In 2010 I finished the first draft of a novel called Cold Cereal. It’s the first of a trilogy about a kid who discovers that a breakfast cereal company is stealing glamour from leprechauns and fairies and magical beasts, and slipping this stolen glamour into their magically delicious cereals, and using these cereals to raise an army of sugar zombies and conquer mankind.
It’s meant to be funny. Whether you find it funny will have a lot to do with your tolerance for this sort of thing.
I went through the usual battery of sketches for the cover of this novel:
Many of them eventually focused on my main kid (Scott) drawing a sword Excalibur-style out of a box of cereal, as if it were the prize inside. This was an idea that my editor kept pushing, and which she kept insisting was mine. I think I probably had originated it during some spitballing phone conversation, but the truth was that it made me uncomfortable–Scott doesn’t have a sword at any point in the book, and it’s exactly the sort of conceptual image that we accept as adults but which would have struck me as dishonest as a kid. I’d be waiting the whole book for the sword scene.
Well, it did make for an okay cover image. Painted in Photoshop, type design mine.
I ended up liking it. My wife liked it. My agent liked it. My editor liked it. She showed it to the Sales department, and they didn’t like it.
So we reeled back to an older idea: that of Scott approaching the cereal factory at night, seen only by the plaster eyes of mascots that overlook the entrance.
Now everybody was happy but me. I was on the faculty of the Illustration Master Class in Amherst that summer (2011), so at the end of my keynote I put this cover up on screen. I suggested that the students might enjoy critiquing one of my pieces after several grueling days of listening to the faculty critique theirs. I remember being concerned that no one would feel comfortable digging in. Instead, several students may have dislocated their shoulders from so much vigorous hand-raising.
They had, in fact, much better ideas than I could execute before the book went to print. But I took as much as I could to heart and turned in this revision.
Then I got to work on the 40-some pages of interior B&W illustrations, and started writing the sequel.
The sequel, Unlucky Charms, had its own cover struggles. I thought I’d knocked it out of the park right away with a dreamy image of two of my heroes approaching a giant raven:
Turns out someone at HarperCollins is afraid of birds? Or something? Anyway, they said it was “too scary.”
The next was “too sexy.”
The third idea turned into one of my favorite digital paintings.
Everything just kind of came together–or at least, it did after I made a 3D staircase model in SketchUp to help me draw the vines.
I REALLY like this painting, which is why it pains me a little to tell you that it isn’t the cover of Unlucky Charms.
I believe Cold Cereal has been selling only modestly (I’m not sure because I only get sales figures twice a year, and it hasn’t been in stores all that long). When a book isn’t performing to expectations the only thing you can really change about it is the cover. So may I present the cover of the paperback edition of Cold Cereal:
And the redesigned Unlucky Charms, out this week:
I like them. Again–Photoshop, dodgy type design mine.
I’m writing the third book, Champions of Breakfast, as you read this. I already have an approved cover sketch. They went along with the first idea I pitched. It’s TERRIFYING.