This is the first of a series of posts covering my process in creating a new cover -- ranging from thoughts about brand and inventing a look, to some notes and tips on the practical process. (See the intro to the series here.)
I may be out to build my own brand and style, but I'm not about to reinvent the wheel. I need to use motifs and a general look which tell the reader a little about my story.
The Misplaced Hero is a pastiche of 1910s through 1930s adventure fiction. I want to call it "Jazzpunk" but it isn't technology driven the way the various kinds of "punk" genres are -- i.e. cyberpunk, steampunk, dieselpunk. (Which I suppose makes "Jazz" a good term for it -- not driven by cyber-tech, steam OR diesel, but by style.) So I already decided up front that I needed a "Art Deco meets Pulp" look.
Some of the very coolest work of the period, though, are things I could never imitate, so I needed to find something other than the quality of the light in a Samuel Nelson Abbot illustration to hang my look on. This is important -- whether you're doing it yourself, or hiring a designer, you have to work with the skills and "look" the artist can achieve.
The other consideration is consistency. Imagine you find a really great stock photo that fits the first book in your series, and that photo is completely unique... what are you going to do for the second book? You want the second book to fit with the first -- so you have to be able to replicate the "look" of that first cover.
Luckily two things really make a design stand up and scream Art Deco: font and lines. There is a sleekness to Art Deco which I can use in a cover template in particular. Think of the marquee of great movie palaces of the time - all lines and curves and very sleek.
So I browsed for models that gave me design, rather than just cool art, and I settled on these two as the right general look for the cover of my Serial. They aren't exciting in the way a real pulp story is exciting, but they are something I can do consistently:
The Nature Magazine layout is exactly what I need. The framing box is so simple and easy to replicate -- you basically have a "look" as soon as you've put in a font and rule. It's easy to create artwork for the box inside the frame. And it is a very common look for the period. Of course a part of that look has to do with the illustration inside. Stylized, bright colors.
Nature images were a common motif in the period, and when I concentrate, I can certainly handle something like that. But the eye is forgiving of trees and water and birds which aren't quite real. We're less forgiving of human figures. The range with which you can fudge people is much narrower.
I'm good with silhouettes, though, and the Porto Sandeman ad is really slick, ain't it? It evokes Zorro and The Shadow and all sorts of adventure stories. You really get the feel right away of the kind of shadowy hero my Misplaced Hero should be.
The only problem is that he isn't that hero yet. The Sandeman ad evokes Zorro, but not Don Diego (i.e. Superman, not Clark Kent.) The Misplaced Hero is about the transformation a modern college student into a shadowy hero in another world. I need to suggest both.
This is where sketching comes in. And where doing it on PAPER comes in. Which is what I'll talk about next Tuesday, when we'll see my rough sketches for the design, and we'll also talk about the value of gesture drawings. Part 3 - Gesture Drawings.