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The Legend of El Toro

The author says:

My book’s a comedic western. A con-man, who can’t shoot the ground with gravity’s assistance, stumbles into the life of a gunfighter. Figuring to make a living faking the deaths of semi-famous and infamous gunmen, his new ‘career’ puts him in the crosshairs of his sweetheart. (pen-name not settled)

I attempted to blend the classic earthy colored oil painting style most ‘gritty’ western covers use with a more colorful high-contrast cartoony thing, throwing my own style in the mix. I figured I’d post this here before it ended up on your Lousy Book Covers website with the ‘refrigerator art’ tag. (note: The art is digital art saved with multiple layers, so it’s easy for me to change big and small things. This is the first artwork I’ve done in over a decade, so I’m not sure if it’s rank horrible or actually pretty good.)

Nathan says:

Before we even get to the art, the first thing that’s gonna draw some ire ’round these parts is the title font — not only is Algerian overused beyond all reason, the drop shadow in the font conflicts with the angle at which you’ve set the type. Ditch it!

The art isn’t horrible, but the excessive detailing in the ground, the trousers, etc. is distracting, and the bright purple matching-shirt-and-holsters set, while amusing, doesn’t just stand out, it clashes.

I’d say simplify the details, tone down the purple, change the title treatment, and enlarge and center the byline (and drop the “by”), and you’ve got something that works.

Other comments?


  1. I liked the title against the sky because it reminds me of the big ‘30s murals and movie posters. That seems to fit with your story mood. The cow skull kinda looks like it’s the head of the back gunslinger, and the stark white makes it stand out too much, IMO. I’d put it on the ground somewhere, if you absolutely must have a cow skull, and color it more the color of old bone. Can you make your ground and rocks and buildings more watercolory, like the sky? Like a blurred background for the people standing in front? That would make your shot gunslinger stand out a bit more.

  2. Good instinct on getting some input for the art prior to publication. The bones are good, quite good, and some technical polish could make all the difference.
    Going feature by feature: the sky is great, change nothing.
    For the ground, the suggestion to clear some of the detail out is a good one, but for the buildings you might experiment with a little more detail. The church in particular might really benefit from darker outlines, like the inking stage of an illustration. It may not be needed for the other structures, but the church is such a different shade than the rest that it blends poorly with the scenery without some harder lines along its edges (I think, I’m not the best at visual art).
    For the man, a minor issue is that the foreshortening on the foot seems a little off and could stand some tweaking. The skull is a bigger problem because it doesn’t look like he is wearing it, it just looks like it pasted on to cover his face (we often see this on covers to disguise watermarks from clip art used without permission). I think you may need to angle the skull to his right and twist it so that horn goes into the picture a bit, but I’m not sure since that would normally make the cheek of the skull longer in the image. If you can find a slightly twisted image of a skull, replace it and see if it works better.
    For the woman, the purple band on her grey hat seems to work well as a color combination. You might consider changing the shirt or gun-belt to the same grey to address concerns over too much purple, making a theme costume out of it like the ‘Man in Black’ motif.
    Regarding the text, the font choice is an issue but the placement and text angle of the title is good and I think it should be kept. It roughly follows the background scenery in a pleasing way. They byline, though, is hard to spot and clashes a bit with the rest. I would do it in the same font as the title (once you have a new font), expand it to occupy the entire bottom of the picture, and drop the “By” to have have it just say “Gooey La S’Mores”.
    As a side note, unless you are sold on the pen-name pun it might detract more than it helps. I’m not sure what you are going for in this case. If you end up wanting to play with it some more, you might get some mileage out of ‘Ely’ and ‘Lias’ as components of a pen name that fall naturally out of what you have. ‘Ely S. Mores’ and ‘Lias Mores’ both have western-ish ambiance to them, it the the ‘Goo’ syllable I can’t think of much to do with.

  3. Probably one too many filters with the result that the art is immensely busy texturally. This is especially the case with the ground, where the filter texture is not only not necessary but doesn’t even make much sense. The textures applied to the ground, buildings and mountains are also at odds with painterly technique used in the sky (which, as others have mentioned, is particularly attractive).

