Monday, 18 July 2011

The Wheel of Time Art-Off, Part 1

Over the last couple of years, Tor have introduced new cover art for The Wheel of Time novels by Robert Jordan, presumably due to repeated complaints that the paper covers by Darrel K. Sweet are 'rather variable in quality' (that's being kind). Whilst for now the new art is restricted to the ebooks, it's assumed that they will be rolled out for the hard copies some time after A Memory of Light is published at the end of 2012.

So are the new covers better than the old? Does Sweet get a bit of a rough deal? Let's check out the old covers and the new ones. This post will cover the first seven books in the series and obviously feel free to disagree with my choices in the comments.

I. The Eye of the World

The Darrell K. Sweet original. Simple, straightforward, even classic. Sure, strewn with ridiculously bizarre touches (Lan has been replaced by a samurai for no discernible reason) and it's very dated in style, but likable, and shows the content of the book pretty well: a bunch of people setting out on an adventure.

The ebook cover by Dave Grove. Avast, me hearties! A somewhat odd choice of image, of Rand clinging to the mast of Bayle Domon's ship as it passes down the Arinelle with the Tower of Ghenjei in the distance. Points for emphasising the Tower, but then it does so in a rather unsubtle manner. Focusing on Rand is good, but not showing his compatriots feels like a shame, especially since the Rand-Mat relationship is a key part of the novel and Mat is missing altogether. It's a good painting, but feels like an internal image from a deluxe illustrated edition rather than a summing-up of the content of the whole novel.

Winner: Sweet, by a nostalgic nose. This probably won't happen very often.

II. The Great Hunt

The original art for The Great Hunt has become infamous over the years, mainly since it seems to mark the start of Sweet's bizarre insistence on painting Trollocs as normal guys with horned helmets rather than monstrous crossbreed creatures. Loial looks like a hairy Vulcan with thin legs, not really any taller than Rand, and Selene seems to be in a nightie. Not great.

Clever. Kekai Kotaki revisits the same image, but in a way that is notably less crap. The Trollocs look right and the human figures are more dramatic and interesting. I was thinking that some more of the new covers would revisit the old images and update them, but Tor clearly wanted to go in a new direction. Or didn't want to risk embarrassing Sweet any further.

Winner: The new cover, easily.

III. The Dragon Reborn

One of Sweet's better images, showing the iconic moment Rand al'Thor claims Callandor, which marks him as the Dragon Reborn. This is a reasonable image, showing the Heart of the Stone, but Rand looks a bit neat considering the several months of harsh travel and life-and-death struggle he's gone through to get to Tear, whilst Perrin seems to inexplicably dropped by from a costume-fitting for a remake of The Warriors. Despite these problems, I quite like this image, despite the absence here of Ishamael's burning face on the spine (which apparently gave Harriet - Robert Jordan's wife - nightmares).

The new artwork, this time by Donato Giancola, is...nice. A good-quality image of Rand, erm, chilling out on a tree somewhere. It's a good-quality image but lacks dynamism.

Winner: Sweet, surprisingly.

IV. The Shadow Rising

Rand and Mat, who appears to have transformed into a hobbit, chilling out on a tinker's cart in the Aiel Waste whilst, erm, someone makes tea (is that Moiraine or Egwene? Or someone completely different?). The environment art (more clearly seen on the back cover) is actually really good, but the cover image is weak.

The new cover art by Sam Weber is dark and moody, showing Mat in a sinister and ill-omened light contrasting his normal jovial depiction. Excellent.

Winner: The new cover, by about five light-years.

V. The Fires of Heaven

Mat, Rand and Aviendha get lost in Rhuidean whilst more not-Trollocs look on threateningly from the shadows ('the shadows' in this case being about three feet from Rand whilst he's looking straight at them). Pretty much nonsensical, especially given only a few chapters are set in Rhuiden.

Dan Dos Santos gives us Moiraine Damodred, badass channeller, laying down the law on Lanfear.

Winner: The new cover, most definitely. Moiraine's last stand is one of the more iconic scenes from the series and definitely worthy of a cover shot.

VI. Lord of Chaos

The aftermath of Dumai's Wells is a good image to go with, but not if you turn Rand into the cover hero from a Mills & Boon novel whilst a kneeling Aes Sedai swoons over him and a Draghkar flies overhead (not that any Draghkars are present at the battle, but whatever).

Greg Manchess paints some Agents from The Matrix blowing up some attacking ninjas! Awesome! Explosions! Lightning! Men running around on fire! Yeaaah! And it has a bigger version!

Winner: The new cover. It's a bit corny, to be honest, but also dynamic with lots of action.

