So Bad It’s Good

Famous banned book covers artfully reimagined

Featuring Charlotte Oden, Debi Hammack, Mark Weber and Harry Taylor

The first summer I went away to Boy Scout camp at age 11, I took an internationally banned book along for casual reading.

Of course, at the time, I didn’t know it was a famously banned book. It was simply a thick paperback volume from my dad’s overstuffed bookshelf that featured a classical drawing of a nude Aphrodite on its cover. The author had a cool handlebar mustache. I thought it might be about an Englishman’s adventures in the Near East and remember a blurb on the cover that said something to the effect: “The Book that Shocked an Entire Continent.”  The title was My Life and Loves, by Frank Harris.

In fact, the author was a controversial Irishman and author, newspaper editor, short story writer and social gadfly who railed against censorship and puritanism in all forms. His lurid and engaging 600-page memoir — which was banned in Britain and America for 40 years and first published privately in Paris — related colorful tales about his close friendships with leading politicians and celebrities of the Victorian Age. But it also brought down the ire of the U.S. Postal Service and British and American censors for its explicit depictions of the author’s sexual exploits with willing Victorian Age debutantes.

The book, I learned many years later, tainted the otherwise estimable career of Harris, who authored well-respected biographies of Shakespeare, Goethe and his close friend Oscar Wilde, among others. He was also pals with the likes of George Bernard Shaw and Winston Churchill.

Needless to say, My Life and Loves was potential dynamite in the hands of an 11-year-old Tenderfoot Scout and would surely have gotten me sent packing before the Friday Mile Swim had anyone known the revealing subject matter contained therein. I remember telling friends it was just a boring book about Greek and Roman mythology.

Today My Life and Loves is considered a classic of eroticism and historical reporting. I still own a copy.

In this spirit, just for fun — being August and our annual Reading Issue — we invited several talented artists and photographers from our three sister magazines to imagine updated covers for famous banned books of their choosing.

As they lavishly prove, even if you can’t judge a book by its cover, you can sure have fun illustrating something that was once considered so bad for you — it’s good.

Jim Dodson

Watercolor, ink pen and graphite

The Great Gatsby

by F. Scott Fitzgerald

Year published: 1925

Year banned: 1987

Challenged by Baptist College in Charleston, SC for “language and sexual reference in the book.”

Considered by many to be the 20th century’s great American novel.

Charlotte Oden is an illustrator and designer living in Wilmington. A graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design, her inspiration comes from a strong interest in vintage fashion, film, antiques, and old photographs. She has a number of commercial projects around town: You can see her work at the 24 South Coffee House and Bombers Beverage Company, and she recently completed a large chalk mural for the downtown restaurant Dram & Morsel. See more of her work at

Digital illustration using ArtRage and Corel Painter

Johnny Got His Gun

Dalton Trumbo

Year published: 1938

Year banned:  Suspended publication during World War II

Book was considered anti-American and inspired leftist rallies. Trumbo was blacklisted in the 1950s.

Winner of National Book Award, 1939

Debi Hammack came to illustration via a circuitous route. After earning a degree in marine biology from UNCW, she returned to her native Maryland and became a self-taught illustrator, film, and comic-book artist. She soon gravitated back to the North Carolina film industry, where she created storyboards for Sleepy Hollow and the upcoming show Mr. Mercedes as well as for smaller indie films and commercials. And her marine biology training has come in handy: “I can still draw a darn good fish!” See more of her work at


The Call of the Wild

by Jack London

Year published: 1903

Year banned: 1929

Banned in Yugoslavia and Italy due to the author’s Socialist views. Burned by the Nazis in 1933.

Now published in more than
47 countries. Has been in
print  since publication.

Mark Weber has been an artist and illustrator for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in many publications, including The New York Times, The Atlantic, Rolling Stone, and the International Herald Tribune. He has also illustrated many books for children. He is a board member of No Boundaries, an international arts colony that takes place annually on Bald Head Island. He lives in Wilmington. See more of his work at at

Wet plate collodion, tintype

Slaughterhouse Five

by Kurt Vonnegut

Year published: 1969

Year banned: 1972

Why banned: “Depraved,
immoral, psychotic, vulgar, and
anti-Christian.”  Michigan judge

There have been more than
18 attempts to ban the
book since 1972.

Harry Taylor is a photographer with an interest in the history of the American South. Using the 19th-century wet plate collodion process, he incorporates large-format cameras to create lush images that are redolent of the past. His editorial work has been featured in many magazines, including The Paris Review, Garden & Gun, The Oxford American, and The Atlantic. In 2018 his work will be featured in a solo exhibition at Louisburg College in Louisburg, North Carolina.See more of his work at

And from the fertile imaginations of our clever book cover artists at sister publications PineStraw & O.Henry . . .

Denise Baker Whispering Pines, NC

Margaret Baxter Greensboro, NC

Thomas Boatwright Greensboro, NC

Romey Petite Southern Pines, NC

Laurel Holden Southern Pines, NC

Harry Blair Greensboro, NC

John Gessner Aberdeen, NC

Ray Martin Greensboro, NC

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