Monday, July 7, 2014

A Nest of Snakes book cover

This is the third book in the Blackwater Novels series of middle-grade books by author Allen Johnson Jr. (See previous blog posts for the other books in the series, My Brother's Story and The Dead House.) The series is set in the south in the 1930's, and follows the lives of several boys as they have various adventures involving a labyrinthine swamp, man-eating alligators, buried treasure, and other excitement.

In A Nest of Snakes, the main conflict involves the KKK who are threatening one of the protagonists of the series, a kindly black man named Linc. But since that subject matter was too heavy for the cover of a children's book, Allen and I agreed that we should depict one of the book's many nostalgic outdoors scenes, where the boys are camping by themselves on an island in the swamp.

Allen is quite the stickler for detail, so this scene had to depict the text very accurately. It had to include:
  • The four characters, who are poking at the fire with sticks
  • Their black labrador
  • An army surplus tent
  • The swamp at night with pine trees
  • A campfire with pork chops being cooked or prepared
  • Chopped potatoes cooking in a frying pan
  • Logs being used as benches

I had to came up with a lot of thumbnails until I found three arrangements where all of these elements worked together. It was quite a challenge. Allen decided that he liked the last rough, which featured smoke disappearing into the open night sky. However, he wanted the dog to be a more active part of the scene, not sleeping off to the side.

This was the color rough I sent to Allen. He pointed out that the boys were dressed too nicely and I needed to rough and dirty them up a little.

I'm very happy with how this turned out. I think it captures the fun and coziness of having a campfire at night.

A Nest of Snakes also includes a whopping 26 black-and-white chapter illustrations by yours truly.

You can buy a copy of A Nest of Snakes at the Blackwater Novels website. (I do not receive any royalties from sales of the book.)

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