Monday, December 24, 2012



In which I interview a talented artist.


All images in this post belong to Brian Mumphrey. Click to embiggen. Trust me, you want to embiggen.

Now that would be a cover that stands out. That's what I thought when I first saw your art. No swords. No half-nude barbarian women (or men). No hooded assassins with a five o'clock shadow. Also, your characters weren't patently Caucasian!

Instead I saw a strong influence of Otherness. The characters you depicted were very real but exaggerated, the way heroes often are in classic literature and comic books.

1. As a writer, I would love to ask you about your childhood and all that jazz, but I have a limit of 1000 words per blog post, so let's get to the important stuff. What kind of books do you like to read and why?

Brian: A lot of the books I read tend to be fiction-based, in any number of settings.  My favorites are science fiction, fantasy, and alternate history but I try to stay versatile in my interests as it fuels my concept work. While I read mainly fiction for entertainment, I probably read a lot more in history and space/science exploration to further increase my ability to create believable environments and characters for my own projects.

2. Name three authors who have changed your (artistic) life ie. how they've influenced you.

       J.R.R. Tolkien (For his work on The Silmarillion. His creation myth for The Hobbit and LOTR were amazing to read and for someone to put so much work into a world they created...)
       Alan Moore (The Watchmen and From Hell were amazing narratives.  Watchmen in particular was great for me to read for the first time because of the character Doctor Manhattan.)
Chuck Palahniuk (Snuff (yeah it's gross, but so good), Pygmy, Fight Club.  Although his subject matter is usually pretty, uh, disturbing?  He has a way with words and descriptions I have always appreciated.)

Now, let's put our serious pants on. (Hands Brian a pair of serious neon green pants.)

3. Do you need to read a writer's completed manuscript? Or can you work with a plot synopsis or character descriptions?
Brian: It really depends on what I'm working on for the story, but usually a plot synopsis/character designs are all I need to get started.  As things develop I like to be as informed as possible in order to get the best image for the current goal.  For a front cover, the more the better, as it's always nice to throw subtle hints in with the overall design of the story to come. (J: Badass.)

4. I blog for writers who have already finished a story and might be considering self-publishing on platforms such as Kindle and Amazon. As an artist and reader, what do you look for in a book cover? In other words, what draws your eye to particular books?

Brian: As far as what I look for in a book cover or even when I'm designing one is to go for broad strokes that are visible from a distance, but details that can be appreciated when looked at more closely.  

Sometimes balancing this can be tricky because something that might look good from a distance in a store or as a small thumbnail on a website such as Amazon might fall apart when you go in for a closer look, and vice versa.  A buyer can be attracted to your design when they see it among all the other books in a search option, click on it but then are quickly turned off when they go to view it closer.  

This can reflect badly on the contents of the book and cost you a sale, so it's important for me that the design can read from all distances and sizes.

5. I just looked at some of your recent futuristic squid vacuums and baddie silhouettes. One question: How do I get into your world? Seriously, though, when looking at your work, I feel stories behind them. 

That's how we ended up collaborating on some pieces a while back. You were really easy to approach with changes and you replied promptly to all my questions (like: can you make a symbol that looks like a thing with a pointed thing across it?). What do you look for in a collaboration?

Brian: As far as the worlds and characters I create they're really just fueled by the real world more than anything. One of the most important lessons I learned from creating believable characters and environments is they have to be grounded in a recognizable ideal that most people can digest.  

Making a smoke alien from a planet that supports life of that type might be very real and scientific but there's nothing on this planet that looks like that so people tend to quickly dismiss it as lame. Now, if you take an insect, make him 2 times larger and slightly change anatomy, stance, and mannerisms then it's something that people can relate to.  Then all you have left to do is make it look "cool."  

Openness is the most important thing for me in a collaboration. I need the person I'm working with to be happy with the work, or else I'm not happy with the work. More often than not I'll prefer to do Skype/video chat with a client so I can better judge their approval/disapproval for a design/idea, especially if they don't like what I'm designing or they like it but have such a specific idea in mind they're having a hard time portraying that in a typed email. (I'm never hurt by someone not liking a design. Not every design is right for every story.) With the ability to see the look on the person's face, I can tell if it's something they're truly stoked about or on the fence about or just plain hate. 

6. Do you have to like the story to work with a writer?

Brian:  No but it helps!  But seriously, it's not that I have to "like" the story as much as accept that it's not my project or vision.  To that degree it has just as much credit and validation as anything I would create, but for a different crowd.  Then all you have to really ask yourself is if my designs fit your narrative.  Most people who are writing a romance novel wouldn't approach a designer like me considering 95% of the things I draw have guns or skulls on them.  Or both. 

7. How much do you charge, and what does that price range depend on?

Brian:  What I charge depends on the project and the funds of the person or organization.  A flat rate I usually tell people is $25/hr but that's really steep for a lot of people who are trying to publish on their own and I would never expect that rate from anyone unless they were an actual founded company.  What I charge independent writers and people just starting up would be between me and the client and would depend heavily on what other projects I'm working on as well as how passionate I am about the story.  Which isn't to say I won't work on it if I don't like it, but it helps if I'm not getting paid much (or at all) if I believe in and enjoy the project.

Thanks, Brian. I look forward to seeing more of your art!

I also have a permanent link to his site on the right side of this blog.

Happy writing,

Coming up: 
Jay Groce
Dialogue Tags

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