Saturday, 3 August 2019

How To Make a Black River Cover (Part 2)

So last time we'd settled on a direction, and our fantastic artist Kim Van Deun was about to embark on the real work of making what would eventually be the cover of the third Black River novel, Eye of the Observer.  That direction wasn't much besides a crude black and white sketch, but it was enough to give us both a sense of what the final image would entail, especially given that Kim and I had already gone over in detail what needed to be on there.

Now, the immediate purpose of a cover is obviously to offer the prospective reader a sense of what the book behind it is going to entail.  But for me, the fun of a cover lies in tailoring it to the reader who's already spent their hard-earned cash and is looking at that same image over and over, trying to relate it back to the story they've developed whatever amount of familiarity with.  In the first case, I figured that you if you were the sort of person who'd enjoy The Black River Chronicles, there was a good chance you'd be grabbed by a party of teenage heroes facing off against a giant floating eyeball.  But I really wanted there to be a definite setting that drew from the narrative, and to include a couple of direct nods to specific plot points: hence the mysterious city cut from the cavern walls in the background, and the fact that the gang have some brand new gear, and especially the fact that, if you look really carefully at the final image below, there's a carving on the stonework that happens to look an awful lot like the head of Arein's staff and also like a certain mythological monster.  All of that was in the pitch I initially sent over to Kim.

However, we weren't quite at the stage where that was going to be relevant yet.  As such, the next versions I saw were the ones to the right, and the process was still very much about ensuring that everything was in the correct place.  Which it mostly was; it was clear that the basic composition was coming together, and that foregrounding Arein and Pootle was going to work just fine.  Already it was really only a case of tweaking details, and you can see what changed between those two versions: Pootle's design is becoming more specific, but the crucial difference is one of shuffling everything around so that we can fit four main characters plus a giant eyeball on the limited real estate of a single cover.

By their nature, the Black River books have busy covers.  Look at the fronts of most fantasy novels and you'll notice that we're somewhat unusual in that respect.  The current trend is much more in the direction of abstract images - oh look, it's a sword! - or single figures of the hot guy with a sword / hot girl in a cloak variety.  Whereas it's pretty much essential that we have four characters right there, and that they're all fully visible.  (It broke my heart a little that we couldn't also get Caille and Pootle on the front of The Ursvaal Exchange, but you can only push things so far!)

At any rate, this was the aspect we worked to get right by degrees through the final stages.  In the images to the right, it's clear that Tia's getting short shrift, and as much as everything else is nearly there in the very-nearly-finished version above, the problem is kind of the opposite: Tia's taking up too much space, and also looks like she's balanced on the tip of Arein's staff!  On the other hand, that was pretty much the only thing wrong by then, and on the whole, I think it's safe to say that we had a stunning image on our hands.  Aside from Tia, the subsequent tweaks were extremely minor: to the colour of Pootle's eye, to the buildings in the background, which didn't quite match their description in the book, and to Hule's outfit, which was drifting a little too far from his usual look.  In general, though, it was obvious that the final result was going to be stupendous ... and sure enough, it was!

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