I have a habit of staying up late to watch sci-fi shows on Netflix. Stuff like Fringe, X-Files, Ancient Aliens, Lunopolis, The Hundred, etc. I also like to read cyberpunk and speculative fiction novels by authors like William Gibson and Margaret Atwood.
So in summer 2015 when I met Cori Dyson at Jeff Goins’ Inaugural Tribe Conference, I was pretty stoked to discover she was working on a novel about a time-traveling human-alien hybrid named Itzban whose mission is to deliver a message to an ancestor he never knew about, a wheelchair-bound world-class linguist named Jo.
This was right up my alley.
The book was called Descendent from Beyond and I couldn’t wait to get started on sketches. I drew a bunch of thumbnails and categorized them “cyberpunk,” “X-Files,” “Fantasy,” and “blockbuster,” riffing off certain genres for book covers and film posters. I created a morgue file of book cover inspiration for this same sort of overall sci-fi genre.
I kept coming back to the idea of showing the alien’s eyes and the human girl in her wheelchair. It seemed the most obvious and appropriate, so I went with it.
Cori approved the sketch, so it was time to find stock images to drop into a Photoshop layout.
This proved to be more difficult than I expected. While I thought it might be hard to find a good picture of a human-alien hybrid, it was even harder to find a photo of a woman in an “active” wheelchair.
Most of the stock photos of women in wheelchairs use the kind found in hospitals and nursing homes. They are made to be pushed from behind, not operated by someone otherwise young and healthy. The main character, Jo, had been in a car accident and was paralyzed from the waist down. But she is an active person to begin with and insists on doing everything herself. So I needed to show her in an “active” wheelchair, wearing a grim, determined expression.
Eventually I found the right stock photo.
I combined the stock photos of the alien and the girl with a moody sky and treeline that reflects the crash site where Itzban is found with a photo of the courtyard at Alcatraz. I used Alcatraz because one of the other top-secret researchers joked that they were staying at “Hotel Alcatraz.”
Cover Comp 1
Cover Comp 2
Cover Comp 3
Cover Comp 3a
Cover Comp 4
By this point it was a matter of creating the right mood with a color grading process similar to how movie posters are created. Cori went with the green tone, and from there small details were tweaked and developed, and we arrived at the final design.