Monday, January 31, 2011

Friday, January 28, 2011

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

The Only Son/There Was a Father

It was a real thrill to get the chance to work with Adrian Tomine on The Only Son/There Was a Father. He really "gets" Ozu, and of course his line is absolutely gorgeous.

Interestingly, Ozu seems to be a favorite filmmaker of a LOT of cartoonists--I know at least Tomine, Seth, and Chris Ware are all big fans. I wonder if maybe that's because his frames are so often static, and so artfully composed, so you can almost see it rippling out as panels in a graphic novel… (For the record, that's my observation and not Adrian's--he just thinks Ozu is one of the great filmmakers, which, of course, is also true.)

Anyway, the easiest thing to do, I think, is just to reproduce the text of the note I sent to Adrian at the beginning of the project:


As I think will be obvious to you, the important relationships in both these films are parent and child: in The Only Son it’s Mother and Son, in There Was a Father, it’s Father and Son. Those are definitely the relationships we’d like to focus on for the covers—probably to the exclusion of any other characters.

The shot that sticks out to Kim (the producer of this disc), is this moment from about halfway through:

This is a great mother/son moment, and the smokestacks in the background also do a lot of good work, hinting at the city/country contrast, and also emphasizing the working class roots of these characters (which are of course a big driving force in the story.) Here’s a better shot of the smokestacks:

So that’s one idea that we’d love to see you try, plus anything else that suggests itself to you, keeping that focus on mother and son in mind.


Again, the main thing is the Father/Son relationship. A recurring motif in this film is the father and son, shot from behind at a distance:

Kim is very drawn toward that kind of visual (particularly that first iteration there, with the two walking together away from their house, the son with his school bag being a nice touch), and would love to see something like that in a cover. But again, that’s just one idea to try, we’re open to others.


The most difficult part of any set like this is the slipcase cover, as we’ll need to somehow serve both films well without privileging one over the other. Here’s one idea that Kim has suggested, which I think could work pretty well: She’s imagining an empty room, lovingly composed with the shoji screens Ozu was so fond of, seen from the low, straight-ahead angle that Ozu loved to use. In the foreground, we see the red teapot that Ozu used in so many of his films. Here’s a shot of the teapot, and another (better composed, in my opinion) shot of an empty room--the teapot’s in there, too, but less prominently:

The idea being, it’s a domestic scene that’s entirely about the absence of characters, just as parent and child are physically distant from each other in both films.

One possible variant on this idea, if the empty room is feeling too spare, might be to include hints of parent and child, cropped just outside of the frame (so that hopefully the figures can be obscured enough to stand in for either parent/child combination): parent in the foreground, child in the background (i.e. the next room), to symbolize their separation from each other. This kind of relationship:

Or as I say, if you have another idea--maybe even something as simple as a dyptich, with one image from each film—we’re all ears.


As we move further into the packaging, we can stray a little further from the “high concept” stuff that tries to encapsulate the entire film(s), and toward some smaller moments. I’d like to use those opportunities to create some fairly straightforward appreciations of Ozu’s compositions--almost, as you suggest, like film stills.

For example, there are a number of shots of laundry hanging on lines, flapping in the breeze, in The Only Son--I’d love to see something like that spread across the inside of the DVD wrap (underneath where the disc goes). If we don’t wind up using the smoke stacks on the cover (or even if we do, I suppose), an image of those would make a great disc label. Or, in There Was a Father, the images that immediately jump out to me are the umbrellas leaned against the wall and the lake where the boy drowns, or maybe some of the buddhist symbols Ozu keeps cutting away to. (I’ve included some images of all of that with this note.)

As you look through the film, keep an eye out for any of those kind of shots that speak to you, anything that you can visualize as a drawing. Jot down the timecode or a quick description of the shot and I’ll get you high-res stills as soon as the new master is ready.

While we do want to be respectful of Ozu’s compositions, I don’t think we need to be too slavish—obviously, we’ll be working with different size “canvases,” so the important thing it to be true to the spirit of the thing, while giving you some room to add your own artistry to the project.


I completely agree with your instinct to aim for a limited color palate on these. I probably wouldn’t want to go strict black/white/grey, though: in the context of our collection, where we deal with so many black and white films, I like to make a distinction between films where the black-and-whiteness is part of the essential character of the films (i.e. most Bergman), and those where it’s more simply a function of the technology of the time. I think these films stradle the line a bit--we probably wouldn’t want to see any bright bold colors, but pale muted tones feel kind of right, somehow. I think those are the kind of palates you seem to gravitate towards anyway, so I trust your instincts on that.

Re: design, I’m imagining things fairly simple: full bleed images, plain unfussy type. I’d like to let the images speak for themselves, without too much “design-y” mediation. But again, if as you’re working some more overt structure seems to present itself, I’m flexible on all this.

Adrian's work on this was pretty spot-on, so there wasn't a lot of back and forth in the sketch stage. The only thing we asked for was to move the father and son figures back in space a bit (i.e. make them a bit smaller). But aside from that, they were pretty much great from the get-go.

We picked our favorites from the smaller sketches, and Adrian finished up the art:

Finally, here's a few options I did for cover typography:

And here's where we finally landed:

Thanks again to Adrian for his amazing work!


