Friday, November 30

Nanocoremo: The 'Friday' Pop Cover

As I polished the pulp cover of Heinlein's Friday as my National Novel Writing Month project (see how it began here), I considered what a polar opposite style might be. My mind immediately went to "Criterion," the superlative DVD releases. The covers are fantastic in design. Eye catching and evocative.

  

I wanted to follow that standard if possible. I hoped to build a design around some crucial prop from the book, but there really isn't one. Instead I thought about a recurring phrase that defines Friday and her fellow artificial persons.

This comes up as conversational shorthand, usually spoken by Friday herself. It defines her. It separates her from the rest of humanity as a lower class of human (or even inhuman). She carries this like a boulder, and she craves the feeling of belonging. Well, therethat gives me two possible props for a cover.

I found stock images of test tubes and lab knives and drew them up in Illustrator, altering them for design purposes. The first cover started OK but felt to me like a Michael Crichton cover, and my initial Friday logo suggested a horror film. I played with that but cornered myself in what felt like lazy scifi design.


I kept the props but changed the background and played with text placement. I thought bleeding the cover text a tad might suggest a deliberate break with convention, like Friday herself, but it looked gimmicky. Also, I hated the Del Rey button. It was ever in my way. Ever, I tell you. But I liked that fading title. I went with hot pink to suggest the title character's rampant sexuality. (As I said before, the book reads like a female James Bond novel.)


The props lie flat, however, and I decided I could focus on just one and blow it up to abstract the shape without losing its identity. That allowed me to move the title and play with color to make it stand out.


I can't say I'm fully satisfied with this as the novel's cover. But as an exercise in style, I think it's good.

So. Here we are. One month later, and three covers made.


What I call the "pulp" cover is the one I was aiming for initially, and I had three demands based on the original Michael Whelan cover art: a cover figure who resembled the title character; an active pose; and a scifi setting. The other two designs are gravy.


I did more work than I expected, and I could have made the pulp cover stronger had I not diverted to the other two, but I don't regret making them. This entire project was an experiment, and I followed those tangents for curiosity's sake.

I'll do this again next year. I'm sure I will.

Tuesday, November 27

Nanocoremo: The 'Friday' Pulp Cover

And here it is.


I showed you the inked figure yesterday. (Look to the right sidebar to see the other entries for this cover redesign project.) From there I had to make the background.

Based on the sketches, I knew what angle the walls should be. I made the background flat in Illustrator -- just rectangles atop each other -- and then distorted them to match the sketch lines.


The poster is based on the cruise line from the last quarter of the book, and I turned the Grand Tour planet itinerary into concentric flat circles with moons in collective orbit. I didn't get too detailed as it would be a background element, and I knew it would be mostly obscured (It's also a nod to the minimalist cover I made earlier this month).


I like to think the pulp cover is the moment before the book's beginning with a set detail that foreshadows the book;s end. At this point, I had the figure and background, but the trick was going to be the coloring.


I looked to real pulp covers for inspiration/reference/outright theft for type and palette.

I opened the cover art in Photoshop and pushed the background shadow foreward by boxing him in a strong light source. Now we're suggesting three rooms: the one Friday is in, the hallway outside, and the room from where the light is projected.


Here's the cover as I insert the angled background and add the shadow and light source and colored her.  I cut and moved the shadow pieces a little to better sell it. I added a shadow for Friday moving in an opposite angle as the light box, making three cover angles: the light source, Friday/doorframe, and her shadow. (I knew her shadow would bury the cruise poster, so I kept its colors muted.) But it looks simple. It lacks mood or tone. I decided to add a color screen over the cover. I went with blue to counter her complementary skin tone.


But that pushed Friday into the background too much. This is the full-cover screen, and we lose her. The image is flat. I cut her out of the blue filter for the cover. Just for kicks, here's what the cover looks like without line art.


That almost works better than what I chose. I shouldn't have shown this to you. Ignore it. Cover your eyes and yell la-la-la.

With the cover image settled, I imported the image into Illustrator to apply the cover text and Del Rey logo. The title font (Ruach) is a holdover from an earlier minimalist cover design, and the rest is Franklin Gothic. Coming up with the bottom text was the most fun part of the cover (aside from dolling up the missus in the costume, of course). It took ten seconds and was so horrible and perfect that I ran the first blurb that came to mind. Pulp is pop: Go with the impulse and fix it up.

This makes the second pulp cover I've made including the poster for a play I was in many moons ago.

