Creation of a book…part IV

So I was feeling pretty good.  I had finished all of the art and all of the writing for my book and turned it in to the publisher.   The publisher then assigned a new editor to the book ( I took so long to complete the book that my original editor had quit and moved on) and discussions about the cover and title and interior formatting began.  My original vision was that the creatures would be separated by chapters according to their classification (mammals, aquatics, reptiles and mystical) but the publisher wanted them to be classified by continental location and they wanted the book to have more of a narrative structure to tie it all together (Both good ideas but more work for me!).

As a result, I created scientist Ham Fabricatini (Fabricate, get it?) who had allegedly researched all of these creatures and enlisted me to illustrated his notes and put them into book form.  The story was set up in the Introduction I wrote for the book and the theme carried out in the extra journal entries I wrote for each chapter.  Because the creatures were now identified geographically (something I hadn’t originally intended) I had to do extensive rewrites on some of the them so they would all fit into the new format.  A lot of extra work but I think it did make the book stronger.

By earlier agreement I was also obligated to write a “how to” chapter in the book.  Watson Guptil’s bread and butter was/is “how to” books and they just couldn’t seem to allow a book to be published that didn’t include an element of this.  Although, I thought it was somewhat inappropriate for this type of project, I wrote the “how to” chapter anyway and figured at least it would be a nice addition for someone who was really interested in the art and how it was created ( I know as a kid, I would have loved a “how to” section in every art book I bought).

Unfortunately, that “how to” chapter started the problems (at least from my end).  The publisher came back with a title for the book:  Fantastical Creatures Field Guide.  Certainly not as funny or clever as my original idea but I could live with it.  After all, the book was a field guide.  But then they wanted to add the subtitle, “how to hunt them down and draw them where they live”.  WHAT?!  I argued that the subtitle was misleading.  This was not a “how to” book!  People looking for a “how to” book would not buy it once they found out it was not actually a “how to” book and people looking for a fantasy or humor book wouldn’t pick it up thinking it was a “how to” book. By incorrectly promoting the book we were running the risk of dooming the project to poor sales (John Carter movie, anyone?)  Of course, my logical arguments fell on deaf ears.  After all, what could a first time author possibly know about marketing?

Then came the book cover……




The Creation of a Book…part III

So there I was with 70% of my book to complete In about 4 months.  I quickly realized that I could not waste a moment of time.  As soon as I finished my comic book page for the day I was working on the creature book in some fashion.  Because this 4 month period began in June and ended in October, I had my kids at home for summer break.  Even more daily distractions then normal!  But I quickly learned how to make those potential distractions work to my advantage.

My son was on a swim team at the time so I had to take him to practice almost every day.  So while he was swimming laps I was up in the stands writing.  I had a spiral notebook that I wrote all of the text to the book in and 90% of that writing was done at an indoor swimming pool.  Luckily for me the book was not a structured narrative but instead just a series of one page “technical” write-ups of a given creature.  Being irreverent and off the wall comes pretty naturally to me, so once I started scribbling down words the whole thing just flowed.  One ridiculous comment or observation flowed into the next and by the time my son was done with his hour practice, I had one page written (at least as a first draft) and was ready to move on to the next.

When I took time to sit down in front of the TV, I brought my sketchbook and feverishly worked on the pencil drawings that would accompany the color illustration for each creature.  I also planned out how much time I could take on each color painting so that I would be done by the end of September.  I believe it was about one a week.  As you can guess I had no free weekends (nothing out of the ordinary for a comic book artist).  I also assumed that if I showed major progress by the deadline they would give me more time because they would be comfortable that I would actually finish the book.    I was right and they did, allowing me until the end of October to turn everything in.

Being under such incredible deadline pressure did force me to finish my dream project but the result was that not every illustration in the book ended up being  the masterpiece that I dreamed it would be.   The question in your mind, I’m sure, is: “If it’s your dream project, why not stop working on everything else and pour yourself completely into the work until it is done?”  An excellent question, I’m glad you asked.  The answer is simple.  There is not a lot of money in illustrated books (unless you hit it big like Dinotopia) and certainly not for a first time author.  You get an advance on the book (enough money to cover one month of expenses) and then you hope you get money in royalties off the back end.  In simple terms, if I had quit working on comic jobs until I was finished with the book, my family and I would have been evicted from our house and starved to death.  So you do what you always end up doing as a commercial artist,  the best you can with the time you have.

So I turned the completed book in to the publisher and never felt so relieved in my life.  My first book was done….or so I thought.  Little did I know, my frustration was just beginning…

The Creation of a book…part II

Watson-Guptil publishing had approved my proposal and now I was going to write and draw my first book.  To me, this moment was as exciting as the day I got my first real comic book assignment from Marvel Comics.  I was so energized I started painting my next character for the book before I even signed the contract.   The Thunder Troll.


