Romance Cover Art

UPDATE 6/3/09: I ran across an article on the same thing today:Decades of beefcake, bodices, and Harlequin romances which mentions that the majority of the artists creating these covers were male.

I just found this on CNN, and thought those of you who write romances might be interested in this video on a Harlequin books cover art exhibition:

Harlequin Cover Art

And here is a slideshow with a selection of covers from Mills and Boon’s 100 years in publishing. You have to scroll down the page to the sidebar on the right to find it. Some of the titles are side-splittingly funny (“Grace Before Meat”??? I ask you…)

Mills and Boon at 100

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

9 thoughts on “Romance Cover Art

  1. I like the Mills & Boone covers better than the Harlequins – they are so shamelessly cheesey.


  2. I agree about the shamelessly cheesy. 🙂 Thanks for heads up about the covers, DD!

    I’m still trying, however, to wrap my head around the title “Grace Before Meat”. I have to admit that some rather prurient (and equally bizarre) ideas come to mind but judging from the cover probably not appropriate. 😀


  3. Well that title sort of invites all sorts of weird imaginings (and I suspect we’re all off on the same tangent – Naughty us! 😉 ). I’d almost be willing to read the book just to find out what that title is all about. I suspect it’s perfectly innocent, judging by the publication date of 1952.

    The covers were fun to look at, though. Apparently there’s even a hardcover book available that compiles many of them.


  4. These covers make me curious how the assignments were pitched to the artists who were assigned to create the imagry/artwork. Judging by the covers, were they mostly 1590’s males (gay? straight?) with their own specific ideas on how women wanted to see themselves portrayed? Did they feel their talents were wasted? Was this just a means to pay the bills? Did they freelance doing pulp covers too for a change of pace? Hmmmm…. I feel some interesting characters percolating.


    1. Interesting, Rosie, I hadn’t even considered that aspect. I’d also wonder what percentage of the artists were male, and how many female, and if that made a difference. I would guess they had pretty strict guidelines as to what to draw, but I can believe some artists (if not all?) put their own distinctive touches to their work. I wonder if you could make a living doing that stuff? I would think you could today, with the sheer volume of these things produced. That’s a very interesting avenue to pursue, I’ll be waiting to see how these characters manifest for you 😉


  5. With these and other cover designs, I always wonder how much of the book the artist has read, if any. Was it pitched to him/her? Did s/he read a synopsis, or the first and last chapters? The first and last page? I mean, all of us would have to read SOMETHING from “Grace Before Meat,” or we’d get in real trouble designing THAT cover illustration. And let’s not even get started on representations of conventional ideas re: good looks and race – in Mills and Boone, all the “sheiks” look black Irish, or maybe half Italian, and the women all appear to be pretty much the same size, shape & age, likely of Northern European descent.


    1. It’s pretty common for people to be attracted to other races, that “exotic” factor really weighs heavily. Hence, all the white guys who only date Asian women, or black. I’ve never seen it much the other way, where women are specifically attracted to a particular race to the exclusion of all others. I think with these kinds of books in particular where escapism is the main purpose, the more far-flung and mysterious the location the better, hence all the Middle Eastern settings. There’s a glamor in the unknown.

      I would bet the artists had almost no contact with the actual book. I would imagine (and I could be dead wrong here) they simply churn out various covers and the publisher just grabs one they like. In the case of “Grace Before Meat” the artist might have been told, “Show us a couple dressed like the horsey set.” They may have had no more direction than that.


    2. I see what you’re saying about the sheiks looking more dark European than Middle Eastern. They probably wanted to hint at “foreign” without making them too far from what was comfortable for the average reader of those books. If they had them dressed in the style of Muslim men it would be too “strange” and hard for the women to see as attractive. I would guess they wanted them to look alluring, but not so different as to seem like they were from another planet or something. And for most white European women of that era, the Middle East might as well have been the dark side of the moon.


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