Covers Covered by Carol
the Romance Artist We Can't Resist
December 8, 1999
It wasn't until I started regularly checking art credits that I discovered I was buying an enormous number of Franco Accornero's books. Notice that I don't use the romance authors' names. That is deliberate because it was Franco's art work which pulled me to these books, not the authors. It is amazing how many new-to-me authors I've tried based on a sales talk I've given myself in the romance aisle at the bookstore while clutching a beautiful book cover. Essentially, I talk myself into believing that the book has to be good since it has such a great cover. I think, deep down though, I know that I really want that cover regardless of the merit of the novel I find inside. More often than not, I discover that cover is Franco's.
Franco began painting in his native Italy as a child although electrical engineering was his area of formal academic study. When he moved to the United States in 1972, he studied at the revered Art Student's League in New York City, the preferred learning center of many of the great artists of this century, including Jackson Pollock. Franco's prime area of study at the League was in portraiture. Although he spent years after that working in oils, six years ago he switched to using a MAC computer for his cover art work. This is the preferred computer for artists as it was designed more in line with the way artists work and is extremely visual in nature.
Although he employs an assistant, Franco himself controls the entire cover art process from beginning to end. He is a self-employed freelancer whom publishers hire to create covers. He designs the entire scene's setup, including models, costumes and props. Franco also arranges the poses, trying different ones with different lighting arrangements to achieve the most dramatic and flattering balance of light and shadow. Franco says he has no personal preferences for hair color, skin tones, height and weight on cover models but goes by the author's visual details. He also uses a wind machine, just like the ones we've seen used in advertising shoots with fashion models. The wind machine causes the models' hair and clothes to move. Ever wondered how covers achieve billowy sails on ships? That's the wind machine. He photographs the various scenes and poses, then creates his art work from the photos. He occasionally works without a model, doing landscapes and still life arrangements instead. Most of his romance covers, however, do use live models.
He cites now-retired cover artist Elaine Duillo as the artist who has most inspired him. He also admires the cover art work of Charlie Ghem, Gadino and John Ennis. We showed a beautiful example of Duillo's work in the Paranormal Cover Column where Duillo did the stepback for The Mermaid by Betina Krahn. Laurie Gold (aka Laurie Likes Books) interviewed Duillo for a 1997 issue of her column.
I asked him about whether he ever uses flowers in his covers. As you all know, I am not an ardent fan of covers which just have a flower plopped onto them. Franco does use flowers but rarely on their own on a cover. He says, "The symbolic use of flowers at times works if they convey a mood."
When I originally began writing this column, I said that I would love to see cover artists use close ups of the human face in an expressive way. I asked Franco if he were allowed to do any romance cover he personally wanted to do, what would be its image? I was absolutely thrilled when he answered, "Close ups of faces." I can only hope some art director gives him the go-ahead to do one in my lifetime. Just in case this doesn't occur though, Franco forwarded me two closeups he'd done that I could make do with until that day!
These are absolutely glorious. I prefer the woman whereas Sandi prefers the hero and heroine together. We really love both of them though and can't understand what the romance publishers are waiting for in adopting closeups. As you can see, the viewer gains an enormous amount of expressiveness and detail when Franco zooms in with a closeup view instead of a long view.
I also asked him if he could choose anyone in the world as his romance models, who would they be? Franco replied that he would pick Gregory Peck and Ingrid Bergman. I immediately recalled Alfred Hitchcock's movie with Peck and Bergman as the leads, Spellbound, released in 1945. They were both at their physical prime back then and were stunning together. Bergman played a psychiatrist and Peck was her patient suffering from that romance classic plot device: amnesia. This movie was one of my very first video purchases. We should get so lucky though as to have the equivalent of the physically prime Peck and Bergman as cover models!
I told him that romance authors tend to believe that the artists who do their covers do not read their books or a synopsis of them. Franco responded, "It is in their best interest to give me all of the material I need." Thus, he does encourage the authors to send him a complete workup of the contents of the novel, especially its visual details, which he does study. He also likes working with most art directors at the publishing companies. He feels that many of them do have a better feel than authors do of what images sell and finds their input invaluable. Franco does read romance novels for his work, but on his own time, prefers authors like Hemingway and Trevanian.
Franco also does cover art for novels outside of the romance genre. He has been hired for about ten of Stephen King's novels; the whole series of Buffy the Vampire Slayer books; plus Young Adult and Gay fiction. He said, "I have a feeling for romance but I also like to do westerns, thrillers and, lately, science fiction - that's fun."
Franco lives in the New York City area, saying, "It's easy to live here. It is possible to live far away and do what I do. I live in Manhattan now, but the three of us, my wife, Deirdre, our ten year old son and myself, have a house in Katonah, New York."
The thing I wanted to leave the interview with, however, was some story about one of the cover models Franco's worked with in the hopes I might share some juicy tidbit with you about your favorite model. So I asked, "Are the models as difficult to work with as they are known for being in the fashion industry and do you have any favorite stories about them?" He responded, "They are very easy to work with and mostly very nice. I should know; I married one."
Well, after hearing that little bombshell, I reminded him that this column's readers are romance readers, with a capital R, and I better have more details to offer them than that or my email box would look like Normandy after the D-day invasion. I suggested that maybe his wife would like to tell the tale since I knew my own husband would rather be roasted in hell than relate such a story. He took me up on that suggestion and here, in Deirdre Accornero's own words, are the details of how she met and married our Crowned Prince artist of romance covers.
"I came to Manhattan to begin a career in acting after working three and a half years as a weather reporter at WBNS-TV in Columbus, Ohio. My name then was Deirdre Rainey. Four years after arriving in New York City, I met an NBC executive who became a good friend. This man's wife was a model Franco had used many times for his illustrations. He thought if Franco saw my portfolio, I might be able to earn some extra income as a model while pursuing my theatrical goals. Initially I balked at meeting Franco; at 5'5'' I knew I was too short for modeling, but my friend insisted. He arranged a lunch meeting with Franco to introduce me.
"Our dear illustrator's reaction was a cordial greeting and then he proceeded to ignore me. After our meeting I was disappointed but my friend consoled me with 'at least you got lunch.' To my surprise, a week later, Franco called me for my first cover job. The next week there was another assignment with him. After a few more jobs, he asked me out. The rest is history.
"After one of our first dates I asked him why he seemed so uninterested when we first met. His reply was 'I didn't want you to know how impressed I was.' Coming from this man, that was one helluva compliment."
Not to mention that it was so typically the way a male would handle meeting and getting closer to a woman who interested him greatly. I know we have a goodly number of romance authors who write contemporaries who read this column and the big question is whether the wheels are now turning about a certain hero and heroine, a cover artist and his model, living and working in Manhattan. . . . How soon can we expect to see this novel is my big question for you reader-authors!
We are now going to examine the body of work which Franco forwarded to us, mainly romance covers, but also featuring a sampling of his covers in other genres for comparison purposes.
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