By Jan S. Gephardt
Let me tell you about creating a cover with Chaz Kemp.
My official title is Chief Cat Herder and Manager of Weirdness (it’s even on my business card). But among all the things I do for Weird Sisters Publishing, one of my favorite roles is Art Director.
Book and magazine design have remained key interests of mine since well before college (remember I used to make books by hand, back in ancient days). Nowadays, it’s my pleasure to shepherd the process of book cover creation through to completion (with input from the author when she’s not me).
The Weird Sisters are always seeking artists
One of our foundational principles from the very beginning was that whenever possible we wanted to foster the careers of talented (mostly local, American) artists. Doesn’t matter what gender or ethnicity. Our focus is paying a fair market price for good-quality, innovative cover art, custom-made for our books.
Having been an artist all my life, an ASFA member and officer, and having worked with fine sf artists for decades, I’ve developed strong opinions.
I’d seen Chaz’s artwork at some of the science fiction conventions I’d been to, including SoonerCon, Westercon, and FenCon (he’s also been to my home convention, ConQuesT). I knew he had a unique style, and I’d frequently thought of him as we approached the time when we’d need an artist for my sister’s wonderful story Deep Ellum Pawn. We decided to work together last year at Spikecon.
Creating a cover with Chaz Kemp
Anytime I work with a new artist, there’s usually a breaking-in period. I worked with several as I tested out developmental work for the XK9 series. I don’t settle on someone, unless I have faith that they can do what I’m asking (although Jody A. Lee, who normally does fantasy covers, sometimes questions my faith in her science fiction chops).
There are times when it turns out my vision and that of the artist just don’t mesh. But when they do, it’s magical. With Chaz, the magic started from the very beginning. I sent samples of his work to Gigi, and she loved it. Creating a cover with Chaz Kemp turned out to be an entirely pleasant experience.
Getting Miz Eddy just right
The story of Deep Ellum Pawn revolves around the actions and attitudes of the pawnbroker, Miz Eddy Weekes. We knew we wanted her on the cover, and we knew there needed to be a Golden Fiddle in there somewhere. Gigi had left a lot to the imagination when she described Miz Eddy as having “the full, rich blend of black, Native American, and anglo written boldly across my face.”
Gigi could leave it to the imagination as the writer, but Chaz had to bring it to life in an image. We went through several variations. There were reasons for each. We had a detailed, 3-way email thread going for a while, between me in Kansas City, Chaz in Denver, and Gigi in McKinney and Dallas. Creating a cover with Chaz Kemp was a complex but pleasant process.
Some all-important animals
However, if you’ve read the story, you know that Eddy isn’t the only notable character. She’s backed up by a strong cast of interesting folk, not the least of which are her two cats, Tidbit and Morsel, based on Gigi’s brother-sister feline pair, Scrap and Noah (both of whom are now deceased, but who were dear to her heart). There’s also a certain Hell Hound, with whom Miz Eddy must contend.
From the very beginning, the animals were included in the design. But they morphed according to their nature. Tidbit remained cat-sized but formidable, with Scrap’s characteristic tail-curl. Morsel is portrayed as the size he thinks he should be (and magically becomes. Read the story to find out how).
Ace, too, went through some transformations, both in the story and in the cover development. I don’t want to wander into “spoiler” territory, though! I think you’ll enjoy his part of the story, but you’ll have to read it to find out more!.
Working with Chaz was a pleasure from start to finish. I’m glad that Gigi is hard at work on Deep Ellum Blues–both because I can’t wait to read the story, and because I’m looking forward to creating another cover with Chaz Kemp!