Prism Book Alliance would like to welcome back special guest columnist Alexis J Hall for Tea Time with Alexis J Hall & Friends. We would like to extend a special welcome to today’s roundtable guests: artist Catherine Dair and author Julio Alexi Genao.
Book Covers in M/M Fiction
The One With Catherine Dair
Today we’re joined by Catherine Dair, artist extraordinaire, who’s going to be talking to us about her work, and helping us judge books by their covers.
Apparently we’re allowed to ask her anything. Oh dear.
AJH: Hello, Catherine. Thank you for joining us.
JAG: ‘allo, mizz dair.
CD: Hello gentlemen! I… did say that, didn’t I?
JAG: you’re doomed. so, so doomed.
CD: I have tea. Bring it on.
AJH: I suppose the most obvious starting point is: how on earth does one get into drawing naked men?
JAG: WELL, I WOULDN’T QUITE SAY I ‘GOT INTO’ NAKED MEN SO MUCH AS—oh. you meant catherine. my bad.
AJH: I, uh, mean: how’d you sort of become an Artist for the Queer Community? CD: I had a witty answer for the “how did you start drawing naked men?” question. So I’m breaking this into two parts. You get started in life-drawing classes in college when the naked guy is sitting in the middle of the room and the teacher says, “now draw,” and then wonder during the first class (when I got through all my blushing) if people drew all his bits. I found I rather liked drawing them. Womens’ bits, too. For the second part, I drew naked men for Josh Lanyon after reading his Adrien English series, and sent him fan art. “Here! I made you a thing!” I didn’t know if artists did that in the m/m romance genre but I’ve never been much of a rule-follower. I just hoped he liked it and didn’t find me a nutcase.
JAG: and did he? like them, i mean? and/or not-find-you-a-nutcase?
CD: Mr. Lanyon is an absolute gentleman. He loved it—and if he found me a nutcase he is keeping his thoughts private. He decided it would be fun to work on a project together and he proposed we do his Stranger Things Have Happened
AJH: You also do a lot of fantasy-themed artwork, don’t you? For Brandon Witt and Angel Martinez?
CD: I do! I love fantasy. There are no boundaries or rules to break in fantasy. You can let your imagination go wild. I was sitting here working on a gargoyle right before this. My next project will be a trading card commission. I love how projects differ so much from one commission to the next. I just finished a wonderful alien wilderness for Angel Martinez, and it was great fun.
AJH: Do you have any projects you’re particularly proud of, or do you not play favourites?
CD: I think every project I’m currently working on is my favorite one at the moment.
AJH: That’s very tactful of you. >.<
JAG: c’monnn, give us the dirt.
CD: It’s true though! I’m emotionally invested in whatever I’m working on at any given moment. But I can answer it. Brandon Witt’s trading cards were a hoot to create and working with him was amazing. My favorite one in that series is Schwindt,
because he had such attitude, liked to be nude, and sported such amazing dragonfly wings. I am also so fond of the Whyborne & Griffin series that I painted a poster for Jordan L. Hawk. I have it hanging on a wall here in my work area.
JAG: whose work would you say has inspired you? which cover artists in the genre do you admire?
CD: You’ll find two types of covers in general, with the artistic illustrated ones and the photo-manip covers. I have a favorite in each category. For artistic covers, I adore Simone. I sit and stare at the covers she did for Alexis’ Prosperity
universe and try to pick them apart in all their goodness and wonder where she gets this amazing artistic vision from. For photo covers, LC Chase is my artist on a pedestal, closely followed by Lou Harper. They need to teach me all their secrets. I’d offer cold hard cash.
AJH: Hehehe. I could be wrong, but it seems to me that m/m leans more towards hyper-realistic, photo-manip style covers?
CD: I think that is very true. But I did find it very interesting in the final round of voting in the Rainbow Cover Art Awards that there were quite a few art covers, and some didn’t even show people on them. I see a trend starting that is slowly getting away from two guys that are barechested with their heads cut off. I am very happy about this.
AJH: Two barechested, beheaded guys with a SWIRL. Don’t forget the SWIRL.
CD: (what’s a SWIRL so I know never to paint it?)
AJH: It’s a small piece of graphic that kind of … randomly gets swirled across the abs?
CD: OH. Duly noted. [puts up post-it note that says NO SWIRLS]
AJH: Weirdly I prefer the beheaded thing to just a model’s face? I don’t mind it so much with painted, and maybe I’m just being weird but … but when there’s just a stock art that looks vaguely like just one person’s interpretation of the character, then it feels really restrictive to me? Like you’re interfering with reader imagination.
CD: Maybe it’s because I was born with a vivid imagination, I don’t really mind the covers showing faces. More often than not, my brain forms its own image of the characters while I am reading and I am rarely swayed by the cover models. I often form something different in my own mind.
JAG: you’re being weird. definitely weird. no, actually, i’ve gotten a lot of feedback from people about this, because i personally do not understand the guillotined hunk thing, and complain about it bitterly—and what people have told me is precisely what AJH says: they prefer room to imagine their own hero. which is understandable, and all—but how come nobody gets pissed-off when they have to stare at chris hemsworth’s ugly mug for two hours in a film?