From Liar's Kiss, by Eric Skillman and Jhomar Soriano, available for pre-order now.

Monday, January 24, 2011


So... I thought I might try something a little different around here.

In the lead-up to the publication of my very first book--the graphic novel Liar's Kiss, written by myself and drawn by the great Jhomar Soriano, I'll periodically be posting some of my favorite panels/lines/drawings/etc from the book. The idea is hopefully to spark some modest amount of "buzz," so if you like what you see, (a) be sure to pre-order a copy of the book (for example, through Top Shelf directly, or through Amazon), and (b) don't hesitate to facetweet or whatever.

For those of you who just come for the design, don't worry--my pledge to you, as penance for filling this space with so much shameless self-promotion,* is to have at least one proper design-themed post per week, every week until the book debuts (fingers crossed) at this year's MoCCA Fest in April. Anyone who's been checking back on this blog for any length of time knows that's an ambitious promise, but anyway, I'll do my best.

*not that the rest of the blog isn't ALSO shameless self-promotion, mind you...

Friday, January 21, 2011

Sweet Smell of Success

Sweet Smell of Success is one of my favorite covers in recent memory, both because Sean Phillips' painting is just plain gorgeous, with the kind of bold primarily colors we rarely get a chance to use on a Criterion movie, and also because the process of getting there was a great example of taking lemons and making lemonade.

Basically, the big hurdle on this title was a clause in the contracts stating that the likenesses of both Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster MUST appear, and both MUST be the same size. And given the power imbalance between the two characters in the film, the idea of having the two of them just standing there, on equal footing with each other, felt really wrong… but the solution we came up with in the briefs meeting, was, I think, a really great one… here's a description from the letter I sent to Sean explaining the project:

…As I mentioned, we've got some fairly specific ideas of what we want for the cover, mainly because we have some limiting restrictions from the studio we're licensing the film from. Specifically, they require that likenesses of both Tony Curtis and Burt Lancaster appear, and they must be the same size. Once you watch the film, you'll realize that this is, conceptually, an annoying requirement, because Lancaster's character basically towers over Tony Curtis in every way, both physically and in terms of prestige, power, etc, so the idea of putting them on equal footing is kind of a shame.

Our idea of a solution to this problem is to reference the very first scene in the film, where Tony Curtis is buying a paper from the newsstand in Times Square, and the delivery truck is behind the newsstand with the giant ad on the side for Hunsecker's (Burt Lancaster) column.

I don't think there's any particular shot in the film that captures exactly the idea, so you'd have to create it, but if we get Tony Curtis in the foreground and Burt Lancaster's face on the side of the truck in the background, I think we should be able to get both faces approximately the same size while still conveying a sense of Lancaster's importance and stature relative to Curtis. This idea has the added benefit of giving the opportunity for some nice street scene work in the background, (to give a sense of Broadway/New York), and the newstand/newspaper to reference the specific world the film takes place in (i.e. the world of gossip columnists.) Hopefully all of that makes some kind of sense? Let me know if anything is unclear or seems to you like it might not work.

(It's worth mentioning that I think the Huntsecker ads in the film itself feature his glasses but not his face… or at least some of them do. So you won't be able to copy the ads directly, but I think you can capture the feel of those ads using Lancaster's actual face, right?)

[…] Stylistically, this film is kind of noir-but-not quite--very little specifically criminal happens, no one ever pulls a gun or anything, but the overall tone of moral decay and the use of shadow and light all fit the noir pattern. So noir-y kinds of shadows are definitely appropriate, but we wouldn't want to go overboard in suggesting that kind of thing, if that makes sense… which is why I thought something painted, ideally with a nod toward some mid-century illustration styles, would be a good fit.

So with all that in mind, Sean turned in these sketches, the first a pretty straightforward rendering of our idea:

…and the second incorporating the sister--conceptually solid, compositionally excellent, but contractually a bit murky.

So the first above was closer, but we had a couple issues: we were concerned that Tony Curtis looked a bit too 'private eye' rather than slightly frazzled street hustler. We asked to replace the overcoat with a suit, and lose the cigarette. Also, we were hoping to get a little more of the newsstand in there. So Sean did a quick revise:

Which was pretty much spot-on! Our only concern was that the "Admiral Television Appliances" sign might interfere with the title treatment, so we asked him to cheat that over a bit in the final. Sean sent the pencils over before he painted anything to confirm, and as expected, they looked fantastic!

Sean decided to play around with the color scheme a bit, with really exciting results:

…and then the final painting:

Here's a few takes on type that I tried, before finally settling on a variation of some type from an old poster:

With this being the final choice:

I should say also that I was pretty happy with the way the rest of the package played out… sometimes when we start with an illustrated cover it's difficult to make the transition into menu or booklet design, but in this case I thought it worked well. First and foremost, Sean was able to paint two additional paintings for us, including this gorgeous wraparound for the digipak:

For the menus, I riffed off of the vintage type we used on the cover (I had to hand-draw those headers based on the original poster type), with a slight textural overlay to suggest newsprint:

And for the booklet, I was able to take advantage of the newspaper motif and put that front and center. Here's the wraparound booklet cover, followed by a couple interior spreads:

So there you have it!