Saturday, May 02, 2009

The Cat's Out of the Bag ...

I've been blogging a fair amount about cover designs for my forthcoming novel, The Big Wake-Up. As I tried to hint here, Bleak House Books is going with an illustration rather than a photograph as the basis for the design. I'm now in the position to officially announce that the artist they've engaged to do it is Owen Smith.

To say I'm thrilled to bits is an understatement. Alameda magazine points out that Owen:
Painted portraits of musicians Howlin’ Wolf and Frank Zappa for Rolling Stone; illustrated the children’s books Magnus at the Fire and The Jack Tales; designed five mosaic mural panels for a Brooklyn subway station, commissioned by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority; did the cover painting for Thomas Sanchez’ book The Zoot-Suit Murders; designed posters inspired by Dashiell Hammett’s The Maltese Falcon for the San Francisco Art Commission’s 2008 Art on Market Street program; and is working on murals, mosaics and concrete sculptures for the new Laguna Honda Hospital buildings in San Francisco.
And, as an extra bonus, he's given me permission to blog a little about the process of creating the cover. I'll be sharing intermediate sketches as he produces them and of course the final painting (and eventually the cover based on it).

We began the process with a conference call between Alison Janssen (my fabulous editor), Owen and myself. The first order of business was deciding on the scene that Owen would illustrate. Before the call, Alison and I had come up with a selection of three or four options, but we fairly quickly winnowed them down to one: a scene where my protagonist PI August Riordan and his sidekick Chris Duckworth are in a crypt prying open a coffin.

We all liked the scene because of the inherent drama, the fact it involves the two series protagonists and that it was emblematic of title. Also, we felt it gave a good flavor for the book without giving too much away--like why are the characters opening the coffin, exactly who or what is in it and why are the contents glowing?

With the scene selected, we focused on the appearance of the characters and their surroundings. Their surroundings were relatively easy because I had based the description of the crypt on a real mausoleum in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland, California and was able to provide a picture of it to Owen.

The characters were harder. Most of the books in the series are written from Riordan's point of view, so there are good descriptions of Duckworth in this book and the earlier ones, but Riordan isn't in the habit of looking in the mirror and relaying what he sees, although he is subjected to an uncomfortable "inspection" in The Big Wake-Up, and as a result, the reader does get a sense for the topography of some of his features.

Things like ages and dress were also a challenge. I haven't been specific about the age of either character, although my sense (and it was only a sense, really) was that Riordan was in his mid- to late 40s and Duckworth was at least ten years younger. It was interesting to find out that Alison had assumed Riordan was a bit older, but we all agreed that in terms of build, Riordan would be bigger and bulkier and Duckworth would be smaller and slighter. We also determined that both would be probably be dressed fairly casually for the grave robbing mission, but recognized that Duckworth is always much more stylin' than Riordan.

The last thing we discussed was the perspective. We decided that we wanted to be tight on the two characters--with enough of the creepy surroundings to get the atmosphere across--and we wanted the contents of the coffin to be completely or mostly obscured.

Owen went to work and this is what he came up with:

Alison and I both thought it was tremendous. In fact, I could almost see the cover being based on what Owen had characterized as a "first ROUGH" sketch:

We just had a couple of small suggestions. The door in the crypt has been knocked down by the time Riordan and Duckworth get inside so it shouldn't be pictured, and we thought it might not be clear enough that the item being opened was in fact a coffin.

Owen's going to take the comments under advisement and flesh out the scene a bit more in the next revision. Stay tuned ...



At 10:47 AM, Blogger J. Kingston Pierce said...

That's great news about Smith. I look forward to seeing what he can develop for your next novel front.


At 11:08 AM, Blogger Julia Buckley said...

Mark, what great news--and what terrific art. I think your new title sounds very reminiscent of Chandler, whom I know you admire so much. I am excited to hear about the new title!

At 11:33 AM, Blogger Daniel F. Le Ray said...

The cover looks awesome already. I can see the New Yorker/Aimee Mann album pulp style coming through once it's coloured, too.

Do you have any ideas about fonts so far? I think this kind of illustration would suit a big, blocky title splashed across the top of the image.

At 1:35 PM, Blogger Mark Coggins said...

Thanks everyone--I'm pretty psyched all right.

Daniel, I agree with you about the fonts ... that'll be something the Bleak House cover designer calls the shots on (but hopefully I'll have a little input ;-))


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