Realms of Covers

Realms of Covers

A couple of weekends ago at ReaderCon I got the chance to see the newest issue of Realms of Fantasy, the magazine that, earlier this year, was canceled by the company that owned it. Publisher Warren Lapine bought the magazine because he saw that there was a groundswell of online activism around saving it. RoF is now reborn.

Here’s the cover, in case you haven’t seen it:

Realms of Fantasy cover

Someone also sent me a link to an image that’s going to appear in a forthcoming issue as art for a specific story.

For many years now — certainly since I started reading Realms, something I talk about here — the magazine has had a tendency to put some rather strange things on their covers. A lot of chicks in chainmail-type images when its not movie or television promo shots. I hear tell that these increase newsstand sales and I don’t doubt it. It can be really tiresome to look at year after year. But hey, people gotta eat.

So when I saw the new cover I wasn’t exactly surprised. I hear the nipples had to be taken out in order to make it newsstand-worthy; also not surprising. Realms has always had this tendency to put women in provocative clothing/poses/etc. on the front even though that kind of thing appeals more to men. I just don’t get it.

Warren Lapine was at ReaderCon handing out free copies of the magazine. We were both at the same party on Saturday night, so I took the opportunity to ask him a question that had been burning in my mind. What follows is an actual conversation I had with Lapine, transcribed from my memory, so there’s lots of paraphrasing and such.

Me: So, Warren, I was wondering: now that Realms is under new management and all, when are we going to see some male asses on the cover?

Warren: (raucous laughter)

Me: Because it seems like you’ve got the whole naked women thing down and the boob thing down, so how about some equal time?

Warren: That’s a good question. We should ask our new Art Director. Doug, c’mere for a second!

Doug [Cohen]: Yeah?

Me: (giving my full attention to Doug) I was just wondering when we’d see some male asses on the cover of Realms. Or even some penises?

Warren: (still highly amused) We’re not allowed to put penises on the cover, though.

Me: Makes sense. But inside, then. Because you’ve got plenty of boobs. Fish-girl boobs and nipple-less boobs and snake-woman boobs and boobs and more boobs.

Doug: (looking like he wants to shove a knife in my eye)

Me: I think it would do the magazine good to have some nice male asses around, don’t you? Or even: a shot from behind of a well-toned guy with him looking over his shoulder and a Fabio face or something.

Warren: (more laughter) I was just about to say! (turning to Doug) Our readership is, what, 4-1 female…

Me: Right! (to Doug) Don’t you think this is a good idea?

Doug: It sounds like a Tempest idea.

Me: Right, because it’s awesome! Another thing, maybe you don’t need so many boobs out there. Women in nice outfits works. You do know that women wear clothing most of the time, don’t you, Doug?

Doug: I know it now.

[I will pause here to note that I was unsure whether Cohen was trying to imply that I’d enlightened him on this fact because he’s been living in some dark cave most of his life or that he so very often sees women undressed that this was news to him. I’ll leave it to you to decide.]

Warren: Well, I was in a hair band in the 80s, and back then it sure didn’t seem like they did.

(so much laughter! OH HOHO! Also, I am given credit for ‘having a sense of humor’ because I laughed. …)

The conversation went on in this vein for a little longer, all the while certain parties not appreciating my suggestions. I think I especially riled someone when I asked if Realms had a monthly boob quota sheet in the office somewhere. But honestly, I wonder.

I overheard Warren and Doug talking about the issue together a little while later and got the impression that Warren felt I had a valid point and Doug felt that I initiated the conversation just to annoy him. Nevermind that I didn’t initiate the conversation with him; I went to the person with the power to decide stuff.

Anyway, time will tell if we get to see some male cheesecake on the cover. If we want it more inside the magazine obviously someone is going to have to step up and write some stories that call for it. Thus is my challenge to you, fantasy writers. Go to it!

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85 thoughts on “Realms of Covers

  1. I believe this is a clear case of you winning the internets today, my dear.

    BY THE WAY. I only recently learned just WHAT you said to Mike Allen to distract him for Jess n’me to pounce! “I don’t get this poetry thing”?! Please allow me to glee all over you s’more.

