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Sep 16, 2009

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If for no more reason than the new Dan Brown has just been published, today’s post nods back to books. (‘The [Dan Brown] books came straight off the printer, went straight into boxes and were then wrapped in black plastic and sealed,’ Random House spokeswoman Ms Reid said.)

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To a book with a cosmically different level of sales expectations – a friend was shopping on ebay last week and sent this screengrab: It’s the sale picture of the new Nick Cave novel, The Death of Bunny Munro (reviewed in the Guardian). The white patch is where the cover was redacted. Whether the seller did this, or was requested to do so by ebay, my friend wasn’t sure.

ebay-nick cave censored

The cover, which I designed, has already had a bit of a workout, or public workshopping. Even before the book was published, Crikey bagged it: ‘…Obviously Text are using the image to be controversial and, to put it simply, because they can…’

As did Melbourne University’s Meanjin quarterly, on its blog. The editor, Sophie Cunningham, had this to say:

The image takes the old adage that sex sells though that, in itself, isn’t the problem to my mind. What I’m not keen on is that it’s an incredibly passive and vulnerable image that invites imagined violation and is a bit of a ‘fuck you’ to women who want to buy the book. I’d also note that it gets tiresome that in the old ‘sex sells’ line, it’s usually women’s body’s who do the selling, and disembodied bits of them at that. Certainly if it were a Windsor Smith ad and were on a billboard the Advertising Standards Bureau would be looking at it – not that their standards are necessarily one I’d commend as a guide to book design.

Her post attracted some 33 comments (less the author’s replies), many finding the cover offensive. Eg:

Virginia: ‘I’m bothered by it. I was never a cultural studies student but I don’t think it’s much of a stretch to say that it invites mental penetration; it feels violent to me.’

or,

Sue: ‘I haven’t read the novel yet, but in a way I think it’s irrelevant to the politics of the cover. It might not be irrelevant to the cover itself, which, going on what some others say, fits the story very well and is appropriate. But the cover, to me, is yet another in a long line of reductive images of women. Just because it’s on a book cover doesn’t make it less retrogressive. Does a book have to have a cover like that to sell? Of course not. Some imagination could have gone into the design instead.’

Among the defenders was Mark Mordue, who has written a piece on Nick Cave for the current edition of Meanjin and in the ALR. Mordue’s first remark brought up an interesting question:

‘… I tend to agree with Sophie’s concerns … I’d love to know who designed the cover here and who the publishing individual or deciding group were? I ask because I would not be surprised if they were all women, which makes for a strange split in what the hell they believe/think. In some ways it reminds me of the fashion magazines, run by women, propogating paedophilic images of anorexic young girls. How do they reconcile themselves to that work when it is operating at its basest level?’

A few comments later, Mordue changed his mind:

‘Well, well, what an interesting debate … The further I get into reading The Death of Bunny Munro the more I feel like qualifying my earlier comments. I now think the Australian edition has the best of the covers in any country, and that it is certainly the truest representation of the contents within Nick Cave’s novel. For that reason alone, you can’t say it’s just a cheap stunt. In a way it’s as honest a cover as you will get.’

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You be the judge. Here are three versions of the cover: Australian, UK and US (bottom right):

bunny cover2

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And here is a work by the photographer of the Oz cover, Polly Borland, (whose subjects includes the Queen) on the Republic Tower last year in her hometown of Melbourne. She is an old mate of Nick Cave and lives in London. This one is titled, Untitled III.

pb1a

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7 comments

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7 thoughts on “Nick Cave censored, and cover design

  1. Bwca

    To Little Janey from Big Bwca: I was at the first gig, 2nd 3rd 4th and forty more.
    I KNOW stuff.

  2. W H Chong

    Thus far, littlejaney is taking the cake.

    My cake, anyway.

  3. littlejaney

    I am a woman and I bought the Oz version of the book partly for the wonderful cover and partly because I wanted to read the book sooner (where I’m from it was a later release date). I had no qualms about reading the book on the train or where ever. Most probably because I don’t feel compelled to explain my reading choices to anyone. I think Cave’s work is haunted and beautiful. Full of wit and pathos.

    I disagree with Bwca on a number of counts but the first — you seem to have a pretty narrow take on Cave’s “oeuvre.” Perhaps you are only familiar with Murder Ballads and Tender Prey. Or perhaps you are forgetting that he is a writer and the “damaged people” you refer to are fictional (unless you know him intimately and are making a comment on his personal life). Maybe the grit and violence in Cave’s songs aren’t to your liking but it doesn’t make his whole cannon worthless. It would seem your aggressive displeasure with Cave’s work is exposing your own struggle with falsehood. Secondly, I don’t think Cave has ever asked people to believe there is anything admirable in being a junkie (which he hasn’t been for about 10 years now btw). Take a chill pill and read the book, then come back and we can talk about clothes.

  4. whchong

    Bwca,
    What an intriguing comment, or set of comments.
    Thanks for the cover appreciation. As the designer, I feel quite conflicted about making any critical comment on the book, so I shall take a pass.
    But then, you seem to require no assistance to make vivid The Case Against Nick.

  5. Bwca

    On topic: the totally evil swiss-banking eBay is most likely the censor of the image on their site.

    The Chong book-cover is indeed superior to the other two, and very stylish, although it would repel me from purchase, even if the author was Tom Wolfe.

    Somebody somewhere has to eventually say ‘the Emperor Nick has no clothes’, please!
    Right from the start his entire oeuvre has been
    “look what I did – aren’t I naughty and what are you going to do about it?”
    there’s a trail of damaged people in his wake and there’s nothing admirable in that or in being a damn junkie, even if it’s a supermodel junkie.

  6. John Donovan

    The cover fits the book (which I have ready – thanks Crikey!). Bunny Munro is a sad, delusional, sexist throwback, and the cover I imagine, represents his distorted view of what’s important in life. Comically, the poor bugger cant go 10 minutes without having to deal with a raging erection, and poor Kylie and Avril do come in for quite a large amount of Bunny’s (Nick’s?) unwanted attention… Trying to over intellectualise the book by having a too clever a cover would do the book a disservice I would think. Anyone that is offended by the cover, would also most likely be offended by the content as well, so you may as well give them a fair warning.. It also ensures you are committed to the cause if you buy it, as there is no shirking from other people’s perceptions of what you are reading when you are on the train, when they snap a look at the cover… 🙂

  7. Hamish Coffee

    That’s a big poster. I’m surprised it was allowed up given the nudity.

    So what’s the book like? I found the Ass saw the Angel very hard to read…

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