Visual Culture
This Artist Updates Your Favorite “Sweet Valley High” and “Goosebumps” Covers for 2018
What would a bookstore located in paradise look like? According to artist-writer-comedian Dominic Moschitti, it’d be pretty darn raunchy.
Moschitti is the creator of Paperback Paradise, an imaginary bookstore-cum-viral Twitter account where your favorite paperback covers from the 1970s, ’80s, and ’90s are given mordantly funny, unflinchingly timely, and—yes—delightfully smutty makeovers. The account name riffs on his upbringing as a Jehovah’s Witness, with a tongue-in-cheek interpretation of what “paradise” would look like.
Take a volume from the ’90s young adult cult horror series Goosebumps. Moschitti replaced the 1996 book’s original title, “Vampire Breath,” with an alternative more relevant to 2018: “Welcome to Tinder.” He retained the book’s cover illustration: a gnarly, fang-toothed monster whose mouth emits sickly green vapor (for those of us who’ve online dated, this strikes a special chord). He also tackled the 1981 Harlequin Romance novel “North of Capricorn,” whose cover shows two lovers necking beneath a jungle canopy. Moschitti ditched the original title, instead opting for the devilishly suggestive “It Cool if My Parrot Watches?”
Moschitti began transforming books back in 2013 while creating web content for the now-retired comedy recap show, The Soup. One day while brainstorming jokes, he remembered a Something Awful Photoshop contest that prompted participants to transform a serious cover into something funny. “I decided to run with that idea,” Moschitti recalled from his home in Los Angeles. He found a children’s book about dinosaurs whose cover depicted a T. rex duking it out with a Brachiosaurus. Moschitti anointed it “Fight Me You Long-Ass Bitch,” and Paperback Paradise was born.
Since then, Moschitti has added countless Photoshopped covers to his repertoire, releasing them on Twitter and Instagram, where he has over 164,000 and 63,600 followers, respectively. To create the individual works, he scours thrift stores and used book shops (including North Hollywood’s Iliad Bookshop and Burbank’s recently shuttered Book Castle-Movie World) for illustrated covers. His favorites portray characters caught in emotional, melodramatic moments. When he sees the perfect image, the joke he’s going to make hits him fast and hard—“within 10 seconds,” he said.
After buying his spoils, he carts them home to scan and edit. These days, his Highland Park apartment overflows with paperbacks—some 500 of them. “I’ve managed to store them all in my closets, but I’m definitely at my limit,” he said, laughing. “I have a bad habit of buying books I don’t have any intention of using, but are weird in their own right.” These include a biography of right-wing politician Ben Carson geared toward kids, and a copy of Bunnicula, a series based on the adventures of a vampiric rabbit (Moschitti admits he doesn’t read many of the books, but he tore through Bunnicula).
On the books that he does alter, Moschitti’s jokes take the form of updated titles that reinterpret a given book’s cover image with devastating wit. The resulting works range in pitch. “There are probably three types of jokes I tell,” he explained. “Something relatable, something absurd, or something ridiculously crass and gross.”
While some are certainly ribald (dick jokes abound), Moschitti’s most popular paperbacks veer more PG. Sweet Valley High, the wildly popular 1980s young adult series targeted at teen girls, offers especially ripe fodder that is relatable and leans into its innocence. Often, young love and gender norms are the butt of his jokes. In one of his earliest pieces on Instagram, an illustration of a doe-eyed adolescent boy flirting with a pretty blonde girl bears the title “I Want This Date to End so Badly.” Others satirize the white privilege inherent in each series: He renames one cover, which shows a girl reading a diary with shock, “The Wokening.”
Some of his funniest covers, though, are just downright absurd, including one with a leotard-clad man standing behind a jaguar, entitled “Whose Cat Is This? I Gave Him a Bath and a Flea Collar but He’s Gonna Need a Couple Shots.”
No matter the content of the joke, Moschitti is adamant that his only goal is laughter. “Comedy has always been an escape for me. That’s why I do it, because it was there for me when I wasn’t happy,” he explained. “All I want is to just make people laugh at an absurd, stupid idea—to take their mind off whatever they’re going through, or what’s going on in world.” Paradise, indeed.
Alexxa Gotthardt is a Staff Writer at Artsy.