  2. If the readership is 4-1 female, nearly named hot gay men making out is what’s called for.

  3. That conversation is made of awesome.

    (And it’s actually good to hear that Warren seems to seriously get that this is an issue. It’s great to snark, but it’d be even greater to see things get better.)

    I don’t suppose anyone talked to Doug about fonts and how not to use them horribly?

  4. Lol, I almost feel bad for Warren and Doug at this point. It seems the weekend was just FULL of people having difficult conversations with them, if this and the conversation I witnessed about why they don’t take e-submissions were representative of their con!

    But man, I’m glad the conversations are happening.

  5. Oh ho! And I just met a FABULOUS up and coming cover artist at RWA who specializes in alien/ shifter/magic/ man hotness! In fact, I think I will tell her about this right now!

  6. So, wait. RoF’s readership is, according to its owner, 4-1 female, and it made sense to anyone to have a preponderance of naked(ish) women on their covers? Really? Not really.


  7. Thank you from the bottom of my tits. (Now approaching navel level, and clearly not Strange Horizons-worthy. Although it would be pretty damn hilarious if they had a naked woman over 50.)

  8. Same folks who do the cover photos for Cosmo?

    Well, that’s an aspirational strategy. You mean you don’t daydream about being a nippleless mermaid thingie codenamed fish-tits?

  9. We have bare naked ass in the premier issue of Icarus. I’ll send you a copy if you want.

    And I agree. Actually, I’m working on a story about a duchess who watches gay ass for Fantasy right now. Honest.

  10. Stop reading my secret thoughts!

    Yeah, actually, I had the Cosmo thought, and then the same following thought–that’s aspirational. I can think of a few reasons for having the same sort of covers on RoF–but after commenting, and pondering, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s meant to mark RoF as “girly” and the Cosmo-type covers are influencing ideas about what the cover of a magazine that appeals to women looks like. But is it too much to ask for a different sort of “appeals to women” signifier? Or at least some beefcake every now and then?

    No, don’t answer that question. Cause I already pretty much know.

  11. “Warren: Well, I was in a hair band in the 80s, and back then it sure didn’t seem like they did.”

    And yet, one would hope that someone in a hair band would understand the obvious power of bare chests and tight pants, from the front and the back.

  12. Words can’t express how awesome you are to have done this and posted about it. When I get time to paint male ass, Tempest, I’m dedicating it to you.

  13. Well, there is this thing – although I am not sure if the science is still holding up – that men are aroused by the specific act they are geared up to enjoy: women for straight men, men for gay men. Women on the other hand are aroused pretty much by anything and everything, so by using nekkid ladies you maximise your attractivness quota.

    Me, there is a simple way to make me buy a magazine. Cats.

  14. Yea, cats! I think cat covers sell more magazines than women covers do! You can put it on your coffee table without being embarrassed when your family comes over.

  15. Hello, Tempest. I’ve rather had my fill of flame wars in the past, so believe it or not I am looking to avoid one now.

    However, there are some things in your post I’d like to address. I’d like to keep it civil. Hopefully you do as well.

    First of all, @ Adam Lipkin: I don’t handle design or layout for the magazine and there are no plans for me to do such at any point in the future. This means I don’t handle the fonts. Get your facts right before you poke fun at people.

    As to the rest:

    Tempest, your paraphrasing of the things I said is WAAAAYYY off. That’s for starters. Was I overly receptive to your suggestions? Can’t say that I was. But it wasn’t so much the suggestions you made, but how they were delivered. Had you come to me and said you wanted to have a serious conversation, the result might have been different. But you said these things to me almost mockingly, and being as there is bad blood between us already, what did you expect to happen? That I’d compliment you for bringing these things to my attention? Not if I felt like I was being mocked, that’s for sure.

    I don’t recall Warren saying our readership is 4-1 in favor of females, though it’s possible he did. I know it favors females readers, but last time I checked it wasn’t skewed this much in their favor. 4-1 would represent quite a shift.

