Thursday, June 18, 2015

The Evolution of a Cover

It's not often that I talk about what goes into making NUELOW Games releases, because I think, by and large, no one really cares how and what we do. But I'm going to make an exception with the cover for Modern Basics: Jungle Action, our most recent release.

After reviewing the Xela paintings we have yet to use on a cover, we decided we wanted something that had a man and a woman jungle character, fighting equally. We turned to several Maurice Whitman drawings--many which originally appeared no the covers of Fiction House's Jungle Comics or Kaanga. We narrowed it down to two possibilities, and with some back and forth, we settled on one where Kaanga and Ann were fighting panthers with equal ferocity. Hundal also thought the colors said "jungle" more than the other top pick we were looking at.

(That's actually funny in a way, because we're both color blind, me moreso than her, but it is sometimes quite literally the blind leading the blind.)

With the cover image chosen, I went to work cleaning it up, and otherwise getting it into the shape you see posted above. I then added the title and logo. This was easier than in some of the cases, because the original source was in good shape.

Although the cover was complete, I still had a soft spot for the one we rejected. I thought it was more colorful (said the color blind guy) and that it might still be the better choice. So I posted a cropped version of it to a Facebook group and solicited opinions... not so much because I wanted to overrule Hundal. but because I wanted to check my taste in art. Here's that cropped image. (It's cropped the way it is because I never finished cleaning up the bottom of the picture, not wanting to waste the time once we'd settled firmly on one. We're probably going to do another jungle-themed clip-art pack, so I'll include the finished image there.)

The general opinion of the Facebook denizens was that Hundal was right... the image we'd gone with was the better one. (Cartoonist Stan! was the odd-man out, as he felt the "rejected" one was more dynamic and modern.) But one commentator asked a question I didn't initially understand: "why no POC on either?"

As far as I knew, POC meant Point of Contact or Person On-Call. It also means Person/People of Color, and once that was explained to me, I understood the question.

The answer, first and foremost, is that Maurice Whitman drew those pictures in the mid-1940s and there simply weren't any People of Color who were jungle heroes. Even Voodah, who started out black, was turned white within the space of three issues... and he was never portrayed as such on any of the covers of Crown Comics where he appeared. Another Matt Baker jungle character, Alani the South Sea Girl, was more okay, I suppose, because she was an exotic islander of oriental mystery and all that.

But, and perhaps more to the point, there were no People of Color on either cover image, because it's just not something Hundal or I think much about. Even when we do take measures that reflect "diversity" in what we produce and publish, it's not something we dwell on... as illustrated by the fact that we never bothered to promote ourselves as "gay friendly" (even though ROLF!: The Rollplaying Game has had gay characters built into it since long before it was the hip thing to do) and we didn't even notice that our comic book line is heavy on female characters until I sat down to analyze what we might do when we ran out of worthwhile comics to repackage. We produce, design, and write things that we find entertaining and amusing, and we hope that others share our taste. We create from the heart, not to meet a quota system or some other standard that others have deemed it sensible to live up to.

Now I was thinking about it, however. And other artists chimed in, mostly making comments from a design perspective rather than racial equality or social justice or some-such. They were all making good points. The image would be stronger with a Person of Color on it. So... to the Photoshop Cave I went to experiment. And here's the result, next to a repeat of the image from above.

As I'm sure you can see, making the female character dark-skinned adds depth to the image. It also causes the eye to focus more and move from left to right, basically following the the action of the picture. Making this modification was also easier and quicker than I had thought it would be. Just because Whitman's drawing was originally colored as having two white people in it back in the 1940s, doesn't mean it had to stay that way.

So, by revising the cover based on comments from the public, we ended up with a much stronger picture. We might even end up looking good in the eyes of someone who comes along counting how many People of Color we have on our covers. (Although by making that comment, I probably just blew any chance of that.)

More importantly, perhaps, is the ease with which I was able to make the adjustment to the picture. I will have to do the same to the cover for Real American No. 1, since Bronze Terror and Lily weren't supposed to be yellow. (Remember what I said about the blind leading the blind? Welll...)

Modern Basics: Jungle Action is available at RPGNow and DriveThruRPG.

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