Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Chapter 32: In Which I Talk About Collaborators

As I've stated before, illustration is huge to me. Visuals always add something to storytelling. I remember reading issues of Savage Sword of Conan as a boy, which had GORGEOUS covers, plus a little picture of Conan in the top left corner, plus pinups in the back, plus great interior artwork. Pictures are an alternate form of storytelling. Why only have one story in your book (the text version) when you can have several.

Dan McCloskey has been my illustrator, tourmate, housemate and landlord. We first met when we lived together at the N-circle-A-CP, an anarchist apartment in the Bloomfield neighborhood of Pittsburgh. To call it scummy would be an understatement. To call it messy would not come close to describing the sheer clutter. He was a resident, I was a subletter. We bonded over our mutual appreciation for genre fiction, though he is firmly in the science fiction camp, and I am firmly in the fantasy camp. We've both read a ton of genre work, but the authors we read hardly ever cross over. Dan is incredibly tall, and at the time of our collaboration had an extreme pompadour of '80s anime character length.

Dan specializes in comic illustration. He did comics for the Pitt News in college and now does the monthly Andromeda comic anthology. Art is pretty much his family business, passed down from his parents. He studied at Pitt and Kutztown University. During my last stay in Pittsburgh, I lived at the Cyberpunk Apocalypse, a writers' co-op that Dan put together in the Lawrenceville area. It came to be that I collaborated with Dan more than I have any other artist, even if that collaboration was building doorframes, dumpster-diving or hauling large boxes of crap around. The Cyberpunk Apocalypse has been going strong for about two years now, has put out several publications, hosted more readings than I can count, and has been the workspace for quite a few finished books, including my own. All this is to say that, in addition to being tall, Dan is extremely talented and shockingly ambitious.

He was originally going to do the inside illustrations for Jack Daniels Sessions, and did some preliminary ink sketches that were beautiful. However, I don't believe in collaborating exclusively with one person, so I contacted Rachel Dorrett about doing the interiors. Dan is thoughtful when it comes to design. Here is the finished product:

My request was that it look like an album cover. I was very specific about the typewriter/desk/Jack Daniels combo. Dan added the coffee pot. Since we lived in a writers' co-op, I should note that all the objects were modeled off things already in the house. Dan's major concern was giving some indication on the cover that it is a fantasy collection. I originally wanted to downplay those elements. Going along with his artistic inclinations, we brainstormed how to do this. He was especially interested in the subtitle, which I think a lot of people overlook. "A Collection by Elwin Cotman" was too generic. "A Collection of Wonders by Elwin Cotman"? Kind of twee. "Weird Stories by Elwin Cotman"? Cool, but kind of archaic. Finally, we settled on "A Collection of Fantasies." Straightforward but effective.

Dan talked about other ways to enhance the fantasy quality. Recently, I'd run across an old copy of one of my favorite books:

An Atlas of Fantasy by J.B. Post is a must-have for any fantasy lover. Within it are maps of the Hyborean Age, Narnia, the Young Kingdoms, Barsoom, the Hundred Acre Woods, the river by Toad Hall, and lots more. It is an extensive collection of fantasy maps. Post digs really far into the history of the fantastical, beyond the modern fantasy publishing industry, finding 18th century maps of imaginary lands. This book is simply a treasure. My old copy was falling apart, and I planned on using the maps to paper the recently-constructed wall of my room.

Dan mused: "Maybe we could have a map of Middle-Earth over the typewriter."

I thought that sounded grand. Have something in there that not only indicates fantasy, but indicates the Quest, and gives homage to a forefather. The spirit of creativity, and fear of getting demolished by the Tolkien estate, led Dan to design his own map. He based it off of jokey regional maps from the Atlas. For instance, there would be "A Texan's Map of the United States," where Texas takes up almost the whole country. Or "A New Englander's View," with Massachusetts being gargantuan. Dan ended up combining the idea of a warped United States map with some of the more fantastical ones, creating the amazing little world in the corner of the picture. I cannot stress enough what a cool thing maps are for fantasy books. I'm glad to have one in mine.

Dan has a sort of electronic sketchpad that he uses. With this, he drew the cover. My favorite part of it is the wallpaper behind the typewriter. Its all characters or situations from the stories, creating a kind of "Where's Waldo" game. I still haven't been able to make all the connections, and they're from my stories. I had a blast working with Dan on this, two guys brainstorming art ideas in the freezing winter months in Pittsburgh, sitting bundled up at a computer, drinking massive amounts of coffee/whiskey. I'll openly admit a bit of jealousy towards artists. As a writer, I always compare myself to the thousands of years worth of fantasy writing that have come before, and worry about my own originality. A good artist can find an entirely new way of looking at things.

Six Gallery Press has a template they use for cover creation, and it takes some work to design a cover exactly to the book's dimensions. I could see from the amount of time that Dan spent that its a long process. We've tweaked the cover since then, shrinking it so there's not so much empty space. I think Dan may have even added a ghost rabbit or two. I can't wait to see it.

I suggest you take a look at the website I attached. Dan's a writer himself, currently shopping his manuscript around. Jack Daniels Sessions was his first professional cover job, and my first book. If I can spend the rest of my life working with such dedicated artists, I will consider myself lucky.

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