Thanks to Michiko Kakutani for the glowing review on Barnes & Noble website (who knew she even wrote about books?) — where she calls Matthew Savoca’s book “galvanic” and says it “showcases his impressive literary toolkit — every essential storytelling skill, plus plenty of bells and whistles — and his ability to throw open a big, Updikean picture window on American middle-class life.”
I’ve known and been friends with Adam Robinson for going on fifteen years now. Though I’ve been drawing all my life, I cut my indie art teeth with him drawing fliers promoting various college parties we hosted, or t-shirts advertising our basement speakeasy, long before I ever had designs on making a full-time gig of sketching and coloring. We go back a long way. And ever since Publishing Genius sprang from his head, I’ve hoped I’d one day get a call to design a cover for one of his books. Be careful what you wish for.
[Before you read on, here’s a DISCLAIMER: Though I’m close friends with Adam and he counts as one of my near-and-dearest, parts of what’s to come might paint him as overly critical or vacillating. I hold his eye for detail and his vision for the final product in the highest regard. I learned a lot throughout, and am more than thankful to have worked with him on this cover. Maybe I just get to be droll because I love him so much and know he won’t be sore. Don’t you try it. Or, if you do, watch your back.]
So, while g-chatting about a play we’ve been writing together for years, I read the question I’ve longed for since I got my copy of the awesome El Greed by the even awesomer David NeSmith in the mail: “Would you be interested in doing the cover for Matthew Savoca’s book, I Don’t Know I Said?”
Though I’m new to slogging my wares, this wasn’t my first rodeo. When Adam asked me, I was finishing a t-shirt run for this great new band. In that process, I’d sketched a few ideas, the band and I discussed them, I submitted a final design, they approved and we ran with it. Ah, the simplicity of musicians. (Sweatpants was obviously a hobby for Adam.)
Probably the most satisfying aspect to this process was reading Savoca’s book. I’m not sure if that’s something folks designing better covers than me normally do, but it was integral for finding my starting point. Once I’d finished the book, which is about a guy and girl in their twenties trying to figure out their lives, I sketched five ideas. I drew a couple designs with a lamppost, a motel room scene, a landscape with a car and lightning striking, and as a joke, I drew a bear and an alligator dancing. Scan Adjust Click Send. The next morning I awoke to a message from Adam. He liked the motel room scene, thought the lightning was cool but maybe too intense, and sure-enough-and-shoulda-known, his favorite was the bear and the alligator. Something I’d done wrong with my saving the files to Dropbox had distorted the images, so he told me to work on some new sketches trying different positions showing more of the gator with the dancing bear and maybe throw in a more vicious version, with some teeth. I should say that prior to this project my relationship with Dropbox had been, um, romantic in a very adolescent way. This girl I was sweet on dropped some songs in there for me to listen to. I put some in there for her. Adam’s given me a brand new appreciation for the wonder of this service. Dropbox rules. So I stuck a few drawings of bears and alligators in there and Adam chose a couple he liked. I added color to those.
“Are you sure?”
“I think so.”
“But are you really sure?”
Somewhere during that exchange Savoca’s opinion was sought, and much to my surprise, he approved. “This is really happening?” I thought. I crossed myself and sat down at my table.
I pounded out an inked drawing in a night that I thought captured what Adam had liked in the sketches and with the idea. It also satisfied my high expectations for my work, so bonus. I scanned the drawing into my computer, colored it in Photoshop, adding streaks in the background that I thought brought some intensity, sat back and admired, and dropped it in the Box. I went to bed content with and proud of myself and Adam was all like, “What the hell happened to the original idea? Where are the colors? Why’d you change it?” Deflated, I reopened the file, “IDKIS Cover ART.psd” and got back to work.
Well, “IDKIS Cover Art” went through versions 2-5 before it became “IDKIS Cover ART hopeful final.” Then came “Bear Hinted Alligator,” which went through versions “a,” “b,” c,” “d,” “e,” “c2,”“abcde,” “2abcde,” “again,” “again again,” and “again with text.” Adam never saw the files titled, “If it were my cover,” and its numerous versions. All the while he was tweaking his criticism to address the sometimes-small-sometimes-very-large changes I was making to the drawing and design. Suggestions as simple as an adjustment to the gator’s color and as bold as removing the gator altogether were considered and addressed. What had started as a personal goal of completion of nine days was stretching into the third week. Finally, we reached a series of designs we thought we could approach Matthew with, but Adam rightly sought the opinions of folks in the know out east, while I showed what we’d come up with to our mutual friend and my roommate, Bill. Bill said, “That looks more like an alligator than that does.”
The file, “Second Guessing Myself” was born. Then came “a” “b” “bAR” “bARCG.” More opinions were sought. “That looks like a croissant,” someone who was hungry said. On the font: “It looks a little haunted house.” Six versions of that file later, I think we’ve settled on a cover.
You tell me.
Check out more C.W. Griffin at his Tumblr.