Lo. Lee. Ta. A Collection of Covers.

The other day I was looking through my collection of book cover designs and realized that one book was cropping up way more than any others: Vladimir Nabokov’s disturbing and classic Lolita, narrated by the protagonist Humbert Humbert, perhaps the most famous pedophile in modern literature. The enigmatic characters and plot of Lolita have drawn designers to it over and over. How to best capture the horrifying sexualization of a 12 year old girl? How to design an image for the story of a monster, but somehow convey that monster’s point of view?

However, as I was gathering the covers together I realized that there may be another reason, beyond the draw of its literary merits, that there are so many designs out there. Apparently three years ago the architect and blogger John Bertram put on a Lolita cover competition due to a personal belief that most previous designs had misrepresented the nuances of the novel and that designers could do better. His issue, described in an Imprint article on this competition, was that “she’s chronically miscast as a teenage sexpot—just witness the dozens of soft-core covers over the years. [but] ‘We are talking about a novel which has child rape at its core.'” The results of this contest are apparently being gathered together into a book, Lolita: Story of a Cover Girl, due out August 2013.

If you have a second I would definitely recommend reading through that Imprint interview with him that I linked to above. Bertram has some interesting stuff to say on the role of the designer, the difficulties of such a nuanced and sensitive subject, and the responsibility of a designer to do justice to such a literary work of art and not short change it. Perhaps, even add to it:

I was interested to see what well-known designers might come up with when freed from editors, publishers and art directors and the constraints implicit in the marketing and selling of books. The result, I think, is a sort of meditation on what it means to create a cover for a complicated book, but it’s also about how a cover can add to or change the book’s meaning. In other words, there is a sense in which it’s a two-way street, which gives the designer tremendous power but also demands responsibility.

So, here is my collection of covers, some of which I found were part of Bertram’s contest, and some of which weren’t. Enjoy, and let me know which is you think best represents the enigmatic Lolita.

1970 Italian cover for Lolita.
Cover design for Bertram’s contest by Jamie Keenan, depicting “a claustrophobic room that morphs into a girl in her underwear”

Cover design for Bertram’s contest by Jessica Hische, with “the lace lettering used to represent something that can be construed as both hyper-sexual or innocent and virginal depending on the context.” While I think the lettering is beautiful and I get her reasoning, I’m not sure how much of the double-implication is apparent at a casual glance
I featured this image in my “A Bit of Pretty” post last year, but I think its one of the best. Originally from a submission for the Polish Book Cover Contest at 50watts.com
Cover design for Bertram’s contest by Rachel Berger

2 thoughts on “Lo. Lee. Ta. A Collection of Covers.”

  1. As someone who both really loves book covers and has never read Lolita I found this fascinating. One of the reasons I’ve never bought it is because I’ve never found a copy that looks right – I’m a real snob about stuff like that – but some of these, the second and the second to last one in particular, really caught my eye. Like you said, the story is a dark one told with unsettling levity at times, and I think some of these capture the obsessiveness that really drives a protagonist like Lolita’s. That Ben Wiseman one with the writing is maybe the best of all, though. It has that pink palette that works so well and then brings out the mania, the self-doubt, and the controversy of the book.

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