This painting was a simple yellow/violet complimentary color scheme.  Color theory still can get confusing and it makes the most sense to me when I keep it simple using complimentary colors.

Anyway, I had several Ideas floating around my head for characters to include in the book but not nearly enough to fill an entire tome.  So the first thing I felt I had to do was decide on the amount of characters it would take to fill the book and then start coming up with the ideas for them.  At first I would just come up with random names that I thought were funny or just odd and write them down.  Sometimes I would concoct a little information about the character and sometimes I would just right down the name.  I also asked my kids and wife for input and they helped me conceptualize a few of the characters.

Once I had a a substantial list of creature names accumulated, I would start visually designing them in my sketchbook.  I have a whole sketchbook full of the creature designs that I will reveal…..sometime:)

Along with the Thunder Troll, these next three (Troll Monkey, The Bug-eyed Bush Beard and Little Bigfoot) were the first batch of watercolor paintings that I did.  The fur on these three were a real challenge and took me some time to figure out but I think they all turned out well in that regard.  Deadline pressure was a long way from mounting when I painted these and it is a good thing.


I really worked backwards on this project (at least in terms of how most people would probably approach it) in that I did the art first and then the writing to accompany it. I felt that creating the art for the book would take the lion’s share of the time so I wanted to get rolling on that and worry about writing the text later.  This initially started out as a good idea because I was able to spend a lot of time on the first couple of character designs and paintings and really think things through so the design of the character really matched the narrative that the creature would be placed in.  As time went on I got more comic work (you know, the stuff that actually pays the bills) and my dream book project got relegated to being worked on in my spare time.

After almost three years I had completed only about half of the 45 paintings I had to do for the book and the publisher was getting annoyed.  In fact, I got a call from her in June 2007 wanting to know how far along I was.  Now remember, I was leaving almost all of the writing to the end.  So when I told her that I hadn’t done any writing and only had 20 color illustrations done, she threatened to pull the plug on the book.  I convinced her how important the book was to me even though I hadn’t really been diligently working on it and begged her for a little more time.  She gave me until October to get the book done.

It took me 3 years to do 20 color illustrations and now I was faced with the proposition of painting 25 color illustrations, writing 45 pages of text and doing close to 75  pencil drawings in about 4 months all the while doing a page a day of comic work!  Woo Hoo!

But you know what?  I did that and more!  Find out how next time!

The Creation of an Actual Book

Back around 1999 (cue Prince song) I came up with an idea for a book.  Not a comic book but and actual illustrated book.  It would be a humorous book about creatures that I would create and it would be full color with painted images of these critters.   I even had a name for it, “STRANGE CREATURES that very few people know anything about”.  A title that I felt properly reflected the irreverent nature of the book.  But who would publish it?  More specifically, who would publish a book by me?  At the time, I was struggling to find work.  I was still battling the career destruction that Takion had caused.  Well, the idea got filed away as one of those great ideas that would never see the light of day.

Shortly thereafter my career path swept me down to Florida and CrossGen Comics.  There I met a variety of great people but one new friend of mine, Andy Smith, was a published author.  He had written the very successful book, Drawing Dynamic Comics for Watson-Guptil Publishing.  It just so happened that his editor was in Florida trying to convince him to do a companion book and also looking for anyone else who might have an idea for a another “How To” book.  I spoke briefly to her about possibly doing a “How To Draw Dinosaurs” book but the more I thought about it, the more I realized this could be my chance to do the book I really wanted to do!  So I pitched the editor my idea for “Strange Creatures”.

Luckily I had a piece of art that I had painted a couple of years prior that I could show her and she loved it.  Even though my idea was not the type of book that Watson- Guptil normally published, she said if I put together a proposal that she would pitch it for me.

Here is the painting that I originally showed her.  It was a concept for a children’s book but it fit perfectly into my new book idea.


And here is the sample page I put together for her to pitch the book to her publisher. I decided to combine the color art with pencil sketches as if I were making a field guide.  Each creature would have it’s own one page write up and there would be hand-written text with further “scientific” notation under each pencil sketch.  I originally imagined the layout looking like one of those Eyewitness Books.


So my potential new editor took the sample page and some sample art back with her to New York.  Several weeks later ( in fact it was such a long time I thought the project had no chance and was dead and buried) I got a call from the editor.  She started the conversation by saying, “You understand this is not the type of book Watson-Guptil does…..however,  they love your artwork and they want to go ahead with it!”  Unbelievable, I was about to get my first real book published!  Little did I know what lay ahead….