Junior Mad Scientist – Lab Notes

Portriat of No One

February 20th, 2012 by Weber

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Max Allan Collins and the Case of the Sucky Book Cover

August 25th, 2011 by Weber

The original draft of the Junior Mad Scientist review of Bye, Bye, Baby included a drubbing of book’s the less-than-stellar cover art that made crappy by association what was really a quality read. Rather than risk splashing the text while pissing on the cover, all discussion of the upfront image was removed and saved for later.

Wella, well . . . poking around Max Allan Collins’s Website, it seems the man himself is none too pleased with what will be people’s first impression of his latest work:

“I’ve stirred some interest and even commentary on my admitted displeasure with the cover to the new Heller. I am pleased by the quality of the photograph, and thrilled that my publisher ponied up for a major photographic shoot from the excellent Thalicer Image Studio. But because of fears that the MM estate might object to too overt a Marilyn image, the publisher chose what I consider to be the weakest (and certainly most historically inaccurate) of the photos from the shoot.”

Since the other cover options are not available for review, it’s hard to argue with him. And while the chosen cover is flaccid and dull, it manages to attract the eye and direct it around the primary sights. Here are the excised chunks of the of the original review with full analysis of how the image works.


HEADLINE –– Book Review: Bye, Bye, Baby by Max Allan Collins


A good book with a bad cover is like a dead kitty on the tollway. Driving past it, you wonder who was supposed to be taking care of the forlorn thing, think it deserved better, then wonder how long it’s going to lay there. Max Collin’s latest Nate Heller memoir Bye, Bye, Baby is that dead kitty.

[Hey, it’s me again. Just so you know, the majority of the review –– all the stuff about how good the text is, etc. –– came from right here. OK, roll tape.]

Staged photos like this, especially on a fiction cover, are less effective than an auctioneer with a bad stutter. The photo on Bye, Bye, Baby lacks not only luster, but nearly anything related to the story inside. (The title is one of Marilyn’s songs from Gentlemen Prefer Blondes; that point goes to Collins, not the book’s designers.) More than probably, the lack of relevance is due to Marilyn’s image or likeness being heavily copyrighted and/or trademarked, and the publisher not wanting to shell-out for using it. Not that I blame them; that kind of thing has got to be expensive. And with publishing costs being what they are today, if there’s a reason and a way to avoid adding to the overhead, all to the good.

Which gets us back to an illustrated cover. Any talented artist could have pulled off something really intriguing that more heavily hinted at, but didn’t show, the corpsified Marilyn, and for a lot less than the cost of staging a shoot.

And while there are several other gripes about the photo –– including the inaccurate death scene and the fedora-sporting geezer eyeballing the dead girl’s ass –– the time has come for it’s one and only good point: an effective use of space and white to guide the eye.

Stay with me here . . .

The starburst camera flash in the upper left corner attracts the eye and drags it across the white of the author’s name to the reporter’s black suspenders framing his white shirt; the V of his open collar, the shirt buttons, suspenders and the angle of his torso draw the viewer’s eye down to the second camera flash a fraction of an inch above the hot pink title –– also outlined in white. From here, the eye might go two directions: flick along the lilting title back to it’s beginning or down to read the single sentence synopsis below before taking in the title. The second scenario seems most likely because those letters are also in white.

Either way, the title will be read because the panicky-looking guy in the suit to the left, just under the flashblown C. His highlit hair, white teeth, white collar, the white slashes in his tie, the lapel button, the lined papers on the angled clipboard and the index finger of his right hand lead the eye down to the dead girl with the nice rack. And oh, look –– there’s a hot pink title between his finger and her chest.

Along with her ample bossoms (which are strangely free of cleavage), the dead girl’s glittering bracelet, satin sheet and telephone receiver conspire to draw the eye down and through the image. Note the ivory colors and off-white tones of the sheet, rug and phone. This is because the body is the eye’s final resting place (as it were), not where the eye should start.

