May 6, 2014

Andrew Davidson's Fantastic Covers

        Some time ago I saw Andrew Davidson’s gorgeous wood engraving on the cover of Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, but I only this morning got around to looking him up and seeing what else he’s done.  Well, it turns out he’s done quite a few cover designs for speculative fiction books - and even a recurring theme of dragons over cities.  Oooh, I love it!  An awful lot of YA books (and some middle grade, though thankfully fewer) have covers featuring photos of modern-looking teen models posed in fantasy attire (and gazing intensely, of course.)  I have never found such covers at all appealing and much prefer ones with actual artwork.  And naturally I’m delighted whenever I see relief block printing - and relief block printing that hasn’t been colored in is even more delightful.  I confess to not having read Seraphina, but if any cover can make me judge a book positively, it’s this one!
        Then when I went looking up Andrew Davidson, I discovered some more incredible wood engravings.  First, the Iron Man, cover design for the book by Ted Hughes (on which 1999’s animated “The Iron Giant” was loosely based.)  Davidson’s portrait does a good job of being a little ambiguous - this robot is not clearly friendly or villainous.  You don’t get the luxury of any assumptions from this cover.  But I particularly like the junk heap in the background with its interesting scrap metal shapes.  He also illustrated Hughes’s sequel, The Iron Woman.  I can’t imagine how it might fit into the story, but this cool metamorphosis is an illustration from that book.  I love the 
way the fish look like they’re simply shedding human limbs along with the clothes.  They don’t look happy about it, though - it seems this change of form is an unwelcome shock.  (Don't forget to click on these little pictures to see a larger image.)
        Next, more books I’ve never read, the Temeraire series by Naomi Novik, once again featuring wonderfully detailed dragons flying over ships and buildings.  The covers range all around the world, along with the dragons, depicting a variety of architectures and scenery beneath the 
dragons.  As with The Iron Man, some editions of the books have more color on their covers than others.  I wish I could find pictures of the actual wood engravings themselves before their transformation into cover designs.  For example, I don’t know whether the titles were part of the original prints or added later, but I do like the way the dragons’ tails integrate with the text.
        And finally, Davidson did a set of covers for an edition of the Harry Potter series to be marketed to adults.  Now, I don’t see why there should be a different edition for adults to read - any adult who’s embarrassed to be seen reading a kids’ book doesn’t deserve to partake of Harry Potter.  (Besides which, it isn’t as if people haven’t heard of Harry Potter.  Everyone knows exactly what you’re reading regardless of its cover.)  I also quite like the US cover designs by Mary GrandPré…  But I’m certainly not going to complain about a new set of gorgeous wood engraved illustrations of one of my favorite series.  These are really wonderful.  They capture less of the sense of whimsy (as befits the terribly mature, serious, adult readers at whom they’re aimed) but they do definitely evoke the sense of mystery, magic, and marvels.  The details are 
incredible - note the distant dragon(?) on the outcropping as the train steams by, and the owls carrying parcels above the turrets of Hogwarts.  Alas, I believe that the actual finished book covers take these incredible images and deface them with overlays of garish colors and huge chunky fonts, but luckily I was able to find images of all the original artwork to look at.  I don’t have room to share them all here, but you can see the first four here, and the last three here.
        Davidson’s work is the kind I’d really like to get my face up close to with a magnifying glass, and unfortunately the on-line images just don’t allow me to see the level of detail I’d like.  Still, even without being able to examine the carving as closely as I’d wish, I really enjoy Davidson’s ability to express such wonderful fantasy images.


[Pictures: Cover design, wood engraving by Andrew Davidson from Seraphina by Hartman, 2012;
The Iron Man, wood engraving by Davidson, 1985 (Image from Lawfully Chic);
Metamorphosis, wood engraving by Davidson, 1993 (Image from Andrew Davidson);
Cover design, wood engraving by Davidson from Temeraire by Novik, 2006;
Cover design, wood engraving by Davidson from Victory of Eagles by Novik, 2008;
The Hogwarts Express, wood engraving by Davidson from Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling, 2013;
The Whomping Willow, wood engraving by Davidson from Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, 2013;
Nagini, wood engraving by Davidson from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, 2013 (Images from The Artworks).]

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