We read The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson (as well as the second part; we’re still in the third one) and while find it flawed in many ways, it’s much less repulsive and more enjoyable than many bestsellers we had had the bad judgment to read in the past. But this is not a literary critique piece. This is the biggest collection of book covers for the Millennium trilogy you’re likely to find on the internet as of today. And with our judgmental commentary, to make the deal even sweeter.
Disclaimer: all the images are used as illustrations and not a single one is our work or in any way owned by us. We try to give info that identifies the author (or, usually, the country of origin) or source but only broadly, not to be tedious. And, obviously, all the opinions are ours and personal so you may disagree or agree, as you wish.
To start at the beginning, the original published in Sweden came out with this set of covers and this was also reprinted in other countries (including where we live) by those publishers who don’t believe in paying local designers for doing work once done. Until it was driven away by movie-inspired covers, this set dominated the Larson section of a bookstore. It’s hard to be passionate about these covers: except for the newspaper-like typography, which is very appropriate and, strangely enough, not much copied, there’s little to like here. The first photo draws attention, even if in a crime channel style, and answers to the gloomy and somewhat gruesome character of the novel but the other two are just bland and give zero information as to the style and even genre. We also take away points for the low-opacity, drop-shadow treatment of the Millennium logo.
Verdict: We mildly dislike it.
Tons (or 92) more covers under the link.
Just to be done with it before we move on to more exciting versions, here are two sets which copy the Swedish photos for parts two and three and only invent the first cover. The first set is Portuguese and we actually consider it an improvement: the dragon tattoo is kind of pretty and unifies the cycle, image cropping improved and the additional, first cover makes sense with the other two (except for the blurred edge of the photo if we really must be picky; but we must).
The second set comes from Finland and looks like a joke, or something bought on a train station with tons of gore and ghosts (like the girl on the third cover: see her ghostly arm? she saw the light on the second cover, followed it and ended a half-ghost, right?) And even worse (?), typography gets assaulted with Photoshop filters. Blood from the first cover will be a recurring motif, as you’ll see, the flowers less so but they could’ve been used with more grace.
Verdict: We sort of like the first set and really dislike the other.
When the book traveled to the US, not only did it get a new title but also a really competent designer, whom we will mention by name because he deserves it so much. This set of covers is by Peter Mendelsund for Knopf and it impresses us greatly. We may tell you straight ahead that despite our extensive research we didn’t find anything better in the Larsson cover department. Everything works: the simple symbolism, the strong, memorable typography engaged with the imagery and the slight weirdness of the covers. Best of all, it has no blood, no fire and no girl with the dragon tattoo. Hats off – to the designer, and to the publisher for going with it.
Verdict: We love it.
As if the basic set wasn’t great enough, Peter Mendelsund also designed a deluxe set (why this kind of book needs a deluxe set is another matter; it’s not a classic material but then again, it’s probably because it sells) and did we say you won’t see anything better? The deluxe set is probably better or at least (even) more sophisticated, with the basic colors, the number of symbols corresponding to the volume number and, well, the symbols instead of any photos at all.
Verdict: We love it with sprinkles.
Unfortunately, the other English edition stands no chance whatsoever in comparison. Not only does it pick stock models which don’t look like our imaginary versions of Lisbeth Salander at all. Not only does it Photoshop a naïve dragon on them. When the model is supposed to sit on a bike it disaster-Photoshops a ghostly hand onto her. And even the typography makes no sense: this barely looks like a set at all.
Verdict: We don’t like it.
When the movie came out movie-related covers dominated the market, of course. Luckily, the movie has decent graphic identity, with bold typography and good photography (even if it’s in lieu of any real idea). The first cover above stems from the first, Swedish movie and is much less exciting but as, judging by typography, it replaces the red cover from the previous set, we don’t really care.
Verdict: If it didn’t compete with the symbolic covers, we’d like it.
Now, as the title of the post states, the girl with a dragon tattoo is the cover idea most designers just can’t forget or ignore (granted, it’s probably publishers’ pressure too) but before we plunge into that territory, first a few much more surprising sets with covers based on illustration.
