Larry Gets Lost, Book 2 (the Cover)

For various reasons, I’ve always been disappointed with the covers of my books. This time out I was determined to break the streak.

My initial cover idea was the Painted Ladies, the six colorful Victorian houses at Alamo Square, most famous as the fictional home of the Tanner family in “Full House.” I wanted to do them as a wraparound cover, 3 on the front and 3 on the back, colored like cotton candy.

The publisher’s marketing people asked for something more iconic. They suggested the Golden Gate Bridge, but the bridge creates problems. It’s so gigantic compared to Larry that it’s hard to get them to relate compositionally. And it just didn’t seem like a fun picture.

Fortunately, the cable cars of San Francisco are just as iconic but on a much more human (or dog) scale. Immediately I knew the image I wanted, and it was even better than the first cover idea.

It was more fun and had the added bonus of the joke with Pete on the back cover. But after looking at it proudly for a while, I noticed a problem. It’s almost identical to this:

No wonder I liked it so much.

Miroslav Sasek wrote This is San Francisco in 1962, the eighth of 18 classic This is… books written between ’59 and ’74. It’s a series of colorful children’s picture books about different cities. Sound familiar? His books are in the style of travelogues without a narrative. Mine, on the other hand, have a dog. You see, they’re totally different.

This is the first time I’ll be doing one of the cities that Sasek did. It’s really intimidating. Sasek’s book is back in print, so Larry will literally be sharing shelf space with it. The least I can do is come up with a different cover.

For the record, there’s at least one other series of children’s books along this theme. The colossal Good Night Our World book series, with 25 books in print and eight more due this year. Kinda makes me look like a slacker.

On John K’s blog I saw an old animation background of a San Francisco street that had this fantastic hilltop POV. I added a cable car and came up with something that was starting to work.

Out of an obligation to authenticity I now needed to find an actual intersection to match my layout. I spent several days riding all three cable car routes in both directions, morning and afternoon, looking for my money shot.

The cliche postcard photo is the cable car coming uphill southbound on Powell with Alcatraz in the background. People of a certain age may be reminded of Rice-A-Roni.

I finally settled on the intersection of California and Powell looking east with the westbound California-Van Ness car cresting the hill (the cars look different on different routes). It’s got this wonderful vertical slice of a view that seems to condense all of San Francisco at once: a skyscraper, a glimpse of a pagoda roof from Chinatown, the water, a perfectly-framed pylon of the Bay Bridge, and the Transamerica Pyramid –although I did have to move the Pyramid a couple of blocks for aesthetic reasons. I’m not a slave to authenticity.

The kicker was that little pointy signal booth. The booth will be on the wraparound flap inside the dust cover.

Still in progress, obviously, with some glaring perspective errors. The booth was moved to get it to fit and haven’t correctly placed it on the corner yet, but I’m still working with color and composition. Once the layout is locked in, then I draw the actual pencil line drawing on a light box and scan it in. This is an Illustrator vector file, so I can drop the drawing on top of these colors without completely starting over. The vector files are easy to modify and the colors can be tweaked up to the very end. At some point I’ll move it into Photoshop to start adding textures. I try to stay in Illustrator (my fave) as long as possible, but the big linked texture files are a real memory hog and become hard to work with.

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