Trust me, we went through a lot of options in considering the cover image. When we first got started, I looked at all the past licensed comics, posters, merchandise, etc. I found lots of repurposed publicity shots, which didn't give a sense of the action, drama or humor of the series. I also found a lot of montages that tried to cram in all nine cast members, again to the detriment of communicating the spirit of the series.
Thankfully, we had a green light to get original art for the corebook. I thought if we got original art, it ought to depict a new scene that wasn't available from screenshots or 8x10s. I decided we should just focus on a small subset of the main cast who would be most analogous to an "adventuring party:" Zoe, Jayne and Mal.
Crystal sketched a LOT, indeed including a few montage ideas. In the end, we still zeroed in the idea of making an action scene, right at a tense point where a GM would ask "What do you do?" The next step was figuring out how to best compose this action scene while still reading clearly enough for a proper cover. We had one shot to communicate a whole scenario, imply back story, suggest consequence, and, oh yeah, actually help sell the book.
EXT. Pile of stolen Alliance cargo.
MAL, ZOE and JAYNE standing guard while SERENITY arrives for pickup. They're ambushed! It was a setup! The trio has no time to duck for cover, just enough to draw and stand their ground.
We even had a late version of the art with multiple laser sights trained on all three of our heroes. A teeny bit too grim.
If you know my game design ethos against violent themes, you may be surprised I directed a cover with three armed characters. We have variant sketches with fewer guns and a less tense scene. Mal was holding a communicator to call in an air rescue. Ultimately, we deferred to the license, which does have lots of gun stuff. I drew the line at the heroes actually firing though.
Final takeaway: Crystal Ben is amazing and it was a pleasure to collaborate on this project. There's lots more to come!