What Goes Into Making a Book Cover? An Interview with Zeke Peña, Mirelle Ortega, Jorge Lacera, and Kat Fajardo

 

By Cecilia Cackley

Whether we’re perusing the shelves at the library, walking into a bookstore or clicking on a tweet, the first part of the book we see is usually the cover. As more Latinx authors are publishing teen and children’s books, we’re also seeing more Latinx artists being featured on book covers. I was lucky enough to chat with four different artists about their creative process and how they got their start in publishing.

Cecilia Cackley:  What first inspired you to become an artist? 

Mirelle Ortega: I don’t think there was ever an “aha moment” for me. I’ve been drawing since I could hold a pen, and crafting stories has just always been my favorite thing to do. When my parents first asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up. I told them I wanted to make cartoons, so I think what inspired me to become an artist was just my sheer love for the art I saw in TV and books. Those stories and those drawings made me feel things, and I wanted to make people feel that way too.

Zeke Peña: I think comics and cartoons were really what inspired me to draw when I was young. Also my older brother was so good at drawing and I always looked up to him.

Jorge Lacera: Growing up, I always drew for fun.  My mom worked in clothing factories and kept a stack of cardboard inserts that go in dress shirts in her purse. I’d draw on those whenever I’d get bored.  I also knew my uncle in Colombia, where I was born, had at one point made a living as a graphic designer. I knew it was something I really wanted to do as an adult.

Kat Fajardo: Like most artists my age, I grew up with an obsession for anime and manga. I was a big fan of series like Digimon, Dragon ball Z, and Clamp manga series. They were unique and different compared to the classic cartoons and comics I grew up with like Tom & Jerry or Archie. I turned my admiration for that genre into creativity as I spent my free time sketching characters from these series, even taking requests from my classmates. Confident in my abilities, eventually I started creating my own characters and comics (which have been destroyed since then thankfully, they were really bad) and decided that I wanted to be an artist when I grow up. Several years later after honing my skills and experience in art high school and art college, I’ve been making comics and illustrations since then.

 

CC:  How did you become a cover artist specifically? Did an art director reach out to you, or did you submit samples for a particular book?

Mirelle: For Love, Sugar, Magic I was lucky enough to be approached by the publishing house after Anna (the author) found samples of my work on social media. For other projects, it’s been through the agency I am represented by. Sometimes it requires me to do art tests for projects, especially when the client wants something that they don’t specifically see in any of your sample work.

 

 

Jorge: I was actually approached by designer Kate Renner at Viking Penguin via email. She had seen my portfolio and knew from my bio that I grew up in South Florida (where The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora takes place).

 

Kat: I didn’t get into cover design until I started working with my agent Linda Camacho. Unlike me, she is well-versed in the YA publishing world, so it was nice to have that access to the industry through her. I was able to find freelance work such as The First Rule of Punk book and working on Disney’s Isle of the Lost. So if anyone is looking to do cover design work specifically, I recommend hiring an agent in that field, it’s incredibly useful!

 

Zeke: I started doing cover illustration in the music industry for bands and community organizing campaigns. This experience is really what helped me develop my style and understanding of covers. Then in 2014 Cinco Puntos Press in El Paso reached out to me to do my first published work for a book cover.

 

CC: When you get hired to create a cover, do you get to read the book before doing the artwork? 

Mirelle: Sometimes.

Zeke: When I have time, I like to read the text, but sometimes timelines and my workload don’t allow that. So I’ll usually ask editors and art directors to suggest excerpts to read that will give me a good sense of the scene or character I’m illustrating. I like to do this because it helps me visualize things while I’m working.

If it is a children’s book, yes, because I will also be making all the illustrations for the interior art. Even if it’s just partially illustrated.

For middle grade, sometimes you get a manuscript and other times you get just a couple pages or a chapter or two and a detailed description of the characters. Sometimes even a mood board with things that inspired the manuscript itself.

Jorge: Yes. I was sent a sample at first and eventually a PDF of the book to read. Both Kate and Joanna had ideas for how they wanted the cover to feel inspired by passages from the book itself. For our second cover for Pablo Cartaya, I was sent the entire manuscript upfront, and I read it all in one sitting late into the the night.

