Like most things this took longer than I would have liked, but as I mentioned previously people are more likely than not to judge a book by its cover and I really wanted to make sure that even a glance will leave an impression. As usual there are the perennial gripes over the details, anatomy and rendering, however this may well be the best cover I’ve ever made.
That’s not really as big an achievement as it sounds, all my past efforts have been single sided, ramshackle affairs, typically rushed out as something quick between story pages; the difference here was making an investment of time, thought and care that the former desperately lacked. It’s a long way off perfect, but it stands head and shoulders above my initial effort…
The above version of the cover is intended to wrap around the printed issue I’ll be peddling at the MCM Expo, though it can just as easily be halved for a web version. I already showed the black and white drawing of Scratch, the background meanwhile is loosely based on an old bit of concept art with the original figures removed – they were wonky – and the setting itself re-rendered to fit with the heavily shadowed noir vibe style.
I kept the colour palette down to oranges playing off blues and greys as I felt it would create a stronger impact than the alternative. Personally speaking my best pages thus far appear to be those with a simplified scheme, creating a more intense atmosphere and more striking imagery. As I’ve mentioned on several occasions, much of Branch’s colour schemes is based out of oranges of blues with the intention of portraying the symbiosis between humans (warmth) and machines (cold), here I wanted to boil that theme and aesthetic down to its essence, making it as overtly obvious as possible.
Besides the titles though, Scratch is the only element of the cover in orange; it could be taken as being symbolic of her ultimately human qualities beneath the cold exterior, in truth though I was more interested in emphasising her alienation – cyberpunk protagonists are typically such, but without giving away too much it does become a key part of her character development later. On a visceral level, it also ensures she pops out from the setting being the immediate focus of the viewer.
On the translucent circuit textures; they were largely to create a more intriguing and surreal image but again, thematically support the themes of human-machine symbiosis, with technology seemingly lurking beneath every shadow – I should credit Lain with sparking this idea through its similar use of red splatter in the shade – the Branch station is built out of technology, though more pertinently it has literally become a part of people.
The specific background features should tell people things about the story as well; the curving cityscape is shown in the background establishing an important aspect of the setting, there is notable wear, tear and grime indicating it to be a used future along with other decidedly unsettling aspects.
With an initial version of the cover I showed a friend which had Scratch on her own he told me it looked a little too barren and that I ought to capitalise on the sense sleaziness indicated by the posters next to the Treenet booth and have a couple in the back alley. Given my intention to disturb rather than titillate with this I may have pushed a little further than intended, it started out as a kiss/embrace but now looks somewhat more explicit.
Still, the potential shock value isn’t necessarily a bad thing as controversy and sex do tend to draw interest, as an Expo newbie it may well work to my advantage catching attention and given the places the storyline will eventually go a darker cover is perhaps a fairer indication of content. Also, yet again in line relation to my theme a fusion of very human sexuality juxtaposed with freakish cyborg appendages seems quite appropriate.
Finally, the titles. The main one proved quite a headache, with several scrapped attempts before I made something I was happy with. My original alphanumeric title appeared too spindly for the most part and either sunk into or jarred horribly with the rest of the cover. The final redesign (which I’m quietly proud of) is essentially a heavily mutated version of my original title font, fleshed out with extra bordering and a chrome style finish. It may be a touch too forceful for my liking but its bold and ideally grabs your attention.
Following on from my point about shock value, the new issue/act subtitle is an addition I added feeling it had an amusing double meaning. The immediate assumption that it’s one of English’s foulest swear words is offset by the reveal on page 6 and the alternative connotations in relation to the story’s context. As a way to intrigue and sneakily build immersion I think there could be something in it, regardless it’s more interesting than some bland ‘ACT 1‘ caption.
There’s always more that could be done, but I’m hoping that as an advertisement of content this does the job. A blurb felt unnecessary on the basis that it’s going to be relatively short and I’m hoping the image will be enough to get people reading, what I need to put all my energies into now is getting a few more pages out of the door before printing so I can deliver a satisfactory ‘to be continued’ and not some vague dropped-off-a-cliff cutoff.