Tor.com is pleased to present the cover art for Lish McBride’s Firebug, forthcoming in September from Henry Holt BYR. The plot follows Ava, a young woman with the power to start fires with her mind, who is caught in a deadly contract with a magical mafia known as the Coterie.
April Ward, the Associate Art Director for Henry Holt Books, shares the process for designing the cover below.
Generally when I’m beginning a cover design I like to keep a list of notes for possible directions while I’m reading the manuscript. I jot down character descriptions, environmental details, and text segments that stand out to me in a way that could translate well visually. In the case of Firebug there were two parts of the text that I couldn’t get out of my head, one was during a fight scene where Ava throws a volley of flaming orbs at her nemesis, and the other was when she was so nervous that sparks started to dance around her fingertips. I loved that the act of creating fire could be so tied to Ava’s emotions, and she had to fight hard to control her power at times. Usually at this stage I will do a series of little compositional thumbnail sketches before starting in on photo research, but for Firebug I had these images in my head from the very beginning so I just jumped in and start comping them up.
For the first round of comps I wanted to try showing a hand holding a fireball, the sparking fingertips, and then some more character driven options. Here’s a collection of first draft covers that weren’t pursued.
At this stage I met with Rich Deas (Senior Creative Director) and Noa Wheeler (Firebug’s editor) to narrow down the selection and hone in on which direction we wanted to push. Of course we didn’t want to make it look like Ava was evil, or bursting in to flames. Our favorite direction was the palms holding fire, but a version I had that did not show Ava’s face. So for round two I did a smaller group of layouts with a focus on Ava’s flaming palms.
We were happy with the direction that showed the hands coming down from the top so we presented that for approval to sales and marketing. There were a couple problems with the image itself, namely that I wanted the flames to be shooting out (not connected to her hands) the title wasn’t readable enough. We also wanted the image to feel more lively and show some character.
Next I hired Chad Michael Ward (a talented photo-illustrator that I am not related to) to refine the final image. Chad created a raging fire shooting down from Ava’s hands, added the nail polish and ring to give Ava more character, and pushed it with an overall burst of color and warmth for the final cover image. Chad also graciously experimented with various type treatments and border elements, which in the end we decided to simplify to give more emphasis to the image itself.