 

Kat: If my schedule allows it, I try my very best to read as much of the material as possible to get some ideas or feel for the piece, which is why most editors provide that material for designers. Although, for The First Rule of Punk, it was super cool to have read the first draft of the book and even the pitch material (it had a really cute comic explaining the synopsis of the book by Celia). It was Celia’s debut book, so it was an honor to have been able to read it before the public.

 

CC: For books with Latinx themes, how do you decide whether or not to include specific cultural imagery? Do you get to decide that or is it something the author or editor weighs in on? 

Jorge: It’s a collaboration. The Editor, Art Director/Graphic Designer, and I usually have a conversation to kick things off, and they always have great ideas for things they want to see. I then read the manuscript and come up with additional ideas based on the themes and imagery that jumps out at me. I think the most important thing is for the art to feel authentic to the story and make a person walking by want to pick it up.

Mirelle: In my experience, the art directors of the projects always have some specific cultural imagery they want you to incorporate, but they’ve also been very open to hear if I have a different idea or if there’s anything I feel strongly that should be included.

That said, I do get to pick a lot of the things that appear in the background and how the characters look and dress, and I always try to think of specifics about the characters whenever I can. There is a lot of beautiful diversity within the Latinx community, and I am always trying to make people feel represented, or show parts of it that I haven’t seen a lot of in media.

Kat: Depending on whether Latinx imagery is essential to the story, I aim to include some cultural elements to my pieces. But for The First Rule of Punk I was very lucky to have worked with a team that understood Latinx imagery was essential to the book. Thankfully they already had a list of illustrations to include such as Worry Dolls (a handmade doll found in Mexico and Guatemala), Traditional Mexican rebozo, Olmec heads, Calacas (Day of the Dead skulls), coconuts, quetzal birds, punk band references, Lotería cards, etc. I thought, wow this is a perfect bridge to Latinx culture and zines, all I needed to add was a delicious Concha (Mexican sweet bread) and this Mexican punk cover is all set to go! Which I did and the team loved it.

Zeke: I think it is a sum of all things. I definitely have a strong sense of what I want to do but editors will usually weigh in on whether or not I’m getting something right. The process is collaborative, and I think that only helps make the work stronger so that any ideas of culture are treated appropriately.

 

CC: I asked each artist to talk a little about a specific cover they had created, including how many versions they went through, their creative process, etc.

Mirelle on the book Love Sugar Magic by Anna Meriano: I come from a background in Animation, so I always start by designing the main character. I did a billion doodles of Leo on my notebook and then sent over some options. From there, I did a few sketches of the composition, and there was some back and forth with some tweaks here and there. Most of the sketches I did were digital, so they were really easy to tweak.

Jorge on the book The Epic Fail of Arturo Zamora by Pablo Cartaya: After my initial conversation with Joanna and Kate, I went back and did several rounds of thumbnails, exploring different approaches to color and subjects from the book. After a round of internal feedback from various departments at Viking, including Marketing, we ended up moving away from the initially approved direction. This is ok and totally part of the process. Luckily, we very quickly arrived at the idea of Arturo pushing the text. After that it went pretty quickly to final.

Kat on the book The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Pérez: The process of creating The First Rule of Punk cover involved a ton of revisions and notes between myself, the editor, project designer, and the writer. In the beginning, Celia had a couple of fantastic ideas for her cover design, and she was inspired by fun series like Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson. The first idea was based on the cover from my zine Gringa!. As fans of the zine, the editorial team loved the idea of a literal split of two cultures for Malú (one side being traditionally Mexican and the other is punk) and thought something similar to that would work with the story. The second idea was the direction we took with the final image which echoed the more traditional cut and paste approach of images found in zines. In the original design, Celia had a cute stick figure surrounded by beautiful cut out flowers on a yellow background. Inspired by this design, I took it further with having photocopied cut-out images of certain story elements. After the first rounds of sketches based on both ideas, we eventually went with the design of the current cover. Since it was my first middle grade project, and I had been working in indie comics by then, I didn’t realize Malú looked older in the original sketches until the editor had pointed it out. After that, for each revision, I made sure to age her down a bit, which sounds silly, but it’s an incredibly important lesson to learn when working in the children’s literature industry. As with the final image, Celia and the editorial team loved the lightning illustrations I added as the finishing touch. Though the entire process took a couple of months, it was very rewarding working with this team! A year later, I had the luck to work with them again for the tip-in illustrations which could be found in the newest hardcover editions.

