Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The HP Cover Comparison

Recently, the new 15th anniversary covers of the Scholastic U.S. Harry Potter books has been making the news. And so I thought I would put up some side-by-side comparisons of the original Mary Grand Pre art with the new art by Kazu Kibuishi.

Year 1: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone

The original U.S. cover for Sorcerer's Stone is not one of my favorites Harry looks very much like a dork here. And while that is appropriate to the conditions that he finds himself in, the sneakers and the glasses slipping down his face conspire to make him look like someone out of the 1950s. Plus, the school robe is billowing out behind him too much like a cape. In general, this cover suffers from a problem that several of the early HP covers had. There is too much disparate action going on. The 3-headed dog underneath the castle and the unicorn running by and the distracting diamond banner and the colonnades all combine to throw too much at you at once. (To be fair, the full wrap-around image balances things out a bit better and throws some pretty dramatic Dumbledore action your way.)
In contrast, the new Sorcerer's Stone cover does a much better job of throwing lots of details at you, but doing so in a coherent way that helps you understand the story--or at least this particular moment. And that is what makes this style better (for now). The new cover focuses on a moment in time and gives you all those details of that moment. The Grand Pre cover threw lots of stuff across the book together on a messy sort of montage.

Winner: Kazu

Year 2: Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets

This Grand Pre is less cluttered that its predecessor and does a better job of focusing on an event and telling that particular story. (And though this front only view doesn't show it, the full wrap-around dust jacket image shows who's clutching Harry's ankle as Fawkes flies them out of the Chamber of Secrets.
So . . . all in all, a better effort. BUT, Harry still looks like he just stumbled out of a crew meeting on early 80s Bill Murray vehicle Meatballs.
Again, the Kibuishi image is a strong one, vibrant with color and focused on a moment. You can see Ron and Harry peeking out of the back of the Ford Anglia and any picture that takes the time to devote itself to The Burrow is going to win me over.

Winner: Kazu . . . but it's closer than you think.

Year 3: Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

The improvements that were made in Chamber of Secrets seem to have slipped back a step or two in the original art. I'm not suggesting that the image is too overwhelming, because it isn't. But the figure shapes have simply always bothered me. The hippogriff just doesn't seem right--and that is saying something for a creature that combines the torso and hind quarters of a horse with the head, wings, and (paws?) of an . . . eagle?
So maybe Grand Pre is kind of doomed from the start. But also, Harry look excessively cartoonish here. His legs are weird and he looks chubby and distorted. And while we don't get to see much of Hermione here, she's not looking that great either. (The full image maybe makes things more coherent, but still not a favorite of mine.) 
The new Kazu Kibuishi image is much, much stronger. Talk about drama! But I do have two quibbles. I feel that this cover leans especially hard on the imagery of the movie. And the color blue slips back into the picture here again (and its only the third book). This is a problem that I'll be coming back to again.

Winner: Kazu . . . fairly easily, it turns out.

Year 4: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Now . . . now we've got some serious competition here! The Grand Pre cover on the right is easily the strongest one examined so far. Harry looks like an actual person and not like a cartoon from the Great Depression. The presence of the three other Triwizard champions behind Harry don't distract me, mostly because Harry is drawn so well for a change and there isn't lots of other cluttery scenery. And, if you, like me wondered what Harry was standing in front of (a Venus fly trap? Brer Rabbit's briar patch?), wonder no more. But while Harry looks much better here, his slovenly clothes are sort of problematic . . . and NOT for the last time.
You might think that I'm going to give this one to Grand Pre . . . but LOOK at that Kibuishi cover! Yes, again, it owes a bit too much to the movie image that I think it should. But having that Horntail come right at you is pretty dramatic stuff.

Winner: Um . . . I've got to give it to Grand Pre on this one. This was the first BIG book and the start of the real Harry Potter boom in the U.S. began as people were waiting for this book to be published. The pressure was on and she delivered an iconic image. (It was in Newsweek--back when Newsweek mattered.)

Year 5: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix

Blue, blue, blue! Everything is blue. But this is only Grand Pre's (on the right side, in case you're unsure) first use of blue (or purple or whatever. I'm color-blind, okay?) Kibuishi has already gone down this color palate twice before.
Again, strong Harry figure by Grand Pre this time. And things aren't cluttered or confused. This is a dramatic image telling a story. Harry is in charge and figuring stuff out, y'all! He's not chubby goofball on a bizarre hippogriff. He's got his wand out and he's ready to kick some Deatheater ass!
Kazu's cover is a very good one. The scene is pretty and energetic and the detail of Harry's face is really, really strong. But . . . Order of the Phoenix is a significant book for me.
I was firmly on the bandwagon by this time, but OotP was the first HP book that I had to wait for. It was the first one that I preordered. It was the one that arrived on my door step the weekend after my second daughter was born. I took advantage of my visiting mother-in-law, who was helping with the infant and sped through Phoenix in record time. (And then immediately handed it over for her to read.) Sure, Harry acted like a git through most of the book. But still . . .

Winner: Grand Pre

Year 6: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

I've always like the green of Grand Pre cover image on the right. And since Half-Blood Prince is #1B in my ranking of favorite Harry Potter books, I'm going to be hard pressed to be objective about how I rate this one. All right, how about I criticize Grand Pre's full image for being sort of disjointed and not really unified? And how about I criticize the way that she draws the Death Eater mark in the sky? Is that enough?
Kazu Kibuishi's image is really blue (again!), and really based on the movie image. So, those are things I don't like immediately. Also, Harry's invisibility cloak looks kinda like Metro Man's cape for some reason. So, points off for that . . . I guess. But it's a really strong image overall. This is a really close call.

Winner: Push! 

Year 7: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Now, can I POSSIBLY end up voting against Grand Pre's iconic image for Deathly Hallows (on the right)? After I spend so much time listening to Pottercast theories about what this scene represented while we waited for the book to be released? What was he reaching up for? Where is he? What's going ON??!!! So many theories!
BUT! Here again, I've never liked Harry's clothes in this image. Too slovenly (as was hinted at in Goblet of Fire above. And the full image brings back the curtain effect that wasn't enjoyable in Sorcerer's Stone. And, I just don't like the Voldemort imagery in that full image either. Even with those criticisms however . . .
Kibuishi's cover is a good one. AND it is the only one that focuses on the Trio, which is appropriate as they form such a vital grouping throughout this story. The background coloration stands out dramatically against the pearly color of the dragon and also is a nod to the sunrise coloration that makes Grand Pre's cover so dramatic. Kibuishi's cover is very, very good and much, MUCH better than the original Bloomsbury version that I have always disliked.

Winner: Mary Grand Pre. (I've simply GOT to.)

The final tally? 3 for Kazu Kibuishi and 3 for Mary Grand Pre with one push.
I guess I really wimped out here. But I think what I've learned is that Grand Pre's art improved as the series grew in popularity and import. She was riding the roller coaster (though probably in a car farther back on the train) along with Jo. And she helped define the characters before Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson overwhelmed things at the end.

Kazu Kibuishi's job was hard, no doubt. He has to introduce the stories to a new generation who (somehow?) are approaching it for the first time or most likely were introduced to the movies first. (A tragedy.) And so, I guess I forgive him a bit for relying on movie imagery as much as I think he did. And his images are striking and really, really nice.

But I think I let my nostalgia win me over in the final analysis. We'll see what I purchase when I have to start replacing my worn down HP books in a few more years.