That was made entirely in Illustrator based on a photo taken of a fellow actor in character. Or is that, "actress in character?" I shouldn't say. The mystery is why the block covers the eyes.

Now, let's see if I can crank out that third cover idea I had ...

Monday, November 26

Nanocoremo: Blues and Inks

After settling on a pencil sketch of the cover, I traced the image on a lightbox with a non-reproduction blue pencil.


This is my first time working on a full image with the blue pencil. I figured that it was worth the risk of having toe lightbox the original again; I'm making so many iterations of the design that one more wouldn't be so bad. But it came out fine. The pencil is waxy and doesn't easily crave to a point. It takes some adjustment.

I altered that image quite a bit. I shortened the neck (also cheating the jumpsuit collar up to make the shoulders higher), thinned out the raised forearm, and reworked the hips. I always make the lower part of the torso too short. It's a dumb mistake. We refer to some figures as "hourglass," and you can build the torso by sketching an hourglass shape. Just make the lower triangle as tall as the upper half. Not that this is a rigid rule; some folks are low- or high-waisted.

Once I was happy with the blue image, I inked it with Micron pens.

if I could find decent inks anymore, I'd work with brushes. I know too that I can always tweak it digitally when I scan the image. That allows me some freedom of ink play.


I made the mouth bigger and fiddled with the shadows around the eyes. Might do more with the hair before I start coloring. But first I'm going to make the background in Photoshop.

Thursday, November 15

Nanocoremo: Silhouette and Sketch

When last we chatted about the Friday cover redesign, I declared that I was gonna aim for two covers. One was a minimalist design that veered away a detailed depiction of the title character. The other went the opposite direction and gave us a scene right out of the book.


The minimal design was sketched out on a lunch break and recreated quickly in Photoshop (above). Since then, once I decided to go with the blue design over the orange, I did a tighter version in Illustrator. (Why blue? I dunno. Maybe it's a nod to her denim jumpsuit. I just like it.)


This really works for me, even if it breaks my first criterion of the entire project: present the character closer to her novel description. But because the book is relatively vague about her look, I figured this style allows the reader to project their own vision of Friday while reading. I think the star field and planetary profiles sell the scifi elements, and the uplifted head implies contemplation, specifically of one's place in the universe. Friday yearns to belong. I wanted to suggest that. I kept all the text from the front cover of the paperback I own and recreated the Del Rey logo but reversed so it can double as another moon.

The Missus, however, voted for a more specific cover sketch and even posed for reference photos. I decided that cover would be more in line with the pulp style of the book -- this is a global spy caper with the usual Heinlein tangents.


I based the photos on a shot that kinda-sorta shows us a few scenes of the book at one time. Friday doesn't use weapons in the book, unfortunately for my purposes, and she takes down many an opponent with a superchop. I cranked up her arm for the swing and avoided a limited depiction of her pursuer/antagonist by reducing him to shadow. At least for now. That might change.

I worked up a tight sketch to noodle through the fabric of the jumpsuit. It's denim in the book, and The Missus's jumpsuit is whatever Air Force pilots wear. I also considered the scene elements that would show us the futuristic setting: a door panel, a space cruise advertisement. It's a pretty good start for this second cover.

Which is good, because I now have an idea for a third.

Monday, November 12

Nanocoremo: Divergence

As I pursued the redesign for Heinlein's Friday cover, I circled a specific composition: a corner creep with deep shadows. Something noirish.


This seemed to match the three criteria I gave myself in the first project post:
1) A title character closer to the book's descriptions.
2) A little more energy than that cover.
3) Something scifi.

We get scifi with the bulkhead texture and the background window (also the implied NASA jumpsuit of the denim coverall). We get a more dynamic pose, something telling a small story. I liked the inclusion of the pursuer shadow. That sets up the very first scene of the book and the book's spaceship scenes toward the end. (Unfortunately, we only get a brief reference to weapons she might use. Every confrontation she has is hand combat. So those convenient genre props are out of consideration.) Lastly, we get a character design that matches the book's description.

And it's that last criterion that gave me pause. I was spurred to do this because I never bought the cover figure as the title character. We get relatively few specific descriptions in the book, yet the model manages to meet none of them. But the vague presentation allows me to imagine her with details I provide -- eye color, hair color (not blonde; in scifi that could mean any other color is in play), etc.

