Creating The Annotated Sword of Shannara: Part VI


brooks-annotatedswordThe Annotated Sword of Shannara by Terry Brooks is publishing November 13, 2012!

I have cataloged the journey from inception to finished book. It’s been great fun. When Terry and Del Rey asked me to help annotate the book—basically create some of the annotations and ask Terry enough interesting questions that would lead to interesting content—I knew I had to do it. The Sword of Shannara has shaped my life in ways innumerable and I would have been a fool to not work on it.

I’ve also learned a great deal about the entire process of how a book comes to your favorite bookseller. It’s not a simple process. It takes many very talented people to do it and they are all quite different in their contributions. You can follow many of those different parts of Creating The Annotated Sword of Shannara here:

  • Part I – Why I was hired to work on this project!
  • Part II – Interviewing Terry at his Oregon home!
  • Part III – The final annotations being edited by Anne Groell!
  • Part IV – Placing the annotations where they belong!
  • Part V – Proofing the final book!
  • Part VI – Creating Cover Art!

Today, I decided to interview Dave Stevenson. Dave is the Senior Art Director for Random House but he directly oversees the covers for the Del Rey/Spectra list. He worked on the cover for The Annotated Sword of Shannara and has some things to say on the subject!


Shawn Speakman: For those who likely don’t know, what do you do for Random House and explain what your day is like?

Dave Stevenson: I am a Senior Art Director at Random House, working on a wide variety of books but chiefly overseeing the science fiction/fantasy list for Del Rey and Spectra. This is my 22nd year here! With my work, art direction and graphic design are closely intertwined so it creates a nice mix where, in conjunction with the editor and publisher, I get to determine the overall look and concept of a book jacket and then be intimately involved in the execution/creation of the artwork and typography. One of the nice aspects of working in this genre is not only my opportunity to work with visionary writers but also incredibly talented artists who bring these worlds to life. Having a close working relationship with my illustrators is something that I value enormously.

It sounds odd but one of my most important duties, on a daily basis, is simply to “look” at the world around me. Visual inspiration and influence come from all angles, from road signs, advertising, strange product packaging, television and the Web. The world is a veritable maelstrom of visual imagery and I sift through it like a scavenger. Distilling these impressions into something applicable to a particular book is probably the most important aspect of my job. On a day-to-day basis, I tackle whatever projects are pressing, deadline-wise, but always try to leave a window of time for open-ended research of visual inspiration. It’s not really a 9 to 5 job; you are constantly harvesting imagery from the world around you even in the wee hours of the morning. You never know when something will come in handy later. Recently I had to do some digging into the history of Arizona license plate designs. Who knew! But thank goodness for the Internet.

From a technical point of view, during a typical day, I will work on jacket designs, negotiate on the often laborious approval process, assemble mechanicals, make corrections as needed, and prep files for printing. With jacket printing being completely direct from digital, the sophistication of our files has increased greatly. And when you have a jacket like Terry Brooks’s, with interesting special effects layered on top of each other, the files can become quite complex. So my typical day is quite varied, a good mix of the artistic and the technical, and never seems to be the same…which I like!

SS: You’ve worked with Del Rey Books and Spectra for a long time. What was the first cover you worked on and what did it feel like?

DS: My goodness, I’ve done so many covers over the years that I honestly cannot recall what my first one was. It was probably a western for Simon and Schuster/Pocket Books, where I started my career. I initially was only working on backs and spines while I cut my teeth but eventually I was allowed to design covers on my own. I recall wanting to do something bold for the western genre, taking it out of the landscape art realm and into something with more of a design sense. So for the first book in this new series, I devised a large star badge shape, inside which was some art. It looked different and was approved but as the series progressed I quickly realized that I had designed myself into a corner! I had to deal with a cumbersome shape and commission paintings for a star composition. Lessons learned!

One of my earliest sci fi jackets was Slow River for Nicola Griffith, with the use of a white split face, slightly misaligned for a disorienting but eye-catching look. Being still pretty young, I was happy with not only the jacket but my ability to get it approved, and it gave me confidence that I could try to take more chances in the future.

SS: THE SWORD OF SHANNARA is the foundational book that led to Del Rey Books. How did you go about designing the cover for this annotated 35th anniversary edition? What steps did you take? Talk to Terry or others at Del Rey about it?

DS: Sword is such a landmark book not only for Del Rey but for the entire genre. The Anniversary Edition coincided with the launch of a new series by Terry so I was asked to link them somehow so they felt like a cohesive effort. I initially started by looking at the Brothers Hildebrandt artwork from the first edition from the Seventies. This got me thinking about the brothers themselves, their twin-ness, and the interesting echo it had with the new series which also contained a set of twin characters. So I hatched a plan and pitched it to my publisher. I wanted to work with another set of artist twins, Stephen and Paul Youll, on the new jackets for a thread of continuity. I thought this might also be a small but interesting marketing/publicity angle. I contacted the Youlls and they were excited by the idea as well. For the new jackets, the Youlls did not collaborate on each jacket per se but rather Stephen did the new series jackets while Paul concentrated on the Anniversary Edition. But, as twins often are, they were in constant touch with each other on what they were doing so it felt like a unified effort. I’m very pleased with the results. And, as an homage to the Brothers Hildebrandt, the new Sword edition reprints their original artwork on the back side of the jacket. It’s a nice added bonus.

SS: You have completed all of the covers for the Dark Legacy of Shannara trilogy. Do you have a favorite among the three? If so, which one and why?

DS: I view them as a trilogy so it is hard for me to think of them separately but there are aspects of each that I like very much. For Wards, I like the dramatic split in the coin, with Bloodfire, I’m drawn to the opalescent texture and color of the stone in the ring, and for Witch Wraith, I love the glow emanating from the nestled elfstones, like they are warm orbs pulsing with their own heartbeat. But taken as a trilogy, I also like the framing device of the wall alcove which gives it a “relic” feel.

SS: This very moment, what cover are you working on?

DS: On my screen at the moment is the second book by Liesel Schwarz called Heart of Brass, the followup to her debut, A Conspiracy of Alchemists. I’m working with the artist Nekro on the illustrations. It’s steampunk with a strong heroine and a twist! And up next I’ll be turning my attention to a new cover for China Mieville, one of my favorite authors. Back to work!

Many thanks to Dave for taking time out of his busy schedule! The Annotated Sword of Shannara will publish November 13, 2012!

More in October! Stay tuned!