Do you Judge a Book by it’s Cover?

I do. I admit it. Let’s face reality, even the most avid reader can’t read all the books, or even their covers. So if you aren’t familiar with an author or series, and don’t have anyone advising you then what do you go by?
Personally, I still enjoy real paper books. I know e books are becoming more popular, but I dislike the notion of the books all vanishing if the device failed. You can’t even back them up, or if you can it doesn’t do you any good if it’s in a one brand format. I like even less the idea that they aren’t transferable to different devices i.e. a Nookbook to Kindle to laptop etc. I grant you, if you could do those things they’d be great and much more portable. But I can’t help but note, online at least, they still have a cover shown.

Clockwork Teddy coverThe most obvious lure I ever got from a book cover was the image of a murdered teddy bear. Yes, a teddy bear, stabbed in the back. I had no time to browse in the late, lamented book store, Borders, and had gone in for one thing only. I was hurrying out when I saw the book cover and froze, mid stride. What the….? I rarely looked in the mystery aisle, being more a sci fi and fantasy fan. But I had to. It turned out to be a robot, but treachery and murder were involved. I ended up with the whole series, all because I was grabbed by that cover. Obviously it helped that it was showing the cover and not just crammed into the bookshelf with only the spine showing. Sadly they’ve since switched to more photographic versions even for this series. I guarantee it wouldn’t have grabbed me the way that illustration did.

I often find myself studying cover illustrations for my favorite books and even the different versions of newer covers. You can sometimes see the changes in the companies preferences right on the front. Pure illustration gives way to photos and adds into digital combinations of the two. Impressive. How do they do that? More importantly, how does one find time to learn that? Once upon a time you just had to learn art skills. Now with digital art so common one not only has to learn the time consuming art skills, one has to keep learning all the changes between programs and the software updates and changes to computers. And money. I wrestle with how to afford the art supplies I already use, never mind the ones I want to learn. And that’s not counting keeping up on the computer which is nearly is demanding on upkeep as a car.

As an artist, I already knew I could learn a lot from book covers. I used to trace and try and copy those old horse book covers like art students did the old masters. At least I got the horses down. Now though if it isn’t a photo cover it’s much, much more.

I stare at the Star Wars books like the Jedi Apprentice series and wonder at Cliff Nielson’s designs mixing models with background art and textures. The cool art of Drew Struzan that first had me salivating at the “Heir to the Empire” heralding the return of Star Wars books and fascinated by the coloring. There are so many artists rotating through the Star Wars books I admire I can’t keep track. The Dinotopia books have me awestruck at their imagination and use of color and light. So much so that I just bought Gurney’s Color and Light, a Guide for the Realist Painter.

I still love the illustrations and wonder why in the world so many people are abandoning it for straight photography. Sure you can Photoshop them in and all but still. There is a creative imagination to illustrated covers I rarely see in the straight photo covers. The same holds true for posters: I have the Star Wars poster book and it’s astounding to see the difference. Some early posters for the original trilogy are unrecognizable as being related to the movie. On the other end the prequels are pretty homogenous. I think that’s sad. I can understand the desire for consistency but the differences in style on those early ones were fascinating.

That’s the advantage of science fiction and fantasy in regard to cover art: they can’t go all photo unless they are made into a movie, TV or a video game. You have to make them up because they aren’t real. You can look at animals and bring them together to make a dragon or an alien. But you can’t just take a photo of a real fire breathing dragon. But while a professional photographer might get some emotion from a scene, I can’t help believe it’s being over used. Part of the joy of books is imagining the characters and scenes in your own mind. When you see a ‘photo cover’ you already have a template in your head before you read a word.

