Book cover design is a topic that’s long fascinated me. I suspect many others feel the same. So, I thought I would do a quick walk-through of how the Clockwork, Volume 1 book cover came to be, from design to pencils/inks to coloring. Most of this post will be written by Rich Douek, who did the bulk of the design work, Aaron Houston, who penciled and inked the central image, and Matt Wilson, who colored the cover.
At some point during the run-up to Clockwork’s launch, I decided to try designing the book myself. This was, to put it mildly, pretty foolish. A bit like deciding to design your own house if you have no architectural background (but, to be fair, with a significantly lower risk of dying from a collapsed roof).
Here are the things I knew I wanted to do:
1. I wanted to have all the artists names on the cover, at the same size as my name. I’m a big believer in equal billing between writers and artists. Plus, I’m realistic enough to acknowledge that if this book is successful, the awesome art will be the largest factor. But pretty much every single person I talked to – including artists – tried to talk me out of this. Eventually I bent on the size issue but not the all-names-on-the-cover issue.
2. I knew there would be a gear motif running through the interior pages, and I wanted to include that on the cover.
3. I wanted to effectively use white space. This proved a bit tricky because, again, I didn’t know what I was doing. A common problem in creative endeavors occurs when people know a tool can be effective, but don’t know how, or why. So they drop it in in a clumsy, hamfisted manner. And that’s what I did here (the solid space represents where the art would go, once completed). This design is pretty embarrassing in retrospect, but if I’m showing the process, this is part of it.
After this was complete, I sent it to a few folks for their advice. One of them, Rich Douek (a great designer and a talented comic-book writer), politely asked if he could play around with the layout a bit. What he sent back (to the left) made me realize what a fool’s errand it was to do the front-cover design by my lonesome.
Here’s an excerpt from the E-mail Rich sent with it (reprinted with permission):
The thing about cover design is that it follows slightly different rules than interior page design as far as leading the eye. The truth is, when designing a cover you’re actually doing poster design – you are trying to draw someone’s eye in with a striking graphic or type treatment, and once you have them, you want to deliver your information.
What you want is a hierarchy of elements – meaning the most important element is largest, second is smaller, etc. You want them in a ratio that feels right, and you want your white space distributed towards the edges, to draw your audience’s eyes towards the important information.
Within that framework, and hierarchy, there’s a lot you can do, and this is just one example. As you play around, though, just remember that each element needs to be placed not only with itself in mind, but in relation to the other elements. It’s a delicate dance.
– Rich Douek
Rich and I went back and forth a bit more on this design, removing the gear (which Rich mentioned he’d put in there primarily to support the motif), aligning the artists names along the left-hand side, and changing the font to match the logo.
Next, it moved on to Aaron Houston, to pencil and cover the central image. My main objective for this image was that it be an eye-catching image, while showcasing the diversity of genres found inside the book.
I should note that we ended up using characters designed by (main row, left to right) Nikki Cook, Ben Dewey, Jesse Hamm, Carl Peterson and Ken Frederick, and (aliens on the bottom) Borch Penya.
The first step after talking to Paul about what we wanted to do on the cover was to come up with some sketches to present to him to see what he liked best. I came up with a few different ideas and wrote some notes on the side to kinda give him an idea of what I had in mind.
After we discussed it and figured out what we liked, I moved on to the pencils. We decided to go with a main central figure and some of the other characters from the other stories in the back. There is a clock/gear theme going throughout the book so I knew I wanted to implement that into the cover. Plus, it is a nice design element for the background. Originally, we had more of the aliens throughout but they we taking too much attention from the central image and we didn’t want that so they ended up getting cut out of the final image. They were my favorite part of the drawing but you gotta do what’s important for the final image.
When I did the roughs I didn’t do it to the right proportions that I would be drawing the final image. So ended up drawing Emma, the blind girl on the far left, on a separate piece of paper that I would then composite into the piece after everything was inked. It is good practice to try and draw your roughs at the same size proportionately to the final image so you have all the spacing and sizes for each character figured out before you move on. Otherwise, you risk having to move things around and mess with your composition, which could end up bad. Fortunately this time it turned out ok.
After the pencils I moved onto the inking stage. I love this stage because it just gives it a level of polish that I like. I love adding depth with shadows and line weights to make things pop and get pushed back. It’s a really fun stage for me and it is where I usually have to do the least amount of thinking. I still can’t completely shut my brain off but it is a lot more relaxing. At this stage I still have Emma on a separate piece of paper so I still have some work to do in Photoshop to make the image work as a whole.
So after I had the inks where I wanted them I took the scans into Photoshop and and started doctoring them up. Because I didn’t leave enough room for Emma, I had to shrink everyone in the main image down for her to fit. After shrinking them down and moving them over to the right I pasted her in the image and made sure there weren’t too many tangents and she gelled well with the rest of the image. Also of note…. we decided along the way the alien wasn’t working up top so we moved him down to the bottom with his buddy. I also just did this in Photoshop.
After we had everything in the place Paul and I liked it was sent off to the colorist for a little bit of magic.
– Aaron Houston
I was pretty happy when Matt Wilson agreed to color this cover. The timeline was pretty short, especially considering his workload. It was my first time working with a colorist, and Matt was great. Here he is:
When coloring the characters for this cover I wanted to give each character a palette that might relate to the feeling of their stories. For example, the space pirate is being lit by contrasting neon red and green from some futuristic light source. Whereas the cowgirl is colored in a warm and desaturated palette to convey a sun bleached, dusty western town.
While I wanted each character to have their own personality when it came to their colors, they still had to work together as a cohesive image. To do this I used similar colors in each receding pair of characters (earth tones for the pirate and cowgirl, and purples for the blind lady and pipe guy).
The background and gears were desaturated so that they wouldn’t compete with the characters for attention.
– Matt Wilson
And that’s it! We put it all together, and came up with the final product. I’m biased, but I think it’s great, and more importantly, I think it’s a great reflection of the wide range of stories you’ll find inside. So, please: judge this book by its cover.
(special thanks to Rich, Aaron and Matt for generously helping out with this blog post — and for making the book look so great)