How the Wes was Won
“Don’t use him as an illustrator. Why waste your money? He’s never done a book cover before and besides, the publishers will handle it.” Thus spake Zarathustra, or Doris to her friends, my erstwhile editor.
Wes was the most charming client in my menagerie of accounting clients. Great charm causing me the utmost professional stress and anxiety.
Accounting records were not handed over until almost the very last day of the taxman’s deadlines. When shown the completed statements and returns, he would woe the fact I had made his taxes too low. If I had one more client like that, I would die.
He had once created a business card for me and I had instantly fallen in love with it. True, by the time I received the cards (for free), that business no longer existed.
I had deliberately taken him to Aladdin’s Casbah, filled with hookahs and debilitating smoke, serving ancient oriental delights to ask his favour.
“It would be my pleasure to create your book cover.”
“But I also need illustrations for each chapter.”
He read my book once. He read my book twice. And came back with his proposal.
My brilliant book traversed cities and islands and the fleshpots of the world. I had envisaged a picture of an ancient aqueduct or the glittering skyline of Dubai.
What did I get? A bath tub stuck on a hill.
In all my book, I had dedicated all of two sentences to an incident. And this is what he chose to represent my book.
Chapter 3, Aphrodite revealed I was on a bus returning to my hotel after a hot and terribly disappointed day. I fell asleep, only to wake up and see a white bathtub stuck half way up a hill. I thought I was hallucinating until some scrawny goats came and dipped their heads into the tub.
It was being used as a trough.
“Don’t you see. The tub is you – always the outsider sticking out from the crowd. The goats are your readers sipping from your trough of stories.
I wanted to cry.
The cover depicted a parched yellow background, a brown grass shorn hill holding a bath tub surrounded by goats. A hideous giant “A” hung over the whole edifice presumably standing for Aphrodite.
I wanted to run back to Zarathustra (nee Doris) but then realized I had just fired her.
But the novelist was not for turning.
Several months later, after half a dozen variations on the theme, nothing stuck.
One night he called. “Eureka. Can we meet?”
It was as though another artist had stepped in. A whirlwind of curves and images of strawberries, a comet 4, a set of playing cards. He had taken them all from images he had remembered in the book and melded them together.
It worked. Boy did it work — the only book cover that would draw in my readers AFTER they had read all the chapters to spot the icons he had produced and match them , in their minds, to each story.
“Wes Baby, please do me a quick sketch as a frontispiece for each chapter. Something simple.”
He came together to create a Tintinesque cartoon of my first chapter.
The chapter was set in Cyprus with vistas of a two thousand year old aqueduct and a “high class” Indian restaurant ensconced in the basement of a dark building which “stood like a Victorian grande dame in mourning.”
What did he choose? Me sitting in a leather chair wearing crocs and reading about a cheap excursion to Cyprus. The very beginning of my journey.
So obvious, but so overlooked by anyone else.
This picture, filled with the minutia of a hundred items, was then framed. Wes had gone out on his own initiative to explore the history of Cyprus and its hordes of conquerors and created twelve different frames, one for each chapter. Each frame based on the designs used by each conquering civilization.
I had asked for a quick sketch. He added the chapter title across a twisted banner atop the frame to match the book cover.
Beneath, he had placed a quote from the chapter “What do you mean am I for real?”