TRUE GRIT

I read True Grit for the first time a couple of years ago on the reccomendation of a friend.  It quickly became my favorite book.  It's a tricky one to wrap one's head around.  It's a comedy, it's a questing adventure, it's a historical snapshot.  Its tone is playful, and often the covers are not.  Around a year ago I did a bunch of sketches of the characters for my own enjoyment.  In preparation for doing so, I made notes of their physical appearances.  This gave me a leg up working on this cover, becaue I could read the book again for tone (which I did in audiobook form, while I was taking care of some other work) without having to stop and take note of descriptions.

There are, generally, two types of covers for True Grit.  One is a simple photo or graphic accompanying the author's name and title (sometimes clearly part of a set of other Portis works), sometimes a semi-generic western illustration.  Only two versions depict characters from the book.  The first is a painting of the narrator Mattie Ross with a delightfully stiff composition.  

This jacket, designed by Paul Davis, is wonderfully unromantic, suiting the tone of the book and paying more attention to its protagonist than to Marshall Rooster Cogburn, who overwhelms the narrative and holds more sway over the public imagination.  

The other features Cogburn, and it's the worst in the bunch.  It's a cover for an audiobook version.

It looks to be a stiff painting possibly digital) based on a stiff photograph, or a photo manipulation.  There's so little attention paid to composition that the title has to be manipulated after the fact in order to make it legible, and there's no unifromity to that manipulation.  On the right side the final "T" actually turns a vibrant shade of green, eliminating any semblance of a unified palette.  

I bring these two covers up first because I think that the characters should be the driving force behind the marketing of this book.  Portis is a magnificent wordsmith, but the reason that True Grit has the reputation that it does amongst those who have read it is because of the characters.  Like Huckleberry Finn or Tarzan or Sherlock Holmes or Anne of Green Gables, the book begs to be associated with its protagonists.  And I'm of the opinion that the books most suitable audience (high school kids) isn't being courted because of an insitence on a sort of blanket lit fiction genericism that the other covers fall into.

The best of these literary appaoches is the first, because the typography is so striking.  I'd also like to note that, although there are two types of revolvers that figure prominently into the story (Navy revolvers and a Colt Dragoon), neither are featured on any of the covers.  Instead, we get stock imagery of colt peacemakers, which are so ubiquitious as to be rendered almost invisible.  The guns mentioned are weird, ancient, clunky things that might catch the eye simply by virtue of their clumsiness.

There's also the could-be-any-Western-on-the-shelf covers:

The last of these is probably my favorte of any of the designs.  You've got a nice focal point - the single rider - though there isn't a solo rider in the whole book, which is why it falls into the genric western cover category.  But there's a use of green, albeit a muted one, that helps it pop from the shelf, especially when placed alongside the gazillion off white/brown/sepia-toned covers that grace the Western section of any bookstore.  

Recently the book has become a staple of library reading events.  I was told by some librarians at the ALA convention that the book was recently added to some prestigous list of American classics (possibly by the Library of Congress?  I can't remember, and couldn't find it), and has subsequently become eligible for some grants that cover its purchase to any library.  So libraries are finally pushing it hard on younger readers, and I believe that characters move books better to younger readers than more abstract ideas that the clearly popular literary design approaches here embody.  

The question is, which character?  Rooster Cogburn, the heart of the book, or Mattie Ross, its brain?  One will move better in the male reader market, one will do better with female readers.  Were I to pick up the book, I'd want Rooster.  If I was giving it to a young lady to read (I keep a half dozen used copies at any given time for gifts, especially if for any teen or pre-teen female relatives or family friends), I'd want Mattie on it.  So I'll be trying my hand at both.

I opted to go with the Rooster cover, because I like its dynamism.  

I included the snippet of dialogue "Fill your hand, you son of a bitch!" to hearken back to the old paperbacks that would use a snippet of dialogue on the cover (I had some Pan edition Steinbeck books like that once).  Probably I'd go with "With a forward by Donna Tart," but that's the sort of thing I'd do after someone shoots me down for including profanity on a cover my intention for which is to bring in more YA readers. 

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