This may seem contrary to my love for, say, Star Wars books. After all, I know what the characters looked like. But then again, knowing what they looked like in the movies isn’t quite the same thing. One has to imagine the whole aging process of Luke, Leia and Han, or how Anakin looked between The Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. One has to imagine ships and worlds one has never seen. In fact, in the newer Star Wars one is influencing the other. The name ‘Coruscant’ for the city planet came from the books. And some of the latest ‘Clone Wars’ episodes were originally from the Dark Horse comics series. Yes…they were illustrated first. And going backward the whole saga might have been still born were it not for Ralph McQuarrie’s convincing illustrations.

Star Wars Heir to the Empire cover by Struzan  Jedi Trial cover art by Steven D. Anderson  Star Wars New Jedi Order cover art by Cliff Nielson

Images Left to Right: Heir to the Empire cover by Drew Struzan – the same artist who did so many  movie covers.  Jedi Trial cover by Steven D. Anderson – note the creative license with Anakin: though set before he became a full Knight he doesn’t have the short padawan haircut of episode 2, and Ventress bears only superficial resemblance to TV or comic versions. Vector Prime cover by Cliff Nielson – it’s not pretty but Luke is aged and that bizarre alien give a hint of ugly things ahead.

So if a juggernaut like Star Wars needed the art to take off, what gives? Where is the illustration, the artwork or even the photography combined with artwork in modern book covers, posters and the like? I don’t know, but I miss it. Some of it was cheesy. But now I can go online and find modern illustrations that are downright spectacular. Yet they don’t end up on book covers or movie posters. Those just get photos. Some are great, don’t get me wrong. But there is just something missing. Maybe it’s just the sense that if the illustration is that creative, the story must be too.

Ethics and Dinosaurs

What can a dinosaur teach about ethics?

Do not steal has been around at least since the ten commandments and that’s just when it was set in stone.

I recently happened across an interesting blog post by James Gurney, creator of Dinatopia about his encounter with the designers of the TV show ‘Terra Nova‘. It was entitled ‘Wish you weren’t here’.

Apparently, they had been using his art in their design mock ups and decided to contact him and ask him to collaborate. At this stage of the game, he was not pleased. They are paid to design after all and should’ve asked him before using any of his art, not after. His flat out ‘no’ was not surprising. Asking beforehand might’ve been a compliment. He could’ve said yes or no. Asking afterward is treating him like he’s an afterthought. It’s neither professional nor polite.

Having seen a piece of promotional artwork about Terra Nova some time after the show premiered, I found this story solved a puzzle. I’d seen Terra Nova. I’ve got one of the Dinotopia books and seen the mini series. Outside of them both having dinosaurs, the style of the TV show has no resemblance to the artwork, which did seem rather familiar. Now I know why.

Dinotopia
Dinotopia, the Original Book, photo by chubbzazz, Photobucket

What I find saddest about this is not just that the bigwigs behind Terra Nova were willing to rip him off. It’s that some of the designers probably never realized they were doing anything unethical.

 

This brings me to the whole Internet regulation debate in congress.  Personally, I suspect it would just shift the ethical issues from the many individual to the few individuals in charge of big corporation if the government tries to regulate it.. I find that alarming. I don’t have any reason to think those few have higher ethics than the rest of us.

Learning Internet and Media Ethics

What they should consider is whether this is an issue under the heading of education. Most morals are learned from parents. But the internet isn’t a family activity. In order to find out the parents morals, the kid has to be watching said parent on the internet.

Now there are two reasons that won’t happen. One is, the internet is a dull spectator sport. Fun to surf, not fun to watch someone else. Two is, the older the adult the less likely they are to know anything about computers. No offense to any age group, I’ve just found the older generations grew up without it and are less likely to think they need it. Nor is the parent likely to be watching the kid surf. If they don’t know much about computers, they won’t know what they are watching anyway. So a kid downloading for free an entire music library can happen right before their eyes and how would they know?

The result is that there really are people who don’t realize the ethical implications. I still encounter people who, when you tell them that images on the internet are copyrighted, are dumbfounded. Honestly, the thought that taking the image and using it on their own commercial items is wrong, has never crossed their mind!