But that's the image I compile. Your mileage may very. The reader who picks up a copy of Friday with my cover (work with me here) could very well have the same reaction I have to the Whelan gal: This isn't Friday. Perhaps then we need to work up a design which allows every reader to build from a relatively blank slate and without a contradictory image.



If we make the porthole gigantic, we can position Friday between it and the camera, reducing her to a silhouette. This breaks the second criterion, but it allows for a more abstract depiction. I could flatten the contours, reducing her to a simple curvy female form. And then I thought we could flatten the entire design, and that's provided by the bottom sketch of the above page. I simplified that further -- changing the detailed planet image into a simple circle with crescent shapes to convey moons. We can then make the entire cover black with stars, and run the cover copy vertically in the Friday profile.

I made some cleaner silhouette sketches, varying the figure size in the cover dimensions. I did this at a Starbucks, and I can pass on this little trick: When you need a circle stencil, use your cup lid.

That's how I drew the planet behind her.

I then scanned those and dummied them up in Photoshop with two sample colors.


The fonts are quick choices; we'll make them more genre appropriate later. And with this I was fairly content to clean up this design and call it a cover. But then something odd happened.

I showed my sketches to The Lovely Mrs. Gregory, and she emphatically pointed one out and said, "I like that one." This never happens. I want this to happen. So I'm gonna flesh out that sketch, and wouldn't you know it, it was the initial corner-creep sketch:

I showed her the drawings that came after this and how the composition changed, and she caught what I was doing. I asked if she could kindly pose for me, as she has in the past.

"What do I need to wear for this?"

"You've got that North Face fleece zip thing. That's likely the snuggest zip cover we've got. And you could wear jeans for the bottom half because it's a denim outfit Friday wears. Also, we'll need a bra, because I can't imagine anyone -- genetically superior or not -- running around in a denim outfit with nothing between them and the suit."

"OK," and off she went while I played with lighting. I had taken three or so shots to check the exposure and reflections off the wall paint, and she came down the hall.

"How about this?"

I looked up from the camera screen, and there's my wife in a jumpsuit. I forgot she had a jumpsuit. She forgot she had a jumpsuit. We got it for her to dress as Lady Jaye (to my Shipwreck) at DragonCon. Here is my wife standing in front of me dressed almost exactly as I imagined Friday dressed for my cover. So of course I

[CENSORED]

and about an hour later we were ready to take some pictures. I showed her the sketch for each pose, and she matched them, and I tried the shots from different angles and light arrangements. It went quickly, and she pointed out the failings of one sketch. I tried to argue artistic license, but she was right. Wrists don't bend that way. I'll work those drawings up in the next few days.

So. I'm doing two covers. Who knew? And my wife is going to be the basis for the Friday model. I'm thoroughly delighted.

Friday, November 9

Nanocoremo: Head and Shoulders

As we get a little further into the new cover design for Heinlein's Friday (see the beginning of it here), let's go backward a little bit.


I said the sitting image wouldn't work. It still doesn't. While novel cover images are fairly static compared to those of a comic book, this doesn't do enough to convey the character. It can't move copies off the store shelves, not compared to the original cover with a neckline down to the navel. Sometimes you gotta flush an idea from your brains in order to move onto a better one. The above sketches are on the bottom of the page with the sitting piece I posted earlier. I'm having trouble getting past the Contemplative Friday. Also, I realized I needed to decide on a haircut.

I'm working on the presumption that she has short hair. We're told she only tends to her hair when it gets in her eyes, but that tells us nothing about the length in the back. I'm re-reading the book, and I haven't yet gotten to the chunk of the book where she dresses more formal. She may talk about how she does her 'do, and if so, I can use that for a direction. Otherwise, I'm thinking she's gonna have, at most, shoulder-length hair. She's a courier and must adopt disguises to move past security. Shorter hair makes that easier. Less to tuck under wigs.


I get to doddlin'. I'm leaning toward bangs.


Speaking of moving past security, I considered a Sneaky Friday cover pose, possibly inching up to a corner. This lets me play with dark background shadows which could be interrupted by the spaceship porthole for which I commended original cover artist Michael Whelan. Also, a structure corner provides a stronger sense of setting via scifi wall/bulkhead seams.

I worked up poses based on her leading with a shoulder about to peek around that corner. It also allows me to position her in a crouch to work the neckline.

The neckline contour suggested another design you can see on the top right of the above image.

