Making Justice – Journey of Cover Artwork by Erion Makuo

Intention and result are the two halves of Justice. Even with a specific goal in sight, your journey can be balanced, or upset, by unseen forces or the consequences of your own actions. In January 2020, we reached out to Erion Makuo, who created the bewitching cover for Issue 6: Ambition, and asked them to be our Artist-in-Residence for 2021. It wasn’t until September that Erion was available to produce covers for our 2021 themes. In a matter of months, we received four unique, gorgeous works of art that we are so excited to show off

The Pinterest Board for Issue 13: Justice amassed a trove of retro astronauts with giant glass bubble helmets,  bulbous laser pistols, and brightly coloured space suits. At the time, I was reading Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars and learning about my city’s free beach wheelchair rentals. Beach wheelchairs have large wheels that can handle different terrains, moving from asphalt to sand to water. I could easily imagine a similar vehicle rolling through the dusty roads of Mars. 

I wanted a wheelchair user with a thirst for adventure and a smirk that meant trouble. 

Erion sent three images with different approaches to the theme. The first was a younger woman, turning to fire at the viewer. The second was more military with proud shoulders and a boxy rifle. The third was pin-up style, with a gun pointed skyward and a flowing scarf. We loved all three proposals. Erion is a master at creating dynamic pieces, relaying the character’s joy or resolve. Along with the sketches, Erion let us know this was their first painting of a person with a disability. They asked us to review our final choice for any positioning that would be inappropriate. 

Intention: a rebellious wheelchair-user who could cause space trouble at a moment’s notice. 

Result: Well. The result was unknown, but we knew that we were still carving our own path. We could choose our favourite piece and move forward without considering where we would end up. Who needs a map when you can guess, right? 

We took a step back and asked Erion for more time to consider the piece and especially the positioning of legs and torso in the image. Via Facebook and Twitter, we sought a paid sensitivity viewer who would be willing to give us some of their time. 

Our search introduced us to Allison Wallis. Allison is a writer, wheelchair user, and the founder of the Facebook group Binders Full of Sensitivity Readers. She also has a graduate certificate in Disability and Diversity studies. Allison first asked about how we envisioned the character and offered suggestions on the different ranges of movement and different ability levels we needed to consider and apply to the concept image. 

She noted the outreached leg positioning on the first image made little sense for a wheelchair user, though the crossed legs would be fine for an ambulatory wheelchair user. Smaller issues like increasing the distance of the back wheels and the casters could easily be changed, and Allison also dropped the now-obvious-in-retrospect comment that a long flowing scarf was a strangulation hazard. For the chair design, Allison mentioned: 

Another issue may be the back of the chair. Most chairs have backs that provide a lot of support for the back. Some people have very low backs, some people (like me) have backs that come up to the shoulder blades, and some people need a headrest. It depends on the needs of your character.  But people generally don’t sit as far away from the back of the chair as in these illustrations. It seems a little too curved. 

We made a list of Allison’s recommendations and returned to Erion. We were now positive that the first image, with the old school laser pistol, was the perfect action shot for the cover. Erion took some time and sent us back a new sketch with some important changes. The legs were now on the wheelchair, the safety belt was more obvious, the back of the chair was lowered, and the twist in the back was less arched. 

Happy with the image changes, we confirmed the new path and moved forward. Erion sent us four colour schemes, each adding a markedly different tone to the image. We were initially drawn to the hues of orange and yellow in one of the illustrations but it also gave off the faint impression of a dying sun, adding more pathos than we wanted. We ended up choosing a rainbow ringed planet alongside a bright red spacesuit. 

What could have been an exercise of arrogance ended up a truly collaborative process. We knew the journey we wanted to take and the story we wanted the image to tell. Erion shaped the journey, but Allison helped us carve the path. Intentions and results. We hope that the result of our action is an inclusive work of art that makes us all long for a little bit of space ruckus.

Interested in seeing more of the inspiration behind our covers? Check out our Pinterest boards where we post reference images for each issue.

Erion Makuo is our Artist-In-Residence for 2021. You can find more Erion’s art at their website: 

Thank you again to Allison Wallis. Her full bio is below.

Allison Wallis is a freelance journalist, writer, and disability rights advocate. She lives on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii with her daughter, husband, Koa the Tripod dog, and Rosie the chinchilla.  Allison earned a Business Administration degree from UIW in San Antonio. After graduating, she attended the Culinary Institute of America, where she specialized in Baking and Pastry Arts.  After leaving the hospitality industry due to health issues, Allison earned a graduate certificate in Disability and Diversity Studies from the University of Hawai’i. There, she rediscovered a love of research and writing. Her final capstone project for the program was a series of essays exploring the effects of her disabilities and chronic pain on her body and mind. One essay was published in Roxane Gay’s magazine.  Allison has been published in outlets such as The Washington Post, Healthline, and Electric Literature.

Mostly homebound, Allison has learned to live well at home. She volunteers with her local Legal Aid office as a Fair Housing advocate and helps fellow chronically ill and disabled people learn how to navigate the medical system. An ambulatory wheelchair user, she loves a good, long ramp because rolling down it feels like flying.

  • Rebecca Bennett
    Rebecca Bennett Owner/Senior Editor and Cover Art Director

    As the sole Canadian, Rebecca spends too much time hiding her ‘eh’s and adding proper vowels to words. Her short stories and poetry have been published in Strange Horizons, Bourbon Penn, Luna Station Quarterly and other literary locales.  You can follow her occasional tweets at @_rebeccab

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