The Greatest Show in the Galaxy

6 September 2012

Deciding to catch up with the recent glut of McCoy stories, I started with 'Greatest Show' as the composition was the most concrete in my mind, although that's not to say it didn't change as I came to put it all together. In thinking about all the Seventh Doctor stories, however, I devised rough ideas for each, so McCoy fans may not have to wait too long for another cover.

'Greatest Show' is so brimming over with characters, many on the villainous side, that deciding on a layout is as much about choosing who to leave out as which to include. Indeed, my initial sketch featured the Chief Clown, the Ringmaster, Captain Cook and a clown, as well as the Gods of Ragnarok and the circus tent. However, the arrangement of those four characters in a diminishing row didn't really work with the images available, so I came up with a less populated format.

Most photos of the Gods are from a low angle looking up at them on their plinth, so placing them at the top was always going to work best. Initially I planned to use a more front-on shot and have the story title in the upper-right area, but I couldn't get the lines to break how I wanted and decided the title worked better on the left, leading me to switch to a shot of the Gods that provided more balance on the right. As I always planned to have the Doctor in the bottom left corner, this put him more in the eyeline of the Gods, which I liked. The circus tent I intended to have at the bottom, much like Lee Binding's official cover, with the cast of villains hovering above. But it's not my style to have 'floating faces' -- characters positioned with no relation to each other and their bodies fading out -- preferring to at least have a graphic element that provides an edge to define how a character is positioned and framed. Browsing through the Cover Galleries, 'Inferno' is the closest I've come to that approach.

So I began to think maybe the tent would work better in the centre, with a suitable frame, allowing me to position the human characters (of which the Chief Clown was the main one I wanted to include) at the bottom -- a more usual arrangement for my covers. I could have had just a straight band across the middle for the tent scene but in trying to come up with something more appropriate to the story I hit on the eye symbol on Deadbeat's medallion. This appealed more when I realised I could position the planet in Segonax's sky to represent the eyeball, and while this eventually meant much of the symbol shape was covered by other elements, I think the centre eye section is clear enough.

It then just remained to cut out and colour balance the various elements. I tried several characters peering over the Chief Clown's shoulder to fill that space, of which the clown looked the least odd/comical, and is arguably a more creepy image than a human character. Because of the Chief Clown's hat, I had to position the tent higher than was otherwise ideal, leaving an empty expanse of sand at the bottom of the scene. I hit on parking the hearse there as an appropriate filler that also provided an intriguing contrast with the circus tent, while the kites stopped the sky looking a tad empty. Finally, while the photo of the Doctor is the same as on the official cover (not really a problem) I was more put out by his upturned collar. Unfortunately I couldn't find a matching shot to patch in a proper lapel, but wanted to use it as I had a nice big copy in a DWM Special allowing for a good quality image (for a change). Besides, I like his expression of "What the f**k is going on here?" that fits the surreal nature of the story.

Download the final GREATEST SHOW IN THE GALAXY cover here

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