New book cover for Island of Fog

Posted on August 11, 2012 (Subscribe to Blog)

I've always liked manticores. I once wrote a post about them, aptly titled Manticores, which I urge you to read if you haven't already. Anyway, these mythical creatures have the body of a lion, a semi-human face, and a scorpion's tail.

Thomas the manticore

One of the shapeshifters in Island of Fog is a manticore, and I've often thought he would make a good subject for the cover. Back when I started this series, I thought the title and foggy woods alone were atmospheric enough, and that seems to be the case for many older readers, but younger readers in particular are just not interested in it. I found this out when I went to a book signing years ago. So there I was with Book 1, Island of Fog, and Book 2, Labyrinth of Fire, side by side on the table, watching the faces of younger readers as they stopped by. They skipped over the first book and went to the second, drawn to its colorful, vivid dragon cover. Of the two books, they only wanted to buy that one. I had to tell them to ignore the cover, that they really needed to start with the first book in the series. But there was resistance, as if there was no way Island of Fog could be anywhere near as interesting as Labyrinth of Fire.

So I've known for a long time that I need to get myself a more interesting cover, one that fits better with the later books, all of which have a subject – a dragon on Labyrinth of Fire and Mountain of Whispers, a jengu water spirit on Lake of Spirits, and more recently a crazy scrag on the cover of Roads of Madness. In contrast, Island of Fog looks sparse and, frankly, boring.

I'm not a professional cover designer so there are probably many out there who wince when they see my amateur attempts. I'm learning, though, and I hope I'm getting better as time goes on. A little while ago I changed the electronic book covers (Kindle and Nook) so that they had the same style title text throughout, all in capitals to stand out better. But Island of Fog still needs a subject, namely a manticore, hence the purpose of this post.

Since manticores are not real, there are no stock photos of them. There are quite a few paintings around, but none that are available to use without infringing on copyright (and probably none that I could afford to buy). So I set about building one. I took a nice stock photo of a lion (which I bought for a few dollars) and then a few extra photos of "components" with which to transform the lion into a manticore.

Components to build a manticore

New Island of Fog book cover
larger view

I tried a number of different faces but kept coming back to the one pictured here in the final cover. He looks dangerous yet calm and intelligent at the same time, capable of dialog. Some artists depict manticores as wild beasts, but I like to think of them as smart as well as dangerous. And the one in Island of Fog is, after all, one of the shapeshifters. Hal, Robbie and Abigail confront him in Black Woods, and this becomes a pivotal moment for the friends as they fully realize their own shapeshifting talents...

My covers always have a slightly surreal quality to them because they're constructed with photos rather than paintings. I'm okay with that. If I could just visit a mythological zoo and take a couple of photos of a manticore, it would be SO much easier.

This particular version of the cover was "approved" by a class of fifth-grade students in author Brian Clopper's class. I had another version with his mouth open, but he looked more like a gorilla (not surprisingly, since I used a picture of King Kong's mouth). And another version that looked... well, odd. That was using a picture of Michael Myers' mask from the Halloween movies.

Anyway, I'm probably going to introduce this new cover to the electronic books within the next week:

Island of Fog Series

Assuming there's no "Arrghh!! No!! It's horrible!!" outcry, the new cover will also show up on the print editions eventually, but that's another matter. Out of consideration for those who have collected the set so far, I don't want to change the cover format too much. So when it comes to the print editions, the title text throughout the series will remain the same as it is right now. Only the picture on Island of Fog will change, and that might take a while because of the way print publishing works.

In a separate post I'll give you an overview of all the different covers I've either used or abandoned throughout this series. Some you've seen and some you haven't. It should be fun! In the meantime, I'll leave you with this cheesy yet "says-it-all" design that I'll be using on a t-shirt at Dragon*Con next month...

Hal and his claw

Comment by BRIAN B. on Saturday, August 11, 2012...

Love it! Love the new fonts and the homogeneous look. One suggestion: Add Island of Fog Book 1 to the first book cover. Even if you feel you might put off first time buyers into thinking they might have to buy a series, I feel the idea of a series is more appealing for a majority of readers. Also love hal-claw.jpg! Awesome. I think a suite of images like this added to the books (digital only?) would add something worthwhile. I always loved the illustrations in Famous Five.

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Saturday, August 11, 2012...

Now that you mention it, I had considered adding "Book 1" or something to the top of Island of Fog. It makes sense. The only reason I didn't before was because it would look strange saying "Island of Fog Book 1: Island of Fog" — a bit repetitive. Or does that matter? Alternatively it could say "The first book in the series" or something similar, but it would certainly follow through better with "Island of Fog Book 1." Yes, I should do that.

And adding Hal's claw somewhere would be great. I could even put it on the back cover of the printed book. Ha! I like the idea of adding "illustrations" too, photos or otherwise, but to make it worthwhile I'd have to add at least six per book — and that's a lot of work right there. I'm interested in doing it, but time is the issue. *grimace*

Comment by HEATHER on Saturday, August 11, 2012...

Actually, I like the books better without illustrations. That way everybody can have their own imaginings!

Comment by BRIAN B. on Saturday, August 11, 2012...

How about a competition to add pictures from fans/classrooms?

Would you like me to cross-post to your FB page?

Comment by KEITH ROBINSON on Saturday, August 11, 2012...

Mm, yes, Heather, maybe you're right. Illustrations are a matter of taste. If they're completely different to what the reader imagines, they can spoil things somewhat. I would say that surely the Author's Word is a good thing, but sometimes even that's not the case. I'll never forget hearing the great fantasy author Terry Brooks speaking at last year's Dragon*Con and pronouncing his own famous Shannara series "incorrectly" (at least according to most fans in the room).

Brian, I could do such a competition, maybe for a collection of images on my new Pinterest page, but honestly it would have to be limited to budding artists, hehe. And even then, their imagination is going to differ from mine (and obviously everyone else's).

Feel free to link to Facebook! I already did, but the more shares the better. :-)

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