30 May 2018

Genesis of a Book Cover: Christopher Michael Jackson

Despite what teachers (myself included) like to tell students, we can in fact judge a book by its cover. Let’s be honest here. If Sarah Palin is on the cover giving Glenn Beck a high-five, I will judge the book aplenty.

I knew out of the gate that the cover would be everything, and unlike some self-publishing writers with actual talent, I couldn’t draw or photograph to save my life. This is where a one Christopher Michael Jackson came into play. See Figure A below.

Figure A

Christopher had everything I needed. He had the following qualifications to be my cover artist in this endeavor:

  1. Deep Southern accent

  2. Extraordinary talent

  3. Extraordinary ignorance of own talent, therefore being inexpensive

  4. He played Warcraft

  5. There is no fifth qualification

When I approached Christopher whilst ‘pwning noobs’ in Warcraft to produce the cover for my book, he gently informed me that he was prone to poking at books from a distance with a pointy stick instead of actually reading them.

In short, Christopher agreed to draw the cover of my book only because he either a.) liked me or b.) wanted something from the guild bank since I was the guild master of our Warcraft guild.

Skype was soon employed and I sketched several truly terrible pictures in a feeble attempt to show him what I had envisioned for the cover. One doodle was of The Xeno in profile. What I had drawn was on par with a macaroni picture frame produced by a gorilla in the Detroit Zoo. Clearly, I had produced it with my feet instead of my hands.

Straight-faced, Christopher nodded as if I wasn’t a helmet-wearing ‘special’ person with a fanny-pack full of Fruit-by-the-Foot. Within an hour he cranked out Figure B:

Figure B: id est ‘holy shit’

 

And away we went from there. I was highly skittish to show The Xeno’s face on the cover. I felt that, much like Jaws, hiding my monster from view for as long as possible would be ideal for the reader’s imagination. Consistently, but respectfully, Christopher disagreed. He did take one of my other sketches and produced Figure C, which went on to be the cover for the Nook, Kindle, and Paperback editions of the book available through Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

 

Figure C

While I was ecstatic with it, he was not and informed me that it was merely a rough sketch. To prove my love of the above graphic, it is currently and forever will be my computer desktop sans my name at the bottom. A bloody fist greets me every time I wake my computer by poking the mouse. I suspect my son, Liam, may grow up with some difficult questions for me.

Christopher continued toiling with the image, and produced Figure D after literally drawing each hair-strand individually; a fact he reminded me of several times. The hair was longer, insinuating a woman as the victim. This initially bugged me until Christopher said it was intended to be preverbal, since in the end Mary was her only actual victim.

Did I hit the jackpot with artists, or what?

Figure D

When conversation began about making a limited run of hardbacks, Christopher got excited. He nearly insisted that The Xeno be shown in full because it was the selling point. His argument was akin to having a book cover of Moby Dick without a giant whale on the cover wrecking shit.

Worn thin by his persistence, and charmed by his Southern accent, I acquiesced. “FINE.” I said. “YOU’RE SO SMART YOU JUST GO RIGHT AHEAD AND-

Figure E: id est ‘foot in mouth’

At this point I took the savvy tactic of shutting the fuck up and letting the brilliant man work. It was like watching Bob Ross; every paint-stroke filling me with anxiety until I realized it was getting better and sharper with every decision he made. Accommodatingly he told me that I was in charge, but I knew who the real boss was at this point. “You’ve written a modern book. This book is modern. We need a modern cover.”

Intricate circuitry and etchings were included, making my name far more awesome than it had any right being. Clocks were added and a sci-fi yet archaic hourglass was placed on the back cover. He insisted that I write a ‘blurb or a tagline’ for the back cover as well, and I came up with what you read there now.

Sorry. It’s cheesy.

But every choice he made was consistently measured, intuitive to his viewing audience, and most of all supportive of my story’s narrative. Whereas I viewed The Line more as a horror tale akin to Frankenstein Christopher did not. There aren’t many books where the main character’s antagonist is their future self.

In truth, as of writing this, my book has not sold. Even a majority of close friends who cheer my accomplishment of writing said novel have yet to touch it. This is understandable, given that to read a novel completely is at least an eight hour commitment and what do you say to your close friend when you hate their book? How awkward must that be?

All the more reason to provoke my friends and family into reading my book with a tantalizing cover. An additional reason to having a sharp and aggressive cover is that a majority of people who claim to be bibliophiles often aren’t. We, as a nation, buy and sell more novels and nonfiction than nearly any other country. Seriously, look the numbers up and the American habit of purchasing books is staggering.

Oh, don’t worry. We don’t actually read them. Hell no. Look around your house and tell me how many books you snatched up because they seemed or looked interesting, but you ‘just haven’t found the time’ to read them? For instance, over there… by your magazine rack next to the couch… is that Finnegan’s Wake? Do you have any intention of reading that?

Yeah, me neither. But that is what The Line is competing against… not only other, admittedly better novels but The Line has to best your occasional/general apathy toward reading altogether. This cover, either the fist or the face, has to draw in not only genre fans but also general interest. It has to be recognizable and yet distinct and new. Internal questions need to be asked the moment a pair of eyes land on it.

More of Christopher Michael Jackson’s artwork can be found at deviant art under the name of CJ83 (http://cj83.deviantart.com). As the flap at the back of the book says, he is entirely self-taught and I have yet to find an artistic medium you can’t just drop in his hands. The man is magical, and he brought my imagination to life.

Note: this was originally published in the back of The Line during its first run in October 2012.

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