This set of French covers is clearly a Gothic tale about Wednesday Addams in an all-girls boarding school, a Bildungsroman about sexual self-discovery, small vices and dark secrets that lurk on the path to womanhood. And we’d be interested in reading this book, except Larsson didn’t write it.
Verdict: Intriguing and well-executed but not really appropriate. But we can’t help liking it.
The next illustrated set comes from Spain and looks like something very existentialist and full of suppressed sexuality (while the sexuality of the books is the opposite of suppressed) where about as much happens as in those old French realist novels about (psychologically) tortured women. That is not much. And what’s with the mannikin? The color scheme is nice, though.
Verdict: Interesting but mostly contradicts the books’ tone.
These are Italian covers and while they do comment on the novels (the tattoo returns!) and fit their tone more, the illustrations seem weaker and more old-fashioned. Typography floats all over the place instead of unifying the layout and we’re not quite sure about the metaphors (though the flower could maybe work; maybe).
Verdict: We don’t like it.
While we might have doubts about the previous illustrated sets, at least they’re all consequent and rely on the illustration as the main element. In these two sets – first one Korean, the other one Ukrainian – illustration didn’t suffice so it got framed, textured, ornamented and run through all sorts of image processing. At least the Korean set (if it’s a set; the first one, with the copy of the French illustration, doesn’t really look like it; it’s also the weakest) has actual, if disturbing, illustrations. The Ukrainian one uses what looks like a Sims version of Lisbeth on the middle cover.
Verdict: We hate it.
You might have noticed already that some ideas like to return on these covers – but that’s nowhere near to how much tattoos, blood and fire (though not hornets) you’re going to see now.
This is an Estonian trilogy and while it really goes for the obvious, at least it does so in an inoffensive way. There’s some attempt at the idea, with the turning, black-and-white girl and at least the typography stays the same throughout the series. On the other hand, we’d probably not pick it up in a bookstore.
Verdict: We don’t mind it.
The trilogy in Hungarian makes its own version of tattooed girls from probably stock photos with tattoos pasted on them. In fact, imagery-wise this is probably more consequent than the Swedish version (and many others) and it’s the only one trying to copy its newspaper typographic idea (though not too well). But we’re sorry, we can’t take it seriously. It looks like a series on tattooed hookers. Who box.
Verdict: We don’t like it.
This thing is Bulgarian and we will try to refrain from any words stronger than thing in the description. The imagery stays remarkably true to the story: the first cover has flowers and, we think, blood and a girl with a nose ring (and Wolverine’s claws in front of her face, we guess). The other one has fire and a girl (who looks like a KGB cyborg agent and has no nose, we guess) and we have no third one but it would probably have an air castle that is in the original title – and we’re both curious and apprehensive of how it’d look – and a girl (with Frankenstein’s bolts in her head and vampire fangs and metal patches, we guess).
Verdict: So bizarre we almost forget to hate it. Almost.
In the Serbian version the focus stays on what we assume is Lisbeth: in an alternative world where her story is one of a slightly spoiled and very buxom teenager who slowly discovers the power of seduction and ultimately true love. Or something similar, entirely from the teen girl section of a bookstore. These covers are refreshingly calm, without fire and cyborgs, but strange things happen to typography, particularly to the treatment of the author’s name, that we do not condone.
Verdict: We don’t really like it.
For a change, the Slovenian version has fire on the second cover and who-knows-what on the first one but we don’t care too much because the illustration looks like something that escaped from the 80s and does not invite studying it too closely.
Verdict: We really, really don’t like it.
We found as many as two sets of Japanese covers (we’re not sure if we arranged them correctly: we judge by color schemes and that little sign in the red circle). Hard to be passionate about these because designers clearly didn’t have any particular idea for the series: not only does it use random photos and boring monochromes but also first books in the series look different. None of the people in the photos look particularly well-chosen for the stories: except for the ear. The ear is probably the strongest visual motif of all these.
Verdict: We expected something either better or more bizarre.
These covers from China are marginally more interesting on the visual level, only they’re clearly for a series of science-fiction dystopian novels, right? Heavily inspired by Matrix? What do you mean there are no evil computers and artificial cities there? Also, the image-modifying techniques lack subtlety.
Verdict: Also disappointing.
