Monday, August 20, 2018

Book 2's Cover Design

Marching As To War, the second book in the Galahad's Doom series, is now available. Check my earlier entry for more information.

But today, I wanted to provide a glimpse of the design process behind the cover.

At first, I thought about only showcasing two characters on the cover in order to provide symmetry with the first book. But then I decided that I'm only ever going to have so many book covers and I didn't want to pass on a chance to show depictions of more characters.

I always knew this second chapter would be the darkest book in the cycle. The Second Act is always where the bad guys win and all seems lost for our hero. So with that in mind, I knew I wanted to show off the bad guys.

So I sketched out very roughly my composition idea. Nothing groundbreaking about it. It's very common in fantasy to basically have two or three characters pose for portraits. But with this sketch, I made the decision that we would see Queen Azzrea and Maphael on either side (both characters familiar to readers of the first book), with the new villain featured in the middle. He's new to this book but Dark Lord Iscariot's name is given away in the promotional blurb. But you'll have to read the book to know more about him.

The general idea is there from this first sketch, particularly the serrated sword prominent in the foreground. But what should also be noted is that I had precious few ideas for costume details. All I knew is Maphael needed to be in quasi-military noble's garb, but I made him look like a member of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band.

So I decided to take it a step further and do a mock up with pre-existing art stolen without remorse from random Google searches. I looked primarily for character archetypes that fit what I had in mind, and ended up settling for a photograph to stand in for Azzrea.  The primary purpose of this over my sketch was to play with color palette and tone.

At this point, it was time to get my artist involved. I reached out to artist Mark Aaron Williams and told him what I was looking for. Then I gave him the news that I hope he'd take as a creative challenge. I told him I didn't really know what these characters looked like. Let me rephrase: I didn't know what their costume details were. I totally handed over to Mark the freedom to interpret and invent their looks based on my written descriptions of their characters and their roles in the story.

But I did give him celebrities to use, not as likenesses, but as inspiration.

First for Azzrea, I suggested Morena Baccarin and provided these pictures:

For Maphael, I had in mind a pale, sunken-eyed version of Luke Evans.

For Iscariot, I could think of no one better than musician Henry Rollins to convey that no-nonsense intensity that demands to be the center of gravity in any scene.

Then Mark went to work, taking my sketches and these celebrity inspirations and adding his own flare. I cannot tell you how much of a thrill it was for me to get the artwork back and see how someone else imagined my characters. Mark absolutely nailed everyone of these. All the detail work in the costumes is 100% Mark's imagination. But there were a couple of changes I requested from his first drafts. First,Iscariot with the long hair of a rock star (probably taking a cue from my mockup above). I loved the look, but the story I wrote required a soldier's crew cut some scars:

It's worth noting that Mark rendered all of this in 3D digital art. This means he could create 3D models of the characters and then move the virtual camera around them for the exact angle he wanted. After choosing that, he composited the models together.

NOTE: You can click on any of these images for a bigger, closer look.

You see there the earliest stage character model for who would become Azzrea. After finalizing the look, camera angle and lighting on Iscariot, Mark went about designing Azzrea's look:

Azzrea is an evil queen, but I wanted to avoid the clich├ęd look of, say, a Morticia Addams. And she didn't necessarily need to have a dress at all, but I needed a look that was powerful and feminine. This first draft above gave me that tough look, and I liked the flared jacket that recalled a skirt without being one. But she looked too much like a scraper and not enough like a queen. So Mark came back with this:

This draft was much better and I started really getting excited about what Mark was doing. The costume details really screamed character.  But it was too much skin. I knew this was a villain, but it was still a little too risque for the tone I wanted. As a compromise, Mark covered her up with mesh and criss-crossed with solid straps of material.  He then added the crown and jewelry to bring home that queen-like quality.  Beautiful work. And 100% to Mark's credit. I had no specific ideas for Azzrea and he really brought her to life:

Maphael came together a lot more quickly. Mark pretty much nailed him from the get-go:

The only change I asked for him was to reposition his hands. The final version has him clutching a lock of hair to his chest.  Then Mark put it all together with the background image he painted and gave us the final image we all love today:

And there's a peek at the creative process behind the cover to Galahad's Doom II: Marching As To War.  

I hope you enjoyed it and I hope you'll check out my series.  

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