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Cover Story: Vermillion et al.

We love our covers, and we have gotten some nice recognition for them, but let me tell you, creating the covers? Not always a walk in the park. A case in point, the covers we commissioned for a series of four books by “Nathan Aldyne” (a pseudonym for Michael McDowell, best known for writing the screenplay to “Beetlejuice,” and his writing partner). The books are set in Boston’s gay community in the late 1970s and very early 80s, and that timing is critical: AIDS is not even a cloud on the horizon.  It’s often noted that the summer before World War I was one of the most beautiful the English had ever enjoyed, a brief interval of gorgeous weather before everything changed. For gay men, at least in the USA, that was the late 70s.

To evoke those sunlit days, we hired Anderson Alves, a young illustrator from Brazil. He was talented, he was cheap….and he had no idea about 1970s gay iconography. Nevertheless, his first cover was spot-on: A male posterior in a pair of jeans, with a bandana to indicate the gentleman’s sexual predilections. And then we hit trouble. Or moustaches, more precisely.

His first pass, with the little twirly tips, evoked someone who might be called Monsieur Henri (we won’t discuss the sunglasses). Next up: A sort of cross between Fu Manchu and the Dungeonmaster – not what we were going for. By this point I was sending Andy one photograph after another of Tom Selleck in his “Magnum” heyday, with 18-point caps reading “LIKE THIS!!! MOUSTACHE LIKE THIS!!!” By Take 3 we were in the ballpark, though still a bit too femme for the Castro Clone look I was after. No. 4, at long last, was the charm.

Except for the cigarette. Andy’s first attempt showed a paper cylinder sort of lolling in an open mouth. “Has he never smoked???” I groused to Anthony, our art director. “He doesn’t know you have to close your mouth around the cigarette?” Apparently not. We got the mouth closed, but the lips were slack. “You hold a cigarette in your mouth like that and it winds up in your LAP!” I emailed Anthony. “Has this kid never seen anyone smoking?” At last, some tension in the mouth, but….but that cigarette was putting out enough smoke to worry forest rangers. “There should be just a sort of dribble!” I raged. “A thread of smoke! Good lord, has he……oh my gosh.” The penny had dropped. “Oh my gosh, he never HAS seen anyone smoking, has he?” At least, not up close. The Marlboro Man had hung up his spurs before Andy was even born. Kids today.

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