Three years after the original publication of Spirit of the Dragon, on the verge of publishing Blood of Dragons and concluding the Yokai Calling series, I began my hunt for a cover artist for the omnibus edition of the series. I wanted to go big because until that point in my author career, I’d opted to design my own covers instead of hiring an artist.
In hindsight? Doing it all myself probably wasn’t the best idea… but I had a lot of fun doing it, learned a lot about covers and design in general, and got to play around with another artsy thing that I don’t get to do very often! So all in all, no regrets, but by the time the end of the series came along, it was time to splurge on a pro. 🙂
If you want to see the evolution of covers of the individual books in the Yokai Calling series, you can check out the Spirit of the Dragon birthday post here!
In the year coming up to the Yokai Calling omnibus publication in 2021, I’d spent months scouring the internet in search of suitable artists to collaborate with on covers for my books and other art projects. There are so, so many wonderful artists out there, and it was very difficult deciding who to go with. Unfortunately, many were way out of my price range, or they were booked up already, and there were times when I loved an artist’s work but I wasn’t sure if it would be a good fit for a cover.
I was looking for MONTHS trying to find someone who met my criteria. I wanted someone within my price range but also had a detailed style that I thought would be suitable for the Yokai Calling series, which crosses genres and transitions from YA -> NA through the series. And, of course, I needed someone who was currently taking on new clients.
I saw EL Geron’s art and immediately fell in love with his use of colour and attention to detail. He captures a vividness in his work that I thought was a perfect match for the stories I wanted to portray. As a bonus, he already had some experience designing book covers! I was so happy when I found him and he accepted my commission.
Here is the final result of our collaboration. But how did we get here?
(The Yokai Calling series omnibus is now available for purchase in stores! Tap here to get your copy today!)
Overall, the process was a lot of fun and EL made it very easy, working with me the entire step of the way to get me what I wanted! First I started by describing my vision. Because this cover would be for the omnibus, I wanted to address some of the themes in the series, as well as a few important visuals, and make it as COOL as possible.
So, let’s break down the elements one by one.
The Wicked Sorcerer
The figure dominating the cover is known as “the wicked sorcerer” or rather, Lacotl, the villain who shows up in Spirit of the Dragon to start making everyone’s lives miserable through his schemes, murders, and whispers of a dark game. He’s a sinister-looking character with humanoid and animalistic features, a kan’thir goat man from the Yaotlan Islands of the Yumihari World. While the Yokai Calling series primarily takes place on the western side of the Shimensokan continent, in a country known as Seiryuu, that means Lacotl’s homeland is incredibly far to the east. Think the distance from California to Nova Scotia.
Why would he travel so far?
Kan’thir have almost always been the enemies of the Dragon Goddess, Shirashi, who is the primary deity of the people of Seiryuu. In the current era, they are followers of the Wyvern God Ozeki, Shirashi’s brother and natural opposite. This makes him the foe of our teenage heroes long before they know who he is and what he is after.
Not only is Lacotl devious with a purpose, however, but he’s also a little insane. Kan’thir have a cultural practice of enchanting the skulls of their ancestors to retain a bit of their knowledge through the generations. They are powerful artifacts that can bring untold wisdom to a family lineage, but when worn excessively, as in Lacotl’s case, the enchantments can erode their sanity.
But despite Lacotl’s murderous intent, dark schemes, and questionable allegiances… there is far more to him than meets the eye.
While Lacotl himself takes up much of the cover space, the focal point ends up being what’s in his outstretched hands: a golden egg. It resembles what you might imagine as a dragon egg. I cannot say much about the egg or Lacotl’s goals surrounding it without major spoilers for the series. However, the significance of the egg very much aligns with the dynamics between the two dragons clinging to it. On one side there is a red wyvern, representing Ozeki, and a blue Eastern dragon, representing Shirashi.
They are opposites, with the egg in between them–showing that they are willing to fight for it. Whether that’s to destroy or protect, who’s to say?
Very much so however, many of the challenges faced by Aihi, Hidekazu, and Masanori throughout the Yokai Calling series are because they get tied up in an ancient conflict between the wyverns and the dragons. At first, it seems obvious who they will choose to align themselves with, but as they learn more about the conflict, it becomes less clear who is good and who is evil. Including themselves.
The next major elements are three female spirits hovering around Lacotl. When I made the decision to include these spirits, I didn’t have any particular characters in mind. I wanted these spirits to represent all of the women who die in this series, including significant characters. Effectively, they become the spirits of the women wronged by Lacotl and his heinousness, as well as the forces he works with.
Thematically, Spirit of the Dragon especially deals with violence against women (and to some lesser degree, The Dragon’s Eye as well). A disproportionate amount of kidnapping victims in the real world, about 75%, are women and girls. In Canada and the United States, there are human rights crises and inquiries about Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women.
It is an unfortunate reality that women are more often than not the target of violence, and that is a reality reflected in the fantasy world I’m building. I find that many fantasy authors use “realism” as an excuse to continue portraying awful violence against women in their stories and to some degree, this is an acceptable response for a dark world where everyone equally takes the brunt of that violence in different ways. However, when is enough enough?
While I represent the facts about violence against women in the Yokai Calling series because it is in some respects dark fantasy, women in my world also have far more potential for power.
The Dragon Goddess Shirashi extends favourable power to women in title and in raw ki (magic): the Warlock Empire was mostly matriarchal and ruled by a line of powerful empresses. The shōgun of Seiryuu commands the entire military, and her daughter, Princess Aihi, will one day continue the reign of empresses in Seiryuu.
And, women are more likely to receive Shirashi’s gift of ki than their male counterparts (approximately 75% compared to 50%, depending on bloodlines).
However, that very same power puts a target on their back for those who do not fear Shirashi’s wrath… and who value the raw power of their gifts more than the vessel.
Check out the Yokai Calling series to see all these story elements in actions inside the books!
After we decided on all of the elements that would be portrayed on the cover, EL came back to me a while later with a draft sketch of the cover. From there, we went through several phases of sketches, colours, and polishing, until finally, it was all finished! If you want to see the progress pics from the whole process, just go here!
What do you think of the Yokai Calling omnibus cover?