Been working on my art in between projects. Some day I’ll get back to doing something in comics!
Book Three - BRIGHT LIGHTS, DARK NIGHTS, August 2015.
Walter Wilcox has never been in love. That is, until he meets Naomi, and sparks, and clever jokes, fly. But when his cop dad is caught in a racial profiling scandal, Walter and Naomi, who is African American, are called out at school, home, and online. Can their bond (and mutual love of the Foo Fighters) keep them together? With black-and-white illustrations throughout and a heartfelt, humorous voice, Bright Lights, Dark Nights authentically captures just how tough first love can be... and why it's worth fighting for.
My editor, designer and myself all liked the fire escape cover, but thought there was a charm in the heart-shape cover that was worth exploring. Worst case, it didn’t work out, best case, it had an iconic look to it and could be the best cover yet. So I set off to re-do the art.
The design was good from the start but I wanted to give it more effort since the first time I did it, it was just a for-fun piece to set tone. Decided to bring more detail to Naomi’s face first. Much like with the pair on the other covers, I drew them many times trying to get something good, and it did take a while!
And I again tried a lot of different options for the design, including a traditionally done painting, which was ill-advised.
Eventually we had something we all decided was the best, and that cover is floating around now, although I’ve done some tweaking since, including warming the colors, lighting Naomi a little better, and making the BG inks a dark brown to help push Walter and Naomi forward a bit.
A couple months of work, and we have our cover to BRIGHT LIGHTS, DARK NIGHTS!
So after going through all the various sketches I did in varying stages of completion, my editor and designer and I settled on 3 to fluff out with a little more detail. They were:
Pitch A, Naomi and Walter standing on a rooftop overlooking the city. The dark night above them, the bright lights below.
Pitch B, Walter and Naomi embraced on the fire escape. It has the city vibe I was clearly hooked on while also showcasing the characters. We also toyed with the idea of having cast members in windows of buildings but it was distracting and the windows were too small.
Pitch C, Walter and Naomi under the bright street light by themselves, while the busy world hustles on around them.
Pitch C was knocked out of contention early on while the other two went through a plethora of alterations. One thing I learned doing this was every little tiny thing could be changed and throw off the whole look of the cover. There were so many options, would it look better brighter, more saturated? Should there be more windows, more buildings? How much space should the logo take up? How much space should Walter and Naomi take up? Is that a good pose for them? It became really easy to lose myself in modifications, a little change here, a change there. My editor would ask me for one thing and I’d make 17 adjustments before sending it back. It was easy to get lost.
And there was the logo. I had the image of a hand-scrawled logo early on but I tried a ton of different logos to see if anything else really jumped out or captured the tone of the book better. Even the hand-written logo was done over and over and over to find just the right look.
Here’s the rooftop cover with a variety of logos. I also was thinking it could look like a poster or old pulp novel cover too at some point, hence the frayed edges.
And an example of the kinds of tweaking I would do – should it be cell-shaded coloring? Painted? Warm? Cool? Are the lights bright enough? Too bright?
And then I tried varying color methods, more comic book-style, heavily inked and noirish, etc. Each of the covers went through quite a few different looks.
Of course, ultimately we didn’t go with any of those. I’d included the heart-shape cover in the bonus materials and my editor and designer thought it had a real charm to it. And so I set out to make the final cover, which I’ll write about in my next blog.
So last summer I had the opportunity to design my own book cover, which, despite being an artist myself, is not something I’d done since the Emo Boy Graphic Novels and comics back in the day. I had a very talented designer named Ben Mautner do the covers for HAPPYFACE and WINTER TOWN, and since those were always so well regarded, I was happy to have him do the job. He’d left that position to work on his career in DJing though by the time BRIGHT LIGHTS, DARK NIGHTS was nearing completion, plus I’d changed companies to Roaring Brook at Macmillan, so I requested a shot at doing my own cover.
I always make concept art and “tone pieces” for my books and even just for pitches and ideas to kind of further translate how I expect a project to feel, so with very little stress or analysis put into it, I’d done covers for HAPPYFACE and WINTER TOWN and every other pitch I’ve made, they just never actually got published anywhere. With BRIGHT LIGHTS I’d done tons and tons of art already so I figured it’d be pretty easy to nail. It was not.
So these blog posts are going to show a lot of art and all the work that went into making this cover. It’s an incredibly important part of the book as it’s the very first thing anyone sees, it’s job is to pull people in to pick up the book, read a little of it, research it. There’s a million books sitting there on the shelf so yours needs to scream out “Hey, take a look at me! Forget these 2 guys next to me!” The importance of a good cover design cannot be overstated. The fact that the folks at Roaring Brook let me take a stab at it shows a lot of trust and I didn’t want to let them down, so we worked very closely, analyzing every little detail until we arrived at something everyone was happy with.
