Illustrator Interview: Gene Brenek on the Logo for Sanguini’s from Tantalize

Gene Brenek on Gene Brenek: “Well I had to put on a little ‘ABBA Gold’ to gear up for this. Let’s see, I was born in Houston many moons ago, but not as far back as when ABBA was still in heavy rotation. I was an 80’s kid, more Prince back before he changed his name to a hieroglyph and way before he went back to being Prince. Why is my bio suddenly full of old pop artist references? Dunno, I guess that’s what happens when I’m left to my own devices.

“Let’s move this ahead a few years shall we? I’m currently a creative director for a big ad agency in Austin, Texas. In my spare time, I’m working on a master’s in writing for children and young adults at Vermont College, which is truly a great program. I also have been illustrating dummies for my own picture book ideas. Let’s just say I don’t sleep. And I’m waiting, PATIENTLY, to be discovered. Ahem.”

Thanks so much for designing logos for Sanguini’s, the fictional vampire restaurant featured in my gothic fantasy, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007). What was your initial inspiration for the designs?

Designing a logo is a lot like creating a picture book in a way. You need a very simple idea. A logo can’t contain several different concepts at once and be effective. The ones with staying power are very iconic.

Certainly what separated the dead from the undead restaurants was the vampire mythology. So I started brainstorming and writing down anything that came to mind when I thought about vampires.

Usually I spend a fair amount of time trying out various color combinations but this assignment begged for two colors. Black, the color of night and red. Yes, black is the absence of color but when you’re talking to printers it’s still an ink color. Red seemed an obvious but essential choice: blood, wine, marinara.

One logo idea, that for better or worse got nicknamed “the girly one,” came out of Quincie’s, the protagonist’s, femininity. I loved the idea of blood draining off the gothic lettering and dripping down a flowering vine, as if elements of the restaurant were changing who she was.

I also kept coming back to puncture wounds. The other logo (see above) incorporated that idea. So thank you for coming up with a restaurant that had two i’s in the name, you made my job easy. If you ever write a book about a vampire-themed Ikea, I may have some leftover ideas for all those umlauted furniture names.

What considerations came into play when developing the logos?

I treated this project as I would any other design project. Before starting any sketches I had a few questions. What the owners were like? What was their vision for the restaurant? Who was their clientele? What cues could I get from the interior spaces? And while that may seem like a tough assignment, given that it’s a fictional place, I found that the writing was crafted in such a way that it was very easy for me to get a sense of all of these things.

I approached this as not a design project for author Cynthia Leitich Smith but for Quincie [the protagonist]. I tried to understand her as much as I could and what her sensibilities were. Now it could be argued that Cyn and Quincie are one in the same, certainly there are aspects of that, but they are different people.

What were the challenges in bringing them to life?

Honestly the biggest challenge was not getting to design the menu, interior, the matchbooks, the business cards –all the elements that go into shaping one’s identity.

What was your experience working with Printfection and CafePress? Why did you select those companies?

I went with these two companies because they offer so much flexibility. They print on demand, meaning that rather than doing a run of say 100 shirts in every size that I then had to store and ship, when someone places an order then it gets printed and shipped. They take care of it all. And I like the quality of their merchandise.

What advice would you give to folks trying to design and produce book tie-in promotions?

Think outside the box. Why not create items for a fictional vampire themed restaurant? But know that your reader is smart. Just because a tie-in isn’t physically in the book, it’s a part of the book. Initially I had envisioned staying away from a gothic typeface. I was leaning toward something more modern. Then I read a passage about the gothic lettering on the menu and it guided me away from something slick and contemporary. I needed to remain faithful to the book. It wasn’t an entirely blank canvas.

Restaurant items made sense; to me Sanguini’s was a prominent character in Tantalize. Designing items based around where the protagonist had gone to school would’ve made no sense what so ever.

More personally, do you count yourself among fans of the fanged ones? If so, what do you think is the appeal?

Of course I’m a fan. Vampires seem to have all the smarts. They also have big personalities, charisma. You want to hang out with them. Imagine a book where someone opens a tax-attorney-themed restaurant. Yawn.

What do you do when you’re not working for the undead?

What do you mean? I’m an art director for an ad agency. I’m always working for the undead.

Actually, I’m writing and illustrating a couple of ideas of my own in the picture book arena. Depending on who you talk to that particular market is either dead or undead. For my sake, I’m hoping it’s undead.

Cynsational Notes

Shop Sanguini’s at Printfection and CafePress; see the other Sanguini’s logo option.

Sanguini’s Shops

Austin illustrator Gene Brenek has designed two logos to celebrate Sanguini’s, the fictional vampire restaurant featured in my upcoming YA gothic fantasy novel, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007).

The logos are now available on T-shirts, a mousepad, and a cutting board for sale at Printfection and on more T-shirts, a mug, a magnet, and a sticker at CafePress.

Cynsational Notes

Shop Sanguini’s at Printfection and CafePress.

Read a story-behind-the-logos interview with Gene and see the other Sanguini’s logo option.

More News & Links

Hurry, hurry! Zip over to Julia Durango’s LJ to enter her giveaway of Angels Watching Over Me, illustrated by Elisa Kleven (Simon & Schuster, March 2007). Read a related Cynsations interview with Julia.

Artist and Author Cynthia von Buhler Talks about Her Cats at CatChannel.com. Cynthia is the author-illustrator of The Cat Who Wouldn’t Come Inside (Houghton Mifflin, 2006).

