(With apologies to Teresa Nielsen Hayden)
Remember that surprise puzzle hunt my friends organized for my birthday last year? (Yeah, no, I'm never going to stop talking about it. Because awesome.) Well, that same weekend, our friend Natalie sent me this "Cowboys and Aliens" fan art as an early birthday gift:
That was also completely unexpected and wonderful. And it got me to thinking, since DeeAnn and I had already decided to publish a collection of 512 stories: we're going to need a cover. Why not hire Natalie to draw it?
(The image above is also what I used for the "not very good" cover mock-up mentioned last week.)
I'm not precisely sure when I first met Natalie—it was probably during one of the JoCo cruises or at some kind of Doubleclicks-related event in the Portland area, where we both live. But I knew she was quite an accomplished artist—she was one of five finalists in Scalzi's Redshirts fan art contest—and her illustrations had a cartoony, whimsical style that I liked a lot.
So, back in November, I asked her how she was at drawing vehicles. She said she could handle spaceships and dirigibles and probably more. And away we went.
We met just once in person to discuss concepts, and everything else happened by e-mail. Her first set of sketches included two designs with elements that clicked right away, including the astronaut-not-loving-her-EVA:
I had already thrown out the idea of using interior illustrations to break up the 117 stories into thematic sections—one character per theme—and asked if she could find some way to incorporate those same characters into the front cover. I sent her some feedback on those initial sketches, and she came up with this:
That's pretty much the final layout, as you'll see below, with one character showing through each of those portholes. I was impressed with how quickly she dialed it in, and well how the rest of it all came together.
For reference, here are her finished pencils and inks:
We also went through another, somewhat parallel process to figure out the six theme characters. That also went very quickly, except for making sure that a small picture of a female superhero would read correctly and with the right amount of gravitas.
Here are some "super-lady" designs that didn't quite hit the target, for various reasons which I could only articulate after seeing them:
Once we got the characters nailed down, it was just a matter of picking which three should appear in the portholes. We also went back and forth on fonts and engine colors for a bit, but I'll spare you those details and just show you the final cover art:
Long story short: I love it. It's far better than anything I could have imagined or produced on my own, and I think it conveys the perfect tone for this collection.
I look forward to working with Natalie again, and next time, I'll do my best to give her some more monsters to draw. :)