Reviving a Legend: Designing the Cover for CROM: The Destroyer Graphic Novel

Recently, I completed a striking image for the cover of the upcoming graphic novel, CROM: The Destroyer. RJ Shaw of The Fourth Age YouTube channel presented this enthralling project to me. It’s hard to resist when RJ requests a cover, particularly with the aim to resurrect a legendary character to his former glory. Naturally, I obliged.

The Vision: RJ Shaw’s Request and the Concept for the Cover Art

Once the business aspect was settled, RJ shared his vision with me: “…I’m envisioning something akin to the attached Walter Simonson cover. The protagonist leaps into battle, with the backdrop featuring his beautiful Queen. Yet, I’d like to display more than mere spears; let’s incorporate actual soldiers.”

RJ referred to this iconic Walter Simonson cover:

Balder the Brave 001 - BWS

From Concept to Creation: Crafting the Perfect Composition for CROM: The Destroyer

As is typical for Simonson, a seemingly simple composition… I believed I grasped RJ’s intent until he unveiled the series’ concept: that King, our Public Domain iteration of Conan, had aged and felt robbed of an honorable death on the battlefield. The notion of a serene death in old age repulsed him; he yearned for a warrior’s end. The story’s opening pages portrayed King as a man possessed, hurling himself into combat with reckless ferocity, cutting down foes and praying for the fatal blow.

Intrigued? I certainly was – Eeeeeyooaahh!!

This revelation altered my perception of King (Conan), particularly in battle. His prowess, feline-like reflexes, seasoned experience, and indomitable will now collided with a burning desire to encounter his equal and taste death.

Capturing the Essence: Conveying King’s Ferocity and Desire for Death in the Cover

How could I possibly encapsulate this?

After spending a week in hiding, foolishly hoping RJ would forget me, I realized that he had already supplied a stable foundation – Walter Simonson. The cover exuded strength; could I mimic its effectiveness while infusing RJ’s ingenious concept of craving death?

I sketched numerous thumbnails, purging “bad ideas” and honing in on something – ANYTHING – that could potentially convey this notion. Here are some of these rough concepts:

CROM - Cover 01 - 001 - THUMBNAILS

An artist’s distinct language emerges in small thumbnail sketches – all shorthand and deeply personal. (Side note: I’m truly fond of the top-right sketch and will undoubtedly repurpose it.)

I extracted and merged elements from each thumbnail into a slightly larger version and experimented with a four-value structure to evaluate its impact:

CROM - Cover Comp 001

Ultimately, I arrived here. There’s something liberating about these crude sketches, where shape and value reign supreme. Anatomy? Discarded. Perspective? A hindrance. Proportion? A challenge for Future-Axe.

But this concept resonated with me – I could visualize key elements materializing. Most importantly, I’m a stickler for expressions; I crave insight into a character’s thoughts and emotions. By placing King (Conan) close enough for the viewer to comprehend his manic determination, and showcasing his seemingly reckless engagement in battle…

..Yeah, I can make this work.

Digging the process? I continue this Cover’s high-wire act in my next post revealing how I achieved the line drawing.