February 6, 2010


As I mentioned before with regards to the logo to It Takes A Wizard, it is always, shall we say... interesting as to those who claim the mantle of professionalism, and then you see what they do. That's usually because a title lets your head swell so much that you cannot think straight. Anyway, just because you haven't been told this before, let us revisit the point of cover design.

Usually, the author has very little input into it, and a lot of input comes from other places, but in the case of Ten Beautiful Assassins, I did have an idea from the beginning and just put it out there, in the notes of the first pages of the script.
We’re going to be in a timeless James-Bond-Cary-Grant-Hugh-Hefner world, where men are men, ladies are dangerous… and Bernie has a big problem with ten of the latter wanting him… dead.

This should actually all culminate even in the logo and cover designs, where the 10 BEAUTIFUL ASSASSINS logo might even apply some of the 1960s type fonts, like Butterfield. A logo design that would LOOK like it could have been designed in the 1960s for a cool movie, but with a more modern edge. Imagine the 10 BA logo done like this… with a BIG 10 to the LEFT, then BEAUTIFUL and ASSASSINS in two “swirling” lines like those below…

I think it would work wonderfully.

I also think that the overall cover design would work wonderfully, if we used some of the basic structures of old movie one-sheets from, let’s say, the better Sean Connery Bond films, but, here’s the drill… NOT COPY THEM, but have our guy Bernie in the front, almost in a spoof of the James Bond pose, the logo to the side… and have e.g. the 10 BA in the MID- and BACKGROUND, perhaps even one of them LYING on the logo itself, maybe one stretching against it etc… something that EVOKES those one-sheets, almost in the same way that I previously said the book itself should have that timeless quality of a 1960s film transported into our time.

Don’t … I repeat… DO NOT feel RESTRICTED by any of this or think… oh, this is the way Thomas wants this or that. We’re in this together, kids, so we make decisions the old fashioned-way by all agreeing on what would look best, and I’m just here at the moment to provide a basis for discussion with the first salvo of creative ideas.

Then I forgot all about it. I thought I had done my part. Yeah, right. Later on, the cover design reared its ugly head again (remember, class? What did we learn about linking a web comic to the cover of the print edition? Well, just as with the other book, apparently covers were kind of something you did like a school kid, in a fit of last-minute panic), and the first rough draft was that of Bernie Black on a throne, surrounded by all the assassins, in a somewhat static pose. Technically perfectly done, but a bit static.

And so I asked if we couldn't integrate the notion that it was essentially a chase book. I had recently seen some covers of what I consider to be probably the best James Bond covers in history, done by Michael Gillette, which you can see in all of their glory here at Penguin books, and I asked around, can we simply try something like this, with Lilly in the background, her back towards us, the title and authors on her back, and below that, we have Bernie and Crystal running towards us, chased by the assassins, just to make the book look more like a real book?

So, sure enough, two rough versions of that were made.
I liked the second version a bit better, it was more ominous, and I pitied the poor letterer who would have to do the actual title and author credits, but again, okay, not my problem. This was still months away from all the hooplah that surrounded the It Takes A Wizard logo, and I was still under the mistaken impression that I was dealing with professionals there.

Time passed. I wrote. I saw one image of the cover in progress, but I never say anything about WiPs, because, well, that's what they are, in progress. The It Takes A Wizard hooplah happened.

Then I got the  final cover. It was a Saturday morning (yes, Saturday, remember this, this will become important), and with the cover, I got a Yahoo chat equivalent of a scream from across the Atlantic, and I wished, not for the first time, that chat programs had never been invented (which is why I will not use them now, or any time ever in the future. The fact alone that you are visible makes people actually think that you need to be there for them).

The cover image that had been delivered was this...

Have you ever had two conversations happening at the same time, where the other persons are both livid, and they both essentially vomit their feelings  onto you? And you just wished, secretly, always be polite, don't kill anybody, but you secretly wished they would simply go away and disappear?

It was Saturday morning. I was still ill, and I had a bucket full of last night's vomit (because as opposed to everybody else I was literally vomiting) next to my desk, because in order to sit up straight, I was on pain killers almost all of the time, and they were ripping my stomach to strips.

