12 Questions with Cover Artist Extraordinaire Duncan Long
Look up “Duncan Long” in the dictionary and you’ll find him right between the words “AWESOME” and “TALENT”. The multi-faceted freelance writer/illustrator has authored 13 novels with prestigious publishers Avon Books and HarperCollins, as well as written 60-odd technical books and how-to-manuals for Paladin Press, Delta Press, Lyons Press/Globe Pequot, etc. He’s also ghostwritten over a dozen titles for TV, radio and stage celebrities.
But it is as a standout illustrator where Duncan has recently been making a name for himself. Noted for the dreamlike, whimsical quality of his work, talk show host Victor Thorn called Duncan “one of the three best graphic artists in the entire world.”
Heady praise, but well deserved. Duncan has created cover and interior illustrations for leading publishers, national magazines, and adorned websites and CD covers. Perhaps a reviewer at 3D Millennium (M3 Corp., Inc.) put it best:
“To call (Duncan Long) a prolific artist would be an understatement, at best. Get yourself a snack and settle back while Duncan takes you on a wild ride through worlds only he has dreamt of.”
Wow! I’m opening a bag of barbeque chips right now … RR-RIP!
1. Tell us about your latest project, “Werewolves of New Idria.” What is New Idria? And how did you hook up on this project with first-time graphic novelist John Chadwell?
(DL:) John started the project as a traditional novel with an eye toward the movie script (or it might be the other way around – probably you should ask John which came first). Anyway, he posted on a group we’re both in that he was looking for someone to do concept art for the movie script, so I contacted him. He liked what I was doing, and I created a series of concept illustrations of some of the scenes and characters in his story.
In the past, John had worked with Ron Shusett (the writer/creator of the Alien franchise as well as Total Recall and other movie scripts), so the two of them did the script for Werewolves of New Idria. From there Moonstone got wind of the project, and the graphic novel was the logical win/win product for both parties.
2. What was your experience working with Moonstone? What is the plan to market and distribute the book?
(DL:) Joe Gentile and Tim Lasiuta at Moonstone are pretty laid back and easy to work with. When I asked if they had any restrictions on content or subject matter I should avoid, I expected to get this lengthy styles guide. Instead, just, “Do whatever you want.” That’s hard to argue with (ha).
One interesting thing that Moonstone did was to give the pictures a “wide format” layout, so the reader is presented with a double-page illustration having more or less the dimensions of a wide-screen movie. I think that was a stroke of genius given that there may be a movie spin off. On the flip side, since most of my work is in a portrait layout, I’ve had a little trouble from time to time laying out pictures so they spread outwards instead of up. (John has been a help here, drawing on his movie-making experience to steer me clear of cliché layout.)
Marketing… I am not in that loop. But we are all talking the graphic novel up and self promoting with the big push to come with the actual release of the title.
3. You pretty much draw everything: science fiction, fantasy, horror, mystery, romance, Christian, and children and young adult books. Which is your “signature” genre — the one that best defines your style and art? And which is the most challenging to draw?
(DL:) Each illustration will present challenges of its own, and sometimes even unique challenges. I think perhaps that’s why I enjoy illustration work so much. It is always different and changing, offering new challenges. Like a high-wire act without a net, with a different sized wire strung between two unknown points. Of course I do wear a parachute!
Fantasy and science fiction are my favorite subjects. However, there can be a wide range of subjects within most genres so things aren’t quite as cut and dried as one might think. Also there’s a tendency to mix genres – hybrid creations – with elements of, say, horror coming into science fiction or what was once fantasy sprinkled into crime novels or romances and so forth.
So one never knows where the next dragon might show up.
4. Tell us about some of the books and magazines you’ve done covers for. Which have been the most successful, and which are undiscovered gems that we should go out and buy and put in a lock box?
(DL:) I think the two I did last year for Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine turned out well. One of these I’d already done just for fun and posted it to my website, and the art director stumbled upon it and bought the magazine cover rights. Then the magazine asked me to create another illustration (of a crystal dragon and gal) which I enjoyed doing and which was one of those pictures that I step away and mutter with joy, “Did I do that?”
Sometimes the work just seems to take off, everything works, and it looks great. Those are the times I love what I’m doing. Probably the best way to see the gems is to visit my online portfolio which I update regularly.
5. You are also an internationally known author who has written both fiction novels and non-fiction books. What are some of the titles you have written, and who were your publishers?
(DL:) Yes, many people ask, “Are you the same Duncan Long that wrote <insert title>?” People are often surprised I write and do book and magazine illustrations. But the simple truth is that I started as a writer/illustrator so it isn’t quite as much a mystery as one might think at first. As I got better at both, I occasionally branched out and just did either the writing or the illustration work instead of doing both. Right now I’m mostly doing illustrations. I find them more demanding than writing, but the projects are generally completed more quickly and I can then go on to the next. I guess I’m a little less patient than I once was.
I started in the publishing business by creating a self-publishing mail-order company. But those books were embarrassingly crude, even at the time (let alone today). So now I mark my first “real books” as being the firearms books published by Paladin Press (starting in the 1980s). My first novel was Anti-Grav Unlimited published in the late 1980s with Avon Books. Other novels include the 9-book Night Stalkers action-adventure series with HarperCollins and a science fiction trilogy Spider Worlds, also with HarperCollins.