VII. A Crown of Swords

Rand flexing his muscles in Shadar Logoth, as you do when Mashadar is floating two feet in front of you in a random pit. Not a great cover, but the detail on the buildings is quite nice. Plus this was the first hardcover novel I ever bought, so it has some nostalgia value for me.

The new cover, by Melanie Delon. It's a non-instinctive image from the book to go for. In fact, considering the book features the Seanchan storming the Fortress of the Light, a Seanchan fleet battling its way into Ebou Dar Harbour, the Shaido being scattered over the landscape and Rand bending the Sea Folk to his will (more or less), neither images are the most immediately obvious ones. This could have been made to work well, but here it doesn't. Nynaeve looks nothing like Nynaeve, Lan looks like a low-res character model from Oblivion and both are straight out of the uncanny valley.

Winner: Sweet, disappointingly since his image isn't great either. But it makes a bit more sense and is a bit less oddball than the new one.

Half-Time Score: Sweet 3 - New Covers 4

Still all to play for in Part 2.


Cameron Harris said...

I really enjoy some of the comparisons. My personal favorite cover is the new shadow rising cover.

Justin said...

Glad to see some non-Rands on the front covers if nothing else.

Ruby said...

The Crown of Swords art is actually one of my favourites of the new ebook covers! This is the scene where Nyn finally breaks her block, so it does have some significance.

ishouldbeking said...

To me, the biggest issue with the new covers is the typography, which completely loses the impact of the old covers. A lot of the newer art could work great, but the giant ROBERT JORDAN, then the tiny little book title feels neither epic nor compelling. The magically cheesy title font on the originals is so ingrained in my subconscious that it's irreplaceable at this point.

Kathryn said...

I'd take either set over the abysmal Orbit UK ones.

I love the new ones, though, and I would seriously consider buying the whole series just to have them lined up on my shelf.

That reminds me, I really should read the series...

Brandon said...

I always assumed the Fires of Heaven Sweet cover art was depicting the end of the book in Caemlyn and not Rhuidean. The trollocs hiding in the shadows representing the trap that Rahvin has set for them. Am I wrong here?

Anonymous said...

I like the Sweet cover for Eye Of The World simply because Nicolas Cage is playing Rand. ;)

Anonymous said...

"I always assumed the Fires of Heaven Sweet cover art was depicting the end of the book in Caemlyn and not Rhuidean."

Definitely ment to be Camelyn

I prefer the old covers, paintings look classy (though the choice of scenes could be more interesting). Book 7 is my favorite, it depicts really well how the Rand character has changed from the innocent kid on the cover of book 1.

The new ones are usually pretty, but they don’t look like book covers (more like the cover of a comic book issue), and they look way to modern for my taste. It feels as wrong as if the cover of LOTR was just a big picture of Frodo, the book is so much more than that.

Sarabhi said...

Sorry, but I totally love the CoS e-cover!!!!!! Ny and Lan forever!!!

Jeff King said...

The new covers look amazing, but I have to go with the old covers... they just hold some epic power over me.

Scooter said...

I think the opinion on the Crown of Swords cover is almost completely dependent on the viewer's opinion of Nynaeve. As silly as it was, I actually burst into tears during that scene. It was so well written and such a pivotal moment in the growth of a fairly controversial character. I say controversial only because Nynaeve has always been such a polarizing figure in fandom...
But yeah, I agree with the other's who have posted so far simply because I love the character.

Relic said...

Good stuff.

Anonymous said...

I actually really like the Dragon Reborn new cover because of the symbolism. Sure, it's not straight out the book but the "choice" or the weighing up between the flute and the sword at his side is pretty much the whole point of the book.

But yeah, I dislike both aCoS covers too.

Anonymous said...

I like the mood in the new dragon reborn cover, but (this may be nit picking) Rand doesn't have a sword in his trip to Tear. That was destroyed in the fight in the great hunt. He channels a fire sword in his travels. Although maybe the sword is supposed to be Callandor.

Bryce L. said...

You're definitely spot on. It's funny how hard a time Sweet gets (and I'm not innocent) and still I prefer his covers to the new ones a very surprising amount of time.

Rich Boye said...

I love how on the new Lord of Chaos cover, that bellowing ball of fire exploding actually makes out a yin/yang, er, saidin/saidar symbol.

Anonymous said...

Anyone else think Rand on the cover of ACoS looks like Jai Courtney, aka Varro from Spartacus?

Anonymous said...

I also think that Sweet wasn't depicting the Trollocs as humans in TFoH. You can see their orange eyes and beaks (?) under their helmets if you look closely. And the one on the far left (back cover) has some serious hair growing on his hands. And the Trolloc on ACoS is definitely not human looking--looks like Sweet favored the hawks.

Maybe he got a talking-to after TGH?