About that famous cover for the 1977 medical thriller, Coma


I remember back when I would have been 5 or 6 and looking at that cover in my small-town South African bookstore - they had a display set up under the tag line ‘hanging by a thread.’ It was such a weird, scary and fascinating image and it stuck with me. In fact just a few months ago I even asked my girlfriend whether she also remembered it, to try and help me figure out what the book had been.
So, well done, cover artist.


The 1978 movie (starring Geneviève Bujold in her prime) does a lot with the image too, as the young doctor who discovers the warehouse where thousands of people in comas are stored hanging like that in preparation for their organs being harvested at a profit (yeah, it doesn’t make a whole lot of economic sense given the presumed cost of the facility, but it was the 1970s post Watergate where “all institutions are inherently corrupt” was the in thing)

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The original cover art is superb. However Mulholland should have gone with a more stark cover. Adding their label to the top, and the trite “THE BLOCKBUSTER SELLER” bullshit to the bottom really detracts from the impact the cover has all on its own. A cleaner and simpler design like this would be more eye catching on a bookstore shelf. All the accolades and publisher “Mulholland Classic” should be printed on the inside sleeve.


Oh would you look at that - the original hardback cover is better than the reprint.

That was the first image that popped in my head… (I don’t know if I saw the book as a kid)


Stelarc started his suspensions in the 70s, didn’t he?

(below image from 1984)

cf. Sundance


I remember how much this cover disturbed me when I was a kid. It sat on the bookshelf in the den where for a long time I saw it every single day. The interesting thing is that of all the covers featured here Coma is the only one I haven’t read. Maybe I should finally get around to it.

True, but still a zillion times better than what you get with Kindle. :’(

I picked this up at the Waldenbooks when I saw the cover. I usually spent my bux on SF and Stephen King back then, but this was too creepy to pass. I probably still have it somewhere in storage.

I have probably published a 1,000 paperbacks give or take a few hundred.
I do not believe the covers sell books. Yes there are exceptions. And, yes, there are great works of art on paperback.
But look at a book of which I sold millions and the Americans tens of millions or maybe hundreds of millions.
The cover has no style. Has no pretense to style.
There is semi-naked woman in front of a looking class and in sodding great letters there is ‘The Carpetbaggers’ by Harold Robbins. If you tried to get a correlation between best-selling books and their original cover you will find the is no correlation between great art and great sales.
I can list books until you are bored but covers which are great art DO NOT SELL BOOKS.
Make sure the passerby can see the title and the author’s name (and this in strong, plain type) and let the art gallery hang pictures.
In Britain from say 1934 until 1958 or so Penguin in England did not illustrate covers. (Neither did Victor Gollancz)
Yet they sold and sold and sold.
These are separate. Bookcovers. Art. And never the twain should be allowed to meet.
Gareth Powell who is following the rules and not naming his site.

Well, no thanks for your missing SPOILER tag.

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