Zeke on the book Gabi: a Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero: I had the unique opportunity to be in direct contact with the author, so the process was very collaborative. Isabel gave me lots of feedback and even sent over some collages she made as inspiration. I usually sketch thumbnails then go to a larger pencil sketch. For this cover, I had lots of great ideas, so there were a lot of compositions that I tried out. Actually, I have a version that I would love to use for something. It has more of a comic book feel to it. The final cover, I think, had about 5 or 6 versions that varied in composition and scale. I picked some bright colors, so the book would stand out on the shelf and did some custom hand-drawn typography for the title. Not many people know, but I also drew the zines on the inside of the book based on Isabel’s collages, and I designed the layout for the book.

 

CC: Imagine you could create a cover for any Latinx writer working today. Who would you want to work with? 

Mirelle: I honestly would be happy creating cover art for every Latinx writer out there, well-established or newcomers. As long as their story moves me, I want to be a part of it!

Kat: A while back, I did get the chance to redraw one of my favorite writer’s book cover, Gabby Rivera’s Juliet Takes a Breath for Disney-Hyperion. In the end, the editor decided to go with the original cover artist, which was a great decision considering I’m big fan of Cristy C. Road’s work (she did an absolute perfect job on the first cover). However, it was a huge honor to have been chosen to work on Rivera’s book cover, though I would love to work with her again in the future and hopefully meet in person!

Zeke: I would love to collaborate on making a cover with Lilliam Rivera, Elizabeth Acevedo, and Luis Alberto Urrea.

Jorge: I’m a big fan of the work of Meg Medina, and it would be incredible to get to illustrate one of her covers. It would be really cool to have the opportunity to illustrate one of Daniel José Older’s books since I’m such a fan of scifi and fantasy. Guillermo Del Toro’s work is a big influence on me and I know he’s written a few things, and I’d be honored to collaborate with J.C. Cervantes.

 

CC: Thank you all so much for chatting with me! Any upcoming projects (cover art or other work) that we should know about? 

Mirelle: Yes! I’m illustrating a series of books called Gavin McNally’s Year Off that will be out next year! And, there’s a beautiful Latinx project in the works, but I can’t really talk about it yet.

Kat: I’m excited to share that I’m signing with a children’s publisher for my first solo graphic novel. I can’t say too much about it at the moment, but it’s going to be a semi-autobiographical coming of age story taking place in Honduras. Having spent every summer there as a kid, rather than hanging out with friends back in the US, this book is a love letter to my culture and all the painful experiences I had growing up there as a “weird Gringa”. I hope readers with similar backgrounds will identify with the story and know they are not alone. And to be honest, I don’t see much positive representation for Central Americans in US media. I really hope this book can shed some light on the lovely and honest lives of the folks living there. With that said, I’m super excited to show readers that embarrassing side of myself and my family; it’s going to be really fun.

Zeke: Yes, my first children’s picture book written by Isabel Quintero will be published in 2019 by Kokila a Penguin Books imprint. I’m also working on an illustrated project about the river in my border community of El Paso and Ciudad Juárez.

 

Jorge: Why yes! My wife Megan Lacera and I have our first picture book coming out in April 2019 from Lee and Low. It is called Zombies Don’t Eat Veggies! Megan wrote it and I illustrated it. It’s about Mo Romero a zombie who loves nothing more than growing, cooking, and eating vegetables. Tomatoes? Tantalizing. Peppers? Pure perfection! The problem? Mo’s parents insist that their niño eat only zombie cuisine, like arm-panadas and finger foods. They tell Mo over and over that zombies don’t eat veggies. But Mo can’t imagine a lifetime of just eating zombie food and giving up his veggies. As he questions his own zombie identity, Mo tries his best to convince his parents to give peas a chance.

Very excited that our book will be released in both English and Spanish simultaneously.