    As to Realms covers …

    There is no denying there have been a ton of chicks in chainmail covers in the past. Barring the latest issue, I had absolutely nothing to do with any of the covers. As to the latest cover, yes, I had a hand in it, but only a hand. It represents a joint decision between me, Shawna, and Warren. Before I even set about choosing the cover, the first thing I did was email Shawna and tell her that I knew she had had some problems with past covers (your problems, as a matter of fact) and I didn’t want us putting anything on the first cover back (especially this first cover) that she wasn’t comfortable with. In the end Warren got roped into the decision as well, and so this cover represents a consensus. To me, the fact that Shawna doesn’t have a problem with this cover speaks volumes. If you have an issue with, so be it. But we at RoF are comfortable with this cover.

    As to your request for male asses on the covers, we’re currently burning through art inventory we still have from Sovereign Media. Once we get through that, most of the time covers will be chosen from among the interiors that are used each issue. In other words, one interior will also appear on the cover, and that artist will receive a $200 cover bonus. All interiors–including those with male asses and yes, female boobs–will be considered.

    As to the interior you’ve provided the link for, there’s no denying the woman’s breasts are on full display. I did not give the artist directions to make the illustration boobtastic (which there is no denying it is) and I confess to being a bit surprised when I saw it. But I stand behind it, because I do believe this illustration has captured the essence of the story. FWIW, I pointed this illustration out to Aliette de Bodard (the author) and she also seemed to approve, enough that she linked to it on her LJ.

    Now given the overall point you’re making, I can imagine how it looks when the first piece of artwork I link to with me as art director is this. Same old tactics, right? The truth is, right now this is the only artist to hand something in who has also posted his work online for all to see. I’ve been very diligent on my blog in posting updates about RoF’s resurrection, and offering a sneak peak to the artwork for curious parties is very much in keeping with what I’ve been posting.

    At this point, we’ve had four interior illustrations handed in with me as art director. One you’ve already seen,. Michael Hague’s illustration doesn’t feature any nakedness. Nor does John Kaiine’s. Alan Clark’s does have a beast chained up in the background whose breasts can be seen, but as far as nakedness goes it’s rather unassuming and it’s certainly not the main thrust of the illustration. As the beast is a prisoner and I’ve read this story, I can certainly believe that it is naked, so I wasn’t about to ask the artist to make a change.

    Four more interior illustrations are due on August 6th. I sincerely doubt characters will be naked in any of these illustrations (and know for a fact they’re not in one). But if there is nakedness, I’m not going to automatically flinch away from it. Nakedness takes place in art, and has for thousands of years, just as sex sometimes happens in the written word. Each piece will be judged on its own merits, which is how it should be.

    What else? I never said you initiated the conversation to annoy me. How could I? Until now, I had no idea who started your conversation with Warren. And you if wanted to talk to someone with the power to decide stuff about the art, you could’ve come to me as easily as you went to Warren. Warren trusts me enough that he lets me handle things as I see fit, as both art director and nonfiction editor (and Shawna does the same with me as assistant editor). I go to both of them when I have questions, and given their years of experience in the industry, I’d be foolish not to do so.

    The bottom line is that there is no agenda in place under the new publisher (or by me) to have artwork featuring hot naked babes to move copies. How about you wait a few issues? You’ll see for yourself soon enough.

  16. I applaud you and your marvelousness.

    And of course, the story illustrated is called “SINtaur”.

  17. Hello Doug. Welcome to my blog.

    “your paraphrasing of the things I said is WAAAAYYY off.”

    Where? Within the conversation I posted, the two things you said were exact quotes. I remember them because they were about the only things you said. The rest of the time you just looked all red-faced. Warren said a lot more.

    If you mean the part where I overheard you later, I only caught the gist of that, but the gist I got was pretty clear: you felt I was trying to annoy or get a rise out of you or maybe you were saying that I was mocking you, as you say here.

    Also, where in my post did I ever say anything like, “Gee, I wonder why Doug was so unreceptive to my suggestions? This is a mystery to me.” I know full well why you weren’t. (and it had little to do with my mode of delivery or “tone”) I didn’t actually expect you to be. I hadn’t ever intended to talk to you about the subject at all.

