Always judge a book by it’s cover, that’s what the cover’s for… right?

To my surprise and disappointment, it turns out I’m a lot more superficial than I thought — because inadvertently, I judge books by their covers. Maybe it can be excused by the fact that I’m a designer, and so I have designed book covers, CDs, and packaging for a living. Something to do with designing those things makes me think that they might give a good clue to the contents, since the interior is where I always take my own design cues from.

KCDSSometimes those covers are things of beauty, and I’m attracted to entirely new books based on the cover. For example, I recently picked up the lovely little Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service, a perfectly tiny, thick pocket volume with an unvarnished kraft paper cover. It’s a three color print of black, white and orange, using aggressively square fonts, echoing the Kanji in the title. The interior held strange, slightly unsettling stories of young monks-in-training who work for the dead, delivering their corpses to their desired places of rest. The approachable, delicately inked drawings detract massively from any overt “horror” aspects of this manga, and instead lend it sensitivity and fun, which the subject matter benefits from enormously. In all, I’d say that the oddly utilitarian cover gave a good indication of the utilitarian attitude that the characters bring to their otherwise rather esoteric and gruesome choice of career. I’m looking forward to reading the other 7 volumes of this book.

Common GroundsBut once in a while I miss something amazing, because I’m so focused on a horrible, broken bit of design on the cover, that I completely dismiss the interior as irrelevant. Common Grounds is one of these. I remember when it came out. I saw predominantly shiny black cover (which was printed on a thin, uncoated paper that showed every wrinkle and crack), under what I can only describe as a badly proportioned, clunky, 80’s influenced logo and never bothered glancing at it again (my apologies to the designer, but it just wasn’t my thing). It’s lucky then that I write this column, because after my article “Tthe Unglamorous Secret Lives of Superheroes” a couple of weeks ago, Jason Newcomb recommended Common Grounds. So I picked up a copy of the first trade paperback, and dove in. I was unenthusiastic to say the least. But the writing… what can I say. It wasn’t simply that it was filled with stories examining the mundane aspects of the lives of super beings, but it took those classic comic book scenarios and extrapolated on them, explored the logical conclusion of a world where comic book logic is real. It fulfilled my curiosity about this world and gave me a whole new set of ideas to ponder.

ruins marvelsApparently, I’m not the only one who judges books based on the way they look. Not long ago Jim Mroczkowski wrote about his great disappointment in the book; Ruins. Out of pure curiosity for what could have riled my colleague so, I picked it up on eBay (I’d missed it when it came out because in ’95 I was busy trying hard to pretend to be an adult – silly me). The cover design was practically identical to Marvels (a painted, heavy cover with a clear plastic sleeve overlay, and the negative spaces of the title printed – allowing the image to show through), and so he’d reasonably assumed that he was getting something in a similar vein. Sadly, it really was the opposite, a damning and depressing essay on what would happen in a world where nothing at all went marvelously, where every mutation and radiation exposure led only to tumor-infected death. For someone expecting such a story (e.g. a die-hard Warren Ellis fan like myself, who’s been forewarned by Jim’s article) this is an enjoyable, (if somewhat silly) book. But for anyone looking to the cover for a clue, this book is just offensive. I’m lucky that I read Jim’s article and got some warning.

Thus I’m learning of the immense value of a community like iFanboy, without which I’d be stuck in my usual, cover-judging rut. Instead of relying on one or two comic-reading friends or my local comic store owner, I have access to the recommendations and reviews of a giant community of diverse readers. No longer will I be missing out on all sorts of strange and random stories because I have no idea what lurks between those suspect covers.