I’m also thrilled to be illustrating a book by Deborah Underwood for Disney Hyperion as well as a book by Nancy Viau for Two Lions publishing.

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ABOUT THE ARTISTS:

zp-portrait03-crop2webZeke Peña is a cartoonist and illustrator working on the United States/Mexico frontera in El Paso, Tejas. He makes comics to remix history and reclaim stories using satire and humor; resistencia one cartoon at a time. He recently received the Boston Globe Horn Book Award for a graphic biography he illustrated titled Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide (Getty Publications 2017). Zeke studied Art History and Visual Culture at the University of Texas Austin. He has published work with VICE.com, Latino USA, The Believer Magazine, The Nib, Penguin Random House, Holt/Macmillan and Cinco Puntos Press. He is currently working on a children’s book written by Isabel Quintero to be published in 2019 by Kokila, a Penguin Books imprint.

 

Avatar.jpgMirelle Ortega is an illustrator and concept artist currently living in California. She’s originally from the south east of Mexico, and has a passion for storytelling, sci-fi, film, tv, color and culture. Mirelle has a BFA from the Tecnológico de Monterrey (Monterrey, Mexico) in digital art and 3D animation, and a MFA from Academy of Art University in San Francisco.

 

 

 

PictureJorge Lacera was born in Colombia and grew up drawing and painting in sketchbooks, on napkins, on walls, and anywhere his parents would let him in Miami, Florida.

After graduating with the honor of ‘Best of Ringling’ from Ringling College of Art and Design, Jorge chose to ‘Flee to the Cleve’ where he worked as a visual development artist and IP creator at American Greetings in Cleveland, Ohio. There he met Megan, his wife and Studio Lacera partner-in-crime. They’ve been creating and collaborating together ever since.

Jorge was formerly the Lead Concept Artist at award-winning Irrational Games.

 

Kat Fajardo is an award-winning comic artist and illustrator based in NYC. A graduate of The School of Visual Arts, she’s editor of La Raza Anthology and creator of Bandida Comics series. She’s created work for Penguin Random House on The First Rule of Punk (written by Celia C. Pérez), CollegeHumor, and several comic anthologies. You can find her working at her Brooklyn studio creating playful and colorful work about self-acceptance and Latinx culture.

 

 

 

cecilia-02-original Cecilia Cackley is a Mexican-American playwright and puppeteer based in Washington, DC. A longtime bookseller, she is currently the Children’s/YA buyer and event coordinator for East City Bookshop on Capitol Hill. Find out more about her art at www.ceciliacackley.com or follow her on Twitter @citymousedc

 

Book Review: Gabi, A Girl in Pieces by Isabel Quintero

By Sonia Alejandra Rodriguez

20702546DESCRIPTION OF THE NOVEL:

July 24

My mother named me Gabriella, after my grandmother who, coincidentally, didn’t want to meet me when I was born because my mother was unmarried, and therefore living in sin. My mom has told me the story many, many, MANY, times of how, when she confessed to my grandmother that she was pregnant with me, her mother beat her. BEAT HER! She was twenty-five. That story is the basis of my sexual education and has reiterated why it’s important to wait until you’re married to give it up. So now, every time I go out with a guy, my mom says, “Ojos abiertos, piernas cerradas.” Eyes open, legs closed. That’s as far as the birds and the bees talk has gone. And I don’t mind it. I don’t necessarily agree with that whole wait until you’re married crap, though. I mean, this is America and the 21st century; not Mexico one hundred years ago. But, of course, I can’t tell my mom that because she will think I’m bad. Or worse: trying to be White.

Gabi Hernandez chronicles her last year in high school in her diary: Cindy’s pregnancy, Sebastian’s coming out, the cute boys, her father’s meth habit, and the food she craves. And best of all, the poetry that helps forge her identity.

