Creating a Villain – The Art of Noble: Bloodlines

WARNING: Contains minor spoilers about the NOBLE series.


“What do you want your cover to look like?”

I drew a blank. I felt like an idiot. The Noble series is my creation, my brainchild, and yet I couldn’t generate a single image inside my head as to what the cover should look like.

And that is how James McDonald and I began working together on the cover for Noble: Bloodlines.

I’ve always been fond of isolating a harrowing moment from my books to serve as its cover, but I found the selection process to be particularly difficult with Bloodlines. There are so many pivotal moments. So many twists and turns to capture without spoiling its secrets. So many essential characters to the plot—any one of which deserving of the spotlight.

However, in the end I came to the conclusion that there had been one key character I had neglected to consider: Alyssa Noble.

When we’d finally met Alyssa Noble near the end of Noble, we’d already heard a great deal about her. We knew that she was violent. We knew that she was a remorseless killer. We knew that she walked as a human, but wasn’t one. We knew that she was… naked.

However, there was still so much about her that we didn’t know. It had been my intention all along to bring her to the forefront of the story for the second book, so it made sense that she should also become a prominent fixture of the key art. The only question I needed to answer was, “What does she look like?”

Alyssa Noble, First Draft, by James McDonald

James McDonald is an amazing and gifted artist, but he does lack the ability to plug into my mind’s eye and download the mental images that I create. As a writer, you might think that describing Alyssa’s physical features to an artist would’ve been easy for me, but it wasn’t. I’d given her form in the book, but that didn’t guarantee that James would read my words and see the same picture. Thus began the Alyssa Noble collaboration process.

Alyssa may be heartless and bloodthirsty, but in my mind, she also needed to have sex appeal. I mean, I’ve made her the physical embodiment of death and destruction, so it would only be right to bless her with assets that balance out her flaws, right? Ahem…

The first concept James came up with was a basic sketch to see if he was on the right track. She looked a bit like Aeon Flux to me, but for a rough sketch? Not bad. The next phase was to create a 3D model of Alyssa and determine how she would be worked into the cover shot.

In Bloodlines, we get to see more of the sinister inner-workings of Alyssa’s psyche. Miller is scared to death of her, and I felt as though the reader needed to be clear on that fact. I really wanted the reader to grasp just how dangerous she is. Although Miller had survived his encounter with her at the end of Noble, it wasn’t out of an act of kindness. She wasn’t looking to turn over a new leaf.
Early cover design concept, by James McDonald

So, I selected a scene from the book in which Alyssa and Miller have an encounter. Alyssa’s physical appearance has evolved since he last saw her, which only adds to his fear. Since Alyssa walks around without clothing, I told James that a delicate approach was needed. I remember specifically saying to him, “Some alien side-boob is okay, but let’s not get banned from book stores,” which I must admit is a sentence that I never thought I would utter.

I then gave James a challenge: I wanted a lean, mean, fighting machine, but not at the sacrifice of Alyssa’s femininity.

When James submitted concept #2, he was right on the money. Alyssa was ripped, yet still feminine, just as I’d asked for. She had sex appeal, yet Miller was down on his knees with an intense look of fright upon his face. The fogging effect was intended to help mask some of the nudity, but was also a part of the scene that James had been able to glean from my description.

Test image, by James McDonald
With a look and feel for the cover decided upon, all that was left was to add in the text. Since the title treatment for the Noble series had already been created, it was an easy implementation. To make sure I was happy with it, James threw together a test image to show me what the text would look like on a dark background. In the center of the sample image was an alternate version of Alyssa Noble, knelt down in the shadows. Even though it wasn’t quite right for a cover, I still thought it was a great piece of art. Maybe I’ll find a use for it somewhere else down the road.

As James was working hard to finish the cover image, I started having second thoughts about the concept. I loved his design, but I couldn’t shake the nagging feeling that I was missing something. I felt like there was too much negative space, and I worried that it didn’t capture enough of the story’s mystery. If you’ve ever read any of my books, then you already know that creating intrigue is my primary goal. With Bloodlines, I’ve upped the ante, and it was crucial that the cover reflected that.

I ultimately decided that the cover needed something else: The first glimpse of a mysterious new character in the series. Once again, James knocked it out of the park. After I saw his updated submission, I knew there was nothing left to do to it. It was ready to go. Perfect.

And just who is the massive winged-creature lurking in the background of the final cover image? Well, you’ll just have to read it and find out for yourself. 🙂
Final cover image, by James McDonald

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