A couple of bloggers have commented on my recent interview with Not Your Mother’s Book Club, specifically about my revision process. Check out Justine Larbalestier’s “Different Strokes” and Stephanie Gunn’s “suddenly my writing methodology doesn’t seem so strange.”

Thanks also to Elizabeth Garton Scanlon and Lara Zeises for cheering my new release, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and return to blogging. Read Cysational interviews with Elizabeth, which was recently recommended by HipWriterMama, and with Lara.

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at Not Your Mother’s Bookclub

Read the latest interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith (me again) at Not Your Mother’s Bookclub. The topic is my new YA gothic fantasy title, Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007), and the Q&As are fangfully fantastic. Here’s a sneak peek:

“As for the long answer… It hardly seems possible, but I first began looking through magazines for photos to inspire characters and asking them to write letters to me in late 2001. I don’t know though that I did more than just flirt with the story in that first year. I was essentially gathering courage. In the couple of years that followed, I wrote short stories for a number of anthologies, taking full advantage of the opportunity to stretch my skills. Write stronger. Braver. Fangs out. Eventually, I sank in with a vengeance.”

More News & Links

Check out the latest review, this one from the Wordcandy Blog. Here’s a taste: “Tantalize features a genuine sense of foreboding, contrasted with the frenetic atmosphere of a major restaurant opening. This unusual combination made for a constantly surprising and highly effective horror story.”

The 11th Carnival of Children’s Literature from MotherReader.

2007 Oklahoma Book Award finalists include: Sharon Darrow for Trash (Candlewick); Molly Levite Griffis for Paradise of the Prairie (Eakin); and Tim Tingle for Crossing Bok Chitto (Cinco Puntos). See the whole list. Read a Cynsations interview with Sharon.

From Page to Screen: Gabor Csupo’s Bridge to Terabithia by Martha V. Parravano from The Horn Book.

Author Alma Fullerton offers new interviews with authors Niki Burnham and Mark L. Williams as well as agent Stephen Malk of Writer’s House.

Author Anastasia Suen has launched the Blog Central Guide, highlighting children’s authors and illustrators’ blogs. Read an interview with Anastasia.

Debbi Michiko Florence has launched her redesigned author site. See her new interview with Sally Keehn, author of Magpie Gabbard and the Quest for the Buried Moon (Philomel, 2007). Learn more about Debbi’s superheroic web designer Lisa Firke of Hit Those Keys (who also is my web designer).

Interview with Cynthia Leitich Smith at the YA Authors Cafe

The YA Authors Cafe offers its first interview at a new location. Cynthia Leitich Smith (that would be me) is the featured author, and I’m talking about Tantalize (Candlewick, 2007).

Here’s a sneak peek: “My world is eclectic, and (also unlike most genre fiction) reflects the diversity of our real one. Peel back the scary romp, and there’s depth there–thematic treatments of alcholism, feminism, race and class relations, all through analogy. But many YAs will just enjoy the marinara-baked chills, and that’s just fine.”

Read the whole interview. Leave a question in the comments today.

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith is Now Available

Tantalize by Cynthia Leitich Smith (Candlewick, Feb. 13, 2007) is now available. Here’s a peek:

Classified Ads: Restaurants
Sanguini’s: A Very Rare Restaurant is hiring a chef de cuisine. Dinners only. Apply in person between 2 and 4 P.M.

Quincie Morris has never felt more alone. Her hybrid-werewolf first love threatens to embark on a rite of passage that will separate them forever. And just as she and her uncle are about to debut Austin’s red hot vampire-themed restaurant, a brutal murder leaves them scrambling for a chef.

Can Quincie transform the new hire into a culinary dark lord before opening night? Will Henry Johnson be able to wow the crowd in fake fangs, a cheap cape, and red contact lenses? Or is there more to this earnest fresh face than meets the eye?

As human and preternatural forces clash, a deadly love triangle forms and the line between predator and prey begins to blur. Who’s playing whom? And how long can Quincie play along before she loses everything?

Tantalize marks Cynthia Leitich Smith’s delicious debut as an author of dark fantasy.

Here are the official blurbs:

“Looking for something to read that will make your TV jealous? Cynthia Leitich Smith’s Tantalize has it all—hot vampires and wolf-boys, a super-cool heroine in cowboy boots, nail-biting suspense, romance, chills ‘n’ thrills, and Austin, Texas. What more could you want?”

Libba Bray, author of A Great and Terrible Beauty and Rebel Angels

“Full of unexpected, delicious delights that kept me guessing and turning the pages, Tantalize creates a froth of danger, suspense, and wit. This original book tantalizes the senses indeed, as it explores the border between attraction and disgust, and makes us question our perceptions. Who are you? Predator or prey?”

Annette Curtis Klause, author of Blood and Chocolate, The Silver Kiss, and Freaks! Alive on the Inside

In breaking news, we have new reviews:

“If Joan Bauer took a crack at dark fantasy, the result would probably be something like this gothic-horror comedy…” and goes on “…the immersion in food culture–including an overhauled menu, as grisly as it is gourmet–successfully builds on the sensual aspects of vampire mythology.”

–Booklist

“An intoxicating romantic thriller… Quincie’s longing for a physical relationship with her boy-wolf is as palpable as the taste of the food… Smith adds a light touch of humor to the soup, but the main course is a dark romance with all the gory trimmings.”

The Horn Book Magazine

“Quincie must make a terrifying choice in a heart-pounding climax that will have teen readers weeping with both lust and sorrow.”

–Kirkus Reviews

Check out all the buzz!