Carlyle McCullough: The man behind the Nikolas and Co cover

223381_12919398703_2540_nMinutes into a conversation with Carlyle you understand that he is more than an artist. I call him the Leonardo Da Vinci of our team. He can talk about an obscure line of X-men comics that featured a battle on the moon with titan like superheroes, followed with an in-depth explanation about a cone snail who paralyzes its victims by shooting out boney barbs, and land squarely on a heady conversation about atheism in our culture today. All that before we begin our meeting on the next Nikolas and Co project. So I thought it would be great if you heard from him what it took to work on the cover for Nikolas and Co: The Foul and The Fallen.


By Carlyle McCullough

snake 1“Say, how’s that cover coming?”


That was my only reply many times when Kevin would text me to ask how the cover for “Nikolas and Company, The Foul and the Fallen” was coming. Truly, it was the only response I could come up with at the time. That hideous creature on said book cover that is coming up behind Nikolas all teeth and claws – is covered from the top of its head to the middle of its lower back with hundreds of angry, writhing snakes, and I tend to have a pretty analytical approach to my art. That means I couldn’t just start throwing snakes here and there willy-nilly. Every time I drew one snake, I saw two or three more places that now needed snakes. Personally,  I think the critter could do with even more snakes, but I was starting to lose the background as it is. He needed to be as imposing as possible though, because, as adversaries go, a gorgon is pretty much like a really ticked-off cross between a rattlesnake, a pit bull, and a Sherman tank. Flat out terrifying and not to be taken lightly. To put it another way, good luck with that katana, Nick – flames or no flames.

gorgonIn spite of my tendency to want to draw every little detail in the pursuit of verisimilitude, I am fascinated by the concept of “economy of line” – intrigued by the question: “what is the barest minimum of elements necessary to convey the given concept?” In other words, it’s not necessary to draw every stinkin’ scale in order to successfully communicate ‘fish.’ Kevin and I are both storytellers. Kevin uses words, phrases, plots, sub-plots and meta-narratives. I use shapes, colors and texture, light, shadow and composition. We both love telling the story, but we also both know that there’s a time to “speak,” and a time to shut up and set the reader’s or viewer’s own imagination loose on the playground.

snake nikolas

As far as I’m concerned, in the context of fantastic art and illustration, Frank Frazetta is the
undisputed king of economy of line. That’s not to say he avoided detail – far from it. But he had a gift of knowing where to put detail and where to drop the visual equivalent of hints and whispers and voices from down the hall, all designed to pull the viewer’s own imagination into the mix and bring the visual story to life. If you’re not familiar with his work, you should look it up. Even if you don’t recognize the name, you’ll probably recognize is work. He’s the man.

Anyway, I’m certainly no Frazetta, or Vallejo or Whelan, for that matter (not yet, at least). I spent a lot of time drawing details at the concept stage that I knew wouldn’t be seen in the final illustration. But in spite of the fact that I am my own worst critic,  this cover turned out to be one of those rare occasions where I could sit back, look at it and think “cool!” Of course, I still see all of the flaws, but all that does is make me excited to see how the next one will turn out. I’ll keep you posted…


The sum total of Carlyle’s brilliance:

Nikolas and Co Ep 3 coversmall

On sale late spring!

Also, be sure to pick up Episode 1, The Merman and The Moon Forgotten for free for your ebook reader!


2 thoughts on “Carlyle McCullough: The man behind the Nikolas and Co cover

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