Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly: Cover Art Shenanigans.

Actually, working with the art team at Ampichellis, which is one person who knows and appreciates my work, it was a rather good give and take of ideas being tossed around.  Though there was some bad and ugly, we kept twisting things until we got it right.   Take my hand as I guide you along the stained yellow brick road we traveled in order to get to the amazing cover art for my collection, The Dark is Light Enough for Me.

My girlfriend, Alessandra, suggested a Vanitas-style piece would be appropriate for my dark words.  Subtle, a skull and candle and book, something like that.  We suggested this, and below are some examples of what Ampichellis came up with:

The last one kinda works, eh?  Tasty.  The first two are okay as well, though perhaps a little too clean. 

At about this time, Alessandra and I thought we found the perfect vanitas, one that made sense to us.  But within a week or two after we had made our discovery, while browsing in a book store in Rome, lo and behold and what the heck, there it was, on a new release by Iain Pears (or re-issue, I am not sure) and...wait a bloody minute!  Researching his work, to pull up the title to show you the art, I do not see it!  Was it another writer?  I think not, I'm quite sure it was Mr. Pears.  Was it a hallucination? Did we magically see the art on a book that does not exist, at least not in this world (perhaps in the AlternaWorld!), so as to deter us from choosing it, suggesting it to the art department and...

This quandary may never be resolved.  A mystery, just like what Mr. Pears deals in.  Hmmm...

As we got deeper into the process, I suggested a few pieces by Heironymus Bosch, or possibly something by Goya.  The sense of Weird, of horror but something beyond horror in both of these artist's paintings, worked well for my head.  I was politely informed that, "Those dead folks are out of our financial range," or something to that effect.  As in, "hey, are you crazy, John Claude?  Do you think money grows on trees?"  Alas, I can dream. 

Then there was the girl with the pitch black eyes, "The Sunglasses Girl," referencing that wicked piece of fiction from the collection.  A way early mock-up shows just the idea, quite imperfect, but the gist is there.  I kind of liked this but knew something would have to be added.   Not sure what, though I remember having an idea for a tattoo that relates to the book, the story--a rat, perhaps.  Here she is, a striking contrast to the other pieces as well as within the photo itself, what with the blonde hair, pale skin...and those eyes. 

Scary, or simply odd, and not quite my sunglasses girl--she had dark hair--but still an intriguing side-step.

I have deleted or misfiled a few of the other covers I wish I had to show you.  There was the gargoyle one, rather simple, deep red, looked nice.  There was the quirky one with a woman laying down, a brick wall with figures rather like ghosts watching over her, which was close for me, but it needed something more as well.  Always something more with me, hehe...  Though I can see with some work it might be good for my next collection because of a thematic element for that one that it hooks into quite nicely.  Then there was the ultimately freaky peacock with the brilliant green background, as in, a peacock head, all its color, and a background, not a landscape, just a brilliant green background and, I swear, I really looked hard at that one.  I knew it was not right, yet something there worked.  Alessandra loved it but, again, we knew it was not right for this collection, yet I ended up looking for something else that related and found another peacock piece of art I loved, capturing the beauty and strangeness that the collection needed, but we could not find out who the artist was on that piece...and I don't think the art department was as taken by it as I was. 


Then there were these two, which really appealled to my love of...of what?  They simply worked for me because of their rather stark, grainy look and color tones.  I especially like the one on the left, like that layout, which might be why we made a variation of that for the final product.  [looks again]  No, actually I think it was the one on the right I liked the most, but with the layout of the one on the left.  I believe that was my suggestion.  [looks again, tilts head, marbles ricochet off my cranium] 

Has my tense gone wacky here?  Excuse me...anyway, here they are.

But as much as I like these, and could see something like this being used by a publisher as a standard look for a horror book line, we kept looking.  Apparently, we all felt that ever-present "something more" would be better...and we were right. 

When they initially sent me the art with the woman with her hands over her eyes, palms open to reveal those eyes, I was hesitant because it immediately made me think, "Pan's Labyrinth."  I thought that would be the focus of others upon seeing it.  But, she's different.  Dirtier.  A suggestion of sensuality.  A weird mix.  And gloves.  Odd in ways that drew me into her grimy charms.  But what really made it work for me was that over the span of a few days, and with many truly mangled layout takes on this woman, the art department pulled up that damn freaky, bleak room and put it right below her.  

Now we were on to that something more we were searching for.  See, for me, the element of horror as mixed with the strange that she brings is essential, a perfect companion, the perfect visual accompaniment for the stories.  But adding that room, something that suggested an overwhelming ambience of wrong, of dread thick and clinging to the walls, with a history so dark--despite the harsh light, which only magnifies this sensation for me--I want to know the stories it tells.  Yes, that room, the stories IT tells, ahhhh...if the walls could talk, eh?  I knew we finally had what we needed.  I knew it contained that something more we so wanted.  Here She is, along with The Dark Room:

So pretty, my monstrous, nightmare mistress.  No, wait, Alessandra, just kidding, honey, I don't dream of her...oh no.  hehe... But that room, yeah.  The Dark Room.  There's a story there, perhaps many, and I want to discover those stories.  Perhaps in dreams. 

I'm listening...

Are you listening?  Are you reading my book?  Have you bought it yet? Well, here's the link which includes both the digital and print hook-up.  It's also available via B&N and OmniLit.  Check it out, buy it, review it, talk to me about it, "like" the page.  Let me know you're out there...

Oh, and as a final salvo tossed your way, we did think about putting an author photo on the print version, but apparently nothing was thought appropriate, I don't really know. I mean, I thought those nekkid ones might help sell a few copies for the sheer audacity of using them.  But the art department said, "Yes, you pervert, you might think them appropriate, but not with the penguin!"  Or, um...there was this one from probably thirty years ago, a photo of "The author as a misguided young man," moments before he tumbled backwards into the SF Bay...or was shoved over the edge, deservedly so.  Oy!  Now THAT'S a scary picture!


  1. Well Elvis, I like em all, my favorites are the ones with the most red but you know me ;) Bloodier the better lol!


  2. Really like em all, eh, Jennifer? I like them, but know that until we got The One, we hadn't gotten where we needed to be yet. It was a fun process because I lucked out as the one person art department really understood the work and did a fantastic job of putting the cover together.

    Elvis, haha...yeah, that photo, truly scary. haha...

  3. The cover is awesome John Claude. One of the best I've seen and perfect for "the darkness within." Thanks for the tour of your most amazing creative process—fascinating. Your ideas | insights stir the senses in a strange, alien way. Brilliant. The photo—fuels the imagination: "what lies beneath..." : )

  4. Carolyn,

    Thanks so much, I appreciate your feedback. I lucked out as the art depertment was really into the stories as well. I got lucky. A lot of books are released with covers that simply make you wonder what the heck that has to do with the enclosed words. With mine, as noted by you and the blog, the combination of pictures really accentuates the, well, "the darkness within."