Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Creation of the Ultimate Inferior Book Cover by Mark Roman

There were times during my work on the cover of The Ultimate Inferior Beings when my wife and two young children feared I had totally lost the plot. Perhaps, as you read this, you will too. But my innate lack of artistic talent made the whole process rather difficult and requiring of some slightly unorthodox operating procedures, which – I realize now – may have looked a bit bonkers to those observing me.

The first attempt was a simple picture, knocked up in a couple of hours, showing two cheery-looking slimy green blobs (the book’s daft aliens) standing on the barren surface of their planet (see below). The resolution was poor, but to get a higher resolution version I’d need to get the lighting and shadow effects right – and that required drawing skills I don’t have. Instead, I had the idea of building a model and photographing it. My children were extremely suspicious when I asked to ‘borrow’ their Play Doh but, after a little haggling, I managed to persuade them to hand it over (and at a pretty reasonable price, too). They watched with sceptical eyes as I sculpted the two blobs, covering them in papier-mâché and then painting them bright green (the blobs, not the children). My wife said nothing, but kept casting disapproving glances in my direction.

First attempt
The cover attracted no comments on the writers’ website where I had uploaded the book, until a member calling himself ‘Gareth N’ messaged me. He had read the whole of TUIB and then, rather than judging the book by its cover, had judged the cover by its book. He told me it made the book look like a children’s story, rather than the sci-fi comedy it purported to be. He offered to design a new one for me. What a cheeky bugger, I thought.

Of course, I accepted his offer and waited eagerly for his design to come through. When it did, it was not the finished, glossy, high-resolution image file I’d been hoping for. Instead, he sent me a hand-drawn ‘doodle’ he’d done on paper with coloured pencils (see below).

Gareth Naylor’s ‘doodle’
The doodle showed a scene from the book where one of the slimy green blobs smashes into a brick wall (a scene which reveals an important fact about the aliens – and not merely that they are pretty dumb). He gave the blob a Burt Reynolds moustache because he felt there aren’t enough Burt Reynolds moustaches in the world. Although I wasn’t so keen on the look of the blob, nor indeed the Burt Reynolds moustache, I thought it was a great drawing. I loved the idea and set to implementing it.

The key here, it seemed, was getting the splash right, and no amount of Play Doh was going to help me this time. Instead, I went for a mixture of flour, water and green food-colouring. There followed a number of trial splashes, initially by dropping the green goo from various heights into a kitchen bowl, before progressing to hurling it at the side of the bath. This time my children were watching me in dismay and my wife was phoning her mother (although this may have been a coincidence). When I sent the photos to Gareth, he started worrying about me too.

But, in my eyes, he was now a co-conspirator and guilty by association. As I progressed I would send him each new version of the cover for comment. The early attempts were dreadful and he was quick to point this out. At one point he proposed the title’s lettering should be suggestive of Monty Python’s Life of Brian posters, to hint at humour. I worried about the ethics of this until I discovered it been used on other book covers.

After twenty-three iterations, we both decided this couldn’t go on any longer, and so the twenty-third version became the finished cover. It had taken many, many hours – particularly the shading in of the green slime, and the cracks on the stone lettering. I used gimp (which is open source) for creating the image at 3000x4500 pixels in size (to be of high enough resolution for printing). It was the sheer size of it that made the colouring-in so time-consuming. The brick wall was generated by submitting a photo of a brick wall to the ‘cartoonify’ website, and then performing a perspective distortion in gimp. The ‘pulseway’ beneath the wall was a cartoonified photo of a belt from my trousers. Xara3D was used to get the outline of the letters, which were then distorted and painstakingly coloured in to give the stone effect.

The final version
The relief that it was all over was immense – for me, for Gareth, for my family. And shortly afterwards, when I was offered a publishing contract for TUIB by Cogwheel Press, I thought I would get a professionally designed cover.

My hopes were short-lived; the editor liked the cover and wanted to use it. This felt nice for a few seconds, until it dawned on me I’d now have to do a back cover for the paperback edition. I think I may have screamed.

After sifting through a few ideas for the back-cover image, I set to looking for the children’s Play Doh again. Either it had run out, or they had hidden it from me, but there was none to be found. Google helped me locate a recipe for homemade Play Doh. Under the wary glare of three pairs of eyes, I made a bucket-load of the stuff and fashioned ten slimy green blobs – one in the centre and nine in a circle around him (see below). It was at this point that my family excused themselves and left the room. I couldn’t help wondering if the rustling noises coming from upstairs were the sounds of them packing their bags and preparing to leave.

The Benjaminites
But a man has to do what a man has to do, and eventually, the final cover was finished. There are errors, which the sharp-eyed may spot, but it’s my first (and last) ever book cover.
Full cover
The story has a happy ending. The family didn’t leave home, and Gareth and I have teamed up in a writing partnership to write another sci-fi comedy. You could think of it as a wromance – if it didn’t sound so wrong.

He’ll be doing the next cover on his own.

Book’s website: 
Amazon US:

Submitted by Mark Roman

1 comment:

  1. I found it very entertaining reading this. I Guess your wife and kids would have left home if you painted the kids green. I'm sure Cogwheels could not have made a better cover.