Thursday, April 20, 2006

Why I need an AK-47


So I'm working on the Red Ivy Afternoon cover. I sit down and think it through for a few weeks, trying to get the feel that I want from the cover of the book. I work with the fonts and I make a few conceptual photoshops to get an idea of what it might look like. Everything is great...

Except the cover design calls for a fairly high-resolution image of an AK-47.

You would think, given the utterly ubiquitous nature of this weapon, that this would be easy enough to come up with. Unfortunately, I have hit a number of snags regarding this. First of all, there are probably millions of images of AK-47's on the internet, almost all of which are privately copyrighted material from war photographs, instruction manuals, art, and so forth. So that's out. People don't tend to take it well when you appropriate their work and make money off of it. So then the mission becomes either buy an image or find one in public domain that can be exploited freely for commercial purposes.

Bear in mind, that this image does need to be fairly sharp and detailed, as it must print to approximately 2" at 300 dpi. This further narrows down my options. I have found one image that is attributed to the US Government, and is therefore in the public domain, but I am unsure if I can use it or not.

So I hit upon the idea of buying a replica like those used in films or onstage. They, unfortunately, run anywhere from $200-$800. Sadly, I do not have that sort of money to spend at the moment. There are BB guns styled to look like AK-47's that might work, but they are illegal to ship or own in the Chicago metro area.


So right about now I'm thinking: I read once that on the streets of Baghdad, you could buy an actual AK-47 with ammunition for less than $5. And here I am in supposedly the freest country in the world and I cannot even afford to buy a fake one to use as part of an art-project. This is utterly ironic, considering the revolutionary content of the novel.

And here it gets even funnier and more interesting. I have friends and acquaintances from verious parts of the country who own AR-15's (the M16 non-automatic variant) and other sorts of assault-style paramilitary firearms, but they are all highly Americanized and American-looking weapons. The M16 rifle is probably just as ubiquitous on the battlefield as the AK-47, but the M16 is associated with patriotism and the US, whereas the AK-47 is associated more with revolutions and revolutionaries. So putting an M16 on the cover of the book would carry a completely different connotation than the anthemic, symbolic AK-47.

In a digital world where everything is supposedly at your fingertips, I find it supremely ironic, and somehow appropriate, that the one thing I can't get my hands on (for perfectly non-violent purposes) is a symbol of revolution that is common even in countries with no running water.

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