You can read it here.
You can read it here.
You can read it here.
If you were following along a couple of months ago, you probably know that at that time I was working on the dust jacket art for my book Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom.
I couldn’t show it to you back then. That’s because the auspicious moment for a cover reveal is determined during ancient, eldritch rituals around the smoking braziers and in between the ragged and unsettling tapestries of the towers that brood over the isle of Manhattan.
Yeah, that’s really how they do it. They’re old school, over there.
But last week my editor showed off the front cover and wraparound versions of the dust jacket. So here it is – front cover above, and the whole dust jacket below.
The Old Cover
If you’ve been following along even longer you may remember that I did a cover design for the book, back before it even was a book. It looked like this:
I really liked the vintage paperback palette and the detail of Rusty hanging on to the rocket in a kind of homage to Josh Kirby’s Discworld covers. But I also figured that if a publisher wanted the book, some other artist would end up doing the cover… because cover art is another matter that’s decided during those archaic festivities that I mentioned above.
So I was happy to learn that even though Tor didn’t want my original cover, they did want me to do a new one.
The New Cover
In March I got a rough description of the cover they wanted, and that’s more or less what you see on the front.
But because it was to be a wraparound jacket I had all sorts of room to show the rest of what they wanted, which was the city of Retropolis; and I took advantage of the situation by doing on the back cover what I really wanted to do: a whirlwind of characters in another light homage to Josh Kirby.
Because nothing says ‘humor’ better than a crowd of frightened people who are running for their lives.
But, hey, I’m getting ahead of myself.
First I worked up a series of roughs: there were six of them. Like most of what I do, these roughs started in 3DS Max and were finished (rather lightly, for the roughs) in Photoshop. They were very, very preliminary.
For complicated reasons it seemed like it would be better to offer fewer choices than that, so I cut it down to two. Of those two they picked the rough that I liked best. You can see that one below.
And although I didn’t realize it at the time, that rough is the cover you see now at Amazon, and at Barnes & Noble, and everyplace else where the book’s mentioned. Now that the cover’s been revealed we should eventually see the real cover show up in all those places. I’m eager to see that happen.
At the rough stage I still had no idea what my polygon count would be in 3DS Max. (Over seven million!) But it was obvious that I’d need to handle the scene in multiple layers. In the end, there were at least six of these layers. (It’s hard to be exact, because there were problems that showed up only when I’d rendered the scene at a high resolution – so I went back, near the end, to render out my fixes for those.) At the very end I put all the layers together in Photoshop, where I did all kinds of retouching on them until they were a picture.
The biggest single task was the city in the background. For the rough I’d just pasted in bits and pieces of my existing city backdrops to get the building masses about where I wanted them. For the final I had to model new buildings and arrange them all into a layout that made sense. So of the six weeks I spent on the picture, I spent two in the city.
Lighting is always a large task, and here I was lighting about six separate scenes that needed to match. I know this sounds simple: but this isn’t photography. I’m not documenting. The lighting all had to look correct, but in fact it’s subverted and bent in countless ways that better serve the picture.
The simulation above doesn't really show you what I was working on; I often went forward and backward through the layers, and as I worked, of course, I hadn't done any retouching. But you can see what pieces I was working on, even though they look much prettier here.
The Big Picture
Finally, while the dust jacket is large - it's about twenty-one inches across - I wanted it to be even larger. So at its full resolution the picture will become a poster and an archival print at about thirty inches by fifteen.
I really enjoyed working on this, which is a strange thing to say about six weeks of incessant minor changes and test renderings; but there it is.
The dust jacket is a set of panels that have to work together as a single picture, but which also need to stand on their own when they’re seen on the book: the front and back flaps, the front and back covers, and even the spine will be seen as separate pictures once the dust jacket is folded around the book. It’s a really interesting challenge.
And that set of pictures has to show the shopper what the heck this book is about.
By that I don’t mean what happens in the book. It’s more a question of what the book is like.
So, the way I see it, this is what my book is like:
Oh! And you remember that old cover design? It turned into a pretty great title page. Because we waste no part of the animal.
You can read it here.
If today’s mysterious snippets center on themes of escape and retaliation, that’s all due to August’s attempts to melt the Secret Laboratory around my ears. But I’m on top of it! It’s so seldom I get a chance to test my latest experiments on an entire month.
But apart from that these are more glimpses of things to come for The Retropolis Registry of Patents – in one case, not until the end of the year.
The fifth story in the series won’t begin until late November, and it’s a long one that will continue on into February. Which is nice, from a calendrical point of view, but if you do the math you’ll realize that I have to do more illustrations for that one (Ten! Count ’em! Ten!). And I’ve just finished the fifth, so the rest of the calculation is left as an exercise for the reader.
Meanwhile, this week things are about to take a turn for the more peculiar in Doctor Petaja’s Parlor of Peril.
In some ways I thought that Doctor Petaja was a perfectly good introduction to the series – maybe even better than The Purloined Patents of Doctor Brackett – but I like the way we meet Ben and Violet in Brackett, so I decided to let it stand rather than have us meet them after they’ve gotten to know each other. Maybe I’ve given in a little to Hollywood’s addiction to origin stories.
Example? Robert E. Howard never wrote an origin story for Conan. Conan doesn’t need an origin story. You know exactly who he is once you see him hit the world sandals-first and sword foremost. But each time Hollywood’s tried to adapt the poor Cimmerian they’ve felt that they had to explain to us how he got that way. Which, like I said, is completely unnecessary. How does a panther get that way? By being a panther.
Panthers aren’t impressed by origin stories. Panthers watch you become entranced by an origin story, and then they leap down out of a tree and eat you.
Aaaaand that’s totally out of left field, for which I also blame the August heat, and with that I had better let you go.
But keep an eye on Doctor Petaja this week. It may help with issues of job training and questions of whether you should really read the employee handbook.