NostraDuncan tabloid illustration by Duncan Long

The last ten years have seen a major shift in our business from creating illustrations for larger publishers toward clients who are self-publishing authors or small presses. And ebook covers have become a large part of that work (though generally these are generated from the print version of the covers we create).

One of the clients that supplied us with a lot of work back when was The Sun tabloid, which was usually to be found at the checkout counter of Walmart and most supermarkets throughout the US.

Stories in The Sun were always a little on the Twilight Zone side, and most were totally fabricated, though whenever the art director called in need of an illustration, she talked as if the story was legitimate, and I never disputed that. Hopefully most readers weren’t taken in by these hoaxes, but given what passes as “reality” with reality TV shows, perhaps they were.

At any rate, among the werewolves, bat boys, and aliens I painted for use in this tabloid was one that gave me my 15 minutes of fame. The paper was running an article on Nostradamus, and given there were few pictures of him (and no cameras back when) they needed a photo-realistic painting for the cover article about the prophet.

Having a beard and looking a bit haggard, I used myself for the model, altering my nose a bit in the painting process to match the one drawing of Nostradamus that I was working from. I sent off a digital copy, got the okay from the art director, and pretty much forgot about the whole thing as I continued with other projects.

Weeks later, the picture appeared not on an inside article but on the cover of the publication. And my friends who I hadn’t bothered to tell about the illustration were thus a bit alarmed to see my face plastered up and down the checkout line counters where they usually saw two-headed girls, ax murderers, and air-brushed photos of Hollywood starlets who had been abducted by aliens.

After their initial double-take, no doubt they were relieved to find I wasn’t a serial killer or such.

Over the years The Sun ran some crazy stories. Ironically, one story the tabloid didn’t cover but which while true still strains credibility was the tragic death of the paper’s photo editor Robert Stevens; in 2001 when a mysterious letter came into the mailroom, he had the misfortune to inhale some of the bluish powder inside. Weeks later, he was dead; the powder was laced with anthrax spores and the letter was one of many that were sent to businesses and politicians throughout the US. A needless death, and due to my connection with the tabloid, one that has brought home the potential dangers of both terrorism and biological warfare.

In 2012 The Sun closed its doors. But it had a good run and supplied a string of nice payments for some of my more fanciful illustrations, from UFOs to strange creatures that go bump in the night.

Duncan Long is a sometimes model but mostly works as an illustrator. He’s done artwork for HarperCollins, PS Publishing, Pocket Books — and The Sun. Today he mostly creates book cover pictures for self-publishing authors and small indie presses. You can see many of his book and magazine illustrations in his Portfolio of Book and Magazine Art.