On a somewhat unrelated note, I’d like to thank Steve Seelig (aka sceelig) for his recommendation of The Tunnel in response to my periferal podcast mention of The Lives of Others. (I used it as a reference point to further elaborate on that blissful moment that Luthor seemed to experience when he had the enhanced perception of Superman.) The Tunnel was more of a classic escape story than The Lives of Others, and illustrated an earlier time, when the Berlin wall was just being erected. The film depicted the sudden shock for people who suddenly found themselves on different sides of a wall, and since I moved to Germany just a week after the Berlin wall came down, and saw the trauma and shock of the Eat German’s, I’m very happy to have seen this eloquent description that time. The film was profoundly moving, employing some of the best German actors around, and together they created a very believable portrait of some very desperate people. I’m getting a little choked up just writing this, so I’ll leave it at that. Just wanted to thank Steve, and encourage anyone else who has an interest in action, history, or human beings to give it a look.


Sonia Harris spends far too much time thinking about what to wear (because clothing is like packaging for human beings) in San Francisco, which is a city where you could literally go to work wearing fairy wings and no one would bat an eyelash. If you’d like to, you can email inspired and helpful recommendations to her at



  1. You’re totally right about "Ruins". I read it without that warning and, considering that Warren Ellis is at heart a very optimistic writer (believing in good will, heroes and technology, despite the stupidity, filth and death) this was quite distressing.

  2. "this is an enjoyable, (if somewhat silly) book."

    No. Nooooo. Incorrect.

    Do not listen to this mad person. Ruins killed silly at a truck stop fifty miles back and never looked back. It is a black hole from which enjoyable cannot escape.

    Will no one hear my pleas? Why do my warnings just get more people to buy this abomination? Elllllliiiiiiiis!!!

  3. Cool article, Sonia. That Kurosagi cover is really eye-catching, and I appreciate reading a designer’s explanation about why it works so well. 

    @Jimski  — True story.  This weekend, Throughthebrush and I were visiting my brother, who was a big Marvel fan in the early 90s but hasn’t kept up with current canon too much.  In the course of a conversation, ‘Brush began to explain the Sentry, animatedly, with repeated emphasis on how much he sucks.  My brother listened to her presentation and then said, wide-eyed, "That actually sounds fascinating.  I need to read more about this guy."

    Simultaneously, we both said, "noooo!" and ‘Brush said, "Wow, I am talking about how much I hate something, with such energy and passion that it actually makes people interested in reading it. . .My God.  I’m turning into Jimski."

    You’ve got a skill, man.  Don’t try to fight it.

  4. Man, I really want to read Ruins now based on both Sonia and Jimski’s descriptions.

  5. If you’re going to read The Ruins, make sure it’s the Scott Smith novel and not the comic.  The comic is highly missable, unless you find it for cheap.

  6. The Kurosagi Corpse Delivery Service caught my eye for exactly the same reason. It really stands out, particularly among other manga books. At this point I’ve read, I think, six of the volumes. It’s a decent little series, but it was definitely the package that caught my eye. I’m a sucker for design, and I’ve been known to buy a book or two simply because I loved the design.

  7. @ Jimski.  I hear your pleas.  Ellis’ attitude is really starting to bother me.  My friend picked up No Hero and although I enjoyed it, I still can’t understand why he still writes super hero books if he has so much disdain for them.  Maybe I’m just missing something.

  8. Ruins is a lot of fun in a very awful and depressingly silly way.  Thanks for another good movie tip Sonia, ‘The Lives Of Others’ was fantastic, looking forward to ‘The Tunnel.’

  9. Judging a book by its cover is like any other snap judgment.  9 times out of 10, it’s going to be reasonably accurate, but you need to be prepared to revise your assessment as new information comes in. 

  10. Glad you liked Common Grounds! I’m a graphic designer too. Fight the power! …or something.

  11. Just a note as I am a little behind on the podcasts…loved hearing Sonia on iFanboy. Not that i don’t enjoy listening to the iFanboys, but it is quite refreshing hearing a saucy Brit chick (and i mean that as a compliment btw) talk about…*gasp* comics! 

    To quote another Brit: "More"

    Where is the iFanboy petition to bring back Sonia?

    Oh….another great article, Sonia!