    Your suggestion that I could have come to you and had a nice, sit-down conversation about my concerns is utterly laughable. You haven’t been able to look me in the eye since I called you out on your foolishness surrounding the gender bias debate over a year ago. And you haven’t spoken my name without saying something nasty about me at least since then. Why would I ever, ever approach you with a serious matter considering all of that?

    As I said, I initiated the conversation with Warren and had only intended to talk to him about it. That he brought you in didn’t make that much of a difference. He was the one I was hoping to make my point to.

    As to the overall issue of covers, I know that Shawna had no control over them before and didn’t like them much. Either she told me that once or Carina did, I can’t remember. And I get that you have some inventory and that change isn’t going to come right away.

    What does concern me is that you still aren’t getting the point. All that stuff about nakedness in art? Beside the point. And this: “Alan Clark’s does have a beast chained up in the background whose breasts can be seen, but as far as nakedness goes it’s rather unassuming and it’s certainly not the main thrust of the illustration,” strikes me as being EXTREMELY problematic, though I am willing to wait until I see it instead of relying on your description. Ye gods. See, it’s not nakedness that bothers me. I enjoy some nakedness. I also enjoy breasts. But if the only nakedness one ever sees in a magazine’s art is naked women, that’s a problem.

    I could go on and on about how this plays into patriarchal notions of the availability of women’s bodies and other high-flying topics, but in the end I don’t think you’ll listen, so I won’t waste my time. What I will say is: as the art director, isn’t it your job to take the reins in the direction of the art? Like, to be a guiding force and all that? To say to artists, “create something true to your vision, but keep these principles in mind…” If I were responsible for such things and I wanted to transform and transcend, that would be an avenue I’d explore.

    No one is saying: censor that art or tell the artist to change it.

    Lastly, I don’t think there’s an agenda by you or warren to put naked babes on the cover and inside to sell more. Never said that. I was actually hoping that, since the magazine is under new management and all, pointing out that boobs aren’t necessarily the way to go would make Warren at least think about the issue. And maybe he has. I wanted to do this before “a few issues” went out, just in case. By posting about it, I was hoping to make other people aware that this is an issue that concerns me, and perhaps it concerns them too. (Judging from the response, I’d say yes.) Therefore, my hope is that some critical thought will be applied to future choices in this regard. I know it’s a lot to hope for, considering; but I clapped my hands for Tinkerbell and she even came back to life, once.

  18. You are the best.

    Also, I am totally available for naked man-ass illustration. You know, in case they can’t do it because there just aren’t any artists interested in drawing hot naked men or anything. I know telophase has also got a talent in that direction. ;)

  19. Heh.

    Me, I’m all for the bare chests and tight pants. Or–hey, how about some male ballet dancers? With dance belts and Really Tight Tights?

    Hmm. Must….contemplate…fantasy story idea with male ballet dancers.

    Or big hair heavy metal bands. One of the two.

  20. Wait. Did you…

    “I don’t handle design or layout for the magazine and there are no plans for me to do such at any point in the future. ”

    Aren’t you the art director? Assuming you have control of the fonts is perfectly natural since that is, in normal circumstances, the art director’s job.

    Gods, I’m forced to use wikipedia.
    “The art director is mostly responsible for the visual look and feel of the publication, and the editor has ultimate responsibility for the publications verbal and textual content.”

    If an artist turns in a piece that “surprises” you, then either you haven’t communicated your needs well or the artist has made an error. Either way, the acceptance of that piece is no different from an editor accepting a text piece. The responsibility is yours.

    I’ll tell you, quite honestly, I was appalled when I learned that Warren had hired someone with no art background at all. At the time, I didn’t say anything because I was hoping that my reasons for being upset by that were wrong. However, to enumerate it now comes down to this: Hiring someone, no matter how smart and well-meaning, who doesn’t understand what the job entails shows a disregard for the product.

    If you have a backlog of art that no one likes, why in the world are you planning on using it?

  21. If you have chosen not to hear Tempest, will you listen to the other women who want to speak? In that case, I agree with everything Tempest has said.

    As a magazine buyer, I resent having the bulk of covers targeted to the male gaze.