If it’s online, someone still had to create it, draw it, build it, sing it or act it. Someone put time and energy and money into it.

Then there is the whole justification that music studios make tons of money and stick it to consumers for regarding downloading songs for free. This may or may not be true, but like it or not, they pay the artist. The same is true for movie and television studios I for one, do not want to find my favorite music artist or actor had to abandon their art to wait tables, because they weren’t getting paid. And that’s not to mention all the background people that go into making movie or music magic happen.  It’s not like when you record off the radio and TV with the old cassettes or VHS and only get part of the song or show in dubious quality. That’s more of a placeholder and reminder that when you have the money you intend to buy. An artist might offer a song or two for free as a promotion, the same for the TV shows, but if you can grab the lot for nothing, there is no incentive to buy a quality copy short of your own honor. Is your honor stronger than temptation?

Notice I’m only referring to the individual end, not the web site. I love going on Youtube and browsing music videos. I encounter music I’d never have heard otherwise. I get to enjoy funny clips of my favorite shows. And yes, if my connection is causing the video to continually stop midstream I may download out of desperation. But I don’t strip the music out. I know it’s doable, but I don’t feel like it’s ethical. It’s too tempting to keep that as the ‘final’ copy of the music instead of paying the actual artist. And I don’t plan on re uploading them under my own name either. The music videos are usually a form of fan art, meant for fun.  It gives the movie or TV show or music artist a free promotion and the creator has fun and gets to learn skills in making and cutting together videos and music. But I can see why some would object: the free promotion is only beneficial if people don’t steal the goodies, but are encouraged to go out and buy them. Whatever the web site owners thoughts on the subject, in the end it’s up to the individual as to whether they’ll ‘cheat’.  No matter how often they change the computer code, someone will find a way around it.

I’ve only once found any of my art somewhere I didn’t put it and it was in a Halloween music video. I was actually took it as a compliment. It’s not like they were profiting off it, and as far as I know they really did purchase the item. If they didn’t they’d only find a low res or watermarked version. Free advertising, I will happily accept.

In the end, ethics come down to the individual.

So what happens if the government and big corporations step in and decide to regulate the internet? We have to trust ‘their’ individual ethics. What if they decide Youtube is altogether too abused and shut it down? Or the fan fiction sites? Maybe they’ll find reasons to block their competitors sites or competing web hosts. And would it really stop the piracy? I doubt it. The worst offenders probably aren’t in the US. In all probability, even if they are they’d just get more creative about how to cover their tracks. Meanwhile the little people get pounded. Fan art encourages creativity. It helps develop skills and the confidence to create ones own art, video and music in ones own style. I fear government regulation would be the equivalent of a sledge hammer: it would pound the people who put up websites with the sole purpose of profiting off others content or stealing. But everyone in the immediate vicinity, those who create websites to share their creative fandom, may get flattened too. The fine line between fandom and copyright violation is just too close.

A good example of dealing with it on an individual basis is fanfiction.net.  They have a list of fan fiction material they won’t accept because the author requested it. They take any fan fiction not rated mature and not on that list. Fan fiction is non profit in any case, but they accept the authors preference. No need for an army of lawyers or police descending o them.  Another example is how the whole issue played out for Star Wars and Lucasfilm: there was a time they seriously considered going after the sites offering fan fiction and the like. The outrage of the fans caused them to rethink the issue. Now if you sell unofficial knock offs of Star Wars you can expect an army of lawyers as surely as the rebels could expect an army of stormtroopers if discovered. But at times their own web site has supported and encouraged fan videos, artwork and other such uploads. Even now they link to it. They recognize the fine line: they want to stop piracy and theft, but they don’t want to alienate fans or discourage their creativity. After all, today’s employees were the ones doing the fan art ten years ago!

Short Term Temptations have Long Term Consequences.

