Illustrating the Cover of Big in Japan Book 2: Power

3 years ago I illustrated the cover of Timothy Price’s book, Big in Japan. It was an independent release with modest sales, but it DID get some national attention from MTV, and it was a great project. Tim is writing a series and I have high hopes that as he puts out more books it will acquire more and more attention.


Tim is almost finished with the second book, and I’m off to the races again with illustrations, beginning again, with the cover.

It was such an odd experience, going back to an idea I haven’t really thought about in so long, that I thought I’d write a little about it.

First, I have studied a LOT of drawn “collage” now..far more than I had at that time. Since 2013 I discovered Sergio Toppi, who has since become my favorite illustrator of all time, and he did a lot of collage.

Here’s an example:

Toppi Chapungo 25

I found composing the image significantly easier this time even with nearly as many elements as the last cover. I was just better at organizing the thoughts. Thank you Toppi!

I still love that BiJ cover from 2013, and it definitely works in a lot of ways, but that floating head up in the top left corner bothers me. It was the one compositional element I just couldn’t solve back then (not enough experience).

The second thing I found interesting was going back to the prop reference. I downloaded a ton of steam punk images to develop the look of the “Duke” (That’s the cowboy robot).

Quick backstory: When Tim first proposed the idea of this story to me, he wanted a Japanese robot samuri. I told him that, from my perspective, Western storytellers trying to use Japanese culture in their stories from a Japanese perspective was frustrating. It leaves a feeling of being inauthentic. I said what he should do for authenticity is take western ideas to the East. He’s a westerner, so he should tell his story set in Japan from a Western perspective. The first idea to accomplish this goal was to make the robot western. A Cowboy instead of a samuri. I wanted the cowboy to have a whip in addition to the gun, I think it would be a more interesting visual, but Tim hasn’t added that element to the story yet. I remain hopeful.

Getting back to the point: That reference was like looking at long lost friends! I had to spend so much time pouring over those images last time I was super happy they were all still on my iPad, just waiting for me to find them again. I did need to do some more work to find “steam punk” metal work for textural reasons. Last time I hadn’t really explored material textures and was relying on some “tricks” I learned from studying Alex Maleev images to help me. While a lot of those techniques are still in my bag, I don’t really use them as a crutch anymore.

Anyway, the third thing that was really interesting was the difference in working method. For the original cover I used paper textures that I cut up using selections in photoshop (one of my Alex Maleev tricks…though where I use paper he uses scans of his etchings for textures) and some photoshop calligraphy pens.

The second cover uses a couple paper textures, but not nearly as many because this time I had Kyle Webster’s watercolor and spatter brushes. These have become my “go to” tools for color work (I still ink in Manga Studio). I’m amazed by how well these brushes respond. I’ve also learned a great deal about drawing while working with blending modes (I use the heck out of “multiply” and “lighten” now in the actual brush settings as opposed to the layer settings).

I’ve still got a lot to learn (otherwise, why do it?), but I’m really pleased with this very clear “picture” of how far I’ve come in the last few years.