Funny Gets a Face-lift

When I started writing No Small Bills a couple years ago, I didn’t really have a lot in my head about where I was going with it. I didn’t have a detailed outline—which was a rarity for me—or a cast list—also unusual. All I had, in fact, was the idea of doing a very silly, very funny book reminiscent of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or Good Omens, the basic concept of the main character trying to save the universe, and the character himself. DuckBob Spinowitz. He, at least, was clear in my mind. I could practically picture him—as I proved when I had him describe himself in excruciating (and borderline scandalous) detail.

So, of course, when it came time to do the cover I knew DuckBob had to be on it. Who else’s mug could do the book’s silliness justice? And I knew it should say “outer space” as well.

I just didn’t know how, exactly.

Then I had the idea to turn DuckBob into his own constellation. Hey, there’s a Dogstar, why not a Duckstar? Why not a whole flock of them? Besides, doing the cover that way would kill three birds with one stone—showing DuckBob, showing outer space, and showing it’s funny. And that’s a pretty good shot, if you ask me.

I built the cover—first creating the image of DuckBob, then turning it into a constellation and laying it onto a starry night sky. I was pleased. It looked sharp. It looked snazzy. It looked cool.

What it didn’t look was silly.

Not really. It was a little too slick for that, I suppose. And I didn’t realize that myself. It took one of my friends to point it out to me. A year later. “It’s a good cover,” she said. “Very sharp. But it doesn’t scream ‘funny.’” The more I stared at it, the more I saw that she was right. It needed to shout “this is a funny, silly book” in great big letters. Three miles high. On fire. Pirouetting. On tiny little tricycles. Made of fish.

Which meant I had to redo it.

Meanwhile, I was putting the finishing touches on the manuscript for DuckBob’s second adventure, Too Small for Tall—that’s right, DuckBob’s back, this time trying to help his MiB pal Tall from a horrible fate involving traffic citations, missing shadows, and cookies. Yes, cookies. Then it occurred to me, this was the perfect time to redo the cover to the first book. I could match the two up visually, making it abundantly clear they were part of the same series. And I could make them both funny.

The only question was, how?

I tussled with cover ideas for months (yes, months—I get a little obsessive sometimes). Nothing felt right. Nothing stuck. I talked to artists about it, figuring maybe I needed to step back and hand the actual cover creation to someone else. I found an artist who loved the concept of DuckBob, whose art fit what I was looking for, and who was interested in working with me.

Then he disappeared.

I found another artist—an old friend, this time—who also got all enthused.

Then he disappeared.

I refused to try a third time. I didn’t want that on my conscience.

Which meant it was back to me. Finally, since I absolutely had to have something for Too Small, I put together a cover image—Tall straddling the world, so huge all you really see are his legs atop the globe, the rest of him vanishing into space.

And it worked.

It was striking. It was sharp. It was funny.

I showed it to a few trusted friends. One of them, my buddy and former SCE co-writer and fellow Crazy 8’er Glenn Hauman, had some great suggestions on how to improve it. Nothing major, no change to the overall image, just ways to punch it up. They sounded good. I asked him to make those changes, and he did. And he was right. It was better. Much, much better.

Now I had a cover for Too Small for Tall. And, with that one done, suddenly I had a template for the new No Small Bills cover. I had a flash, a clear image in my head of how that new cover should look. I put it together. It came out beautifully. Sharp, and striking, and colorful—and really, really funny.

I even know what the cover for the third book will be, already.

And if you look closely, you can see those tricycles. Even the fish are pleased.

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