MY TWO CENTS: Isabel Quintero’s 378 page debut YA novel, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces, is witty, exciting, and heart-felt. Through a diary entry narrative, the novel follows Gabi Hernandez through her senior year in high school. Gabi is a self-identified light-skinned, fat Mexican with an insatiable appetite for hot wings, tacos, sopes, and poetry. The novel opens with a fantastic obsession for hot wings and with Sebastian, Gabi’s best friend, coming out to her. In a small piece of paper Sebastian writes, “I’m gay,” which does not surprise Gabi. Instead, she is more concerned about his parents’ reaction. Cindy, Gabi’s other best friend, also confesses to Gabi that she had sex with German and might be pregnant. Gabi, who is still a virgin, is taken aback but comforts Cindy in her time of need and together they discover that Cindy is in fact pregnant. By the end of the novel, Gabi has had her first kiss, broken up with her first boyfriend, and has sex with her second boyfriend. To top it all off, the Hernandez family must also contend with the father’s meth addiction which ultimately kills him. Poetry and letter writing give Gabi an opportunity to process all of the difficulties that she and her friends endure throughout the year.

Gabi: A Girl in Pieces covers an array of themes, like sexuality, body image, addiction, coming out, writing, healing, and teen pregnancy, among others, that attempt to speak to the experiences of Latino youth in the United States. The opening lines of the novel reveal that Gabi’s mom had her out of wedlock and has since been shunned by the grandmother. The dichotomy of the “good girl/bad girl” is a burden that follows Gabi throughout the novel. Her naiveté about sex and relationships makes her susceptible to her mother’s and Tia Bertha’s religious banter about womanhood—good girls keep their legs closed and go to heaven. Gabi, however, is quick to question her mother’s indoctrination and to point out the contradictions in their own behavior and in what they expect from her brother. Gabi’s mother’s constant insistence to be a “good girl” is also tied to a rejection of American identity. In other words, Gabi’s mother suggests that having sex or going away to college, things “bad girls” do, is part of American culture and Gabi’s desire to participate in such behavior further distances her from their Mexican identity. The juxtaposition of how Latina women should behave in accordance to their culture and religion to how American women behave has been signaled as the key reason for why Latina teens are at a higher risk of attempting and committing suicide in the United States (see Luis Zayas). Research, national reports, and media coverage on the topic argue that there exists a generational tension between mothers and daughters of Latino descent in the US. This tension is said to lead to higher risk of depression, low self-esteem, and potential self-harm. While Gabi’s character does not follow that pattern, it is clear that the tension with her mother impacts the ways she sees herself.

There are many qualities that make Gabi stand out within the genre of Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature. What I find specifically unique about this novel is the thorough engagement with drug addiction. Gabi’s entries capture the barrage of feelings of living with someone who is dependent on a drug. She explains that there are days, weeks, and even months, when they might not hear from her father because he’s on a high binge. They might also see him in the park getting high with the other drug addicts. As children, their dad took them along to pick up his meth. At the end, Gabi finds him overdosed and dead with a pipe on hand in the garage. The novel attempts to highlight how an entire family can be harmed by addiction. While the father’s backstory is never fully developed (because, obviously, he is not the focus of the story), the story suggests that drug addiction is a disease affecting many Latino communities and deserves further attention. That Quintero brings it up in her book provides an opportunity to discuss how children are impacted by a parents’ drug addiction.

Overall, Gabi: A Girl in Pieces is an extraordinary read with the potential to create various dialogues in and outside the classroom. Gabi struggles with body image because of her body type and light skin color, Cindy eventually reveals that she was raped by German, and Sebastian gets kicked out of his house for coming out. Gabi’s body image issues allow us to examine representations of Latino bodies in popular culture, cultural expectations on the body, and the centering of light skin bodies over darker skin ones in Latino culture. By the end of the novel, it is suggested that Cindy might seek counseling for what happened to her, but there is definite tension about whether her rape is an individual problem or one that should be addressed by a community. Without having anywhere else to go, Sebastian is forced to stay with his aunt, who believes religion will cure him of his queerness. And while Sebastian eventually joins the LGBTQ club in his school, there seems to be little support coming from his Latino community. Gabi is clever and sarcastic and extremely funny. It’s a book that details the inner thoughts and struggles of a young Latina on a journey to self-empowerment or a book about a young Latina’s long journey to Pepe’s House of Wings.

