Barbaric Prey

Barbaric Prey!
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"This newcomer doesn't think like us. He doesn't understand our ways. He's a brute. An idiot. He worships chaos. He'll be the end of us all if we don't act."
"He may be an outsider, but don't think that he's stupid, or that he doesn't understand us. He just has a different... way of seeing it."
"I think you overestimate him. He may be a king, but kings can die. He saw to the last one, remember."

King Numedides is dead, slain by an outsider — a barbarian from Cimmeria who has taken the crown for himself. Long live the new king!
Or not so long, if other people would have their way. There are no less than four factions that want to make their Cimmerian king's reign a very short one. Stranger, the king himself doesn't seem to want the crown — but he doesn't want to give it up to his enemies.
Lucas has been many things — a sell-sword, a mercenary, part of the city guard — but now that he's the chief military strategist for the king, he's mostly confused. Lucas doesn't care for politics, and doesn't care for the posturing and maneuvering behind the throne. What he wants is law and order, and the king is the law. But unlike the decadence of Numedides, the new king seems to be bent towards chaos.
Torn between his duty to the crown and his desire for peace and order, Lucas is going to have to forge some very strange alliances to ensure that the future is secure. And to make sure that his head doesn't end up on a pike...

April 1, 2018

Explaining the Joke Ruins the Joke
by Roswell Camp

This was another cover that went through a lot of revision. I changed the art a lot, I changed the text radically. I was never quite satisfied with it. I'm still not. The cover itself is good — I'll get to that in a moment — but the text is probably the weakest of this year's covers [1].
The original version was supposed to just be a Conan the Barbarian -inspired story, with Lucas (somehow) fighting against or alongside Conan himself [2]. The problem is, while I've read Howard's original Conan stories — there aren't as many as you might think — the extended universe is kind of daunting, and I know very little about it [3].
So it didn't seem right to have a storyline that wasn't so much me winging it as it was outright faking it. I mean, sure, these are meant to be silly anyway, but the result wasn't silly. It was just... flat.
So I went a different direction and changed things. Instead of setting it in Hyperborea, the distant northern lands occupied by Conan and all his companions, I set it in Hyperborea, Michigan, with Lucas trying to figure out who put they mayor's head on a pike [4].
In this version, all the suspicion falls on a local kid named Conan "The Barbarian" Murphy [5]. The name's ironic — he's a stereotype of a semi-autistic nerd, harboring rage issues and spending all day playing video games and reading trashy fantasy novels. He's bullied at school, and everyone's just waiting for him to "go off".
But Lucas doesn't buy it, and the rest of the book ensues, and the town's corrupt and bla bla bla.
There's a good reason you don't see that synopsis. It wasn't very good. Worse, I had a few ideas in there I liked — a bullied kid being framed for something everyone is positive he did could easily be in a Virgil Flowers novel — but it just didn't work. And as I've mentioned elsewhere, there was a bigger problem: it wasn't funny.
So I wiped it again, again. And started over with "Yeah, this is in Aqualonia. He kills king.... um... I'll look it up. How do you spell Cimmeria? It's not Sumaria..." And I slowly put this synopsis together.
It's still not especially funny — sorry about that — but at least it's ridiculous enough that someone reading it might think "You know, there's something different here that makes me suspect that it might actually be a silly April Fools' Day prank." So yeah, mission accomplished. I guess.
And now, the cover.
The art went through a lot of revision. I myself am no good at art, but I'm willing to pay for it. So I had a bunch of ideas and nothing solid. Fortunately for me, there was a comic book convention coming up [6], and it was one that had a huge artist alley. Surely I could find something there that would fit.
Nope.
Worse, the people who could do the kind of thing I wanted either weren't taking commissions, or would take far longer than I could afford [7].
But! One of them said that what I really needed to do was just go on Shutterstock — or any of the stock images firms, really [8] — and see if I could find stuff there. So I did, and it solved almost every art problem for this year. Recommended, would use again. (And probably will, next year.)
As for the design... that one's got its own weird story.
So there's this fantasy writer named Terry Goodkind, and a month or two ago he went completely ballistic on the cover art for his most recent novel [9].
So I checked the covers, and he's got about five or six general designs that are repeated. Not for the art content, but for the layout. Most of them are pretty standard, but it's all still stuff I either have yet to learn or which I'm picking up a bit at a time.
I ended up filing away the knowledge of "Yeah, these are modern fantasy novel covers" into the back of my head, and when I needed to make one, the first thing I did was go to the internet and browse Terry Goodkind covers.
If this one looks a lot like one of his books — except with different names and titles and art — that's because it's the exact style. But that's not something you can copyright, so I'm good. No apologies.

Footnotes

1. One of them will be weakest, just because out of any group, one will be weakest. But when I say weakest, this time I mean I really feel I could have done better, or should have done better. Sorry about that.

2. Notice that I've not name-dropped Conan anywhere in the text. I sort of dance around it. Yes, there's a new king, and he hails from Cimmeria, and he killed king Numedides. That makes for a very short list of candidates, but technically I never say "Conan".

3. One thing I remember is that the Arnold Schwarzenegger version is sort of a bad stereotype, and it's wrong. The muscle-bound in a loincloth is a trope of book covers and... well, that movie. But the "real" Conan was fairly clever, spoke several languages, and dressed more-or-less like the other people did wherever he was. No loincloth-and-bare chest for him. He'd wear shirts, is what I'm saying.

4. This isn't the kind of thing a U.S. Marshal would be investigating, so in this version I said that Lucas was on a fishing trip with his family in Michigan's upper peninsula, and just kind of stumbles into getting involved. Sort of how he does in Winter Prey, I guess. This was before I realized I was taking things way too seriously, and I didn't need to have him be a Marshal at all [10].

5. I toyed with having his name be Conan "The Barbarian" O'Brien, as a nod to the comedian. I decided that that would have been stupid. In further retrospect, it was almost the only funny idea that came out of that version.

6. WonderCon, in Anaheim, in case you're wondering. It's sort of a comic-book-themed version of ComicCon. Which, despite its name, is no longer primarily about comic books any more. It's run by the same people, so it's definitely got a similar feel.

7. One other problem is that it's hard to describe what I'm doing without it sounding like I'm making fun of the art or the artist. Yes, I want some high-quality art. Yes, I'm willing to pay for it. No, it's not going to be on a book cover. It's going to be on a website-only digital version of a fake book cover for April Fools' Day. Why are you giving me that look? Come back! Come back!

8. I ended up going with Shutterstock because, even though I have a certain loyalty to Adobe products, I need this kind of thing done once per year. For Adobe, either I get a full year — expensive — or I only get three images — not enough. Shutterstock had a five-images-for-a-project thing that was exactly what I needed.

9. You can read all about it here. Note: it is considered very poor form to shame your artist on social media.

10. I still do in Martian Prey, and that's another one that suffers from "too dry, not funny."