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A Librarian Wants You to Judge These Horror Books by Their Covers

From the haunted stacks: Six horror illustrators not to miss.

Horror Cover Artists

Psst…. I have a dark, dirty library secret for all of you. I think we have been doing this column long enough that I can trust you enough to share it with you. Here it is…

I judge books by their covers.

I will give you all a moment to recover from shock, but it is 100% true. And not only do I judge books by their covers, but I train library workers all over the world to do the very same thing.

Now I know all of you probably heard from a librarian or teacher at some point in your childhood, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” and I am sure some of you have taken this as fact and carried it into your own adult reading life, even passing it on to new generations of readers. Well, I am here to tell you to forget it.


Well let’s start with this actual fact: Publishers want their books to have a cover that sells the book to its best reader. They need the cover to do the heavy lifting of attracting readers as they walk by...

But they also want them to be the right readers, ones who if they are attracted by the cover, stop and read the back and then decide to buy the book.

If publishers are putting that much effort, money, and thought into the covers of their books, why aren’t we using the covers to help readers find the best book for them as well? It actually seems irresponsible for me, someone whose job it is to match books with their best readers, to NOT consider the covers. A cover can never tell you exactly what will happen in the book, but those covers created by the very best artists can absolutely tell you quite a bit about the feel of the book to follow, setting the tone for the story that follows.

Which leads us all to this column. Today, I am going to present six of today’s best Horror book illustrators with two example books, titles that you can 100% judge by the superior art gracing their covers. I have spoken to numerous illustrators, authors, and publishers to make sure I have found artists who are both talented and trustworthy.

However, the one disappointment I have encountered throughout this process is the overwhelmingly white and male representation in today’s horror cover art world. In fact, those I spoke to know it is a problem and many have been seeking out more marginalized artists to highlight and support as well. 

Therefore, this article serves two purposes. One: to help you break the taboo and get out there to judge a book by its cover. It’s fun and slightly illicit, and since I have vetted the titles for you, I can promise you that the books will be worth your time. And two: to serve as a call to action for horror artists from marginalized perspectives to reach out, leave a comment, and let us know who you are so the community can help lift you up. Then, as people encounter this article, they can explore your art as well.

Lynne Hansen

One of only two women on this list, Lynne Hansen is also the most respected, prolific, and in my opinion, talented artist in this bunch. There are some authors and small press publishers who will work with no one else. Hansen’s artistic manifesto has 6 simple tenets: Story first, horror is beautiful, Authors deserve readers, Readers deserve the best books, I’m here to tell your story, Lean in.

In other words, Hansen works with authors to make sure her art enhances every aspect of the book. As a result, her covers are all very different from each other, but perfect for each book. She is also aware of her status at the top of the Horror cover artist mountain and actively works to uplift others. Here are two examples where her cover art matches the stellar writing found within.

Check out Hansen's portfolio.

Things That Never Happened

Things That Never Happened

By Scott Edelman

In this collection, eight-time Bram Stoker nominee Scott Edelman presents 13 stories written between 2005-2018. Even those who have never read anything by this seminal author before encountering the grotesquely beautiful image on the cover, can clearly see that anyone who is looking for imaginative, poignant, and eerie tales that will leave the reader turning them over in their brain long after completion, will be greatly rewarded by allowing the cover to draw them into Edelman’s words.

Halloween Season by Lucy A. Snyder

Halloween Season

By Lucy Snyder

Snyder, a master at crafting visceral and unsettling stories that deeply probe Lovecraftian horror and dark fantasy, featured Hansen’s art on the cover of her 2020 collection of 13 stories and two poems. Filled with an immersive sense of dread, an unnerving tone, intense emotions, and the threat of violence lurking behind every corner, these character driven tales are a delight to devour during the Spooky season, yes, but really anytime of year as well. Hansen’s cover makes obvious allusions to the Halloween frame but it is the use of light, color, and that trick or treater with their back to the reader that underlines the unease at the heart of this collection.

Justin Coons

One of the cover artists that Hansen has been raving about is newcomer, Justin Coons who is a traditional painter and designer focused on creating hand-painted cover and poster art. His work is elaborate, evocative, gross and beautiful. But unlike Hansen, whose work from book to book can be different stylistically, Coons is very focused on Death’s Head Press’ popular Splatter Western series. 

Said Hansen, “His amazing art [for that series], I believe, is single-handedly responsible for the rise in the genre.” I will agree that the cover art draws readers to these awesome and unique books, and thanks to him, readers have 20 and counting to choose from. I have suggested two start with titles below.

Check out Coon's portfolio.

Cruel Angels Past Sundown

Cruel Angels Past Sundown

By Hailey Piper

Set in New Mexico Territory, 1892, readers follow Annette and her allies as they battle a cannibalistic demon, a mad preacher, and the ancient cosmic evil at the center of it all. With queer and trans representation, an original storyline, plenty of bloodshed, but ultimately centered in love, this Splatterpunk Western and its evocative cover will convert readers to become devotees of the subgenre.