  22. Doug Cohen doesn’t get it, does he?

    I’m particularly bothered by the assumption of “nakedness” as the issue, when clearly it’s about “gender” – if that’s intentional, it’s a obvious derail. If it isn’t intentional, then he’s clueless and even an international long-distance clue-phone call doesn’t seem to connect.

  23. You are awesome. *loves you*

    So I’m wondering what their ratio is of buying art from women illustrators–I only saw a couple of men’s names tossed around there.

  24. Yes, exactly.

    The person who is responsible for the design and layout vision, and for approving the font choices, at probably EVERY OTHER PRINT MAGAZINE IN THE WORLD is the Art Director.

    Someone definitely needs to get their “facts straight” but it’s not Adam Lipkin.

  25. It’s a great question, but I guarantee you that just you -asking- is going to get Doug all bunched up and defensive.

  26. It’s interesting, because I’ve been RIGHT in this position (an art director with actually no power to decide the direction of the art — that was just a title, and the real job was much more “paginator/graphic designer”) …. and if someone had assumed that I was lying about the amount of power I either had or was allowed to try to assume, I would have been like, WTF? Why would I lie about that?
    But I guess in this situation maybe there is a reason for him to try to hide that he’s upholding the status quo and he actually DOES have power to change everything from fonts to boobs. However, I don’t see it. But if he is on the up-and-up, quoting Wikipedia definitions of a job description that he doesn’t actually have is going to be a bit bitter-making.

  27. Oh, I don’t think he’s lying about the amount of power he has. I just thought that slamming Adam Lipkin for not checking the facts seemed inappropriate when Doug’s art director position is outside the norm like that.

  28. Tempest,
    Thanks for articulating your concern here. It’s a conversation I’m quite willing to have. Obviously as a white male I realize that I’m not going to be as sensitive to this issue as you are. Still, this is a subject that matters to me. I realize that we’re being judged here, in part, on Sovereign Media’s track record. Right up front, I’ll admit that I didn’t give the magazine’s cover history much consideration when we put this issue together as I wasn’t part of that history. It’s clear to me know that I should have; as a lot of people will not be aware that there’s a new company here it matters more than I had thought it would. Context is everything, though, had Sovereign used this cover it would have to be taken in a completely different light. But I’m not Sovereign. I have my own track record. Between DNA Publications and Wilder Publications I’m responsible for more than 1,000 book and magazine covers. I’ve chosen the art and done the layout on more than 750 of those myself. I’ve never had this accusation leveled at me even once in more than fifteen years of producing covers. I’d point out that this is probably the third cover that I think might be considered racy by anyone that I’ve ever published. The first two I had no input on, but after seeing the sales I told the editor of the magazine to stop it. Sex may sell, but it does not sell to this market. So there is no agenda to put covers on the magazine that appeal to a certain segment of the population. Had I realized that you and Doug had a history I would not have called him into the conversation.

    Doug actually bears very little responsibility for this cover. When I purchased the magazine it was very apparent that we didn’t have any art work on hand that would work as a cover. I called both Bob Eggleton and Dominic Harman, who are both friends of mine and my favorite artists, to see if they had something unpublished that we could use. Both did and Doug and Shawna looked at the work to see if any of it was right for Realms. They both liked two painting by Dominic. Doug preferred one and Shawna the other, but both thought that either one would work. After consulting with my wife who is both an ardent feminist and a damn fine art director in her own right, I broke the tie and voted with Shawna. I then asked Dominic to change the image, both for the newsstand and to avoid having just this conversation. So of the three people in a position of power, Doug actually has the least culpability. But I’m the publisher so you rightly came to me to discuss it and I’ll take full responsibility myself.

    All that said, I have to go back to the context. The painting is of a Mermaid. Even my daughter’s favorite cartoon Little Bear doesn’t dress up it’s mermaid. And again, I personally do not have a history of using the female form to boost sales so I didn’t even occur to me that anyone would have a problem with the image. Since both my wife and Shawna thought it made a good cover I went with it.