CD: This is exactly why cover art is so much of a challenge. People have definite “likes” and “dislikes” on what they want to see. You’ve got just a few seconds for a reader to see that thumbnail if they are unfamiliar with the author who penned the book to grab them (or not) and make them think, “Interesting image… let’s now check out the blurb.”
AJH: But, it’s not the same as somebody casting Chris Hemsworth as Thor. If I’m reading a book about the skinny blonde owner of a comic book store and there’s an image of a Chris Hemsworth-alike on the front, it’s … slightly disorientating. Especially if I’m actually reading about, say, a skinny non-white comic book store owner. And we get Chris Hemsworth anyway.
CD: Is this where I throw in I’d play with Thor’s hammer? Sorry…
AJH: I prefer Loki’s staff.
CD: [fist bump]
JAG: it occurs to me that the key difference here is that, unlike films, books actively require a reader to engage their imagination. as you said, AJH, covers that are too specific get in the way of that.
AJH: Yes. Like, covers are this weird intersection between the imaginative and the visual. A bridge, when done well?
CD: [nods] I know there are rules publishing houses play by, in how authors and the artists work together to design the covers for their upcoming books. Since so far I have only worked with self-publishers (in as far as covers go), I like that I get to really pick the brain of the author I’m working with. I love to know what’s in their mind and share it with their readers. I’m like a kid in a candy store. “Give me all the info!” Also, if the idea is to have a “teaser” scene from the story itself, going with an illustrator is almost necessary, and you really then have to work with an author closely to make it something so dynamic and fitting that the reader wants to know more more more after seeing the cover.
AJH: I guess that’s one of the pleasures of a direct relationship between author and writer, and also an advantage of self-publishing. You both have more control. But equally I think from publisher’s perspective what an author likes isn’t necessarily what they think is going to sell the book. I’m … y’know … chronic for this. I like Artistic Cup Of Tea Against Nice Landscape. What sells appears to be White Dude Grinning Maybe While Wearing No Shirt.
JAG: In The Sky.
AJH: With SWIRL.
CD: On a steampunk airship. Oh, I want to paint one so bad…
AJH: Have you ever had to compromise in that sort of way? Because you’ve also done some anthology work with publishers, haven’t you?
CD: I’ve been in one anthology so far, the Kickass Anthology for Eric Arvin. I did an inside illustration for Brandon Witt’s story, Pink. It was published by Kate Pavelle, the editor, so again… not a traditional publishing route. Inside illustrations for a story have their own hurdles to consider. I will give feedback to an author when we are discussing ideas and honestly say “that won’t really work for this” and so far everyone I’ve ever worked with has been amazing on feedback. I can’t say I’ve had to do too much true compromising, which I take it to mean “I’m painting this and I really am unhappy about it”. [knocks on wood]
AJH: I don’t necessarily think compromise is a recipe for misery. More sort of “I would choose to do this way, but I acknowledge that doing it this way is probably better for xyz reasons.” I suppose compromise can be a really charged word sometimes. But I didn’t mean in the sense of Oh, My Artistic Integrity.
AJH: Like I think the floating torso swirls are probably that sort of compromise. Not to keep coming back to them. But to me, an inoffensively generic image (just some abs) is less problematic than something that makes me go, “omg, he doesn’t look like thaaaaaaat.”
JAG: omg you are obsessed.
AJH: Dude—have you seen the cover of my contemp book?
JAG: you may have a point. that guy’s pic is also used to sell shampoo…
CD: (secretly loves that cover)
AJH: It is very eye-catching, which is a big advantage, and shiny too, which I naturally enjoy. And obviously this isn’t about the quality of the art or the design – not that I know anything about either, but I admire the skill – it’s just it communicates a very explicit idea about who a certain character looks. And if that’s not how you imagine the character looks, I can imagine it could be quite dissonant.
CD: Now I have the urge to pick your brain so hard and paint it. So, so hard. Also, while I love Simone’s version of Byron Kae so very much on your covers, they aren’t “my” Byron, and I want to paint them too.
AJH: Huh, weirdly I think that might be the difference between photo-manip and illustrated covers for me. Because if I see an illustration and it doesn’t look like “my” version of the character, it still feels like someone’s version. Whereas if I see stock art, and it doesn’t quite fit my impression of the character, I think: Oh, there’s a shampoo model. Like KJ Charles showed me the pictures of the Crane model from the Charm of Magpies
CD: That’s why I love it when an author can look at a cover I’ve created and say, “YES”. The cover should make the author happy to have it on their hard-penned words.
AJH: The existence of The Man Who Really Looks Like Crane does weird things to me.
CD: Me too. I would swoon very hard if he walked into the room. But feel disappointed if he were in modern clothes.
AJH: There’s one where he is sans shirt. I feel I’ve gone off topic.
JAG: someone’s got to.