6. Did you do your own book covers?
(DL:) With the non-fiction, most covers I did with a few exceptions (including some very sad, crude ones with a publisher which shall remain nameless and who is now out of business) were created from illustrations I created for illustrating the text.
All my novels have someone else’s artwork on the cover. That might seem odd, but I wasn’t doing the digital artwork when most of my novels went into print. Too, most big publishers try to keep the author away from the cover work because writers tend to want everything just as it is in the book – which often won’t work well for a book cover. A good book cover illustration needs to give the flavor, not a list of the exact ingredients. And in the case of authors, they are cooks better kept out of that kitchen.
7. Who are your favorite authors and artists? And what genre of book is Duncan Long most likely to read on the beach?
(DL:) I am a science fiction fan from way back. Robert Heinlein has always been a favorite and I grew up reading everything from Edgar Rice Burroughs to Arthur C. Clarke.
I’m not too loyal to authors though, and tend to keep picking up books and reading a bit until I find one I like – and then read it through. There’s a tendency that most people feel (myself included) that once you start a book, you have a duty to keep reading no matter how uninteresting it may prove to be. I’ve tried to break myself of that habit. Life is short, and there is a wealth of books available these days. So if one isn’t working for me, I move on to one that does.
Andrew Wyeth and Norman Rockwell would be the two big influences with my illustration work. But there is an explosion of young, talented artists coming up the ranks. I sincerely believe this is going to be looked back upon as the golden age of illustration work, even though most people are unaware of what’s going on in the business.
8. How do you create your art – with ink pen and brush or computer-generated? Where did you receive you training?
(DL:) I am self-trained (the School of Hard Knocks). The only “art training” I got was in grade school, and most of that was of the “color inside the lines” sort. However I displayed an artistic ability that teachers encouraged from about 4th Grade on, so in a way my natural talent was nurtured and encouraged both at home and at school, even though I got no actual training to speak of. I think that did make a big difference.
Oddly, I do have a Master’s degree in music composition. Go figure.
As a kid I worked with water and oil paints. But the pen and pencil proved to be my weapon of choice and these were used for my early illustration work.
Since I was also writing, I had a computer early on and after playing with a free “paint” program (whose name I have long since forgotten) which came with a scanner, I started playing with it. From these I used the computer for illustrating my tech manuals. One time an editor at Delta Press called and asked how in the world I had obtained the photos of a rare firearm I’d written about. When I told him they weren’t photos but drawings, he about fell out of his chair! That’s when I knew I was on the right track with digital art.
9. Do you work on commission? How does a creator go about hiring Duncan Long to do the cover or sequential art for their book?
(DL:) I generally work with a standard contract: half payment up front and half upon completion of the project. So normally I work for money, though on rare occasions I’ve had authors trade musical instruments and other odds and ends. As with most artists in the publishing industry, I generally work for a straight payment rather than for royalties on a sale. I’m a “work-for-hire” kinda guy!
Basically clients visit my site and see my pictures. If the artwork looks like the style they’re wanting, they contact me by phone or email and we go from there. Usually once I know what they want, I give them a price. If it’s in their budget, I send them a contract which can be negotiated over (as to rights and so forth). Once that’s settled and they make the first payment, I send them rough sketches and then move on to the actual illustration, sending them low-res versions as I progress along the way. Usually in a week or two they have the illustration they need and I get the final payment.
What’s amazing to me is how quickly the process of doing the cover illustration can go. One week we sign the contract and sometimes the next week that book is “in print” as an e-book and POD (print on demand) edition. The speed is just amazing, in large part thanks to my ability to deliver drawings and the finished cover to the client via the Internet.
And sometimes I’m amazed at how slowly the work goes when a committee gets involved (Gah!).
10. Anything you’d like to promote? What websites can we visit to see your work and keep up on your latest and upcoming projects?
(DL:) Best bet is to visit my site: http://DuncanLong.com I try to keep the
11. And where can we buy your books?
(DL:) Well, it hurts to say this (because I see few if any royalties from the sales, and I do have Scottish blood in my veins), but the best bet is to search my name on Amazon.com. I think the ability to buy books used via Amazon.com is one of the marvels of the 21st Century. But perhaps my mind is easily boggled.
12. Last question – the late-great Johnny Carson was once asked what he’d want the epitaph to read on his tombstone and he quipped “Here’s Johnny!” What would Duncan Long’s epitaph be?
(DL:) “Duncan isn’t here” would likely be most ideal. Or maybe, “He said his back was killing him…”
As Woody Allen noted, the thought of your funeral isn’t as troubling as the fact that you have to be there for it.
I suppose the best would be just my name etched on the headstone. Let those visiting my resting place decide the merits of the man, or even wonder who the stranger buried there was and what he once did.
Better still, put one of your illustrations in stone. Then visitors would know the man buried before them was truly an artist! Thanks for the interview, Duncan. May the muse always remain with you.
An award-winning indie comic creator and screenwriter, Bob is currently writing/producing a micro-budget horror film called UNREST. Bob wrote The Night Projectionist, a vampire horror series to be published by Studio 407 with film rights optioned by Myriad Pictures. Through his Heske Horror shingle, Bob self-published his critically acclaimed horror series Cold Blooded Chillers. Bob’s trade paperback Bone Chiller (a “best of” CBC anthology) won a Bronze medal in the horror category at the 2009 Independent Publisher Book Awards. His “end times” anthology 2012: Final Prayer was also released in late 2009. Email him at email@example.com.