Some lucky – or, at least, some random – attendee at this month’s Arisia convention in Boston will be going home with a signed proof of the poster version of my dust jacket art for Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom.
How could that happen? Well, throughout the weekend they’ll be selling raffle tickets for this and other Fabulous Prizes; and then on Sunday there’ll be a drawing. Proceeds from the raffle will go to the Alzheimer’s Association in memory of Sir Terry Pratchett.
poster will eventually be available to the public, but that won’t happen for a while. So this is your chance to steal a march on those folks next door who always get the first dust jacket posters for anything I do. You know those people. You hate those people. They’re just so smarmy.
It’s worth a trip to Boston, just to show them who’s boss.
So if this all sounds great to you, but you have no idea what Arisia is, you can read all about “New England’s largest, most diverse Sci-Fi and Fantasy Convention” right over here.
Hey, Ursula Vernon and Stephanie Law are going to be there. I’m thinking it’s worth your time. And of course there’s the added bonus of a signed print of the Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom cover, for someone who could be you.
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.
If you’ve been wondering what’s going on with Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom, well… so was I, for awhile. I thought I had reasonable expectations for how speedily the publishing industry moves. In this I was mistaken.
But March and April have seen a sudden burst of activity, a new release date, and the slow transition from my recent no expectations to my current cautious reserve.
The book’s new publication date – which I still consider a pleasant daydream – is March of 2017.
That date is looking more likely these days because the sales department has taken an interest. At some point their interest will turn into intent, penetrating looks directed at any part of the book that isn’t moving toward the release date, and once those intent, penetrating looks start darting around I think we can be pretty confident about the date. Nobody wants to get looks like those.
I’ve finished a couple of rough layouts for the book jacket and I expect I might start getting some looks of my own once everybody’s had a chance to see them. The dust jacket designs were a genuine blast to work on: they’re wraparound designs, so each one is a big picture that’s made up of five smaller rectangles that also need to work on their own. I really enjoyed working on them.
No, you can’t see them.
But I am looking at them while I’m typing – which is actually pretty difficult – and I can tell you that we’re probably going to have a pretty nice cover.
In the meantime we can look forward to The Purloined Patents of Doctor Brackett, the serial that should start up in June at Thrilling Tales of the Downright Unusual. Purloined Patents will kick off a series of short serials that’ll run into February of next year. So there’s a lot to look forward to, in just a little while.
I can’t guarantee what kind of sensation that is; and if it’s the sensation of clammy tentacles slithering into your ear, well, I refuse to take responsibility. That’s on the record.
But I just ran across this announcement from the St. Martin’s Press catalog of upcoming titles. It delighted and surprised me, and I enjoyed that sensation. So maybe you will too.
SLAVES OF THE SWITCHBOARD OF DOOM
by Bradley Schenck (Tor Books, October 2016)
Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom is unlike anything else in genre fiction: a gonzo, totally bonkers vision of the future imagined in the 1939 World Fair—a hilarious, illustrated retro-futurist adventure by artist and debut novelist Bradley W. Schenck. This is classic Flash Gordon meets the Keystone Cops, a gut-busting look at the World of Tomorrow, populated with dashing, jet-packed heroes, faithful robot sidekicks, mad scientists, plucky rocket engineers, sassy switchboard operators, space pirates, bubble-helmeted canine companions, and more.
Between you and me and the entire Internet, that’s not the release date; and when I did a quick count I came up a little short on jet-packed heroes, plucky rocket engineers, and bubble-helmeted canine companions – though maybe my editor wants to talk to me about them. Could be a subtle message.
But despite those discrepancies, nice to see!
Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom
written & illustrated by Bradley W. Schenck
Coming late in 2016 from Tor Books
After a surprise efficiency review the switchboard operators of Retropolis find themselves replaced by a mysterious system they don’t understand. So Nola Gardner pools their severance pay to hire Dash Kent, freelance adventurer and apartment manager, to find out what’s happened to their jobs.
That ought to be easy for Dash, even if his practical experience is limited to heroic rescues (of what he calls entities) from the priests of the Spider God, in their temple at Marius Crater. But the replacement switchboard is only one element of a plan concocted by an insane civil engineer: a plan so vast that it reaches from Retropolis to the Moon. Dash and Nola race to find the hidden switchboard and solve the mystery, and they think they’re on their own.
Of course they’ve got no idea how this plot has affected the Fraternal League of Robotic Persons, or the Ferriss Moto-Man Company, or even those infernal children from the third floor. And while everyone scrambles to save their jobs – or their freedom – the world’s smallest giant robot is striding toward its destiny. An inch or two at a time.
Retropolis has found ways to contain its abundance of Mad Science. But in Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom we find that when engineers go mad. . . they know how to build madness on a scale that’s never been seen before.
The Short Version
My illustrated book Slaves of the Switchboard of Doom has been acquired by Tor Books for publication late in 2016.
I’ve been trying to find a home for the book for more than a year, but let’s face it: everybody at Tor may have been drunk at the time, and now they’re just too polite to tell me so. Still a big win, right?
For the (very) long version, click on through to the rest of this post.