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Tuesday, 7 February 2017

A near disaster

I don’t think this merits a featured post of its own, but it’s a curiosity that might interest dyed-in-the-wool gamebook otaku. Back when Oliver Johnson and I started writing the Golden Dragon gamebooks, we were learning the ropes about book production at the same time. Manuscripts had to be ready months ahead of publication, and cover copy and artwork were usually the first thing you had to think about.

Series editor Angela Sheehan asked me to come up with a cover idea for The Lord of Shadow Keep. I tend to prefer visual imagery to prose, in fact, hence the frequent references here to movies, television and of course comic books. But I had no clear idea of what was going in the book, and when inspiration fails it really tars and feathers you. Case in point, this absolutely epic fail of a cover concept. A back view of a dark lord gazing out at the countryside in contemplative mood? What in actual frell?

Luckily the cover artist Bruno Elletori had the sense to ignore my notes and instead fix us up with a full-tilt action scene which conveyed a sense of immediate danger. All I can say is that usually I did a lot better job of coming up with a cover concept – consider Lords of the Rising Sun, for instance, or all the new Critical IF gamebooks. But when you know what you’re doing, and you still drop the ball, that’s when it lands with the most resounding of thuds.Still, it could have been worse. Check out this cover of the Berkley edition that was released in the US.
Come back on Friday for the main post, in which we’ll be taking a look at the work of a classic science fiction author whose bravura world-building makes for great roleplaying campaigns.


  1. I don't know Dave, I reckon that could have worked with a good artist. Even as a young lad back in the day I appreciated that LW7 Castle Death was trying something different with their cover. Maybe the trick would have been embuing menace without the ubiquitous monster.

  2. I Googled LW7 just now and got the cover of the Berkley Pacer edition. But I don't think that's the one you mean, Michael!

  3. Goodness no, it's the one by Pete Lyon I meant. It's actually a very odd choice for a gamebook cover, given the protagonist and bright colour tones, so I'm sure your Shadow Keep would have been just as effective.

    Interesting though - I'd never have expected the author (of a title he didn't write no less) to have to sketch out a cover outline. Maybe behind every author there's a budding artist though?

  4. There is in my case. I plan out and sketch every panel of Mirabilis before Leo draws them for real, and I designed most of the Fabled Lands and Critical IF covers. The fact is that publishers don't pay cover artists enough for them to spend time actually reading the book, so you always have to give them a steer.

  5. Well you're to be commended in that case, as many of those covers are superb, particularly the FL ones. Although, can I detect a little of your original Shadow Keep sketch in the cover for FL2? It's perhaps not one of the strongest of the series covers, but works just fine.

    1. From time to time I'm drawn back to attempting a rear view composition. It works best from a high angle, as movie poster designers know. Anyway, thanks for your kind words, Michael. My own favourites of the FL covers I designed are #3 and #6 (though I pulled the same trick in both, really) but for my money the best of the lot is Russ's concept for #5 as executed by Kevin Jenkins.