top of page

Designing A Book Cover, Part 2: Gorilla Tactics

Around this time last year I received the manuscript for Book 2 of Dr. Critchlore’s School For Minions, tentatively titled The Search For The Great Library. For anyone who does not know, this is a 4-book, middle grade series written by Sheila Graw that I am illustrating for Abrams/Amulet.

The first thing we always do with these books is begin designing the cover. Some reasons for this are because the cover is then used in sales meetings, sales materials, and other ways to get everyone excited about the book, long before my interior art is complete.

After I read the manuscript I began to compile a short list of important or prevalent aspects of the story to be hinted at in the cover image. For you to get a look at my thought process, I’d like to share my list, which looked just like this:

—Outdoors, unfamiliar territory —Sunset or moonlight? Maybe high noon for a “the heat is on” feel —Giant ape / winged creatures (Ahools) silhouettes – Danger! Surrounded! —Facial expressions of fear, wonder, awe, mystery —Swamps? Jungle? —Map in hand?

From that list I began to do a few sketches of the central image. I tried using the winged creatures in the background and it didn’t feel dangerous enough. Due to the amount of giant apes in the story, I tried out an uder-the-armpit shot, looking at our heroes from behind an ape. In the end, I really liked the idea of throwing in both options of foes.

For Book 1, our heroes were shown at a bit of a distance to show their small size in a huge world with huge challenges. This time I envisioned a cover that was up close and personal, zoomed right in on our heroes faces. That way we can really connect with their emotions (hopefully). As for the gorilla, I went with the classic Ray Harryhausen puppet of King Kong as my reference. I’ve chosen classic movie monsters, and even muppets, as reference in these books rather than any modern horror in an effort to keep things fun and lighthearted.

Next, I did a quick digital color painting using the approved sketch to decide on the color pallet. (I strayed some from this in the end, but stuck with my overall values and lighting)

Again, I went with my old mystery stand-by: fog. I love fog. Also, I kept the map to show that the characters are working together with a plan, although Syke (the female character) is looking in the opposite direction to hint at the heroes not always being of one mind. Last, but not least, I threw in some fun. teal backlighting to give a mysterious blue glow, with no known source.

I transferred the sketch to board and did the final painting in acrylic and gouache. I finished the cover off by adding 2 new stone pillars in the arch, with one final nod to Harryhausen in the form of his cyclops from The 7th Voyage Of Sinbad. As with Book 1, we wanted to continue our character cameos on the bottom corners of the cover. I decided to showcase the 2 rival characters most closely involved in the plot. I will let you figure out what that significance actually is by reading the book. Finally, I turned the Photoshop file over to my AD who made all the final color decisions for the arch and logo.

The title of the book was actually changed to Gorilla Tactics which I found to be perfect, even though I love the sentiment of a mysterious library being searched for. (Don’t worry, that’s still a central plot point.)

OK, that’s a wrap!

Dr. Critchlore’s School For Minions, Gorilla Tactics, by Shiela Grau, is in stores now.


bottom of page