-By Dan dos Santos

Here is a piece I recently finished for Diana Rowland’s upcoming novel, ‘White Trash Zombie Gone Wild’.

We’ve always tried to push the envelope with this series of covers, depicting a bit more smoking, nudity and violence than we probably should. The real challenge though, has always been in making those themes come off as edgy and slightly humorous, rather than gratuitous and grotesque.

This latest installment was no different.

When I was given this assignment, the Publisher and the Author had already decided on the title ‘White Trash Zombie Gone Wild’, and knew they wanted the cover to parody a classic ‘Girls Gone Wild’ video. This was fairly appropriate since the novel takes place in New Orleans, as did the now defunct series of adult videos.

This posed some interesting opportunities, as well as some interesting problems, both anticipated and unanticipated.

Firstly, I couldn’t just depict the lead character, Angel, taking her top off in drunken debauchery. Not only would it be too blatant, but it would be pretty darn boring as far as covers go. It would tell us absolutely nothing about the book. We needed to find a way to incorporate the sex theme, while still capturing some of the flavor of the actual book.

Secondly, the type design on the real ‘Girls Gone Wild’ videos is absolutely horrid. Parody or not, I didn’t want to imitate bad design. If someone didn’t get the concept, it would only serve to make us look bad, not ‘Girls Gone Wild’.

An atrocity in more ways than one.

Early on, I latched on to the idea of making the the entire cover look like a faux VHS cassette. I decided to go for an amateurish ‘home made’ look to the cassette, in keeping with the vibe of ‘Girls Gone Wild’, while not directly imitating it. And like the covers before it, I tried to push the envelope of what was acceptable.

Surprisingly, my sketch was approved, with the one exception of Angel’s hand in her pants. Even with it covered up by type, the mere implication of masturbation was enough to make the Editor cringe. I suspect the Barnes and Noble Buyer would feel the same.

But despite getting approval I still felt it lacked something. Yeah, there was something kind of naughty and quirky about it all, but after the initial shock value wore off, it really wasn’t very exciting. It needed something more.

Eventually, I found that the solution was not in trying to imitate a specific video series, but instead trying to imitate an entire era of pornography. I needed to play up the design, and take advantage of certain colors more.

One of my inspirations for the type design

I tried to illicit a ‘retro’ vibe by playing with cliche type designs from the 80’s and using a lot of bright colors that I associate with the era. I also tossed in some 80’s fashion trends as well as old cassette tapes to really drive the concept home.

Typically I don’t do the type design for a cover, few illustrators do. But in this case, the design was so integral to the concept, that not only did I do it myself, but I designed the majority of it before I even painted the image, to ensure that all the proper naughty bits would all get covered up.

I did this painting using acrylic washes and colored pencil, a technique I’ve been using more and more lately because of how fast it is.

You can see in the progress pic above that the original painting differed some from the final art.

I had originally decided to make the head Angel was kissing a black man, primarily because I thought his complexion would complement hers really well, making her look even more pale. Plus, from an entirely selfish stand point, I think painting black people’s skin is just a lot more fun.

Unfortunately, my Editor feared that too many people would misconstrue the image as being intentionally racist, especially given the title of the book and the violent implications of the scene. And although this series has always been a bit controversial, that’s definitely not the kind of controversy we wanted. So, in her wisdom, she asked me to change it.

But that was easier said than done. What were we to do? Make him White?
That seemed even worse!!!
‘Hey, people might think this image is racist, so let’s just make everyoneΒ white. Problem solved!’

No way.

I have to say, this really tore me up for several days. I liked having a black guy on the cover, and I’ve never been one to edit myself for the sake of other people’s biases. But I wasn’t about to risk someone else’s career because of my stubbornness.

Finally, after a lot of brain storming, we all came up with what I think is a pretty good solution.
We decided to give the severed head a more mixed race look, and also add a second head of a differing race.

Our hope was that having multiple heads, of multiple races, would make the color of their skin seem more random and totally irrelevant

You know, as it should be in an ideal world.