A while back I got an email out of the blue from Brett Warnock at Top Shelf, which for a number of reasons has turned out to be one of the best emails I've ever gotten. It said, in essence, that he dug my design work and asked if I might some time be interested in designing something for them. My immediate reaction was, "absolutely--and I notice that you don't have a cover posted for the ALEC omnibus that I've been looking forward to since Eddie first teased the idea on his always-worth-a-look blog... how much would I have to pay you to get that gig?"
So, this was something of a dream job for me. I've been an admirer of Eddie and his work for years, especially the ALEC stuff. In the course of working with Eddie and the Top Shelf guys, I tried to be professional and play it cool, but I may as well take this one opportunity to gush just a little bit:
I generally shy away from a lot of the trappings of capital-A Art: I make images just about every day, and lately I write as well, but I can't recall a time in my adult life where I've referred to myself as an "artist." Usually, the more time something spends declaring itself "Art" and walling itself off into a special rarified "high culture" category, the less use I have for it: give me the common touch of the record store over the pretensions of the art gallery any day.
But when I read How to be an Artist, or The King Canute Crowd, or any of the ALEC books, the explicit pursuit of Art seems valuable again, even noble... even though those books spend quite a bit of space sarcastically undercutting that very idea! They're funny and sad and insightful and inspiring and great.
(I should clarify, by the way, that I'm not suggesting Eddie's work is pretentious or falls into that high culture/low culture trap, but it is explicitly ambitious in a way that most of my favorite books, movies, music, etc, usually shy away from.)
Eddie is unquestionably one of the masters of "sequential art" or "the strip cartoon" or whatever the preferred terminology is. (certainly not "graphic novel"!) I'm not a great believer in arbitrary hierarchies in art. (Which is "better," Ulysses or Lolita?* What would that even mean, and who cares?) But for those versed in the accepted canon, I'll put it this way: I think From Hell (by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell) is Alan Moore's best book, but I don't think it's Eddie's. (My personal pick would be Graffitti Kitchen, but reasonable minds can differ on that point.)
(This is turning into quite the ramble, isn't it? Forgive me, as I'm writing this it's 3 AM and I've been on a press check in North Carolina since 8:30 this morning (not to mention 1:30 to 11:30 yesterday)... I may be a little punchy. (This is probably the 21st century equivalent of drunk-dialing Eddie Campbell. (And isn't that what blogs are for?)))
ANYway, the point is: I was pretty excited to get the gig.
Enough intro... here's the original comps I sent to Chris, Brett, and Eddie, with my original comments:
For the most part, these are in no particular order, but this first set might be my favorite. Design-wise, it's very simple and straightforward: I scanned in the "asleep at the turnpike" image from How To Be An Artist, which seemed appropriate for a vast retrospective like this: it's the first scene of the first Alec story, but this particular drawing of it is done some years after the fact, looking back on that first story... it seemed to work. (Plus I've always loved that panel.)
You'll notice there are two versions below: the idea is that the simpler, all black & white version could be the hardcover, and the color version where I've gone a little overboard playing with the zip-a-tone dots could be the softcover. I don't know if this would be something your printer can do, but I'd love to print the hardcover as a letterpress black, directly on the raw board, with a cloth-bound spine. (I don't know if you ever saw the hardcover edition of Dave Eggers' You Shall Know Our Velocity, but that's kind of the look I'm thinking of.) It's a simple but super-classy look. Then the softcover would just be standard 4C process, riffing off the same idea but in a different "setting."
(You'll also notice that I've added some punctuation to the title... that can be removed, if you prefer, it just seemed to add something to me.)
There's two versions again here, but these aren't really meant to go together, more to show options. This is obviously using Eddie's new drawing, again in a pretty simple, straightforward way. You'll notice I moved "Alec" from the beginning of the title to the subtitle... if that's not okay, no problem to change it back, but I just liked the way the word "Alec" sat directly under the figure there. (Also, when you put the title all on one line it needs two colons, which can look a little odd, in my opinion.)
Anyway, the first option is very stark, the second is me trying to harken back to that idea we discussed before of the artist appearing before his art... I'm not quite sure it's working, the effect is maybe a little more "safe" than I was hoping for, but I thought I'd send it around nonetheless.
(After the fact commentary: I can't believe I even sent these, in retrospect. Glad to have dodged that bullet!)
Pretty self-explainatory, I think.... just meant to be a fun way to mix type and image. Could swap that figure there for another, if you prefer, Graffiti Kitchen is just a particular favorite of mine.
And finally, one that might be somewhat unexpected. The central image, as you no doubt recognize, is the representation of "Art" from the close of chapter one of How To Be An Artist, and below is the Artist, bargaining with fate. Possibly too focused on the one book to the exclusion of the other components within this "Omnibus," but I thought it hit on some overarching themes, and I just think it's graphically very strong.
As I say these are a starting point... don't hesitate to tear them apart if need be.
Back to the present: I was thrilled when they chose concept #1, and the comp made it through to print pretty much exactly as it's presented above. The hardcover wound up being silkscreened onto the raw board rather than letterpressed as I suggested at first, but the effect is just as nice. That hardcover really works for Eddie's stuff in that it has a feeling that's both rough and classic at the same time; sophisticated, but not afraid to show its seams. Plus, I think it subtly harkens back to the handmade short-run comics of the Fast Fiction scene Eddie came out of--appropriate for a career-spanning retrospective. And I think it's a pretty straight line from that Fast Fiction aesthetic through to the handmade mini-comic scene of today that you'll find at shows like MoCCA or APE, so it hopefully feels contemporary, too. All in all I'm really happy with how it came together, and proud to have been involved with such a great project. Thanks again, Brett, Chris, and Eddie!
Oh, and if you haven't pre-ordered this yet, why not do it now? (Or better yet, the hardcover.)
*I know this totally undermines my point above, but for the record, Lolita by a mile. ;)