DOC WILDE: Building A Better Hummingbird

For those who are curious about what’s happening with the relaunch of my Doc Wilde series (particularly our wonderful Kickstarter supporters, who have I told you are wonderful?), I figured it was time for another update. The first book, Doc Wilde and The Frogs of Doom, was scheduled for release last month. Unfortunately, Gary Chaloner, artist extraordinaire and official Doc Wilde visual wizard, got caught up in another (more immediately lucrative) project which dragged on and on and ate a lot of the time he’d been planning to put into working on the Wildes.

Now he’s hard at work on Frogs of Doom (as well as the cover painting for the second book, which is looking awesome), and it was worth the wait. Gary gets the Wildes. Gary is also damn good at what he does.

I’m enjoying watching the visual pieces for Frogs as he develops them, and figured I’d share a bit of the behind-the-scenes interplay between artist and author so you can see some of what’s going on, and get an idea of the process.

Understand that the interaction between us is atypical for publishing, and one of the benefits I’ve gained by leaving big publishing and going indie; I have more dialogue with Gary about specific things like what a particular dart gun looks like than I had with anyone at Putnam over an entire book cover. And I never had any contact, at all, with their actual cover artist, which led to a nice cover with characters who didn’t quite look right and details that were off.

Gary’s more than a hired hand on these books, he’s a creative partner. He makes sure of the details, and he also brings his own vision which enhances mine. When you see his art, you can be sure that not only are you seeing what I, as the author, want you to see, often you’re seeing something I like even better than what was in my head when I was writing.

Which brings me to the Colibri

I introduced the Colibri in Frogs of Doom. I’m playing in a pulp universe with these books, and I’m mindfully (and affectionately) embracing a lot of pure pulp tropes as I develop these characters and their world. So I couldn’t refrain from giving the Wildes a cool autogyro any more than I could keep from giving tactical blimps to the New York City police:

Early the next morning, an autogyro shot from New York to Massachusetts, silent as a falling leaf.

An autogyro is a hybrid of a small plane and a helicopter but is far more maneuverable than either, being able to take off and land straight up and down, veer into amazing turns that would scare an airplane pilot silly, and make pinpoint landings. This one was also capable of reaching amazingly high speeds in flight.

While autogyros have been around almost as long as airplanes, this particular vehicle was designed and hand-built by Dr. Spartacus Wilde. He’d named it Colibri, which means “hummingbird” in French. It was the swiftest, most stable light aircraft ever built.

When the time came for Gary to actually start drawing the vehicle, I sent him this photo as a starting reference:

“For the gyro, maybe something like this, run through a Deco filter,” I wrote him. “Of course, the rear cabin should be larger. Capacity and size should be roughly along the lines of a combat helicopter. Should also have porthole windows for the rear compartment. And don’t overdo Wilde branding, I don’t really want to get into a Wildemobile and Wilderang sort of approach.”

Time passed. Then Gary wrote, “How’s this for the Colibri? I went back and researched a lot of deco plane and autogyro designs.”

Pretty cool…but not quite there.

“The design elements are great,” I wrote back, “but it feels a bit chunky, like a period cargo plane. Doesn’t really evoke speed or lightness, a la a hummingbird. I like the skylight idea, but the windshield design is cramped. You might expand the ws so that it covers more of the nose, maybe incorporating the skylight area as part of the whole and making the non-ws parts of the nose (which I like the look of) smaller and more streamlined. You might go for a more waspish approach to the tail, narrowing it to a light framework between the tailfin and the cabin. Similarly, some of the other elements might seem lighter if depicted in more of a framework style, like the landing gear and wings. Just ideas. My notion is sort of someplace between the Deco of this and a modern small helicopter. Pulp cool, but evocative of agility and speed.”

So Gary took another crack at it:

He wrote, “I think the deco elements are slipping away a little bit, but sleek and fast is called for…”

Now, this actually looked damn close to what I had been picturing in my head when I wrote. But while that was the case, and it certainly looked more agile than the first version, it had nowhere near as much personality. “Maybe keep this essential form, but dial it back toward your Deco approach,” I told him. “Maybe just apply this basic shape (particularly the tail) to your original design. Can probably pick up some sleekness by angling the wings back a touch.”

And this was what Gary wrought:

And it was perfect.

2 comments on “DOC WILDE: Building A Better Hummingbird

  1. grandpachet says:

    These illustrations MUST be included in the Doc Wilde book(s). Especially the final one!

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