As for the individual it’s naturally tempting to turn to free downloads and ‘borrowing’ others work when money is so tight, whether personally or in business. But the people who created the art and music and video , whether they are the musician, artist or star, or some background cameraman, also need to eat. We won’t help our own job situation by stealing their product. We just may put one more person teetering on the edge out of business. Being famous or popular doesn’t necessarily equate to being rich. Neither the money or the fame will last forever.

There are a whole lot of things out there I want too.  I have a backlog of songs, books and videos on my wish list (including a few by the aforementioned James Gurney and more than a few of Star Wars). I struggle with other bills (internet, cable – the only place one can see my beloved White Collar in a timely fashion.) In fact, my computer seems determined to keep demanding money (right now it’s a battery) which I can’t spare. I’ve only just gotten a job. I’m playing catch up. My priorities have been basic necessities including computer repair and the internet, since that’s the field I’m going in.

Pinched for cash I may be, but I don’t want to cheat to get the extras. And it’s my very love for the stuff that is the strongest thing holding me back. I want more. I want it to keep coming out. I want to be able to buy it, not have it cease to exist because it wasn’t turning enough profit to pay for the highly expensive creation and or  production! Even if it’s ‘just’ a piece of artwork, I’m an artist and I know how much art supplies cost. And if it’s music or movie, I know it took more than just the artist: it took producers, directors, sound engineers, special effects, filming permits and more to bring it to life.

Terra Nova Concept Art
Terra Nova Concept Art, Photo by JADFlores, Photobucket

As for Terra Nova, I like the show okay, although whoever was responsible for the design department needs a remedial course in ethics. But I figure there is no point in getting to like Terra Nova too much. It’s on regular network, meaning big corporation types control the content. Sci Fi and fantasy are niche markets and rarely do those shows survive the network bigwigs for long. Even if they are popular (like Joss Wheldan’s Firefly) they get dropped by the fickle bigwigs.  Forget about the show that needs to build an audience. It has as much hope as a snowball in a volcano. So if you want to check it out, you’d better hurry. It may not be there for long.

On a final note: I do think copyright laws were designed in part to give jobs to lawyers. Sometimes all you want to do is use a picture or song in a small video for fandom or non profit. Who do you ask? Have they got a plan to allow for that? It would help if they did, I’m sure. Because people who just want to use it for ‘fair use’ and would like to ask seldom are given an option.  This is an issue these big networks and producers should address with something besides a blanket NO or simply ignoring them. They seem to figure ‘no use’ is fair use.  Giving fans an option like that would build good will. It would probably take less time to develop a plan than run around stomping on the fans who upload just to share their fandom. And it would win over people like me…who would never have known the music artist, TV show or what have you existed without it. And if I don’t know it exists I sure can’t buy it!

Inspiration from my World and Finding it in Yours

Art History and Appreciation is boring….or is it?

Is it really that dull?

When going to art school or taking classes I note they give a lot of attention to the old masters. Art history and it’s appreciation is often a requirement. This is understandable, for knowing where we come from is important.
But how many of us truly have started art because of them? In my case, inspiration came from elsewhere and only later did it lead me to an appreciation of it’s history.

Art of the Story
My love of horses came from books I read and movies I saw. This means that illustrators, writers and movie makers had an impact long before I realized they were artists in their own right. A peacefully grazing horse or one napping in it’s stall is lovely. But the ones rearing, galloping, leaping and playing are the ones that seem the most alive. To me, they are art in motion in and of themselves. Some films like The Black Stallion revealed this in full glory.

Art of the Movie
As a fan of science fiction I only gradually realized that my beloved Star Wars had to start in an art studio. Without Ralph McQuarrie’s designs, it may never have come to pass. Artists painted backgrounds, built models and invented an entire industry for special effects. Some of these same artists went on to create Photoshop and the modern software that now creates art in 3D. And where would it be without the awesome movie poster art of Drew Struzan?

