Wednesday, May 2, 2007

Seduced and Abandoned

Here's one I was very excited to see pop up on the Criterion schedule: Seduced and Abandoned. This film was Pietro Germi's follow-up to Divorce, Italian Style and touches on many of the same themes—it's kind of an unofficial sequel. And since that project had been such a great success, design-wise, I had high hopes of lightning striking twice.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my first thought was to call Xaime Hernandez again and really make the two sets a matched pair. Unfortunately, Xaime was unavailable (busy, I think, with those great La Maggie la Loca strips that ran in the Times Magazine). But we still liked the idea of keeping the two designs related, so now I needed to find an illustrator who could hit some of the same buttons as Xaime without seeming like a rip-off or gigantic step down in quality. And Xaime's a pretty tough act to follow.

A lot of names got thrown around, and the one that stuck was Mike Allred. Mike's got a line that's as smooth and confident as Xaime's, also with a 60's-ish vibe, but with a personality all its own. Like Xaime, Mike's drawings are from a classic comic-book tradition, but instantly recognizable and unique, so I was confident he could follow Xaime's lead without being overshadowed. Thankfully, he was available and interested. We talked and I sent him all the reference material and such that he would need.

I had an initial idea that would have been very closely linked to Divorce, which I discussed with Mike. I imagined the figures of Peppino, Agnese, and her father arranged in a tableau that would suggest, in broad strokes, the shotgun marriage at the heart of the film. I pictured Peppino and Agnese in the foreground, holding hands but looking vaugely disgusted with each other. On Agnese's hand, a wedding band that neither of them can bring themselves to make eye contact with. And in the background, Agnese's father, Don Vincenzo, fuming comically. The whole thing would have been treated a lot like the Divorce cover—line drawings over flat colors, but where that had been green, this would have been red, and where that had been round-cornered squares this would have been angular triangles. But basically, the same vibe.

I also mentioned, as I always do, that if Mike had any ideas of his own, we'd be happy to take a look at those, too. Cut to a week or so later, when Mike sends me his sketches. He'd given me almost exactly what I asked for:

His sketch has a little more in the way of background than I originally envisioned, and I guess I'd pictured more full-figure shots than medium close-ups, but the likenesses are right on and the relationships are clear, and it was a very good representation of my idea. Only, it turned out my idea wasn't nearly as good as Mike's idea.

In the same email, Mike sent a second sketch, with a note saying that he'd "fallen in love with the second one. It's what the movie was all about for me." Here's that sketch:

This is exactly why I encourage artists we work with to suggest ideas beyond the things we bring to them—this is a fantastic cover, and certainly not anything I would have come up with just talking about it. The concept is deceptively simple—portrait of the Don, with the source of his frustration circling around him—but really captures the film in a way the other sketch doesn't, because it puts the focus where it belongs: on the Don. Plus, the spiral gave me a great hook to play with in the through-design. I've seldom been happier to be wrong.

After a brief approval scare in which some folks around the office thought it might remind people too much of Vertigo—I managed to successfully argue that Hitchcock didn't have a patent on that technique—Mike got started on the final drawing. This is what he sent me next:

Mike's wife, Laura Allred, who is one the best colorists in the comics scene, generously helped us out by coloring the final drawing, and it looked gorgeous. As it turned out, the producer of the disc still had her heart set on red (for plenty of good thematic reasons), so we couldn't use Laura's colors exactly, but I managed to keep her tones and just change the hues. (Unfortunately, due to a mix-up on our end, Laura's name fell out of the Special Thanks section on the DVD when it was printed, so let me take this opportunity to thank her again for her contribution.)

I worked up some type that spoke to the Divorce type, played around with the colors, added the (at that time, very new) Criterion branding, and arrived at the final cover:

Mike then was gracious enough to make time for a few more spot illustrations to fill out the packaging, which I present here as eye candy:

And that was that! Thanks again for proving me wrong, Mike!

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