There’s no faster way to improve a piece of art or design (or to improve as an artist or designer) than to subject it (or yourself) to peer critique and get some feedback beyond the encouragement of dear friends and fans. Criticism is a double-edged sword, though — and I’m not talking about bruised egos or hurt feelings. Exposing a concept to a big enough review pool and openly inviting suggestions is a slippery slope … followed by a plunging dropoff into designing by committee, which often guarantees the blandest, greyest result possible.

When I had to come up with a cover for NTO I had an idea of what I wanted to do, but decided it was too low-key to impress (at the time I was shopping NTO around to publishers like Image) and doodled a more dynamic alternative based on an NTO drawing I’d done a long time ago. I posted it in a forum I semi-frequent to get some opinions and developed it some in response to criticism but so many people had so many different issues with it (including a prevailing notion that it was too boring) and so I thumbnailed more possibilities. Figuring that if the dynamic one was too boring my initial idea most definitely was, I didn’t bother with my original notion. It remained undoodled.

Too Many Cooks.

Every new thumbnail I posted was (validly) argued against by someone. The one that emerged as seemingly most popular by way of being more graphic and less literal I just started developing out of exasperation. Comments and crits on it, I think, smoothed it out so thoroughly I’m not sure it retained any of its eye-catchability. That’s the Lookback cover you’re sick of seeing. The soft, quiet Hunter profile with Vane silhouetted in the background that I don’t think anyone would pick up off a rack because it’s just so flat and polite-looking.

In retrospect I think my original impulse would have been the way to go: just a tight shot of the Hunter wanted poster, gripped in Vane’s fingers with the rest of her unseen, one corner smoldering slightly. I guess I’ll always need TPB covers, though, right? 5 of them, to be exact, collecting books 1 through 4, 5-8, 9-12 and the grossly overlong 13 with, probably, a secret bonus story.

Speaking of collected works, buy Hell’s Corners in the General Store while you’re in there picking up the complete Sun Prairie — you can’t beat 158 DRM-free pages for $4.99. Well, you probably can, actually, but not while supporting me.