Christmas-and-spooks seems to be A Thing, and it’s not new — of course Dickens’ great classic, A Christmas Carol comes quickly to mind, and modern tales such as “Nightmare Before Christmas” and “Hogfather”. If you google “Christmas and ghosts”, you’ll find all kinds of articles to arm you with Christmas dinner-table conversation about the history of this phenomenon. Here’s a particularly good one, which takes us back through the centuries with literary evidence of the tradition of Winter Tales.
The 2016 continuation of this tradition is a story by my friend Elizabeth Ann Scarborough, an award-winning science fiction and fantasy author (and the writer half of our collaboration for the graphic novel Spam and the Sasquatch). In Spam, the Spooks, and the UPS Bandit, Spam, the “purranormal detective” cat hero of a series of novels and short stories, has his paws full with hauntings in an “old humans’ home”!
When asked if I would like to do a cover for the story, I eagerly accepted — it was great to do Spam and his buddies again! Here’s an in-progress look at how I created the cover!
1. First, the pencil sketch at actual size, 6 x 9″ (on 8.5 x 11″ printer paper). This looks like it’s inked, but only because I bumped up the contrast so that the author could see what I was doing. The light grey lines are actually blue pencil; I scanned this in greyscale to make it less confusing. After it was approved, I printed it off large on 11 x 17″ paper for transfer to smooth bristol paper.
2. I traced the sketch directly on the bristol with ink and coloured pencil outlines, using my lightbox. I wanted it to look comicbook-y, to echo the style of Spam and the Sasquatch, but also to have a more painterly quality suitable for a cover. So I went with ink outlines for the three characters, but used the more subtle coloured pencil for the background.
3. The first layer of watercolour, in which I laid down the undertones for everything. Spam (on the right) and his brother Matt (on the left) are both orange stripy kitties, but I needed to differentiate them. Matt is an alley cat, who lives under a dumpster, so I made him darker to simulate a bit of grubbiness (but not too much, he does groom!).
4. In the second layer, I added details and started adjusting the contrasts between areas. I could see that Renfrew, the watch-thieving racoon, was going to be a challenge to bring out against the background details, so I resolved to keep an eye on that.
5. I began adding coloured pencil to darken the areas between the ghosts and smooth out the shadow in the foreground. I made the table recede by lightly colouring over it with blues, and sharpened up the edges of the background. I used Prismacolor Col-erase and Verithins, which are both fairly hard pencils, able to hold a point well. It takes longer to colour larger areas with them than the softer pencils I use when doing a more coloured-pencil-heavy painting, but I find they scan better because of the smoother texture and are great for outlines (and I wish they came in more colours!). I also began adding spooky lights with a white Pitt marker.
6. This one’s subtle; a bit more smoothing, edge-refining, and contrast-bumping with the pencils and highlighting with the marker. Then on to Photoshop, where I corrected a few tiny ink glitches, added some white whiskers and highlights. Continuing in Photoshop…
7. I added the lettering in Photoshop, using the logo I had created traditionally for Spam and the Sasquatch and some standard fonts. I “warped” the title so that it echoed the logo, and made an extra layer to create dark outlines for the text once I had the text where I wanted it, to make it stand out a bit more. And it’s a cover!
If you’d like to buy this story (not too late to slip it onto someone’s Kindle for Christmas!) you can get it in Canada on Amazon.ca (or in the US, at Amazon.com)— and check out the other Christmas story featuring Spam, Father Christmas–Spam the Cat’s First Christmas (In Canada, here).
Now I’m going to put my feet up, sip some eggnog, and, um… oh, maybe finish decorating the house and draw some Solstice cards! Happy Winter — whatever you celebrate, I wish you happiness, health, and creativity for the holidays and the coming year!