We’re pleased to present Kathleen Jennings’ cover art for the first three episodes of Tremontaine, a serial novel and prequel to Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint and the rest of the Riverside series! Released in weekly episodes by Serial Box, Tremontaine begins October 28th and is written by Ellen Kushner, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Malinda Lo, Joel Derfner, Racheline Maltese, and Patty Bryant. You can subscribe now via SerialBox.com!
Learn more about the novel below, plus check out the entire cover design process, including artist Kathleen Jennings’ early sketches and comments from Serial Box Art Director Charles Orr!
More about Tremontaine:
In a city that never was, sex, scandal, and swordplay combine in a melodrama of manners that returns readers to the beloved world of Ellen Kushner’s Swordspoint! A Duchess whose beauty is matched only by her cunning; her husband’s dangerous affair with a handsome scholar; a Foreigner in a playground of swordplay and secrets; and a mathematical genius on the brink of revolution—when long-buried lies threaten to come to light, betrayal and treachery know no bounds with stakes this high. Mind your manners and enjoy the chocolate in a dance of sparkling wit and political intrigue.
Artist Kathleen Jennings was kind enough to share her process—from thumbnail sketches to the final silhouettes—through the series of images below! She had this to say about the project:
First I read the stories which was tremendous fun, not only because I’m a great admirer of Riverside and Ellen. Because they were still being drafted so I was able to sneak a look at some of the behind-the-scenes collaboration and workshop notes, which was fascinating and endearing. I sketched a series of thumbnail concepts for each cover, for the publisher to consider. We had spoken about making the images connect from one episode to the next, but in the end the publication schedule and app layout suggested we should go with individual illustrations.
Charles Orr, Art Director for Serial Box, explains the rest of the cover design process:
As art director for Serial Box my job is to develop the look and feel of a series. This involves a combination of considering the atmosphere of the overall story or “Season,” having an understanding of the cover artist’s approach, and finding a visual strategy appropriate for the style or genre of the book. Serial Box has provided a unique opportunity for me as a designer because of their episodic approach to storytelling—rather than art directing one cover I get to design for 13 individual covers that make one cohesive look.
For Tremontaine I knew from the start that I wanted to emulate visually the time and place that author Ellen Kushner creates so well with language. After a few false starts the team and I decided on an aged parchment paper approach as a backdrop for the art and text.
Next came the series title logo and visual template structure for Tremontaine. After several explorations and input from Ellen we wanted a style that would relate to the previous books in this series—Swordspoint, and The Privilege of the Sword. After researching the various iterations and cover options from the past I offered up three or four approaches. We landed on a final typographic and framing style that felt unique but still evocative of the series’ history.
Once the template for the series was established I sent Kathleen an in-progress version as a guide for her sketches. When finished with her process she sent me her completed imagery with some alternates to choose from.
I then placed her work loosely into the template and had some decisions to make—Where to crop? How much to scale the image? How much space to give for the text above and Serial Box logo below? All important considerations to best showcase Kathleen’s beautiful art, while still retaining the integrity of the Season’s look and feel.
After I created a cover design that I was happy with I then shared the results with Kathleen, and after some back and forth emailing—Brooklyn to Brisbane, Brisbane to Brooklyn—and a few adjustments (including a title change) we arrived at the final cover for Episode 1, Arrivals…
After working as a designer in publishing and advertising for many years, Serial Box is easily one of my favorite projects. Working with talent like Kathleen Jennings and Ellen Kushner as well as the gifted teams on the other Serial Box projects is a designers dream.
Tor.com is also pleased to bring you an exclusive look at the covers for Episode 2: The North Side of the Sun, written by Alaya Dawn Johnson, and Episode 3: Heavenly Bodies, written by Joel Derfner:
Finally, lead author Ellen Kushner shares her thoughts on the covers:
What can I say? I’ve been a fan of Kathleen Jennings for ages! I must have been introduced to her art by Gavin Grant and Kelly Link of Small Beer Press, when they hired this person they’d met in Australia to do the cover for my wife Delia Sherman’s novel The Freedom Maze. When Kathleen came to NYC, Delia went off to have tea with her, and came back raving about this woman who loved all the same books we did, and laughed at the same jokes. I started following her online (@tanaudel) and swooped in and bought one of her early silhouette pieces. We finally met when I invited her to stay in our tiny rental cottage in Devon, UK, in exchange for driving us to the Brighton World Fantasy Convention on the wrong side of the road. We became friends. I remained a fan, and bought the T-shirt to prove it.
When we were looking for an artist for Tremontaine, I started a collection of possibles to show our publisher, Julian Yap. But the minute he saw Kathleen’s work, he just stopped. “Would she do it?” he said. “We can but ask,” I replied.
The results have been beyond my wildest dreams. My world comes to life under her fingers. Because she loves the same books we do. And we laugh at the same jokes.