My Superpower: Che Gilson

30 Oct

My Superpower is a regular guest column on the Skiffy and Fanty blog where authors and creators tell us about one weird skill, neat trick, highly specialized cybernetic upgrade, or other superpower they have, and how it helped (or hindered!) their creative process as they built their project. Today we welcome Che Gilson to talk about how the power of art relates to Carmine Rojas: Dog Fight.


I like to think of art as my super power. It’s not something that tons of authors can claim as their own (though there are plenty). But I was able to turn my super power into a book cover for my novella Carmine Rojas: Dog Fight.Carmine Rojas: Dog Fight

Successful covers reflect the contents of their book. They entice the reader without giving anything away. Normally, very awesome artists work on cover designs — artists who have degrees in graphic design. Which doesn’t exactly describe me. My secret weapon, though, is four years of art school and some moderate skills in Photoshop 7.

So I set out to create my cover. A lot of people who know me and know that I draw a lot (mostly manga style and cartoons) have asked me why I didn’t draw the cover myself. Well, two things:  first, I am not that good, and I didn’t want a cartoon character on the cover; secondly, I wanted something that represented Carmine without giving away her appearance. Sometimes, when the artist is very skilled, I don’t mind representational covers. But I’m not that artist.

Instead, I turned to The Book Cover Archive, which hosts award winning and just plain awesome book cover designs from major publishers. Most of the designs are for literary fiction, not genre. In a lot of ways, genre book covers have different (rules is too strong a word) guidelines and parameters.

But I already had an image in mind. A clip art engraving (probably) of a snarling wolf in a Dover Publications book of copyright free animal illustrations. I made several sketches of my ideas then looked at all the pages on The Book Cover Archive to make sure I was on the right track. I felt strongly that I was.

Carmine Cover thumbnails

From looking over The Archive, I learned several things; literary fiction book covers are more abstract. There is an emphasis on font (hand drawn or computer), and the title of the book is the most important thing. More important than the author’s name (unless they are a NYT Bestseller) and sometimes more important than the image chosen for the cover.

I felt confident using the clip art wolf. I also knew I wanted an image that would make a strong thumbnail on Amazon and online. I felt simplicity and a limited color palette would be key (another take away from The Book Cover Archive). Since Carmine is a violent book with lots of action, I wanted to use red, black, and white (for contrast). Red on black or black on red tend to aggravate the eyes. It leaves an unpleasant after image on the retinas, which is something I don’t like; so I made the front cover predominately white, with the black line art beneath a banner with the title and my byline.

Carmine Rojas Cover 1 Skiffy

I went through A LOT of fonts to choose just the right one. Early versions of the cover have Courier New. It’s not a well loved font — the spacing looks odd and it’s very spread out — but that’s why I chose it. For the spacing and readability. And readability should always win. A font might be pretty, but if it’s illegible at thumbnail size and unreadable, ax it!

CarmineCover 2 Skiffy and Fanty

After about four versions, I finally had my final cover!

Carmine Rojas: Dog Fight

For the back cover, I bent my own rules and made it solid black, with white and red text. Why? Well, I looked at the back covers of the published books on my own shelf and discovered that that is a common color combination. I felt better seeing it in person and knowing it would look good. Then I repeated the front cover wolf, only cropped differently, sized smaller and mirrored. The line art in red this time. I accented certain words in red for punch. That hadn’t even occurred to me until Suzanne McLeod sent me her blurb and certain words were in red. I liked the effect so much I kept it for the back cover (and used it a tiny bit on the front).

So that’s how my super power helped me make (what I hope) is a striking book cover that gets readers to pick up and buy Carmine Rojas: Dog Fight.


Che Gilson is the author of several graphic novels including Avigon: Gods and Demons from Image Comics, and Dark Moon Diary from Tokyopop. Her short stories have been published online  in Luna Station Quarterly and Drops of Crimson. She draws copious amounts of Pokémon fan art which can be found with her original work at She is working on multiple novels including a contemporary fantasy about tea and witches, and two children’s books. Her T-shirt designs can be found at including T-shirts for Carmine Rojas: Dog Fight.

Carmine Rojas: Dog Fight is published by Black Opal Books. Illegal pit fighter and werewolf Carmine Rojas gets an off-hours assignment from her boss—babysitting a skin walker who’s gotten herself in trouble with the yakuza. Carmine may kick ass in the ring but tangling with the yakuza is well above her pay grade. So Carmine turns to her gangbanger cousin Rodrigo for help and firearms. Together they spend a terror-filled night battling yakuza thugs, bickering over family, and blowing crap up.


4 Responses to “My Superpower: Che Gilson”

  1. sunnyfrazier October 30, 2014 at 9:51 pm #

    Interesting reading the progression and seeing the final product. Love the cover!

  2. Abi November 1, 2014 at 4:33 pm #

    I enjoyed learning more about your process. Thanks for the head’s up about The Book Cover Archive! 🙂


  1. My Superpower! | Che Gilson - October 30, 2014

    […] my article/essay on “My Superpower” is live over on The Skiffy and Fanty Show. I am thrilled to be on such a prestigious […]

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