Jeff James


I'm continually fascinated by the process of book cover designs and redesigns. I actually follow several blogs that focus on nothing but the subject of new book cover designs, often comparing hardback to paperback and US to UK or international versions. It's really interesting how books are sold in completely different ways in different countries. Re-released versions are also alternately fascinating and disappointing, depending on the thinking behind the updated version. Here's a good example:

The Diamond Age, Old vs. New

On the left is an earlier cover for The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. The cover on the right is for a version re-released this year to coincide with Stephenson's upcoming book, Anathem. For some reason all of Stephenson's books (except for the Baroque Cycle) are being re-released with covers that match the style of Anathem: a shadowy figure, lit from behind and walking or running through a doorway at the end of a long hall or large space.

It's kind of bizarre, especially since the new cover makes The Diamond Age look more like a Jason Bourne book than a post-cyberpunk / steampunk / fantasy novel about a girl and the virtual world that exists in her diary. The old cover may be a bit dated and "of its time", but I think it does a much better job of communicating what the book is actually about, with its juxtaposition of rusty gears and amorphous 3D imagery.

If you're interested in checking out a few good blogs focusing on book cover designs, here's my reading list:

  1. The Book Design Review
  2. …by Henry Sene Yee Design
  3. Book Covers Anonymous
  4. Caustic Cover Critic

I remember watching the first Ghost in the Shell movie and being confused and mildly disappointed. up until that point, my only exposure to anime was Akira, which – although it was confusing as well – seemed far more epic in scope. I remember wondering if there were that many full-length anime features that were as good as I thought Akira was, and for a few years, I didn't think so.

I was, of course, wrong. there were a hell of a lot of really excellent full-length anime features out there, I just hadn't found them yet.

Now, in my personal continuum of anime features, nothing will probably ever top Spirited Away. That would just be heresy; I'd say that and Akira are on equal footing in my realm.

Ghost in the Shell 2 was quite a lot different from the first movie. The difference was all the more striking because I watched the trailers included on the disc, and saw a clip of the first movie – which now looks primitive and cartoony – and a bit of Stand Alone Complex, the TV series – cartoony still, but much more modern.

This one was pretty goddamn confusing as well, but there was something about it that clicked a whole lot better for me. Innocence is not only far more epic than the first film, it is far more philosophical in scope, and the surrealistic quality that I love so much in a good anime has been ramped up much higher. There were parts of this movie that kind of gave me the heebie-jeebies, and I now consider it a sign of quality when something I watch can scare me a little bit in the right way (Firefly being another example – the third episode made my skin crawl a little bit).

The only thing that wasn't cool about the movie – and this is quite the internet scandal – was that instead of including regular subtitles, a closed captioned track was the only English option offered. You'd get things like [singing in japanese] or [dog whimpers], all of which were plastered right up front in huge white letters.

I decided a few years ago that kung fu flicks and anime were the only sorts of foreign films where I didn't mind English dubbing. In both cases, it's so you can pay as much attention to the visuals as possible. I'd actually prefer it if Ghost in the Shell had an English dub, cause I know there was a good amount of stuff that I missed just because I was trying to frantically read the subtitles and watch all of the crazy shit going on at the same time.