Tuesday, December 2, 2014

New Crogan Trade Dress

Final cover for Volume 1
For those of you who are Crogan Adventures fans (or members of the Crogan Adventure Society) it probably seems like I've abandoned the series.  It's been more than three years since the last full-length Crogan Adventures book came out, and I haven't posted much Crogan stuff in 2014.

There have been a few reasons for this lack of updates.  One is that I've been working on other projects.  I have a middle reader horror series (The Creeps) coming out from Abrams Amulet in 2015 which I've been writing, drawing, and coloring with the intention of releasing two full-length books per year, and I've been doing animation design work for a couple of TV shows.

I have been working on Crogan stuff, too, but it's been under wraps.  Though I've spoken about our intention to do so casually, we've never formerly announced that there will be color editions released of the existing Crogan Adventures books, and that's what's been taking most of my Crogan attention lately.  Keeping it close to the vest until we've solicited the books was always an intention, and now that it's available for preorder I can come out and give the skinny.

I'll talk more at length about the decision to go to color on the existing books later this week.  It was not made lightly.

Since the books are going to be different, we didn't want there to be any confusion on the part of readers when it came to what they were buying.  So we decided to take the opportunity to make a new trade dress for the books.  I'm working again with Keith Wood, who designed the original trade dress, and we decided to push the books in a more hand-done direction, eschewing type and logo for hand-lettering, as it better fits with the aesthetic of the pages themselves.

I went through a LOT of variations, trying to find one that would work.  The original dress was inspired by the 1990s British Harper Collins trade paperback editions of George MacDonald Fraser's The Flashman Papers series, but I finally felt comfortable enough this go 'round in my own aesthetic that I didn't feel the need to play off of existing designs (though my current cover sensibility owes a great deal to principles that I've picked up by studying the work of my good friend Francesco Francavilla, whose masterful design skills and courage in the employment of loose hand has given me the approbation and confidence to tackle the use of text with a similar cavalarity).

I'd done mock-ups for covers of Crogan's Escape, which I had intended to serialize, and had enjoyed attempting to play with a limited palette.  As I don't think i've posted these before, I'll post them now.  They affected later decisions made.

I really liked the employment of the title anywhere, and considered trying to go this route with the new trade dress.  Series consistency, though, would require a consistent color palette (at least by my reckon), and I didn't like that.  Whatever colors are used on March would be a poor fit with Loyalty, and I expect that dissonance would only grow as new books came out.

One of the contenders was an attempt at highbrow, trying to think what reissues might look like years from now if everyone was already familiar with the content.  For those I thought a monochromatic environmental scene would be the way to go, pushing the sense of place (and, to some degree, the sense of period).

But in the end, character wins out.  After a lot of attempts, I finally hit what I thought might be a good foundation upon which to build the new trade dress:

My thought was that each book would consist of five colors: a consistent off-white, a consistent black, and a consistent tan that would be used on each cover.  Then there would be a bold color for use in the title and to pull focus to the character depicted, and a background.  The uniformity of the first three colors would tie the series together and a flexible template would help keep the designs tight.

You can see Francesco's influence here, in the inclusion of the publisher logo in the upper left corner.  It's an old paperback standard that's started to come into vogue again (other folks besides Francesco, especially those with comic bends, make plenty of use of it, too), and I like it.  When agreed to by the author I think it showcases an acknowledgment that publishing is just as much a commercial exercise as it is an artistic one.  I think I've stated before that my definition of comics includes a clause stating that there is an intention of reproduction, and the publisher logo highlights this.  Thematically, it ties in with my ideology, and I like the aesthetic a lot, too, especially if one is permitted to redraw the logo in one's own hand.

My editor didn't like the inclusion of the logo, and that's fair.  They're the company putting out the book and me putting it on the cover is a little at odds with the creators-first reputation that they've worked to cultivate.  Likewise, we had a lot of back-and-forth about whether to include a volume number.  From a sales standpoint, it would probably help, encouraging retailers to keep the full range of books and prompting readers to fill in the gaps in their collection.  But it might prevent a casual reader from picking up a volume that might interest him or her because it's not the first.  As the books are written with the full intention of making each volume stand on its own, this is an important factor, and one which my editor championed.  As of now, the prominent volume number has been removed, its only remnant a modest nod on the spine, for the ease of cataloguing ones' holdings (my hope is that I eventually make so many as to frazzle those with a collection as to their chronology).  This, too, may end up getting the axe before press, but for now I think it a serviceable compromise between the two notions.

My editor (whom I keep mentioning without identifying, it's James Lucas Jones) approached a lot of retailers, sales reps, librarians, etc, to discuss what would be best for the books' reception: individual titles (Crogan's Vengeance, Crogan's March, etc) or a series title (The Crogan Adventures).  The answer, across the board, was series title, with the individual titles being the names of each respective volume.  Though this tightens the design a bit (I like the freedom of having to revisit the text each time) it is a charming notion, its only obstacle perhaps being that casual reader thing, and maybe award nods.  But the latter is an ego concern that ought to be immediately dismissed.  Another perk is that the series, called "The Crogan Adventures," might finally enter the lexicon of folks who like it; as it stands, folks call it anything from "The Crogan series" to "Crogan's Adventures" to "The Crogan Family Adventures," and any number of other variations.  A fixed name might encourage uniformity, which might bolster easier recognition.  This does, however, mean that my "(whoever) Crogan in" thing no longer works, which kind of bums me out.  I liked that.

I went through a pass of Spines (included are the final cut):

The width of the spine (and estimated width on subsequent books) rendered pretty much all of these unusable, but the basis was there, notably in making the series name go from two lines to one.

Here's the first rough pass at the wraparound: 

I used the roughs as the pencils for the solicitation cover:

And yesterday finished up the final cover and wraparound, still subject to editorial change and notes from Keith:

And I just realized that the West Indies thing on the front cover ought to be yellow-gold, not off-white.  Oops!  Time to edit and resubmit.  Or maybe it's better off-white.  Actually, it's kind of growing on me.

You may have noticed that the title of this particular installment is Catfoot's Vengeance rather than Crogan's Vengeance.  The repeat of "Crogan" seemed a bit much, and I thought that completely departing from the original title might be better for series installments, but James (rightfully) was concerned that, was "Vengeance" not in the title, that readers might be confused and buy this thinking it a new book and not a reissue.  I expect the third book will just be called "Loyalty," and I have no clue as to what the second one will be called.  "March" always felt like a working title, and I'd like to come up with something a little more thematic, as it is, for better or worse, a more philosophical and meandering book than the others.


  1. Very happy to see Crogan movement. I believe in celebrating what comes from creators rather than whining about getting more, but I have really enjoyed the Crogan books both as a comics fan and as a history buff.

  2. Greetings from Indonesia, Chris..
    I've been waiting for the 4th installment since long ago, and now I know the reason why.. so I guess I'm happy with the colored versions of first three series at the moment.
    Bon chance and best of luck :)