This week I was finishing the last bits and pieces of the graphic novel – title page, end papers and cover. It all went down to the publisher’s yesterday and this morning I woke up unemployed!
As we all know, you must, MUST not judge a book by the cover. But yet, as an illustrator, I know how important it is to get the book cover as right as possible. This will be the reader’s first encounter, and along with a brief flip through and perusal of the jacket copy, will be the deciding factor as to whether your book gets read.
Whenever I do a book, I always prefer, if possible, to do the book cover last. By then I’ve had time to think about the book, what it’s about, what its essence is, and hopefully, have some ideas that can be distilled down to something that is eye-catching and, more importantly, captures the story.
When we were kids I think we were all frustrated by covers that were clearly done by someone who hadn’t read the story – small details that we knew were just dead wrong. But it doesn’t mean that the illustrator can’t stray from the text a bit because, as a cover, you’re not simply reflecting a part of the story, but rather something that is emblematic of the entire story. Also, there needs to be a tie in with the title, so that the title and cover image make sense as a whole. So what ends up on the cover might be a particular scene that captures the essence or it might be a constructed scene that doesn’t actually appear in the book itself.
Finally, the cover is something that most publishers are pretty hands on with. They may let you run fast and foot loose in the interior of the book, but when it comes to covers they will want their say. This can lead to multiple versions or, if you’re lucky or inspired, you may nail it on the first go.
Below are the three versions of the Big City Otto cover that I went through, along with the final art. I’m happy with where the cover ended up, and feel that it is a fairly good representation of what you will find between the covers.
|Here's the third go around. Again, Tara was encouraging (as editors have to be!) but said that she felt that the second attempt didn't really focus in very effectively on Otto and that she preferred my first take but with more city. I could see her point, and took another look at this to see how I could incorporate that. It occurred to me that if I flattened out the perspective a bit and went to solid black for the mid-ground, I could make the somewhat tricky transition from a three quarter bird's eye view in the foreground to looking up at the city skyline in the background. I also thought it would be fun to actually have Big Al emerging from the sewer hole to reinforce the "alligators in the sewers" theme that runs through the second half of the book. (You will notice that Big Al's cigar has disappeared in the second and third versions. Smoking on the cover, even by a bad guy who's height has clearly been compromised by this activity, was an absolute no-go.)|
|And here is the final go. Tara circulated the third pencil around Kids Can Press and it received enthusiastic approval, with the only concern being that too much of the title was obscured by Otto - an easy fix.|
I'm really happy with the retro feel of this, the contrast of the red type against the black background. Synchronicity even played a part as I had accidentally added a coarser dither to the colour in Photoshop, but realised that I liked the effect, which mimicked the coarser colour screens of earlier printing processes.
In the end I think the cover has accomplished exactly what a cover needs to do. It right away says "Big City" in both name and image, reflects one of the major dynamics of the story (the interaction between Otto and the Alligari Boys), and shows Otto as a bit at sea and innocent in a foreign environment. This was one of those covers that doesn't show an actual scene in the story, but captures its essence. And it was truly a collaborative work between my editor Tara and myself, who's sage comments helped lead me to exactly where I think this book cover should be.