Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book Thoughts: Racefail on Magic Under Glass Cover

Back in November after I attended the Children's Literature Cafe on the Cybils, and again in December when I reviewed Liar by Justine Larbalestier, I mentioned the cover controversy surrounding the book, namely that the US publisher, Bloomsbury, had initially chosen to put the image of a white girl on the cover when Micah, the protagonist, clearly emphasizes that she has dark skin with nappy hair. When the blogosphere caught sight of the cover, bloggers were outraged and the outcry convinced Bloomsbury they should have a cover that more accurately reflected Micah.

After that outrage, I think most of us settled back and felt assured that while we hadn't solved the problem of whitewashing characters of color on the covers of YA novels, we had at least made a dent in the problem and that Bloomsbury would firmly be on our side in the future.

Well, according to Reading in Color, the problem is far from over. It turns out that Magic Under Glass by debut author Jaclyn Dolamore has a dark-skinned protagonist from the Far East.

And then the cover is this:
Magic Under Glass by Jaclyn Dolamore

This isn't good, Bloomsbury.

Unfortunately, it looks like us bloggers didn't make it to this title in time - it's already in print. Actually, as Ari points out at Reading in Color, even when bloggers did get their hands on this one, we were slow to point it out: Ari has seen several reviews of this title that didn't mention the discrepancy.

So while I hold Bloomsbury highly accountable for this cover, I also have to say that the blogosphere seems to have fallen down on the job a little bit as well. At that Cybil's panel in November there was a lot of patting ourselves on the back because we (bloggers in general) got the Liar cover changed. Well we absolutely can't be complacent here - Bloomsbury has proven that they aren't going to change their marketing strategy unless their feet are held to the fire. While we can't catch every single title before it goes to press, I think we do have an obligation to comment when a cover egregiously doesn't match the main character. Sure it's mildly annoying when a character is described as a brunette and then there's a blonde chick on the cover, but hair color can be changed with a box of dye. Skin color and ethnicity can't be, and those identities are integral to a person, whether they're a fictional character or a teenager looking for a representation of herself in the bookstore.

I don't pay all that much attention to covers here - cover art has to be either outrageously good or outrageously terrible to attract my attention. But I'm promising that from now on I'm going to pay closer attention to covers, especially those on books about people of color, and recognize both the good and the bad. It's easy to pile up in righteous outrage when someone screws up, but it's also important to recognize when someone does well. I encourage the rest of you to do the same; not all of us have access to early galleys and not all publishers will be willing or able to change a cover before the first print run, but we can take a stand and start making noise now so that racefail like this becomes rare, rather than an all too common occurrence.

Edit: Slowly but surely, others are adding their thoughts! Here's links to some other posts and conversations that are happening.
Jen at Multigenre Fan: Covers That Lie, Yet Again
It’s easy to put up a blog post commenting on how you don’t like something or wish something was different. But actually doing something about it takes effort. I promise to try harder this year. If something isn’t right I’m going to say something about it.

Nymeth at Things Mean Alot: Again
But all this aside, I think that when having these conversations it's much more useful to focus on consequences than to speculate about intentions. No matter what the intention was, the message sent out to teens of colour is the same: they're being told they don't matter. If racism were only ever perpetrated by people who set out to be malicious, it would be a much smaller problem than it is.

Ah Yuan at GALNovelty: Stop Failing Bloomsbury
There are other publishing houses starting up that BELIEVE in diversity (such as TU Publishing and Verb Noire) and I believe my money will be better spent there

Susan at Black Eyed Susan's: No Magic for Bloomsbury
The Industry behaves in part based on what the consumer accepts. It is time to call out peers for failing to stand up for what's right. I'm not talking name calling, I'm talking about publicly calling on our peers to speak up, asking YA bloggers to join us in promoting POC writers and denouncing unfair practices at publishing houses.


MissA said...

Excellent post :) I admit that I did feel slighly satisfied at the effect we bloggers had on Bloomsbury, I grew too complacent I think. I just double checked another review, by one of my favorite bloggers, I trust her opinions and she sope out about Liar, but she said nothing about this =/ The other reviews make no mention. You are so right, we need racefail to become a rare occurence, rather than a too-often occurence. I'm linking to this!

Margo Dill said...

Could this cover have missed the point because she is standing to the side, sort of looking down, instead of looking straight at the "camera?" Or maybe because of the genre? Or. . .Well, I'm glad you noticed it and are bringing it to people's attention.


Unknown said...

Margo - I'm sure there are lots of reasons why this slipped past people's attention initially, including because this cover isn't nearly as in your face as Liar's was. However, that still doesn't absolve Bloomsbury, and hopefully now that it *has* been brought to the attention of the bloggers (or hopefully they'll see it when they get back from ALA!), we will all start paying more attention to the covers, ESPECIALLY once we've started reading and seen that the characters are described radically differently than they're portrayed on the cover.

susan said...

Thanks for the post, Angela. I wasn't half as eloquent nor as civil. Glad there are voices joining the conversation.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for highlighting this for me. Moreover, at least for me, I'm thrilled to hear about this book because it's a protagonist of color in a steampunk-influenced fantasy world. I've put it on my list for read for Beyond Victoriana -- we have to be sure to show that we support the author and her work, although her publisher did not show the same.

Paige Y. said...

Excellent post. I'm not familiar with this book, but I read a lot about the Liar controversy when it occurred. I wonder if the cover for this book had been chosen before all the controversy for Liar occurred and nobody at Bloomsbury thought about it.

Unknown said...

Diana - it's steampunk?! I missed that one, I thought it was just fantasy. If I'd seen that earlier, you would have been the first person I e-mailed.

I'm also hesitant to boycott Bloomsbury since it would hurt the authors, which is why I suggested not only the negative blog posts, but also corresponding positive ones. It's so easy to get upset and fire off angry e-mails and blog posts in the heat of the moment; let's try doing some positive reinforcement when we do see positive portrayals.

Paige: According to the author over here, her cover was set before the Liar controversy happened, so my theory is that Bloomsbury realized they had a huge PR disaster in the making when people raised a fuss over Liar, but since re-doing covers is expensive, they hoped that this little book by a first time author would escape notice.

Emily said...

The MC of this book is not from the Far-East. Her world is imaginary - pure fantasy. No connection to the real world.

So confused as to why everyone things something has gone horribly wrong here.

I'm gong to re-read the book to see if there was any mention of her skin color at all....

Unknown said...

WilowRaven - I do wonder if the fantasy setting may have played a part in why no one noticed this earlier, but several people have said she's described as dark skinned in the text, and even the author has said she wishes a darker-skinned model was used.

Unknown said...

Hmm... Perhaps what Bloomsbury needs is a cover designer chief who actually *reads* the books? Thanks for the heads up; when I get around to reading/reviewing it, I'll be sure to mention the discrepancy. Sheesh, I'm disappointed in Bloomsbury.

Pam Calvert said...

The author does mention Namira's tan skin set off by the pink dress...she is a woman of color and there is a cover discrepancy. That said, it is the fault of Bloomsbury, not the author. This is a wonderful book! I couldn't put it down. After reading it, I was dismayed by the cover.

It was already into production before the Liar controversy. I'm sure a second printing will produce a new cover.

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