    The colors overall are nice, but they are not used to the best effect. Your figures are more important than the background, but the former tend to get lost. The girl’s trousers, for instance, do not read well against the brown ground and the entirety of the other figure’s right leg blends into the background. You need to distinguish these more.

    While you are at it, you might want to try to integrate the skull better. At the moment it looks pasted on. You might also want to consider moving the left-hand figure a little bit further into the frame or, perhaps even better, making her larger so that not only does she overlap the left edge but the title as well.

    And, of course, you need to handle the author’s name much better than you have.

  4. The first thing that I noticed, after the beautiful sky and the skull-mask, was that he’s dying, but she hasn’t shot yet. Once I noticed it, I couldn’t unnotice it, and it becomes the focus of the cover.

  5. The rest of the gang have addressed all the design issues to which I’d speak, so I shan’t. I do want to second or third or whatever the thought that the sky is simply perfect. It is, please keep it as is.

    The fonts, however, are not great. The Algerian is woefully overused, as Nathan told you, and I have no idea what the byline font is, but it should die a terrible horrible font-y death in a vat of acid. I do wish to thank you for not inflicting Bleeding Cowboys on us. Even before it was also overused, it’s a bit too serious for this cover, in my humble opinion.

    And, there are so many truly wonderful Western fonts that you could play with! There’s Cowboy Movie; The Dead Saloon (also by designer Chris Vile, who did Boots and Spurs); IFC Insane Rodeo, for traditionalists; Rustler, if you want the title to also convey that slightly out-of-whack look/feel (I’d try this one); 1873 Winchester, again, a traditional look/feel, with a built-in dimension added to it; Western Racing, which I’m suggesting due to the way you laid out the Algerian; Anderson Thunderbirds are Go, if you need a compressed font–yes, I know, but trust me. Gunslinger, again, if you want something a skosh offbeat. Oh, and Texas Tango, let’s not forget that one. Lastly, Wanted Square is very tasty. (Yum).

    Not that I’m the end-all/be-all of fonts, but I’d be surprised if one of those didn’t work for you.

    Now…the byline. This is harder, without knowing what you’re going to choose for the title. I’m not clear on what you were trying to convey, with the existing choice. I’m going to suggest that once you have a decorative font chosen, for the title, go for a simpler sans-serif, for the byline. If that doesn’t work, then try a simple serif. But it needs to be white, or cream or a pale (very pale) pinky-beige, to stay where you have it now. Black text on that background, even with the red accents, just doesn’t fly.

    Best of luck to you. I’d love to see this in its next iteration.

    1. Yes, please GOD no more bleeding cowboys! Loving Rustler and Wanted Square. Rustler has that comic feel to it though, so it’s my fav of the list. Totally agree with you on the black/red by line. It’s completely invisible in the dark, busy-ness of the bottom. I don’t really mind another decorative font in this case, but perhaps something not quite so decorative as to upstage the title font, or make it hard to read.

  6. I think you need to work on the rock textures a bit more as they’re a bit to dissimilar for the same type of rock, and as someone mentioned, the ground is a bit off. not only texture wise but scene wise. there should be boardwalks and a rutted road not dirt. And I’d make the cow skull a bit more grey like her hat to blend better.
    I did get the play on words gooey s’mores but Louis Lamoure fans might be put off by it and since they’re the ones who buy westerns I’m not sure it’s helping although they might think it funny and pick this up for their kids but it better have lots of kid friendly comedy in it to match expectations on the name or it will come off as insulting.
    Now, I’m off to look at those fonts Hutch mentioned. I have a bit of a font addiction…Thanks Hutch!

  7. Oooop, one final word of design caution, be sure to give yourself some breathing space (margin) between your text and the edge of your image. You are fairly bumping into the edge in places. I usually give a good 1/2″ to be safe for print, but a 1/4″ is bare minimum.

  8. To the other critiques which addressed most of the issues already, I can only add: be sure to center your protagonist on the cover. I could easily discern this to be some kind of Western from the thumbnail, but all that was catching my eye there was the big bright orb sitting smack dab in the middle. Your protagonist’s pose does hint at the element of comedy in this story, but that’s not the first thing your prospective readers are likely to notice as it stands; try zooming and/or angling the shot so he’ll be the first thing they see instead.

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