But look how the angle of the girl’s knee directs the eye back up to the white camera flash again, and how the title gets in the way. Funny how that works.

Central to all this is the septuagenarian detective –– who looks nothing like the fiddle–fit Heller described in the book.

Sure, Heller wears suits — also sporty casual clothes, polo shirts, white jeans — and admits forgoing hats thanks to the trend set by JFK. Who this moist-eyed basset hound is supposed to be is anyone’s guess. LAPD, maybe? If you look reeeeeeeal close, he’s holding a badge.

So confused . . . .

Knowing the mechanics of the cover still doesn’t make readers/buyers unfamiliar, or even slightly familiar, with Heller or Collins want to pick it up. Because the cover is boring and displays almost nothing of the real mystery inside.

And why there isn’t a well-placed banner showcasing this as A NATE HELLER MYSTERY, I can only imagine. Most readers like a good series. The Heller memoirs may not be what anyone would consider a traditional mystery series, but after more than a dozen books, that’s pretty much what it is. When you’ve got a nice backlist, why not show it off?

For those who read it and recognize it, an author’s name can overcome uninspired, barely functional cover art. In some cases, the author’s name is all that’s needed: Stephen King, James Patterson, Amanda Quick, Dan Bown.

(. . . gag . . . ack . . . Sorry. Threw up a little in my mouth on that last one.)

Unfortunately, Max Allan Collins doesn’t have quite that level of recognition. Christ only knows why. It’s not like he doesn’t deserve it. Perhaps it has something to do with publishers wrapping his books in crappy cover art.

Still and all, beyond an author’s brand name, a good cover is what gets a book into people’s hands. Hell, even wine makers know this. Over the last several years, label design has gone through a major shift because what’s true of books is true of wine: buyers judge contents by what’s on the outside. (This is also true of mail-order brides –– though that industry has a narrower consumer base than the other two up for discussion.)

Good art on bad wine sells a lot of bad wine. Bad art on good books sells damned few good books.

Bye, Bye, Baby deserves much better than it got. Here’s hoping the paperback gets the right treatment.

(28 FEB 2012: comments section closed due to excessive spam. Please direct any comments to the address on the ABOUT page. Thanks. bjw)

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Now on Facebook

November 7th, 2010 by Weber


No, not me. This guy.

A couple of months ago, I posted the various versions of the Tinwerks 2009 holiday card. Little did I know Joe and Dave had installed Tinny as their FaceBook icon.

Better check it quick, though. They ordered a complete redesign — the final for which I delivered at the end of October. sThere are some fun plans for Tinny and his new look. Friend Tinwerks on Facebook and you’ll probably find out about the launch before I do.

After Tinny 2.0 goes live, I’ll be free to do some show-n-tell with the prototypes.

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Lauren Richer — Someone You Should Know

October 5th, 2010 by Weber


Meet Lauren Richer — photographer, graphic designer, writer.

Talented? Oh, yeah.

Home base = San Diego.

The Scrabble ads are especially well done.


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Happy Holidays (part 1)

July 9th, 2010 by Weber

click here for full size image

Tinwerks is a Chicago-based company that does ground-up design and manufacture of metal boxes. Chances are that if your special edition DVD boxed set, candy, gum, food, toys, or cigars came in an uber-cool tin, these guys did it.

Now that I think about it, this is actually the fourth card design I sent them in 2009. The first one was this . . .

click for full image
(click image for detail)

. . . but they weren’t feeling it, for some reason. So I sent them this . . .

(click image for detail)

. . . which they said was still a bit too corporate. They were looking for something that jumped off the page, something that would show they were a breed apart. Discussion still revolved around robots and snowmen and this and that . . . and then I came up with a giant snowman attacking Tokyo.

Instant love. Do it.

