Designing a Book Cover: Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions

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After reading the manuscript for Dr. Critchlore’s School for Minions, the cover was the first piece of art I was asked to take on—and this was my very first book cover. So I quickly went to work designing a title/logo and a theme for the cover involving a stone arch and several character cameos on the bottom corners. I then came up with three different center-image options and presented them to the team at Abrams.

The first was what I referred to as “Brace Yourselves.” It was slightly ambiguous, with two of the story’s main characters, Runt and Pismo, leading an army of hapless zombie minions in what appears to be a stand off with an unforeseen foe. This was not a scene from the story, but was intended to give a sense of urgency and unseen danger. My cameos for the bottom corners turned out to be Dr. Critchlore himself and his secretary, Miss Merrybench.

Critchlore Cover Concept 3

The second option was taken directly from a scene involving a mysterious figure in peril, with our main character, Runt, coming to the rescue on the back of a dragon.

Critchlore Cover Concept 2

The third, which I referred to as the “Hero Pose,” depicted three of the main characters, Syke the tree nymph, Runt the werewolf, and Pismo the new kid in school, each in a heroic stance atop a mountain of ogres and giants with the school castle in the background. Again, not a scene in the story, but giving a sense of small kids conquering large obstacles. By this stage, I had also learned that my depictions of Critchlore and Merrybench were not in line with the vision of the author, so I redesigned them to fit the new direction I had been given. Merrybench was now younger and more athletic, with Critchlore beginning to mirror a young ’30s Vincent Price and those great, creepy Willem Defoe Prada suit ads from a few years ago (google it).

Critch Cover Dr over Critch NEW

Abrams had their Spring ’15 book launch meeting and presented my three options. They unanimously chose the “Hero Pose.” I really liked the dangerous rescue shot with the dragon but knew that the Hero Pose had a great “series lead-in” feel. It gave an overarching mood to the first book without leaving potential readers in the dark about what was going in the story.

The final cover was painted traditionally in an unscientific mix of Golden Fluid Acrylics and Holbein Acryla-guache. I tend to use either interchangeably whenever, and wherever, depending on desired fluidity or opacity. I painted each component of the cover on two-ply smooth bristol board. The center image was painted first at around 11 x 17. The stone arch was painted on a separate sheet, about the same size. Both character cameos were painted on separate sheets, as was the hand painted title/logo. My dad spent almost 40 years as a hand, gold leaf letterer on fire trucks, so I was proud to be able to hand letter the title in his honor.

I scanned in and trimmed out each component in Photoshop and composed the layers together. Here is the final I submitted as an uncompressed Photoshop file.

Dr Critchlore Final Cover Art sm

Later, I painted up a couple of imps that could be dropped onto the back cover. My AD and designer at Abrams did the rest of the magic, as well as having the final cover printed onto metallic paper, which looks amazing!

Critch Cover

It’s been quite a thrill walking into the various Barnes & Noble stores around my city and finding my art on the shelf.


5 Comments

  1. Sasha

    I like the second cover, too! This is not the kind of book I would necessarily read, but now I’m curious who he’s about to rescue…

  2. Glenn

    Joe, my man, thanks so much for pulling back the curtain. As a lifelong lover of children’s literature, this was fascinating. I can imagine Mary GrandPre moving through a similar process with the first publishing of Harry Potter. Using the pillars as a natural frame for the central picture was a great idea!

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