Saturday, 27 July 2013

Lanschilandia comic page: Borderline Chaos, pg. 1

Tails of Lanschilandia! Here's the page!

It's been a while, but here's the beginning of the next story for my webcomic! I am moderately excited about this, though I doubt that will be enough to keep me working at full power, so don't expect any noticeable increase in update frequency. The story will focus more on the characters that didn't really get to contribute much to the previous storyline, so this should be interesting; especially with a major change in art style.

As you could probably tell, the art looks very different than it did on previous pages; this is because I am now drawing the pages at a higher resolution in Photoshop and shrinking them down for the website, which allows me to more easily add details and results in much more slender linework (which remains the only thing slender about Hayfa the cow). I am also experimenting with shading, though I won't make that too elaborate as I don't want to slow down the page creation process even further (to achieve this shading style, I am drawing black spots on a semi-transparent layer, which is squeezed between the linework and the colour layers).

Not quite as noticeably, I am now semi-consistently sketching panels and characters before I "ink" them, which helps a lot and the result may actually begin to not look like scribbles from a preschooler anymore. It's a strange process to get used to, but I have some faith that it will be worth it and I might even be able to draw non-crooked limbs and hands eventually (gasp!).

Enjoy the comic page!

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Got it Covered? Think Again

"Don't judge a book by its cover" so goes the common saying. A good piece of advice that most people have heard of and many strive to learn from, but which almost no one follows in the non-metaphorical sense. Especially in a chiefly text-based medium like literature, the cover is often the first and potentially only "visual" impression anyone gets of a book, and a lot of the time, the attempt to win the interest of the curious reader is promptly bungled by a badly designed cover. But is it really true that the cover sells the book? Not always, but it certainly can make a notable contribution. At the very least, it attracts attention. From personal experience, I can say that an eye-catching cover is more likely to make me look twice and make the book remain in my memory. So what makes a cover "eye-catching"? Hard to say, and certainly dependant on the genre as well as the time and place of publication. An eye-catching cover is a cover that stands out from the masses, and in order to do that, it needs to differ from the masses.

Looking at a great amount of book covers especially for indie Fantasy, I have been noticing two trends in particular: stock art (especially photography) and generic designs that don't say anything about the book (or a combination of both!). Good as they may look in any other context, these require a lot of creativity to turn into unique and memorable covers. That skull or sword on the cover may have some relation to the book and that random woman on her best way to catching a cold if she doesn't put on some clothes may even be a depiction of the main character, but they do nothing to set the book apart from the hundreds of others using a different version of the same motif.

So, what should be done? I'm certainly no expert on covers (though I may have to become one), but here are some fairly obvious suggestions (specifically for Fantasy covers) that still tend to be ignored:

  1. Don't use photos. Photos are exact captures of real life images and without a lot of digital enhancement, they are rarely ever going to exhibit any style unique enough to be eye-catching to the layperson. Take advantage of the many traditional and digital ways there are to create art. If you can't do it yourself, find someone who can.
    1. Don't force a run-of-the-mill Fantasy style on the cover; it does not need to look "realistic", and the more quirky it looks, the better. You are not creating art for a gallery; people most likely will not stand idly and gawk in awe at your cover, even if you get a Dutch master to paint it (though that would certainly be something to enhance your advertising campaign!). The cover is an ad for the book, and it will need to stand out by being individual, not by demonstrating how well it can follow conventions of painting.
  2. Think about something unique in your book's story; a "highlight", which is recognisable as belonging to that specific book your wrote. Use that as the cover. (Many of the Harry Potter books generally use interesting cover scenes (that are easily associated with the books) in a number of of their publications; for instance, the German release of Philosopher's Stone shows the well-known "wizard's chess" trial.) Don't go metaphorical unless you actually have an interesting metaphor to present. Skulls, swords and random things on fire are not interesting metaphors for anything and have been used a quadrillion times. Even if they fit, no one would think of associating them with your particular book.
  3. For something really unique, do something with the text! For the vast majority of book covers, the convention tends to be to stick plain, uninteresting text on top of the cover art as an afterthought. If you are publishing indie, you should be in full control of what your cover looks like; there is nothing that prevents you from making the text interesting in itself. You can go further and make it express something about your book or its feel; going even further still, you can incorporate the text into the very cover art! Conventions are made to be broken if you wish to stand out. Just ensure it's still easy to read!
So, what were the considerations I made when designing the cover for Ssalia and the Dragons of Avienot? Not many, sadly. Had I been quite aware of the importance of covers in book publishing (especially indie), I probably would have invested more thought into it. Even so, I made the effort to make my own digital painting, use a motif that connects to the book (a (hypothetical) painting inside the jade tower, itself showing the snake girl Ssalia and a dragon in silhouette) and at least apply some text effects (though I wish I had gone all the way with it to make it truly unique). It's not ideal, but I feel that even such minimal effort can make the cover stand out from the generic masses of stock photography.

The conclusion? Think about the cover, its relation to your book and how to make it stick out. Especially with no professional advertising, it really does matter.