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Following 'The Hunger: Rotting Frontier,' I was tasked with designing a cover for the second book, 'Revelations.' I hopped on the phone with the author, Dave Atwell, and hashed out a few thumbnails for both the second book and the third, Ripper.
One thing we knew we wanted was to continue the red/white/black motif from the previous book, giving the series an overall aesthetic that would really make them leap off the shelf. With that in mind, we decided to have the heroes overlooking the main set-piece of the book, an old frontier church. This was to contrast the first book's cover, which showed Rotters looming over a lone settler. Dave was thrilled with the reversal, which highlights the internal conflicts and struggles of the settlers holding down the church. Dave also mentioned the church had a graveyard adjacent to it, which would help sell the zombie theme nicely (not to mention the looming, almost-certain demise of our characters).
Using these notes and my initial sketch ideas, I jammed out some thumbnails.
We knew after this round that we liked A and E. Dave loved highlighting Lame Eagle in E, a suggestion I threw in on a whim, so we built him into our next set of thumbnails. The thumbnails indicated some specific poses and relationships, so I actually skipped doing a second refined sketch in lieu of doing studies for the different poses and angles. For this phase I asked for actor likenesses to begin from, then scoured Google for similar angles and similar lighting to test from. I did the same for the church, looking up actual churches to figure out just what I wanted from this iconic frontier-style building.
I started with the church, since there were a few different ways I would play up the shape to work with the comps.
We settled on B, which I confess was a better arrangement than my original church placement. I blew up the thumbnail and transferred it to Arches cold-press watercolor board.
From there it was a matter of moving some red watercolors around. I couldn't get the right relationship to adequately portray fresh blood, what with only having cadmium red, alizarin crimson, and payne's grey on hand to achieve the look I wanted. So I tried to paint the painting keeping in mind basic light/dark, warm/cool relationships. I ended up having to adjust everything much warmer in Photoshop to get the blood looking right. The original still feels solid as a result, but less punchy and vibrant as the version on the actual book cover.
I also did my own type treatment, using fonts pulled from Legacy of Defeat. For this I tried out a few layouts before settling on one I liked.
All of this came together to this layout:
With the front cover done, I turned to the back cover. We wanted to show the villain, Colonel Banks, looming imposingly over everything. At the bottom, Dave excitedly asked for a vignette of coyotes, which I chose to silhouette against the setting sun. There's a particularly brutal relationship between the rotters and the coyotes in this book, with packs of them picking the meat off the dead (and making pests of themselves in the process). I went over the dimensions of the back cover and got to thumbnailing.
From here I transferred the drawing to my watercolor board again, and got painting.
With the back cover done, I put everything together and sent it off to James, our publisher at Realmwalker Publishing Group, for review. With the cover approved, he laid in the back copy and ISBN info, and we sent it off to print!
Thanks for walking through my process with me and seeing how all of this is came together. Feel free to ask questions in the comments below. Cheers!