Ranger in Time: Escape from the Great Earthquake, written by Kate Messner and published by Scholastic, comes out on June 27. In this episode of the series, everyone's favorite time-travelling golden retriever goes back to the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, where he helps a lonely Chinese girl navigate the chaos of the disaster and find a new family.
I was really excited to work on this book because I grew up in the San Francisco area, and Chinatown was one of my favorite places. I was always asking my mom to take me there to look at the shops, eat dim sum and drink tea.
I quickly realized though, that as sentimental as the setting was to me, it was going to be a huge challenge to illustrate. The last Ranger in Time book was fairly easy to draw because it was set in the desolate landscapes of Iceland. But for this book, the Ranger in Time team was demanding my A-game: they wanted CHAOS! FIRE! DESTRUCTION! CROWD SCENES! BUILDINGS!
The team asked for Ranger, running through the rubble-strewn streets of San Francisco, with the main character behind him. These are my three roughs. The team decided they liked the middle one the best, but asked me to put the ruins of City Hall in the background.
The team liked this rough and asked me to add in a smoky sky, and then to send them a color rough.
Here's where I started to run into some problems. I was looking at many, many black-and-white photographs of post-earthquake SF, and I think my brain was just stuck in black-and-white mode. Smoky skies are grey. Ruined buildings are grey. Rubble is grey. Ranger in Time covers are usually super colorful - how was I going to work color into this scene?
My first idea was to have a bright orange sky, lit by the fires that charred the city after the earthquake. But I quickly learned...
...that an orange dog and an orange sky do not mix. Thankfully I never sent to the above color rough to the publisher, because I knew it was no good. I started to get frustrated, and I started throwing all sorts of crazy colors at the scene, just to see what would stick. (Insert angtsy artist montage here. Crumpling up papers and tossing them on the ground. Rubbing tired eyes. Drinking, smoking, toppling over easels in fits of rage.)
What emerged was a yellow-purple sky. Bizarre, but it works.
The Ranger team asked me to amp up the chaos by adding in fire to City Hall, a crack in the street, more toppled telegraph lines, and bigger smoke. (I can hear my art professor's voice telling me "more drama, Kelley! More drama!" When will I learn, Julie???)
Here is the complete cover, designed by Maeve Norton.
Ranger in Time #6: Escape from the Great Earthquake comes out on June 27. I also illustrated 16 interiors for the book, which I will show a sneak peek of on Thursday!