the background on the cover.

  6. Clearly, if I ever finish any of my under-construction fantasy novels, I will have to supply character *roughs* to go along with it! Otherwise my inspired-by-Mongolia setting in one will be whitewashed, and also my inspired-by-Assyrian characters in the other one, on the covers, if I leave it up to the artists and editors to, you know, actually read the text and make the call on how much not like Northern Europeans they should look like.

    (As an artist and wannabe illustrator myself, I can’t comprehend not scanning the text for every crumb of information for inspiration before making the illo!)

  7. …this also reminds me of the people who approached Neil Gaiman for a movie treatment of “Anansi Boys” – but wanted to make the main characters *white*…

  8. Tia-
    Thanks for stopping by. I really enjoy your blog.

    I thought Cam did a great job with Vanderjack’s race. I still don’t encounter other-than-white characters very often and it is memorable when I do.

    I agree and I’ve added a paragraph to the original post to clarify my opinion. I always enjoy seeing POC in SF/F and I should have been more clear on that point.

  9. bellatrys-
    The thing is that the artists and editors are perfectly aware of the kind of characters that are in these books but don’t care because they are so trapped into thinking that #1 POC don’t read SF/F and #2 that white fans will not read stories/books based around POC characters. So they try and “trick” people into buying by putting a white face on the cover. It’s so infuriating.

    You’re right it is reminiscent of the Neil Gaiman incident and his response of pulling Anansi Boys off the table made my respect for him soar. I’m not a big fan of his work but I like the man a lot.

    At the same time I don’t judge folks who’ve written books and had their characters whitened on the cover because very few authors have the clout or money (as Gaiman does) to refuse such a change on their first work. It sucks all around because the author doesn’t get their character realized and the audience for diverse SF/F doesn’t know it’s out there.

  10. The thing is that the artists and editors are perfectly aware of the kind of characters that are in these books but don’t care because they are so trapped into thinking that #1 POC don’t read SF/F and #2 that white fans will not read stories/books based around POC characters. So they try and “trick” people into buying by putting a white face on the cover. It’s so infuriating.

    Yeah, I just mean that there’s all this buck-passing that goes on which is all very sketchy, but the artists always blame the editors for not giving them good enough descriptions and say that they are off the hook because they didn’t [have time to] read the book, whenever people go “But why is she wearing a bikini? How come the dragon’s *red*? Didn’t this artist read the book at all?” or, indeed, “How come he’s *white*?” And the editors tend to keep mum about their involvement in the process or else say “we just gave it to the artist, we don’t micromanage.”

    So since this is the rule of the excuse-making, I was (half) jokingly saying that I’d need to provide character roughs (or maybe maquettes, even) to remove *that* avenue of weaseling-out of responsibility.

    (I was a semi-pro book cover illustrator (ie I got paid) for a while but it was for an *extreme* niche publisher and likewise self-startup press and I was self-taught, didn’t go to art school, so I can’t unlike with some aspects of printing say “this is how it goes in the pro world”, with any authority. All I can say is, *I* made sure to read the books, or a fair bit of them, even tho’ they weren’t fiction (and often pretty dull imo), and I did a lot of historical research when the subject matter warranted – but given how I’ve been ranting about ugly/content-inaccurate/physically-impossible cover art since I was seven, I couldn’t do otherwise without being a howling hypocrite…)

  11. bellatrys-
    Yeah, I just mean that there’s all this buck-passing that goes on

    Exactly! No one wants to take blame when issues like this are called out and so each group blames the other or insinuates that the other group is at fault until the hub-bub dies down and then no one real;ly gets called out at all. An easy way to avoid all that would be to STOP FUCKING UP COVERS but y’know can’t do that…apparently.

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