Still, be polite. Don't kill anybody.

On the hand, the publisher, this is horrible, what was he thinking?

Blah Blah. Blah.

On the other hand, the artist, this is the cover design image that was aproved, what does he want?

And so I told the artist, it's the weekend, go, be with your family, let me try something out that will need the least amount of work, based on what is already there. I had an idea. It was a rough one, and I had certain elements that I could possibly re-arrange, I had done this many, many times before as Launch Editor, and we always called it The MacGyvering. It's what happens when you got literally nothing to work with than some spit, a ballpen and a paper clip. Maybe it won't become a nuclear device, but with enough spit and the right amount of chemicals, you might have an improvised bomb, so to speak, that will get the job done. And so, as opposed to, you know... lying down myself or at least surf for cheap porn, I started to work, again, on something that shouldn't have been my responsibility at all.

Think about the book! This might destroy the book! is what your tiny voice that makes you a good little puppy dog whispers in the back of your head. Followed by the other voice that states, be polite. Be friendly. Don't kill anybody.

One of the earliest drawings of Bernie Black had been this one...
.. and it was something I could use. I looked at the character design sheets, but there wasn't a lot I could use. I had an idea, slotted a head of Crystal next to the first image, I took it from one of the pages,  said to the artist, can you – before you go – give me a rough sketch of a somewhat frightened looking Crystal, just the head, as if she is holding onto Bernie here and gazing at the potential audience. He did that, very quickly. 

Okay. Elements. There was the running Bernie with Crystal, and that should remain There were the assassins. The publisher was adament about the notion they were too small, make them bigger. But if you make them bigger, you can't have Bernie and Crystal and a logo and the author credits. 

I burned through several drafts throughout the night, and then several more throughout Sunday, until at 4.10 PM on Sunday, and by this point my stomach was dancing the polka, and all I wished for was to either die myself or kill everybody, whatever came first, I didn't care anymore.

Be polite. Don't kill anybody.

And this is what I sent off to everybody.
It wasn't perfect, of course. It was a mock-up, after all. Some of the measurements, like the thicknes of the spine were merely approximations, but as mock-ups go, as far as The MacGyvering goes, it wasn't too bad.

The flat black of Bernie's back provided me with enough space to enlarge the assassins and to use some overlapping with a relatively big logo that could be seen from a distance. The rest of the black above the logo provided good spacing for both author and artist. The cover's balance pulled your eye down to the logo, which provided you with a stopper, as to not have your eyes leave the book itself and keep on wandering around, potentially to the next book on the table.

I used the other elements for the back-cover, tried to give it some symmetry.

Like I said, nothing that will win me art director of the year, but for an improvised explosive device, I knew it would get the job done. Oh, everybody was happy (as they always are when somebody else does their job for them, I guess).

Be polite. Don't kill anybody.

But, fo course, once it was out of my hands, the publisher never showed me what he did to it. Pretty much around the same time as I saw It Takes A Wizard hooplah cover on Amazon, I asked the artist what had happened to the Ten Beautiful Assassins cover. Was there somebody working on it? Had he seen it? Oh, yes, turns out he had it, but apparently nobody bothered to show me what they turned it into. 

You know, I was only the guy who had actually done the design!

So I politely asked for a .jpg copy from the artist.

Be polite. Don't kill anybody! 

Do you remember what I said about Shibboleth, class? 

This was another one of those moments. Nobody had given me the cover on their own. Nobody thought it was important enough. Or that I was important enough. That guy who – without payment, of course – had spent an entire weekend to save their collective professional asses!

And why was that?

Well, if you look, and you don't even have to look closely, the only thing design-wise, with regards to the elements (not the design of the logo, mine was a temp one anyway) was to make the author credits as small as they could be, explicity against what I had asked for.

And like it would have cost him nothing. And nobody else stood up. And I was tired. I was so tired.  Not even that. And so, to everybody else who was involved in all of this.

Look up at what I wrote up there.

I'm no longer polite.