Book covers are something of an obsession for writers, editors, and booksellers. A good cover sells itself, achieving the almost elusive combination of intrigue and aesthetic that makes you itch to pluck the book from the shelf to read its contents.
Creating such a cover is, of course, part design skill, part muse-inspired, and part magic, which makes good ones much lauded and bad ones much not lauded.
The new Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover due to be launched on September 4 is, based on the internet’s thunderously unanimous reaction, clearly the latter (which seems especially depressing given how iconic Quentin Blake‘s illustrations have been to date).
I’ll not deny I’m more than a little confused by the cover. For a bunch of reasons. (If you haven’t yet seen it, it’s got a Lolita-ilk doll front and centre, with a woman doll’s body partially visible.)
One reason I’m puzzled is because I genuinely couldn’t tell what was going on with the cover—to whom do the various limbs belong, and why does it look like the girl doll is sitting between the legs of the woman doll?
Another is because the cover’s a newly commissioned, freshly minted update to celebrate the book’s 50th anniversary. That is, it’s a fancy version of a cover of a perennially bestselling book that has a significant number of covers from which to draw inspiration and to reference and build on.
Also, the book’s important to both our collective book-loving memories but also to Penguin Modern Classic’s stable of profitable books. Those factors combined with the significance of the half-century anniversary would, you would think, warrant the publisher putting their best design minds on the job.
So what the hell happened?
In a case of it truly looks like the wrong file was sent to the printer world-is-fukt style, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been printed with a cover better suited to Lolita.
We’ve come to expect better—much, much, much better—from Penguin Modern Classics. In fact, when I first saw the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover design, I thought Facebook had done that annoying thing it is wont to do: display an image unrelated to the post unless you remember to go in and cycle through to select the one you actually want. Many other fans, it appears, thought it was a spoof.
Or worse, the designer and the managing editor (or whoever signed off on this disaster) hadn’t read the book. This is kind of inexcusable both because of its long-time-loved status—even if you hadn’t read it, you should know the gist of the tale—and because there were also a number of movies made about it too.
If you hadn’t read it, you could have cheated high school-style and watched a film. Failing that, wouldn’t you go for something literal, like a reference to chocolate or a chocolate factory as hinted at through the title?
And am I the only one to wonder why there’s a girl on the cover when the book’s protagonist is a boy?
Sure, there were a couple of girls in the book, but they were part of a cast of snotty-nosed children Charlie encounters and none of them are worth singling out on the cover. If they were going to reference the other children, they should have had an image that represented more than one of them.
BuzzFeed has collated the best internet’s responses so far, which makes for head-nodding- and guffaw-inducing reading.
Some of my favourites include:
- You know how it always looks like a cover designer’s never read the book?
- Just so we’re clear, that Charlie and the Chocolate Factory cover is one of the biggest publishing mistakes ever. Hitler’s Diaries bad.
- Remember that really famous part of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the terrifying dolls? Nope. Me neither.
- Jon Benet and the Chocolate Factory. Creepy. Not in a good way.
- Publishing protip: If readers confuse a book cover for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with Lolita, not a very good CHILDREN’s design.
With this new version to be released in just under a month, I suspect this isn’t the last we’ve heard about this horror design…