Thursday, May 12, 2011

Liar's Kiss Design Process

Most exciting design process post yet? Maybe! (For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary.)

This, obviously, was a big one for me: my own book! (Or, mine and Jhomar Soriano's, more correctly.) I've talked in the past about my half-baked theory where "art" communicates your own ideas and "design" communicates someone else's… but this time there'd be no client to blame things on if the cover doesn't come out right. This had better be a damn sexy cover, or I won't be able to show my face at the weekly graphic designers meeting again. (Note: there is no such meeting. Or, if there is, I've never been invited.)

Naturally Jhomar had to draw it—his art is probably the best thing about the book, and it'd be crazy not to advertise it on the cover. But at the same time I wanted it to feel "design-y," something more than just another page from the story. And, selfishly, I wanted to put my own visual stamp on it, too, if possible.

My initial, not-that-inspired idea was something like the following sketch (cobbled together from Jhomar's interior art):

I liked the idea of cropping the top of Abbey (the woman)'s face, to emphasize her lips (playing off the "kiss" in the title) and keep her intentions a bit mysterious, and Nick kind of hovering around in the background seemed appropriate, if not particularly motivated. I explained the idea to Jhomar, who turned it into this lovely drawing:

Which I proceeded to color and add type to:

(I should mention that at this point in the book's development we were still planning on printing the whole thing in color, though we (okay: I, really) ultimately decided that wasn't getting the mood we wanted as well as the stark b&w did, so we dropped it. The colors here reflect the basic look of what we were doing inside.)

So, anyway, even before we get to the half-assed type design… it's just not quite there. It's a fine drawing, fits the story, but doesn't elevate anything. Not enough "wow" factor.

The story was intended to be the quintessential noir, so it was important to communicate that classic noir vibe… but at the same time I wanted to find a new tweak on the usual visual language. I love what Hard Case Crime does, for example, with their totally classic pulp style, but that kind of painted look isn't really Jhomar's style, and besides it's kind of done to death in a comic book context.

So I tried to think of what I liked best about Jhomar's art—the gorgeous thin lines, for example. I tried to get back to the roots of crime imagery, what makes that work? Shadows and angles, sure, but also: seedy locales and flickering neon. What about running the lifework without any spotted blacks at all, to evoke neon signs in the night? I did a quick (EXTREMELY quick) sketch as proof of concept and sent this note to Jhomar:

…anyway, here's my idea: Abbey, naked and wrapped in sheets, sprawled out on the bed in Nick's office, playing with Nick's gun. The room is totally dark, except for light pouring in from the open door, where we can see the shadow of Nick in his fedora and coat. Then wrapping all the way around to the back cover, just show all the clutter and mess of Nick's office, with whatever noir-ish details you can fit in there... photos on his desk, etc. I'm attaching a rough sketch of what I'm thinking of, hopefully that helps give you an idea.

And here's the most important part: I think the whole drawing should be OUTLINES ONLY: NO shadows or blacks of any kind. The outlines should be as detailed as possible, but all consistent thin lines, no big areas of shadow. So you give me something like the black and white sketch attached, and I'll reverse parts of it to make something like the color version. Does that make sense?

And please feel free to pose Abbey in different ways... I kind of like the legs in my sketch, but I can't quite figure out an interesting way for her arms to hold the gun. I'm sure you can figure something out there. Maybe sketch out a couple different poses and we can pick the best one? We probably shouldn't see her face, but other than that whatever you want to do is fine.

Jhomar liked the idea, and quickly sent a few sketches:

I liked the first, and set it into my layout, which quickly showed that the angles needed to change just a bit to fill the space properly.

Jhomar tightened the sketch up a bit...

...and we had a working sketch. I liked my new title treatment, but had a little trouble at first figuring out just how to get our names, etc, on there. This, for example, was a terrible idea:

Ultimately I went for a much simpler approach to the names, as you'll see in the final, below. I was getting sick of the red, though… it had always been kind of a placeholder color. Black, white, and red always works… but is used so often that there's almost always another color that could work BETTER. So going back to the whole "neon" concept, I figured just brighten it up to a super-hot neon pink. I thought fluorescent pantone at first, but the Top Shelf guys weren't crazy about that idea, so I settled on a more magenta-ish (but still pretty bold) pink on the final cover. Anyway, once the sketch was approved by the fine folks at Top Shelf, Jhomar completed the final (and gorgeous!) drawing:

And here's the shadow he made, which is kind of cool by itself:

I combined the elements and assembled the final cover, seen here in all its glory:

We did talk briefly about putting a spot varnish on the pink lines, to give it even more "pop," but the printer felt that the lines were a bit too thin for them to guarantee the varnish could register correctly, so we decided against it. Anyway, having held the sexy little hardcover in my hands, I can say with certainty that I'm extremely happy with how it came together; hopefully the world at large will agree next week!

Just in case there's anyone out there who ISN'T sick of me shilling this book yet, I'll mention again that it'll be for sale in comic shops across the country this coming Wednesday, May 18. (And presumably book stores around the same time, though I think they tend to be a little less release-date oriented than comic shops.) Or there's always Amazon.

And anyone in the NYC area can come on out to Desert Island in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Thursday May 19th from 7-9 to pick up a copy of the book and maybe an exclusive hand-pulled silkscreen poster, have a beer, say "hi." (I'm friendly, I promise!)