    As for the shot at the fonts, I used those fonts because those are the fonts that the previous publisher used on at least the last few issues. When you’re taking over a magazine that is beloved by it’s readership you have to be careful how much you change out of the gate. I have no intention of alienating my audience by making tons of changes right away. While I’ve never used these fonts on a cover before I think they turned out exactly the way that I intended them to. Now I’ve been nominated for a Chesley award as best art director, so I’m going to have to disagree with the statement about not using fonts horribly. This cover absolutely dominates the newsstand. Most covers tend to blend in with all the rest, this one does not. I’ve seen it in a store and I asked a couple of random people which cover on the shelf was best. After looking at me like I was crazy each person chose Realms. As for the art director being responsible for the layout and font choices. That doesn’t happen very often, usually, despite what Wiki says, they just choose the art work. But the bottom line is I made the choice to stay with these fonts and I’m standing behind it. It’s a very effective cover which is what I was aiming for and I’ll put my instincts up against anyone’s in this department.

    But getting back to the real issue, Tempest, I’m glad you brought this up to me, I can assure you that I’ll be keeping it in mind as we put together future issues.

  29. Ah, the familiarity. Every year, Interzone asks why they get so few submissions from women, and every year we point out how repellent the art work is…

    We definitely need a campaign for male ass.

  30. Oh and I wanted to thank you for turning me onto Syble’s Garage It was cool. I’ve offered them, Clarke’s World and Electric Velocipede free advertising in the next issue of Realms. I’m hoping to be able to promote the community with Realms in a way that it has never done before.

  31. Warren, thanks for dropping in.

    I think you may be missing the point a little bit. The raciness of the cover isn’t the problem per se. It’s not just nakedness or boobs that are the totality of the problem. I could lay out for you what the issues are, but really it would be easier for me to point to Jim Hines journal, which has a lot of great conversations, and to Mary and Shweta’s posts on Doug’s journal, which articulate things really well. (also see Rachel’s comment on his journal and her post on Alas.)

    RoF is not only going to be judged based on what it looked like before you took over, but also in the context of Fantasy art as a whole. What you, as the publisher, choose to allow on the cover and interior of your magazine is a statement on what you feel is acceptable in fantasy art. You’re not the Art Director, but you’re his boss. What do you want your art to say about the magazine, TO the readership? Whatever that is (and it doesn’t need to be just one thing, it can be many things) needs to be clearly articulated to your Art Director who then articulates it to artists.

    Taken by itself, that art is not OMG HORRIBLE. I will confess that I like the image itself quite a lot. I would prefer to see her from the collarbone up as a cover for a magazine. Or even her entire body — because if she’s a mermaid with a head like that, what must her scales be like? If it was a whole body image it would actually take away from the boobtasticness of it all.

    Also, I would like to point out that, for my part, this post was never about Doug, specifically. Though he’s the Art Director, I was addressing both my comments in person at ReaderCon and this post to the entity of RoF rather than any one person there. Because RoF, as an entity, is changing. What I would love to see as part of that change is a different attitude about art, both on the cover and in the interior, and I think that your leadership in this area is the first and most important thing to tackle, because from you it flows down to everyone else, I assume.

    Also, I would like to point out that the “but my wife who is a feminist says it’s okay!” argument is on the bingo card and, really, you do not want to be on a bingo card. Again, the image in isolation is not that bad. Seen in context, it’s problematic, but not horribly so.

    Regarding the fonts: it’s not as much the font itself (though the font isn’t great), but how the font is utilized. Almost any font can look great when sized/styled well and every font can look like a load of crap when not styled/sized well. The only thing I will say on this front is: I think it would be a very good investment for you to find someone with experience in professional cover design and ask for a quote on doing covers for you. I don’t know if he’s available, but the first person that springs to mind is Stephen Segal. Also, Elizabeth Glover, who is a friend of Doug, does professional book design for Harper Collins (or did, at one point), and I know has done freelance cover design in the past. I don’t remember if she’s any good, but it’s an avenue for you.

    Anyway, I am glad that you’ll keep these issues in mind going forward. Really, that was my main goal. I am very willing to take a wait and see attitude toward RoF art in the future as you and the other people on staff find your way to what the magazine will become under new management.

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