Monday, December 3, 2007

Book Cover: Voyage of the Proteus by Thomas M. Disch (2007)

Bill Schafer at Subterranean Press asked me recently if I'd like to do a cover design for a new Thomas Disch novella, titled The Voyage of the Proteus: An Eyewitness Account of the End of the World (preorder it here). I've always loved Disch -- I kind of consider him the Frank Zappa of genre lit, in that he seems to delight in surprising and shocking anyone and everyone. I think it's a fascinating quality. In any case, after working with Tom on Payseur & Schmidt's first hit, the Mecca/Mettle project, how could I say no to another round?

I had a slight problem, however, in that I got the following from Bill:

It would be of a single mast Greek ship, coming toward the viewer, with the sail full and puffed forward. The perspective would be from slightly above. You might be able to see the oars on either side of the ship though this isn't strictly necessary. There could be people on the deck or not. Your call. In the background, at sea, on the horizon, would be the mushroom cloud from an atomic blast.

Very specific idea, which is fantastic for me, because there's nothing worse than vague directions in this field, but the problem was that I can't illustrate my way out of a box. If you've looked at any of my design work before, it's pretty apparent, I think, that I'm halfway decent at collage, but an illustrator, I am not.

So, I decided that it would be really cool to collaborate on this project with my friend Shawn Wolfe, who is an excellent illustrator. Shawn was in to the idea, and Bill was cool with it, so we began.

Unlike the Mecca/Mettle book (which I just realized I haven't posted about, so I'll have to), where illustrator Tim Kirk supplied a finished drawing and then I unilaterally designed the cover, I felt that this project worked out as a true collaboration between Shawn and myself.

We have completely different visual styles and methods of working, so we thought it might be good for Shawn to begin with a draft illo, since we had such specific direction, and then I would add some of my ideas and repeat until we were both satisfied.

Here's Shawn's initial rough illo:

The boat was spot on, but we decided to trim down the nukes to just one, in case there was any back cover text (we didn't have any of that at the time). Shawn revised and came back with this below:

I liked the bright colors of the trireme and thought it might be cool to have the nuke image almost seem screenprinted in a milky transparent white on some degraded paper. This also made it feel that there was some negative space where I could design something complementary. I roughed in the type alone, but it felt a little too bare. The weird squiggly bits I actually saw on the Bibliodyssey blog. They were these really interesting 19th century Art Nouveau ornaments. The images on Bibliodyssey were hi-res enough that I could play with them in Photoshop and then use Live Trace in Illustrator to turn them into smooth vector paths.

I've been getting away from my former method of designing everything as if it was going to be screen printed, and incorporating more textures and transparency into the design. It was kind of freeing to start thinking, "oh yeah, this is being printed 4-color. I can do all these things."

Shawn kept refining the nuke illustration and the ship, and we played around for a while with the idea of making the cover seem really distressed and adding a Greek trireme stamp that Shawn found (and was the color scheme inspiration), but we eventually abandoned this, since it seemed like too much going on.

Here's what the final cover worked out to be (below). It doesn't seem like a huge amount of difference from beginning to end, but Shawn and I went back and forth six or seven times, minutely tweaking bits here and there. Bill and Tom loved the cover, which was cool. I'll post the finished product when I get one in my hands in early 2008.