A dramatic single light point gives us a lot of negative space to work with and makes for a more moody image. I also considered applying a single, flat color to this. Maybe orange. I'm bookmarking the idea for possible later use. Back to Crouchy Sneaky Friday. And that means we go to the reference pictures.

Bearded Friday! It'll sell in the ones.

I'm my best model, and regardless of what you may have gleaned from the many duckface self-portrait photos online, camera timers are easy to work with. For this angle, however, I grabbed my phone. You can tell by the expression that I'm trying to imply movement and intent, something lacking in the original novel cover. This angle makes it easier to dip that shoulder for better body positioning and reveal the neckline.

Don't let my cover criticism confuse you. We shouldn't shy away from the decolletage. The cover image should play up Friday's charms because the character certainly does at every opportunity. It's a practical matter for a courier; security is less likely to look at her face.

I went large for this sketch, but the borders don't relate to the dimensions of the book. The cover copy would be too close to her eyes. I played with the Whelan porthole, but I wouldn't place it quite so flat in the background as above. You can also see more hair sketches and my inclination toward bangs. I used the dramatic black cover sketch above to guide the shadows here, but they're likely to be subtle, if used at all.

Here's a tighter image with more attention to the denim jumpsuit. Also, I'm fiddlin' with hand placement. I may move the camera back to show more of the hips and legs, but that might force the shoulders down further (otherwise she'd be too tall for the cover). I'm not so keen on that. The hand would also let us show off the finger watch Heinlein refers to. I'm thinking a small transparent sticker with a dim LED display. A clock Band-Aid about the size of a produce sticker.

And that's where we are now.

Thursday, November 8

National Novel Cover Redesign Month: Friday

November is National Novel Writing Month (officially and henceforth to be called Nanowrimo). The goal of the project is to bang out 50,000 words in 30 days. When it began in 1999, it boasted 21 participants. Last year, it had 256,618. I've followed friends via social networks as they've toiled on their stories, posting daily word counts and venting their frustrations. I like the idea, but November is when I start the scaffolding of the following year's comic, so I can't do it. At least I'm writing something.

This year, as the month and contest again crept up, I considered how I could do something in solidarity with my writing buddies. If nothing else,I would hand out some Gatorade as they chug through the marathon. Then I wondered about running my own obstacle course in another medium. If I can't write a novel, maybe I could in some way illustrate it. An adaptation? No, much too big. But making a new cover for an existing novel ... I could do that. And I knew exactly what book needed it most.

I picked up Robert Heinlein's Friday in college.  I was dating a girl who seemed to always be reading his works yet couldn't give a detailed answer when I asked about the appeal. In fact, she said exactly three words: "well, there's sex ..." And that was it. If you had asked me at the time why I read, say, X-Men, you would have left the room before I paused my babble to breathe. Despite this vague response, (it begs the question so why this guy's works instead of Henry Miller or a Harlequin novel), I picked up a Heinein book and gave it a read, and discovered that, no actually, not so much with the sex. More like constant flirting and groping. There are no choreographed sex scenes. In fact, the "camera" cuts way and returns right before and right after the deed, but you're gonna get "deed" about every ten pages. Don't dive for a book looking for panting and acrobatics. You won't find it.

ASIDE: If you decide to try Heinlein, do not do what I did and unknowingly pick up a book steeped in recurring time traveling characters with multiple names who appear in multiple books because, hokey smoke, you will be lost in the riptide. Friday is a good start for his works after 1960. It's self-contained and a fine intro to the morals and politics of his later stories. Job is good too. Maybe I Will Fear No Evil. If you like any of those, then go to Stranger in a Strange Land (unabridged) and work your way through chronologically.

I like Friday because it's pulp. It's literary bar food. Think of it as a female James Bond or Remo Williams or Mack Bolan. She's genetically engineered to be super capable, and she lethally chops a bad guy in the third sentence. Then you get little Candide, a little Huck Finn, a little Fear of Flying, and a bit of Marvel Comics' X-Men, funny enough. (But not by accident, X-Men writer Chris Claremont stole bunches of stuff from Heinlein. And Power Pack is an outright theft of Number of the Beast. Oh, and the name of that book's talking spaceship? Friday.)

I've read this book a lot. My long-lived paperback copy is yellowed and curled. I know the major and minor chords of this story fairly well. Which is why the cover art makes my eye twitch.

Lookee here:


This isn't the only cover art produced for the story. There are these:



But the Whelan art is on the copy I have, and that's why I'll focus on it as a launchpad.

