November 27 marks the upcoming release of Jim Butcher’s latest book from his Harry Dresden series, so in preparation of getting my hands on Cold Days, I found myself comparing translations of the novel title with theothercanary – Russian, Spanish, French… Before long, we were hooked. For me, though, it wasn’t just about the translations. It was the translation of cover art between one country and the other. Last week’s post talked about four English-language publishers and the covers they brought to the table. In this post, I’m gonna do some speculative globetrotting.
What does a cover and title say about the reader? Most foreign publishers end up doing some variation on the original or branded cover (whether for legal reasons or otherwise). Above, I pulled together five covers from five different translations of Storm Front (above), all of which did their own tweak on McGrath’s U.S. cover.
But publishers don’t always stick with the original – or even stay within the style of the original (examples right). I love speculating about what cover decisions say about the publisher, its target demographic, and the reader.
Below, I’ve pulled out some covers published in three (very dissimilar) countries.
Here’s some very elegant design work that stresses the mystery and occult element of Butcher’s series, rather than the fantasy adventure. In a way, the reader is given all the clues from the very get go.
There’s Fool Moon, with a snarling maw and silver bullets. There’s Grave Peril with flames, pentagram-like designs and a cross. While I wasn’t impressed with the simplicity of a recent Orbit re-release, I wouldn’t mind these editions in a box-set. But that’s speaking as an established fan. I wouldn’t have been convinced to pick Storm Front off the shelf by the cover alone, but can I just say? I love the little post-it notes.
As pure speculation, I’ll also wager that marketing played a big part of the cover art decision. Perhaps urban fantasy being a relatively new genre, there is sense in initially coming at it from angle of a crisp, paranormal mystery. That said, the books were reissued in 2010 by Milady with revised titles and the McGrath covers.
Speaking of titles, see how they compare to the original English (in bold):
- Storm Front – In the Eye of the Storm, reissued as Storm Warning
- Fool Moon – Mad(/Angry) Moon, re-issued as Wild Moon
- Grave Peril – Dawn of the Specters, re-issued as Open Tomb
- Summer Knight – The Knight of Summer, reissued as Winter Fairy
- Death Masks – Death Masks, reissued as Cold Shroud
Now, let’s see what the Russian have come up with:
The first four books sit squarely in the land of 80’s horror font, which I wager is either because of the publisher that picked the up books, or (my own theory) a reflection of the fantasy genre’s slow penetration into Russian mainstream culture.
The genre has become more accepted over the last decade, but fantasy is still nowhere near as prevalent as in the west, and urban fantasy often finds itself on the pulp horror and mysticism (/paranormal) shelf (“ужасы и мистика”). In fact, the last time I was in Russia, I was struck by the number of titles in the sci fi and fantasy genres that were English to Russian translations of popular western authors (the majority, I wager).
Things are a-changing, though. Between book 4 (Summer Knight) and book 5 (Death Masks), there is a shift out of the 80’s and into the 90’s. No doubt, examples of popular Urban Fantasy, like the high-grossing Night Watch movies, based on Sergei Lukyanenko’s book of the same title, have eased this transition.
When I first shared the Russian translations with theothercanary, she said, “those are good, and slightly philosophic.” Yep, the infamous Russian mystique rears its head again!
Here are the titles:
- Storm Front – (Thunder)storm from the Underworld
- Fool Moon – The Moon Shines for Madmen
- Grave Peril – The Grave as a Gift
- Summer Knight – Knight of Summer
- Death Masks – Faces of Death
- Blood Rites – Blood Rites
- Dead Beat – Zombie Drums
- Proven Guilty – Proof of Guilt
Titles for books 9-13 are identical to their English counterparts. There is also a shift away from creative interpretations of the titles (books 1-3) around same time there is a shift in the cover art. (A coincidence? Who knows.)
Leaving Russia, let’s travel further east and stop for a three-cover interlude in Japan.
Mind. Blown. Harry Dresden is approximately 16, and Fool Moon is full of flying werewolves.
I’m loving it.
This cover series is a marked departure from the French detective/mystery and the Russian horror/fantasy approach. The covers announce, “This book is full of magic, suspense, and a whole lot of action,” and there ain’t nobody holding them back. Dresden is straight out of a Hollywood spy thriller in a kind of unholy (but awesome) union of The Sorcerer’s Apprentice (2010) and Skyfall (2012).
Who is the target audience here? I know next to nothing about the Japanese literary scene beyond my very shallow acquaintance with anime, so I won’t wager a guess. But in the US, these covers would definitely have a strong manga-reader and YA appeal.
I don’t know Japanese, but google translate tells me that Storm Front translates to something involving the words “Storm demons called” (anyone speak Japanese? Halp.), Fool Moon is “Crazy Month,” and Grave Peril is “Blood-Stained Tomb.”
Canaries, which of these covers speak to you?