Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Cover collaboration and the rise of the multiversal mustache

I made a last-minute adjustment to the "final" revision of II Crimsonstreak on Tuesday night. A character's mirror-world doppelganger ended up getting facial hair, a play on the much loved trope from the "Mirror, Mirror" episode of Star Trek. It's not exactly Spock's goatee, but it's close enough.

I didn't think of this myself, actually. This addition was part of the collaborative process of putting a cover together.

I'm working with my editor Kate Sullivan and talented artist Brooke Stephenson (who did the cover for I, Crimsonstreak) to come up with a cover for the sequel. I had a fairly clear idea of what I wanted. The idea was so clear, in fact, that I created a mockup in Photoshop. I'm decent with Photoshop, but my skills as an illustrator aren't professional grade. Still, I like to think I have a decent idea of how things look.

The cover for the first Crimsonstreak book went through a few different versions. We ended up going with a fantastic design Brooke made based (very, very) loosely on a concept I had for the cover. Trust me, I was as surprised as anyone when the cover concept ended up being something I came up with while fiddling with Photoshop. Brooke added the key touches that made the book come alive, such as the illustration of Crimsonstreak (my mockup used the Flash as a stand-in) and the idea to use newspaper cutaways to fill in the white space. The latter was a nod to the newspaper articles in the appendices and the character's background in journalism.

So, when it came time for II Crimsonstreak to go through the cover design process, I came up with a concept cover that echoed the first one. Seriously. The cover mockup I sent to Candlemark & Gleam utilized the same basic layout as I, Crimsonstreak, ripped pages and all. I even used the Flash again. Crimsonstreak meets a character in the second book named the Bluestreak who can outrun him. I pulled a page out of the Mortal Kombat palette-swap playbook, using a "blue" Flash and a "red" Flash to represent the Bluestreak and Crimsonstreak, respectively. Brooke will use that as a template and make it 800 million times better. I can't wait to see what she comes up with.

I'm really, really excited about the back cover. I mean...super stoked. Brooke plans to draw five comic book panels that echo comic's Silver Age. She'll use scenes from the book as the basis for these illustrations. So while the comic book characters of the Crimsonstreak-verse don't take form in a traditional comic book sense because it's a novel, Brooke will breathe life into several of them. Her rough, proof-of-concept sketches put a big smile on my face.

One of the characters caught my eye because she'd drawn him with a mustache--something I hadn't considered. We're dealing with an alternate universe doppelganger (yes, yes, again), and while I had written a specific physical difference between the character and the "real" version of that character, I hadn't considered giving him a mustache. Brooke's sketch convinced me he needed one, so I made a last-minute change to incorporate that particular feature as a gag.

I didn't have to do that. I could've told Brooke to forget about the mustache. I am, after all, the creator, right? Yet something about her drawing felt right, and I couldn't ignore that feeling. Now, that character has a multiversal mustache, all because of a little collaborative effort among Brooke, Kate, and me.

People will tell you that you lose a few things when you decide to go with a small press. That's true. But for every "take," there's also a "give." I get to help design the cover of my book--something a lot of authors think about but don't usually get to have much input on. The collaborative process of that design, in turn, ended up making a nice little addition to my novel. It's a minor change that amounts to nothing more than a few references, but it adds something memorable.

And for that, I'm grateful.