But before getting too far into this version, I sent the Big Bosses the following:

(click image for detail)

The idea being that the runners would be redrawn as a fleeing mob, include some 1950s jets flying around and a pair of insets with shocked citizens and scientist in the bottom corners. Go for a total movie poster look.

And they loved it! They said it was the best Iron Maiden Christmas card they’d ever seen, which I took as a high compliment. But the image was not quite, er, corporate enough — didn’t send the right message or something. So, back to the drawing tablet.

Some more ideas, more back-and-forth and I sent them this one:


It’s got the same basic elements as the final product but the chest design on this guy was a bit much. The final robot design has a nice Power Rangers feel to it that the big-wigs really dug. Actually, they went nuts over it. So much so that there was talk of having “Tinny” (as this guy’s now known throughout the company) at trade shows and printed on t-shirts, but it either never happened or I never got a shirt — which is a drag, because I would be wearing it with pride.

click here for full size image

More fine examples of my holiday handiwork coming soon.

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Father’s Day Activity Sheet

June 18th, 2010 by Weber


click to download (638kb)

In just under the wire! Print, color and have a Happy Father’s Day. I know I will. Peace.

(special thanks to Bruce Lee , a.k.a., Loston Wallace, over at the PencilJack forum for the Kirby Krackle tutorial. YOU GO NOW. DO IT.)

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Mother’s Day activity sheet

May 13th, 2010 by Weber

(click here to download .PDF, 868kb)

Here’s the Mother’s Day activity sheet for the Hilton Chicago/Indian Lakes in beautiful Bloomingdale, IL. It was a big hit with the kids, and the grown-ups, too — so much so that they ran out of copies to hand out. Note to self: bigger print run for next year.

The hotel’s nicer restaurant, Shiraz On The Water, will be doing a big menu change in a couple of weeks, for which they will be getting all new kids’ menus, too. More on that when it happens.

The hotel also has a Father’s Day brunch coming up on whatever Sunday Father’s day is. And guess who’s doing the activity sheet for that?

I’ll try to have it up before the holiday this time, so the kids at home can print it and color it for their own dads.

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deg3d.biz 3D modeling — GET THIS GUY A JOB

May 13th, 2010 by Weber


(click here for full image)

Somebody help me out here. This guy, deg, AKA, “Douglas Graves”, has been doing 3D modeling for, I don’t know, a couple of weeks, maybe. He somehow got my email address and keeps sending me these updates of his work. It’s pretty and all, but it’s not like I can help him out. “Damn it, Jim, I’m a writer not a production designer!” Right?

So, check out his site then pass the goods around to decision makers and other industry hot shots who can pay Douglas. The idea is to keep him so busy he has no time to flood my mailbox with this stuff.


Posted in Art, Comics, Movies, Work For Hire | 1 Comment »

World’s Greatest Kids’ Menus

April 21st, 2010 by Weber


Click here to download (1.2MB PDF)

All right!

It took some finagling, but this is worth it. Download the .pdf, print it up and take this super-awesome kids’ menu and activity sheet to your next boring meeting. It’s got something for everybody, including a maze, word find, and lots of tasty food. The menu is designed for 11″ x 17″ paper, though it’ll fit on 8.5″ x 11″.

I’ll be starting the Mother’s Day edition early next week and the one for Shiraz On The Water once we get the new menu confirmed.

Have fun!

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Easter Activity Sheet

March 22nd, 2010 by Weber

click here to download front (1.1MB)
click here to download back (1.1MB)

Never mind how I did it, but I managed to talk the Food & Beverage Manager over at the Hilton Chicago Indian Lakes Resort into letting me redesign all their kids’ menus. The gig also includes special event menus and activity sheets, like this one for Easter. Print and enjoy!

(This goofy blog program won’t let me upload the other, super-awesome kids’ menu for Masters Clubhouse, the hotel’s breakfast and lunch restaurant. Something about 2MB is too much. !???! Time to dump this set-up for something else. Until that happens, I’ll figure out a way to post the other menu.)

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