Friday, July 4, 2008

Blast of Silence

As I've blogged here before, Blast of Silence is one of my favorite Criterion movies of recent vintage. Criminally overlooked on initial release, it was exciting to get to finally expose it to a (hopefully) larger audience.

When it came time to design, the one thing that stuck in my head most about this film was the 2nd person narration throughout, which, to me, felt like nothing so much as old EC crime comics, which I'm a big fan of. So I had the idea that we could adapt a small segment of the film as a comic, with a cover to match. And that idea really started to seem prescient when we found out that director Allen Baron used to draw comics himself before becoming a filmmaker. (Some of his comics pages are actually hidden as an easter egg on the DVD, if you can find 'em!)

I briefly convinced myself that I could somehow be the guy who convinces Jack Davis to work in that old crime style he hasn't used for forty years, but ultimately that felt a little too nostalgic. Better to do something with a little bit more of a modern twist, that can really sell the ultra noir style of the film. And when you think "comics" and "noir," pretty much the first name that comes to mind is the great Sean Phillips.

Sean already had a connection to the film, too: in issue #4 of Sean and Ed Brubaker's great comic Criminal, there's a backup essay by Patton Oswalt on Blast, and Sean did an illustration to introduce it:

Knowing that he clearly "got" the film, he was the clear choice. Happily, he was available and interested. Here's the note I sent him:

As we see it, there are three ingredients that will be essential to this cover. First, Baby Boy Frankie Bono, obviously the central focus of the film, so he should definitely be represented. (Maybe holding a gun, maybe not?) Second, the city. This is the film that Martin Scorscese has called his “favorite New York movie,” and the setting is a large part of what makes it so great. I’m not saying you should put the Statue of Liberty in the background or anything (In fact, definitely don’t do that), but you should try to give a sense of the city. Third and finally, it should have that undefinable noir feeling, which must come naturally to you by now, right?

We love what you did with the illustration for Patton Oswalt’s essay, so we’re very confident that you “get” this film. The mood and style of that piece capture it very well. For our cover, we’d probably like to see a composition that’s just a little bit more dynamic, with Frankie Bono featured a little more prominently, but you’ve got the basics in there already. And as I mentioned before, we’d probably lean toward a harder-edged drawn style rather than a softer painted style, but if you’ve got some great idea that would work better in one style than another, feel free to try to talk us into it.

Like I said, we’d like to see a couple of sketches of possible compositions before we select a final cover, so just try to find a few interesting ways to combine those elements and we’ll go from there.

Sean came back with a great variety of sketches, mixing and matching different figures and backgrounds.

He also generously sent us a bunch of his warm-up sketches, which were very helpful in fleshing out the rest of the package—you can see them throughout the menus of the disc, especially.

Of the cover sketches, there were two that stood out to us, and we asked him to expand on both. He sent us these:

We loved both versions, and ultimately the choice for the cover came down to the fact that the one had a more obvious space for space for a title treatment. (The other one wound us as the main menu of the DVD.) The red look was graphically strong, but, we felt that the cooler blue tones of Sean's original drawing for Criminal were more appropriate to the tone of the film, so we asked for that shift.) With that in place, I tried a bunch of title treatments, seen below...

...before settling on what became the final cover. All in all, one of my favorite projects—and Sean was a "blast" to work with. (Sorry, couldn't resist.) And I haven't even gotten yet to what was (for me) the most fun part of the project—the comic. Maybe I'll blog about that process at some point in the future.

And just to brag a little, here's a scan of my copy of the DVD, autographed by Allen Baron himself:


Marc Roman said...

Great work on the DVD! It looks awesome and I finally saw the flick and absolutely loved it. And from watching the interviews, Baron seems like a really cool guy!

The D-Man said...

Great job on the cover! I loved the movie as well!

Eric Skillman said...

Thanks, marc and "d-man"!

And yeah, Allen Baron is possibly the friendliest, most easy-going director I've met while working here. A very cool guy.


Just discovered your blog and I can't believe I get to actually tell you how great you are.

Whenever Criterion releases a new batch of films, the first thing I do is drool over the cover art.

Because of this box for BLAST OF SILENCE, I snatched it up and watched it a few times already. Love the picture. Great job!

Jacob Covey said...

Great work on this, Eric. And even though I agree that it would have been a bit too nostalgic, you would have been my hero to get Jack Davis on this!