Shadow of the Vulture

Shadow of the Vulture

By Regina L. Garza Mitchell

Same series, but with a new setting (Texas) and a much-needed historically accurate perspective. Juana, a veteran of the Mexican-American War is angry, wanting nothing more than justice and protection for her people. When she teams up with a powerful witch who will stop at nothing to protect her people from the American invaders, a fast-paced, bloody fight for vengeance ensues. While the stylistic connection between covers across the series is clear, Coons’ attention to the story details shines through in the art here with the strength of the women beckoning readers and its allusion to the colors of the Mexican flag. 

Todd Keisling

Keisling is a rising star in his own right as an author, with his stories appearing in many award-nominated anthologies over the last few years, but his day job is as an artist, book cover designer, and interior layout wizard. Starting each commission with the question, “What does your story look like?,” Keisling takes his writer’s eye to the book in front of him, as he actively tries to capture the appeal of the story for the reader through his art.

This skill and the resulting covers make Keisling a unique creative voice in the genre. His ability to move between words and images with ease and success is stunning to behold, both in his own books and those he illustrates for others. Here are two very different titles where you can see him at work.

Check out Keisling's portfolio.

Last Horror Movie Marathon

Joey Leonard's Last Horror Movie Marathon

By Kevin Lucia

Joey manages the last video rental shop in the Adirondacks, that is until the shop is closed and the deceased owner leaves him the entire stock of Horror VHS tapes. Joey drowns his sorrows in booze and weekend long Horror movie marathons, that is until he finds a home recording that changes everything. The cover image here is worth the thousands of words behind it as Keisling perfectly captures the nostalgia and terror at the heart of this cursed film-Cosmic horror hybrid that oozes dread from every page.

Arterial Bloom

Arterial Bloom

By edited Mercedes M. Yardley

And now for something completely different, in both story and cover art, an anthology of darkly beautiful stories whose Horror is rooted in real life. With all featuring memorable characters, these stories are uncomfortably unsettling in a way that genre fans will find extremely satisfying. The juxtaposition of the creepy bust and bright flowers captures it all. As is not uncommon in the anthologies he covers, Keisling also has a story himself for readers to discover within.

Matthew Revert

Revert is the artist that other authors and illustrators mentioned to me more than anyone else, besides Hansen. Revert’s work evokes a sense of nostalgia and harkens back to an untainted version of design. His work ranges from purely digital design, to organic construction, to creation by hand and/or a careful symbiosis of multiple mediums to create eye-catching and idiosyncratic designs. 

ram Stoker and Shirley Jackson award-winning author, Gabino Iglesias had this to share with me about Revert, “Revert is unique. He’s the Picasso of covers. He even had ‘periods.’ The gritty used cover period, the neon period, etc… He’s a genius at what he does and I’d be more than happy to work with him forever. “ Below I have two titles that illustrate what Iglesias is referring to for you to give a try.

Check out Revert's portfolio.

odd mystery books

Zero Saints

By Gabino Iglesias

Representing that “gritty used cover period,” Iglesias references above, this Wonderland Award Winning novel marked the start of Bario Noir, a genre the author single handedly created and has continued to rack up critical acclaim and recognition for across a multitude of genres from mystery to western to Horror’s biggest prizes. Mixing Santeria mythology, unforgettable characters, and a stunning juxtaposition between graphic violence and lyrical language, this is a can’t miss novel with a striking cover worthy of its brilliant content.

best horror books of 2020


By Charlene Elsby

Told with a direct, first-person, stream of consciousness that grabs the reader from the start, holds them hostage, and refuses to let go for the duration, Hexis is the tale of an unrepentant female killer and that’s all I can share without ruining the immersive, unsettling, and thought-provoking experience of reading this book. With a completely different color palette and style than used in Zero Saints, Revert reaches out to the reader and reflects the uniqueness of this tale, all without underplaying the violence to come, an artistic feat that allows the author’s voice to shine even brighter.

Kristina Osborn

In my research for this article, I came across many established artists to include, but I also wanted to end with an “up and comer,” and Osborn was the artist who many of the publishers and authors I spoke to told me were most excited about working with in the future. Her motto is “Embrace Your Strange,” and you can see this as her visually engaging and impactful book covers enhance the reader’s experience and help to bring the author’s unsettling and “strange” words to life.

Osborn also brings a unique perspective to her work as her years of military service have given her a strong work ethic, discipline, and attention to detail. These qualities, combined with her creative mindset, enable her to approach projects with both strategic thinking and an artistic flair. Here are two titles, by established authors who took a chance on an up-and-comer, with fantastic results. 

Check out Osborn's portfolio.

Neo Arcana by Brian Asman

Neo Arcana

By Brian Asman

Asman’s collection of seven horror stories runs the full gamut of subgenres, but one thing they share is a deep unease that gives way to abject fear, spurred on by ghosts, monsters (both human and supernatural), and rituals. The tales are strange and existentially terrifying, but the language is also captivating. Now look at Osborn’s cover after reading this. Somehow, she managed to capture it all.

taboo in four colors

Taboo in Four Colors

By Tim McGregor

Critically acclaimed horror author McGrrgor’s entry into Cemetery Gates Media’s My Dark Library of novellas is a horror-noir hybrid set in NYC in 1972, featuring a comic book artist and his missing story writer. Resisting the urge to make the cover resemble comic art was a brilliant move on Osborn’s part as it eschews the cheap pop for a captivating cover that immediately draws the reader into the nostalgic tone and unsettling feel of this terrifying tale of art and obsession.