Eye of the Beholder

What's the story behind that cover?

One of my favorite parts of my job as editor at the Bohemian is working with artists and photographers to create each week’s cover. The cover almost always relates to our feature story and is designed to be eye-grabbing from up to 10 feet away and make you say, “Hey, that looks interesting. I better pick that up and read it.”

For our fall literature issue last month, I wanted an artist to illustrate the winning entry in our annual fiction contest, “The God’s Eye” by Jeff Cox. I reached out to Brooklyn illustrator extraordinaire Danny Hellman. He’s inked work for dozens of magazines and newspapers. I sent him the winning entry, an Agatha Christie–esque story about a stolen jewel, and asked him to render a scene from it. I thought the illustration he sent me was spot-on.

It shows a woman on her knees looking for the missing jewel while a sinister man with a gun looms in a doorway behind her. A big eyeball floats between them. (Spoiler alert if you haven’t read the story: the thief stashed the jewel in the empty socket behind his glass eye, hence the eye on the cover). But that’s not what some readers saw.

I got calls and letters complaining that the image was “sexist,” “salacious” and “detestable.” One writer said the image portrayed an impending rape. Does a woman on the floor immediately connote sex or rape? Could there be another meaning? Not in the mind of these readers. Sexist and disgusting. Case closed. Never mind they didn’t actually read the short story to which it referred.

Alternative weeklies are known for publishing some pretty provocative stuff, and by that measure I think the illustration was rather tame. I’ve seen more sex and violence on the cover of magazines in the supermarket checkout line.

Violence against women is real and is not something I take lightly. The cover image drew on the tradition of pulp fiction and was intended to be visually striking and puzzling enough to get readers to open the paper to find out what was going on. “What’s up with that eyeball?” To readers who were offended and saw nothing but sex and violence, consider the possibility that your interpretation was wrong.

Stett Holbrook is the editor of this paper.

Open Mic is a weekly feature in the ‘Bohemian.’ We welcome your contribution. To have your topical essay of 350 words considered for publication, write [email protected].

Sonoma County Library