Reanna Marchman Photography

Isabel Quintero; Reanna Marchman Photography

TEACHING TIPS: The use of a diary style in Gabi presents a great opportunity to ask students to keep their own diary or journal while they read the novel. One way to approach this type of assignment would be to ask students to respond to each of Gabi’s entries. However, because so much of Gabi’s experience is concerned with sex education and sex, it’ll be important to establish conversation guidelines with the class. The opening diary entry reveals how sex ed. and sex is gendered. Gabi’s grandmother beats her daughter for getting pregnant, and, as a result, Gabi’s mom tries to impose those conservative and traditional views on Gabi. Students can respond to the opening entry by writing about the values that their families, communities, or the media have tried to impart on them regarding sex. When teaching Gabi, it is also important to be aware that many experiences with sex are closely tied to some sort of violence or trauma, as is the case with Cindy. When discussing and writing about Cindy’s rape, it’ll be extremely significant to steer away from conversations that blame the victim. A more productive approach would be to talk about ways to make communities accountable to issues of sexual assault and street harassment. A diary entry assignment will help students closely engage with the themes of the novel by allowing them to practice character analysis and by giving them a space to connect their personal experiences to what they read.

Another way to approach teaching a novel like Gabi is to talk about diary keeping as a genre. The use of the diary to tell a story has a very long literary tradition, so it will be important to talk with students about why this might be the case. In other words, consider why diaries have existed this long, what their purposes may have been (or if the purpose has changed), and why Quintero chose to write Gabi in this form. Discussing Facebook, Twitter, and other relevant social media might also create a fruitful discussion on diary keeping in the 21stcentury. An interesting digital media project might be to ask students what Gabi might be tweeting, posting, liking, etc., given what they know from her diary. A more literary approach would be to discuss other Latina/o children’s and young adult texts in this genre like Amada Irma Perez’s My Diary from Here to There. While My Diary is a children’s illustrated text, it nonetheless makes use of the diary form to capture a story of pain, struggle, and love.

Gabi also opens up a dialogue about addiction that can lead to many powerful discussions about substance abuse in communities of color. A few other Latina/o young adult texts that deal with issues of addiction include Benjamin Alire Saenz’s Last Night I Sang to the Monster, E.E. Charlon-Trujillo’s Fat Angie, and Gloria Velazquez’s Tyrone’s Betrayal. The young protagonists of these novels have some sort of relationship to addiction that influences their own understanding of drugs and alcohol and how they deal with pain and trauma. Conversations about addiction can be very difficult to have, so it will be important to discuss triggers and trigger warnings when broaching the subject. If students are not comfortable discussing the topic, then returning to the use of the diary form can provide a safe space for students to still engage the conversation. Students do not always have to provide a personal response but can instead think about Gabi’s actions and reactions to her father’s addiction. Gabi often expresses frustration at her mother for enabling or putting up with her husband’s addiction. Gabi’s younger brother feels unloved and eventually rebels because of the situation at home. Asking students what the family members’ different experiences reveal about addiction complicates popular understandings of what addiction looks like and how it can be cured.

AUTHOR (from the author’s website): Born and raised in Southern California to Mexican parents, Isabel Quintero always took home too many books from the library as a a child. Later, she married her husband Fernando in a library. In addition to writing young adult literature, poetry, and fiction,  she teaches English at a couple community colleges, freelance writes for the Arts Council of San Bernardino County, is a member of PoetrIE (a literary arts organization who’s working to bring literary arts to the communities of the IE), and an avid pizza and taco eater. You can read about why she writes in her first blog post, titled, “Why I Write.” Gabi: A Girl in Pieces has received starred reviews from Kirkus and Publisher’s Weekly.

FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT Gabi, A Girl in Pieces, visit your local library or bookstore. Also check out worldcat.orgindiebound.org, cincopuntos.comgoodreads.comamazon.com, and barnesandnoble.com.

 

headshotSonia Alejandra Rodríguez has been an avid reader since childhood. Her literary world was first transformed when she read Rudolfo Anaya’s Bless me, Última as a high school student and then again as a college freshman when she was given a copy of Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street. Sonia’s academic life and activism are committed to making diverse literature available to children and youth of color. Sonia received her B.A. in English from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is currently a PhD candidate at the University of California, Riverside, where she focuses her dissertation on healing processes in Latina/o Children’s and Young Adult Literature.