AJH: I feel we’ve probably hassled Catherine enough for one day. Do you have any upcoming projects you’re able to tell us about?
CD: (this is hassling?) Two I can’t talk about yet as far as what authors I’m working for, but I’ll have another cover to work on shortly for Mischief Corner Books. I’ve also got to get started on the childrens’ book that Brandon Witt and I are plotting together based on his two corgi dogs, The Corgi Chronicles.
AJH: That sounds really exciting, though. Eeee. Just to wrap up, I was thinking maybe we could also choose a few of our favourite covers?
CD: For artist covers, I really love the cover for Amy Lane’s Litha’s Constant Whim.
There are so many little elements on it that make me squee, design-wise. Another cover that I think is really magical and blurs the lines between photo-manipulation and artistic vision is Mechanical Magic by Lorraine Ulrich. It probably has the SWIRL that you hate, but in this case I think it’s used in a very purposeful manner. It actually gives you a clue about this man. The color palette of it and the model used is just artistic “enough” that he lets my imagination roam on how he comes to life in my own head. Last artistic cover that I look at over and over again is JP Kenwood’s Dominus. Fiona Fu is the artist for that one and she has created several pieces of art for JP’s universe which are all incredible.
AJH: Those are all gorgeous. And I’m giving the SWIRL a pass.
CD: Just to humor me?
JAG: END OF STORY.
CD: That cover worked for me. I immediately read the blurb.
JAG: it annoys me that someone else thought of it first.
CD: Nobody has asked me to paint anything that “nude” for a cover. Now for an inside book illustration… [grins madly]
AJH: I’m too English to want an arse on my books.
JAG: that’s not what enrique down at the bodega told me last wee—
AJH: Shush, what goes on between me and Enrique is our own business.
JAG: mmhmm—any favorite covers to share, AJH?
CD: [read that as “any favorite lovers to share” and blinked hard]
AJH: [mumbles] I like my own covers but it’d be rude and boastful [mumbles]. Um, for some reason I’m very drawn to steampunky covers. I don’t know why. I think it’s because they have A Look that can be very effective. I was gushing over this one
JAG: it looks like a tarot card—especially the first one. outstanding. also: i have it on some authority that some parts of you get very wet indeed.
CD: Nothing wrong with tea and hearts. I’ve put fuzzy creatures on three covers so far. And a monster, but we probably shouldn’t go there…
AJH: What about you, J? Or is it just arses all the way?
JAG: you gotta problem with an ass in the face?
AJH: [primly] Not at all, but not when I’m reading.
JAG: some people really suck at multitasking. how about this one: After Ben.
AJH: Con Riley has all the lovely covers.
JAG: she really, really does. and this one gives me the wibblies,
CD: (psssttt… there is going to be art for that story cuz I promised it)
JAG: GTFO. but wait—however will you find the time? ‘cuz i seem to recall someone promising to paint me as a pink hippo with silver wings, to finally bring my sekrit self-image to liiiiiiiiiiiiife.
CD: How do you know I haven’t started it already? 😉
AJH: Aaaaand on that note, thank you for coming to tea, Catherine.
CD: It has been my deepest pleasure.
JAG: delighted as always, AJH.
As for you, dear reader: what sort of covers do you like? Do you have any favourites? Abs or faces? Let us know in the comments below!
About Alexis J Hall
Alexis Hall was born in the early 1980s and still thinks the 21st century is the future. To this day, he feels cheated that he lived through a fin de siècle but inexplicably failed to drink a single glass of absinthe, dance with a single courtesan, or stay in a single garret.
He did the Oxbridge thing sometime in the 2000s and failed to learn anything of substance. He has had many jobs, including ice cream maker, fortune teller, lab technician, and professional gambler. He was fired from most of them.
He can neither cook nor sing, but he can handle a 17th century smallsword, punts from the proper end, and knows how to hotwire a car.
He lives in southeast England, with no cats and no children, and fully intends to keep it that way.
About our Guests
Julio Alexi Genao lives in New York City with three cats and a preoccupation with post-mortem predation.
Catherine Dair is a fulltime Mom by day and spends her evenings as her alter egos, a ninja illustrator and a superhero. Her children know all about it. They are usually putting in their two cents over her shoulder. She gets the giddy pleasure of making fun art for authors, bloggers and many other cool people. In her spare time, Catherine makes crazy art for her new Redbubble store and fiddles with her website. She gave up sleep because sleep is for sissies.
I have a number of paperbacks, most of which are signed, to giveaway. Over the between now (11 Mar 2017) and 31 Mar 2017, every comment on the blog (this post and all other new posts), will be entered to win 1 of these paperbacks. There are also some misc swag items, so there will be a few packs of these to give away as well.
Thank you so much for your support over the last 4 years. Prism will be closing its doors on 1 April 2017. All content will remain available, but no new content will appear after 31 Mar 2017. As such all request forms have been turned off. Again Thank you,
|This post may contain affiliate links.
|Prism Book Alliance® assumes no liability for the ownership of photos or content used in guest posts and interviews. The post author assumes all responsibility and liability for this content.|