Way back on December 14th of 2006 (almost a year ago now), my publisher sent word that I needed to turn in the final design for the book cover immediately. I hadn’t really given the cover much thought yet, and I learned I had just three days to get it doneâ€¦ it had to be conceived, started and completed over a single weekend.
The next night, a Friday, I began by creating a sketch. I do this whenever I’m unsure where I’m going with a design (such as I did for the Tarzan Splash page). By Saturday morning, I created this rough sketch:
The sketch is comprised of ‘found’ objects, meaning I used existing photographs to cobble it together. The images below demonstrate each figure separately added to the composition:
Once I had the sketch, I started work on an actual set-up, using proper figures (e.g. Batman actually wearing his cowl and Wonder Woman without her plastic hairband). I really hoped to capture the entire composition ‘in camera,’ as this would allow me to avoid the additional Photoshop work required by multiple-image compositions. Such compositions always have issues like angles, lighting, shadows, etc., and I wanted nothing to do with thatâ€¦ especially given my stunted deadline.
Below are some behind-the-scenes snapshots of the original photography set-up:
The images just did not turn out well. I wasn’t sure whether I liked the positions of Robin and Aquaman, and the shot lacked somethingâ€¦ something special. Concluding the sketch lacked a connection to Mego (specifically Mego in the 1970s), I considered paying homage to SuperFriends. While trying to cook up a way to accomplish this, I did another set-up, switching Robin and Aquaman.
Using some old cassette tapes (yay! Cheap Trick!) as spacers, I created the figure spacing I wanted. These images looked more like what I had in mind, so I picked a master shot:
I was so sure I had the right image, I started processing it while pre-visualizing a SuperFriends treatment.
Taking a break from image processing, I did some visual research on my inspiration. SuperFriends is iconic in so many ways, but none more definitive (in my mind) than that famous, hippie-happy 1970s rainbow title card:
With a fully-realized creative vision, I opened Adobe Illustrator and created my ‘Mego’ version of the SuperFriends rainbow.
Once I had the background, I thought I was off to the proverbial races. But the more I looked at the master image, the more I realized it lacked something distinctive. It occurred to me that the figures were too stiff, too straight, too boring. In other words, so NOT Mego!
Not only that, I realized my shot selection obscured Aquaman’s iconic “A” belt sticker. That was a big no-no. Rob had earlier, and presciently, pointed out that each character’s emblem had to be prominently displayed, and he was absolutely right.
I also decided to pose them in a more angular manner, to create some dynamic angles.
Some simple Mego math:
But I digressâ€¦
These set-ups can take up to three hours to capture in camera and download for processing. It’s quite labor-intensive, and something I really wanted to avoid. But for the all-important book cover, these concerns were too important to ignore.
So, I begrudgingly worked on a third set-up. I switched Robin and Aquaman again and held my breath for better results.
And the third time was a charm!
I liked everything about the shotâ€¦ except Wonder Woman. Where was her gaze directed? “Yo, Diana, camera’s over here, babe. Work with me!”
Ugh. Once again, I made excuses about how it was ‘good enough.’ But Rob Chatlin’s voice kept ringing in my head. “Could you justâ€¦?” and “Did you tryâ€¦?” and “But what if youâ€¦?”
It was maddening, but I knew I had to do some Photoshop work after all. It was painful setting up a shot of Wonder Woman â€” alone â€” that would fit into the composition naturally. But after a few more hours, I got a shot I liked.
I set forth clipping Wonder Woman out of the original shot, then adding the new shot of Wonder Woman into the composition. A little rotating, a little tweaking, a few drop-shadows, and voila!
With the crucial photo in place, I worked on the entire composition, including the new rainbow concept. At that point, I had to strike a balance between all of the elements. I needed to pull off a tricky feat: presenting immediately recognizable iconography while using entirely new imagery â€” not to mention all of the incidental elements (book title, author, TwoMorrows logo, etc.).
As a designer, I fought with myself. Should I include the heart-warming praise Chip Kidd graciously bestowed (below left and middle)? Should the figures enjoy a reverential glow, reminiscent of renaissance sanctity (below middle)? Heck, I even toyed with cheesy bevels on the rainbow’s bands of color (too ridiculous to even show you). It was a looooong Sunday for me, going through all the possible treatments.
Reelin’ it all in just a bit, I finally zeroed in on what I felt was the perfect combination of background, hero photo, ancillary elements, composition and overall treatment:
Pleased with the results, I turned the final artwork over to my publisher, TwoMorrows. Shortly thereafter, the cover was depicted in the Fall 2007 TwoMorrows catalog, ready for solicitation. Everything was right with the world.
â€¦Until we got a letter from the lawyers.
Recognizing a perceived similarity between my cover design and the proposed cover design of the forthcoming DC Comics Action Figure Archive, DC Comics’ legal team requested we not use my design for our book cover. They expressed some concern over ‘confusion in the marketplace.’ Shown at left is the cover of Scott Beatty’s DC Comics Action Figure Archive:
I was disappointed that I couldn’t use my original design on the cover, but it’s OK. I’m really looking forward to Scott’s book. And besides, I’m happy with the revised cover design!
If you haven’t ordered the book yet, I encourage you to do so. I put a lot of effort into making it the best possible experience, and I think you’ll be pleased. While you’re there, pick up Scott’s awesome-looking DC Comics Action Figure Archive. Amazon.com is currently offering a two-fer of our books together; one click adds them both to your shopping cart. Can’t beat that!