I don't know what instructions cover artist Michael Whelan was given, but I doubt they included the character's description. Granted, we don't get a driver's license breakdown of characteristics in the book, but there two things very wrong here:

1) This image is darker than my book's cover, but that hair is blonde. Dirty blonde maybe, but blonde. Friday twice says "blond(e)s intimidate me."

2) She refers to her "built-in suntan" and says Tongans are "about as brown as I am." Google Tongans. Yeah. Later in the book, her gene influences are listed as "Finnish, Polynesian, Amerindian, Innuit, Danish, red Irish, Swazi, Korean, German, Hindu, English, and bits and pieces from elsewhere." Miss Feline Face Friday above looks like she'd sunburn sitting next to a banker's lamp.

Even the first time I read the book, I got about 60 pages before I wondered what the woman on the cover had to do with the title character.

In my head, she looks more like, oh, Mila Kunis.


As per the character's comments, however, she would have a hairdo closer to a bob or pageboy. Not much different from the cover art haircut, really.

Or if you think she might be a tad more suntanny, maybe Halle Berry.


Or, hey, remember FOX's Dark Angel scifi series starring Jessica Alba? Wikipedia condenses it this way:
Set in a post-apocalyptic Seattle, the show chronicles the life of Max Guevara (X5-452), a genetically enhanced super-soldier, portrayed by Jessica Alba as an adult and Geneva Locke as a child, who, after escaping from a covert government biotech/military facility as a child, tries to lead some semblance of a normal life and constantly tries to elude capture by government agents, while searching for her genetically-enhanced brothers and sisters scattered in the aftermath of their escape.
That has quite a bit in common with Heinlein's book. (Seattle is where Friday claims to be born, for example, because that city's destruction explains why she has none of the  documentation of normal folks). So let's also look at Jessica Alba as the Dark Angel:


Cut the hair, and we've pretty much got Friday.

There's a little confusion later on regarding her height; she describes herself more than once as being the same size as a woman who is 10 centimeters (4 inches) shorter than her husband. The husband is eyeballed at 195 centimeters, making him more than six feet tall.  But the wife and Friday are regarded later as much smaller than them, enough that neither could reach certain high objects their menfolk could. This is the nittiest of picks. Where the height might confuse the artist, the physiognomy shouldn't. The author is consistent there.

So, in brief, thus, and therefore, that cover art is wrong and wrong some more. I will now launch National Novel Cover Redesign Month (Nanocoremo) to fix this. I'm gonna make my own Friday cover.

Let's start this with another criticism: Friday, a very active action hero, ain't doing jack on the Whelan cover. Again, no idea what his editor's instructions were. He or the author himself may have been very specific about what they wanted. But I consider the final product to be boring and, again, a thunderstorm of wrong.

The new cover should then have three elements:
1) A title character closer to the book's descriptions.

2) A little more energy. Even implied kinetic energy. Friday can kill with a Charlie's Angel judo chop. She's always mindful of the nearest exit and potential threat. She's also on the run for a good chunk of the book. Let's convey that.

3) Something scifi. The book is in the future, with a fractured Western hemisphere and space elevators and ballistic airplanes and finger watches. I'm OK with the porthole on the Whelan cover. It's a fine way to tell us this is science fiction.

When I think about the book, one scene comes to mind most often: Friday on the fantail of a steamboat headed up the Mighty Mississip'. My initial sketches went there.




Whelan gives us a denim jumpsuit straight out of the novel. That's it to a T, so I'll follow his design here. Maybe a few tweaks. But these sketches break my second required element: She's doing even less than on the Whelan cover. At least the first gal is standing. I mean, yes, we're looking at a Friday in contemplation, as opposed to Whelan's somewhat dead-eyed cheesecake, but I can't see the gears whirring. Also, when I opened up my sketchbook a few hours atfer drawing the last image above, I was struck by this:


It's not a bad parallel for a conversation about the characters. They both feel like they don't belong. They both make an effort to earn their place among people not like themselves. But the similarity in images and my sketches' inertia killed the appeal for me. This is not our cover.

But we're getting there.

Friday, November 2

Keep It Together

Normally don't make two posts a day, but I just discovered this gorgeous video.



Now I want a workshop with a galaxy of Lite Brights.

Batgirl

Here's my first crack at a Batgirl sketch.



And here's what came after I looked at some Alan Davis work.


Still need to tighten the ink feathering.