Art of the Game
Video games are created, in part by artists and I am highly and personally aware they are on target in their ideas about education and games. I recall flunking lessons in how to read music in grade school. Yet I started to get the hang of it playing a video game version of Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.  I never did finish the game, but I did learn to read music enough to play the right tune on the skulls!  Amazing what a difference the approach makes. I couldn’t learn for the grade, I doubt if you offered me money I could get it. Somehow getting Indy through to that tomb helped me learn it!

Art History meets them all and becomes more appealing.
Finally, full circle I’ve come to notice art history, not just through art classes but through TV and the movies. A few odd artists are more intriguing when encountered by a very young Indiana Jones. An episode where Doctor Who meets Van Gogh suddenly makes the man come alive in a way the old school story of ‘he’s the guy that cut off his ear’ never did.  Then there is my favorite show White Collar. Take and FBI agent and his ‘former’ art forger criminal consultant, set them loose in New York solving art heists and the like and the whole world of art history and museums has an all new appeal.  Their accuracy is questionable: this is fiction after all. Sometimes they use real artists, sometimes they invent them. But the real point is not whether it’s true. It’s the fact that they got my attention and aroused my interest in the first place.

Tapping into what’s already there.
Is it just me changing? I don’t really think so. I think it’s always been true, that if  you plug the subject to be learned into what a person is already interested in, it engages in a way that would otherwise be dry and boring.  As my growing curiosity about art history leads me around the web I’ve definitely noticed who seems to be tapping in and who doesn’t and how.

Art Galleries Online
Some art galleries have gone highly interactive. A look at the Google Art Project. It can take you to museums around the world many of us will never have a chance to set foot in. Some have podcasts or videos online. Some have interactive games or tools to study certain artworks or artists.
Others still have the most boring, bland websites with tiny print and navigation that certainly doesn’t take account for people who might have trouble seeing it. They may be easier on an older computer in general, but they are definitely a turn off in comparison.  The odd thing is the great stuff is usually for kids. Why is it the world thinks adults want a ‘dull’ approach? Why can’t it be fun no matter what your age?

A few cool Art Galleries online:

Explore the Met

National Gallery of Art for Kids

The Tate Museum

Google Art Project

Butler Institute of American Art

Explore the British Museum

So now I’m gradually coming to know who of the old masters I like and why, what mediums I’d like to try even if I  have to imitate them on the computer.   I love drawing and am willing to try drawing nearly anything. But I could do horses with my eyes closed and in my sleep. As for my writing, well, it’s no surprise I’ve written Star Wars and White Collar fanfics and I love their websites. I’ve written other science fiction but I’ve yet to try and publish it.

Neal Caffrey's Debate
Neal Caffrey's Debate: White Collar Fan Art, Corel Paint Experiment

Warning: Creative License may bend the facts.
And then there is that little catch to all this. If you are going to tap into these interests – learning through pop culture can’t end there.  Don’t assume pop culture did it’s homework.   Pocohantas and Mulan are wonderful female heroes. But Disney’s version isn’t exactly full of truth. The movies, games, TV and historical fiction are a springboard to look deeper. These aren’t flat words on a page or a cardboard picture painted by some guy way back when. They were real people and events with lives and loves, fears, mental illness and physical and economic challenges. That’s the part that’s inspiring. How many of them would imagine our world today? How many would dare dream it’s technology? Would they dare even imagine the prices their work would sell for or the things we would say? Would they be amazed at how much we know or fall over laughing at how far from the truth we had come?

What are your inspirations?

Here are a sites for some of mine that include games, episodes, forums and all sorts of interactivity.

Star Wars

White Collar

Doctor Who

Indiana Jones

*Note – Remember when doing fan art or fan fiction it is not something you can legally sell. Making money off of it violates copyright law. It makes great practice and can be shared for free fun among your fellow fans. But please remember the actors, writers and artists of these shows too, are out there to earn a living. We wouldn’t want them to stop our favorite show to earn money waiting tables. At least, I wouldn’t!*