This set is also Chinese but significantly better in its poster-like strength and minimalism. The vector drawing could clearly use more time to avoid looking like a student project but, like many student projects, this design has freshness and boldness that most previous ones lack. (Very much a side question: except for the movie, Salander does not wear a mohawk, does she?)
Verdict: We like it with small reservations.
The author of this Brazilian set resigned from showing a girl at all, instead ornating the covers with a burning dragon drawing. Each cover. Together, they look like stills from a rather boring computer animation. Separately, like not very interesting covers for fantasy books based on a role-playing game (except without women in skimpy armor). This might even not be a bad idea if it had better executed typography and more restraint (as evidenced by the first cover which due to generous
white black space looks best).
Verdict: Something went wrong here.
The Danish covers take each random motif the illustrator found when leafing through the book and merge them together using low opacity and blurs. Then they blur them towards the top to make space for the title and voilà! A perfect copy of cheap bad novels from the 80s that our parents had stuffed on the bookshelves and forbade us to read not to ruin our delicate tastes.
Verdict: We don’t like it.
When we saw the first one of Dutch covers, we thought it was bold and different but then we realized that each of the series looks the same and that’s just beyond lazy. We appreciate that colors somehow fit each book’s mood (though that might be arbitrary) and the typography, while safe, is inoffensive, but altogether it feels like a wasted opportunity.
Verdict: We like the first one.
The Czech set is puzzling. It uses standard elements like blood and fire (and some less standard, like whatever it is on the third one) and still manages to remain a little different. But it would gain from eliminating the photos from the background so the typography, an original color scheme and those little symbols could come out. As it is, the second, most abstract, probably works best.
Verdict: We don’t really like it, but feel a little intrigued.
As sophisticated people Germans pooh-poohed the idea of publishing some nonsensical Swedish crime stories and instead published a series of theses on the meaning of philosophical terms Verblendung (Transmigration), Vergebung (Teleology), Verdammnis (Theodicy).
Frankly, these covers have as much to do with Larsson as our translations with actual titles. Some people may think a classic statue is a metaphor for anything. We don’t think it works so great for Bloomkvist and Salander. But what do we know.
Verdict: So far from the subject matter, we don’t know how to judge it.
This, clearly, is not a set, just a bunch of leftovers. The first is a Georgian version of the first book and while rather generic, we love how the letters look and forgive the fact that it would work better for a novel about a Victorian prostitute (except for the tattoo, but it’s Photoshopped in anyway). The second is another take at the dragon idea and while it tries to be less direct, we assume, with the cartoonish dragon floating in front of the face, it fails.
And finally the one on the right is a cover for a graphic novel that apparently Vertigo will publish based on the books. While we realize and often appreciate that comic art has its own rules, this is bending them far, with the strange shading and risky anatomy. We don’t know how close the comic will stay to the books but judging by the cover, not too close. We do like the title treatment, though.
Verdict: We don’t mind the first, hate the second, stare puzzled at the third.
This concludes the list of published covers (though if you know of anything we omitted, don’t hesitate to let us know) but at the end we’d like to show a few unrealized cover ideas (without verdicts).
This article by The Wall Street Journal shows a few preliminary sketches that Peter Mendelsund, who we already gushed about, produced when working on the great covers finally published. The first one we reproduce, even though it got quickly rejected, we find strangely appropriate: it reflects the melancholy of the first book in the series and the simple metaphor of a torn photo is an ingenious way to illustrate the story of Harriet Vagner. Though we have to agree that it suggests a much better book than the reader will receive. The second is maybe less appropriate but the snow idea fits somehow. And we always wondered why the dragon cover is so yellowish-green. As the third picture shows, originally it had more natural colors and we think we’d prefer it.
Here a set of three fan-made but professional looking covers from here on Behance. We like the simplicity, colors and illustration style. We kind of hoped to find more stuff like this when starting this research but, as happens too often, self-initiated (as we assume) projects seem better than those functioning on the market.
And finally a whole bunch of fan-made covers. The top two rows come from an Australian competition to design a Larsson cover (first design in the second row came out a winner). And actually we think the top row consists of what would be better covers for the proposed graphic novel than the one actually chosen.
Except for the sources already mentioned, we used Wikipedia, this Larsson’s site and, of course, Google image search.