I’m going to break this into 3 blogs – the first will show my initial pitches. The second will show my “serious contenders” and all the revisions I did on them. And the third will show the evolution of the final cover.
The very first image I did was actually very close to the final image, I had the idea of Walter and Naomi standing back to back, them against the world, arms linked in a way that their shoulders formed a heart. This was just for me, a tone piece to get excited about the book and show the concept visually.
Another early piece involved the city, which, like the world in Winter Town, I counted as the “third character.” For some reason in my head I always pictured the book as red. Red and purple, really, but I pictured a red book on the shelf, and after the yellow of Happyface and the blue of Winter Town, that seemed like a good fit. This was a very minimalist idea for how the cover could look.
Once I was legit pitching covers, I wanted to have a wealth of options and make sure I explored every idea I could muster.
I was still stuck on this idea of the city being the main part of the cover, and had this idea of a building forming the spine and part of the front and back, so it had a more design-y element to it. The blue cover was still too close to Winter Town, especially with all the white.
Overall I pitched a whole bunch of potential covers before we picked 3 to further refine, which I’ll go over in the next post.
Well it’s been officially announced via Publisher’s Weekly, my 3rd YA novel “Bright Lights, Dark Nights” will be out next summer! Just a short blurb for now but we still have some time to go before then, and even a short blurb is at least saying something (finally!)
An illustrated YA novel by Stephen Emond, author of Happyface. Illustrated with black-and-white drawings, the book is a story about first love and what happens when the boy, who is white, and the girl, who is black, find themselves in the middle of a racial profiling case. Publication is set for spring 2015; Kirby Kim at Janklow & Nesbit brokered the deal for North American rights.
I was watching some old wrestling from 1998/99 while i was unemployed and decided to do a picture for fun of all the characters of that time. Coloring it was hard, it all muddles together, it might look better just in black and white.
I’m thinking of beefing up my online presence over the next year or so as I prepare for my next book to come out. It’s something I’ve always struggled with, as I would think a lot of other authors, illustrators, etc might. Every time I think I’ll make more of a presence, I’m good for a week or two and then I fall off.
It’s good to have my site here, I think of this as my “hub” where anyone who’s found a book of mine can come see whatever I’ve posted last, find my twitter and facebook links, learn about my other projects, etc. I do have difficulty in keeping the main blog portion updated, as often I just don’t have much to say, or I would be talking about things I can’t really talk about (upcoming projects.) In fact, most of my thoughts go towards new ideas and stuff I feel odd talking about online, though some creators do that.
The main things I use are this site, twitter, Instagram, facebook. This site I don’t update often as I feel like I should have something substantial to talk about. Facebook I have a regular account and an author page. The regular account I use much more, though it’s for complete randomness. The author page I stopped using because only a small percentage of people who have liked your page actually see what you post, from what I understand, which is frustrating. I also run into issues of not having much to say, particularly between projects. Twitter I rarely use, and again mostly use it for randomness and being silly. Instagram I post cat pictures and skies.
So, I’m not the best self-marketer out there. The idea of simply linking to posts other authors make seems off-putting to me, though again, some creators do that. Writing more how-to’s and insider stuff is a little more appealing, but also time consuming. Writing more personal posts has appeal but isn’t really marketing, and likely most people don’t care.
I’m trying to form some kind of game plan to have a presence and build a fanbase. It’s odd that I can sell a decent amount of books and get some really nice fan mail but still not really have anything approaching a recognizable name. And having a new book coming out and wanting to speed up my output, I want to be out there and approachable and have a give and take with my audience, I just have a difficult time wrapping my head around it.
Tumblr is appealing because it’s so shareable. If I post something and people like it, it can spread. So then I think, what can I create that’s shareable. One idea I had was coupling art from my books with quotes. When I search myself on Tumblr a lot of book quotes come up, so coupling quotes with art and a website link could be good, say I put out one of those every couple days. Maybe once every week or two I can write something on my blog that’s more beneficial to my audience, tips, behind the scenes kind of stuff.
I thought of doing the occasional short story or comic strip, or a Happyface-style autobio thing whenever, every few weeks or month or two.
Once I start listing out schedules like that, though, I think eh, I won’t do that, I’ll fall right off. And I do want to have my next next project out much faster than it’s taken this book.
At the very least I could make more effort to communicate with my audience and fellow authors aside from my completely random weirdness, but let’s face it, I am random and weird, so that kind of stuff is fun and easy to do for me.
Anyway, that’s just some stuff on my mind and this itself is part of the effort to keep updated and “out there.”
Contract is signed, so hoping for announcements soon!