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Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Interview with Davis Ashura & Andreas Zafiratos + Cover Reveal of The Castes & The Outcastes trilogy (by Mihir Wanchoo)


Official Author Website
Order The Castes And The Outcastes trilogy over HERE

Today I’m glad to welcome Davis Ashura and acclaimed artist Andreas Zafiratos as they introduce whole new cover art for Davis’ debut trilogy The Castes & The Outcastes. We talk about why Davis decided to partner with Andreas, why this series is so different and how they both collaborated on the new magnificent artwork. Checkout their answers as Davis and Andreas talk about the process and more:

Q] Welcome to Fantasy Book Critic, and congratulations on the new spectacular cover for A Warrior’s Path. What lead you to get newer cover art for your debut trilogy?

DA: Thank you! Andreas really crushed it. I love the cover!

That said, I have always really liked the cover I have from Jeff Brown. I think it’s evocative and mysterious, but after a few years, trends change and the cover needs updating. Luckily, one of the current trends is something I love, which is a focus on the character. I’ve loved Rukh (the Asian Indian looking warrior on the cover) ever since he crept into my mind, and I’ve always wanted him displayed front and center because he’s just that cool and badass. Same with Jessira, who is on the cover for book 2, and who doesn’t like a minotaur-like creature wielding a chained whip on fire?

Q] How did you end up selecting Andreas Zafeiratos as the artist for the new covers? What drew you to his style?

DA: A couple of author friends of mine, Bryce O’Connor, author of the wonderful Child Of The Daystar and Phil Tucker, author of the fabulous Chronicles of the Black Gate, introduced me to Andreas after I mentioned how much I loved/drooled over their cover art.


Q] What were your main pointers for your cover artist/designer as you both went through the process of finalizing it? What were the main things that you wished to focus on in it?

DA: I’ll focus on book 1. We went through a lot of work for this cover. We started with the pose and the magic that Rukh wields. That was the most challenging part of the process because the magic itself and the green-tinged shield around Rukh forced us to focus a lot on lighting and color distortion. We eventually found the sweet spot, including the setting, but all told, it was about a two month process. The entire time, though, Andreas was awesome. It was a lot of fun working with him on it, and every time he sent me a revision, it felt like Christmas morning.

In terms of focus beyond the pose and color, the next step was Rukh’s appearance. He started out looking like a white dude, which wouldn’t work because Rukh is supposed to look Indian. Andreas darkened Rukh’s skin. Darkened it some more. And again, and then his skin tone was right. He looked like a tanned white man, which was close but still not quite right. Andreas recognized this on his own and adjusted Rukh’s features so he now looks like someone from the subcontinent.

Like I said, it was a long but fun process.

Q] What’s the status for covers for book 2 & 3? Will the short story collection “Stories From Arisa” be getting a new cover as well?

DA: The cover for book 3 is done. I had it turned into a poster, and it’s hanging in my youngest son’s room. We’re working on the cover for book 2 and it's nearly done. A good friend did the cover for Stories From Arisa, and I’ve always loved its stained glass appearance, so I’ll probably leave that one alone.


Q] Could you tell us about the inception of The Castes and the OutCastes trilogy and what was/were your main inspiration(s) for this project?

DA: The kernel of The Castes And the OutCastes first bubbled to life in about 1999. I wanted to write a post-apocalyptic story, but I wanted a different story. I wanted people who were tough yet compassionate, a world that was dark and yet full of cities breathing with life and beauty. I’ve got this notion that when things are at their worst, people rise up to help those in need. Maybe it’s naïve, but that’s how I want the world to be, and that’s the kind of story I wanted to write. Plus, I’m a sucker for a good love story, so that had to be included.

I couldn’t get any traction, though, because I couldn’t understand the motivation for the antagonist(s) or even what the main characters were supposed to do. The answer came when I was driving through India and talking to my sister, who’s a psychiatrist. Thus was born my Dark Lord (Lady in this case) who has a type of delusional paranoid schizophrenia.

Q] So what can readers expect from your debut trilogy and what should they be looking forward to according to you?

DA: At its heart, The Castes And The OutCastes is built upon aspects of India’s cultural bones with a story that’s familiar: a world in peril, a Dark Goddess hungry to see Humanity end, and a young warrior tasked with stopping Her. But he isn’t the chosen one. Instead, he has to choose greatness, and that’s where the story has its greater focus.

I’ve also released a YA fantasy series, The Chronicles of William Wilde. All William Wilde wants is to survive his senior year of high school, defeat the bullies, and figure out why the beautiful, new girl seems so interested in him. Oh, yeah. Magic flows in his veins and a zombie-like Terminator wants to kill him. It’s basically Percy Jackson meets Stranger Things and a continuation of sorts of The Castes And The OutCastes (which is set on an entirely different world).

Q] In closing, do you have any last thoughts or comments you’d like to share with our readers?

DA: Thank you for having me here to answer these questions and happy reading to everyone!

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Official Artist Website & FB page

Q] What were your initial thoughts when Davis approached you for the new cover art for his books?

AZ: I always feel excited and nervous when someone entrusts a book cover to me. One's book can be as personal as a painting and that immediately creates expectation and a sense of responsibility.

I was not familiar with Davis' work, but I quickly realized his solid fan base and how much his work was valued. That, combined with the fact that my art would be replacing solid existing covers was definitely an extra pressure factor.

Q] Can you describe your process in the cover art creation? Do you read the book and then select a scene or do you take direct notes from the author? How does this process work for you?

AZ: Creating an illustration that captures a piece of a writer's vision is a main objective for me and probably the reason I love doing covers. I would say that the largest portion of the puzzle solving satisfaction that covers offer is ending up with a piece that the writer feels greatly responsible for in terms of direction. Sadly and ironically in a sense, I do not have the time to follow the literature, but I usually ask for two or three scenes that are crucial for the plot and descriptions of the main characters. This is my starting point.

If it is not overwhelming for the writer, I try to achieve a creative back and forth during the process to try and nail a design and mood that captures something of that specific world. This unfortunately removes the potential stunning effect of the art on the writer (as slow progression has a very different impact from a sudden reveal), but it's a small price to pay on the way to end up with something that expresses the book's content and the author's intention.


Q] Once you have decided, what to focus upon. Could you give us a rundown of the process behind designing a book cover from start to finish?

AZ: In terms of artistic method, I change my tools a lot and try to explore new workflows. These days I experiment mainly with combinations of digital sculpting, photo element implementation and plain ol' brush work at varying ratios.

For the first cover of "The Castes And The Outcastes", I started with a 3D sculpture of the hero to explore the composition and lighting scheme. Once this was set and with Davis' input, I tried to capture the hero's character and come up with an interesting outfit design. Things must look believable of course, but a much more important aspect of the composition is good shape balance and a natural movement of the eyes on the canvas. The specific character was a real challenge for me, due to his Asian Indian features that were totally out of my comfort zone. Davis was very patient with my consecutive failed rendering experiments and I think we eventually got a look for Rukh we both enjoy! The warm skin tones over the cool blues of the landscape and a sense of motion is what makes this image in my eyes.

After painting, there is always a search for an elegant font and proper placement. Clarity and good contrast are crucial, so that we get readability in large and thumbnail sizes. I always end up going back to the painting and reworking it to support the lettering. For me, treating the final cover (art and lettering combined) as a painting composition, makes things instinctively work. Detail distribution and rest areas for the eye should take lettering placement into account. I find that this way, each element supports the other and there is no real compromise: The painting is not being randomly hit by typography and the lettering naturally stands out and balances.

Finally, I would like to thank you for this interview and Davis for his patience and the crucial creative input throughout the process.

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