The Death of Horror Books

October 28, 2017

I don't expect everyone (or anyone) to share my opinion on this but when I see a new copy of James Herbert's 'The Rats' on a shelf I always feel disappointed. 

It's really well designed, being both witty and modern, but with a sea of similarly witty and modern rivals on the shelf I feel that means it manages to achieve mediocrity. I remember my reaction as a kid when I first saw the amazing artwork they used for The Rats and I remember I couldn't wait to read whatever was inside.  

I know we, as consumers, have a more sophisticated sense of design and aesthetic now but I fear we lost that wow factor somewhere along the way. 

When I see the new Stephen King novels lining the shelf with nice photography of open roads, fields or farmhouses it doesn't have any impact on me, unlike seeing the clanging monkey toy with the dead eyes staring out at me on the cover of Skeleton Crew. I remember, as a teen, the book still intimidated me even when I finished reading it for the night and I distinctly remember putting it face down so I didn't have to make eye contact with the cover, or the cover with me. The book was an experience. It had a personality and vibe to it, even when it wasn't being read. It still had power to it when it was sitting on a bookshelf.

I try to put that into that same feeling into the book covers I design. I want someone to spot the cover in the corner of their eye and HAVE to pick it up... I want them to think 'I've gotta read that' before they've even turned over to read the synopsis. I want to make covers I'm excited about as a consumer while also proud of as a designer. More importantly I want the impact of the story to continue long after the book has been put down. 

I still collect old 80s and early 90s horror books with the cool hand painted artwork because these were the things I stared at on the shelf when I was a kid and what encouraged me to become an artist. I love some of the sophistication in the designs of book covers now but I miss the awe I felt when I was a kid. I blame Harry Potter 

Back when the Harry Potter books were huge Bloomsbury wanted to attract adults to purchase the books for themselves to read without them feeling ashamed to be seen in public with 'a kids book'. 

The result was Bloomsbury released the books with the most boring covers they could possibly design. Unfortunately it worked. What this revealed was that if an author or title was popular enough then people will pick it up regardless of the cover.

 

Authors like Stephen King, Ramsey Campbell and James Herbert have already converted a generation of kids over to horror literature so I dare say they may not have to rely on their covers to bring in more (their reputation will do that for them). Unfortunately the consequence of that is that the horror genre (or at least the horror section) is shrinking. Currently, in an average Waterstones store there are less shelves dedicated to horror novels than there are to any other genre. In some WHSmith stores the section has disappeared entirely with sections labeled Science, Fantasy and 'Dystopian' as a category.

 

This may be a personal theory but this may be down to horror covers not trying to make an impact any more. Scanning across a book shop, the horror books blur seamlessly with every other typographically heavy cover (apart from Science Fiction which maintains a rich and varied range of imagery and coincidentally has cultivated a much bigger section in most bookshops). I can only suggest that horror books need to start looking like horror books again which is why I'm thankful for independent authors and innovative publishers who want to try something new, something daring and something memorable so in 30 years time someone can look back and describe clearly the first horror book they ever picked up off the shelf and had to take it home and may be what got them hooked on the genre. Hopefully by that point they don't have to remember 'back when there used to be a horror genre'.

Anyway, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this. Please comment below and I promise to respond.

 

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