Sunday, December 27, 2009

2009: The Year in Review

We always get a good response to our year-end cover grid newsletters at Criterion, so I thought it might be fun to do my own year-end retrospective, post all the various DVDs, books, posters, comics, CDs, and random illustrations I've designed, written, art directed, illustrated, or colored this year, minus a few things I've been working on toward the end of the year that haven't been announced yet. In alphabetical order, just to have some way of organizing them:

ALEC: The Years Have Pants

AX: Alternative Manga

"Below the Fold," written and colored by me, art by Jorge Coelho


"Cold Feet," written and colored by me, art by Evan Bryce

Drawings for Robert Goodin's Covered blog, after Jon Bodganove and Jerry Ordway

Downhill Racer

EGG #1: written & colored by me, art by Connor Willumsen, Jorge Coelho, Jhomar Soriano, Dan Duncan, and Joe Dellagatta. Cover by me.

El Norte ("Designed" by me, but the illustration is from an old poster, the artist of which I can't remember at the moment.)

The Empire Strikes Out

The Finding/El Descumbrimiento

Il Generale della Rovere

Golden Arrow by the Randy Bandits


"Lost & Found," written and colored by me, art by Ming Doyle

Make Way for Tomorrow, "art directed" by me, designed and illustrated by Seth.

Pigs, Pimps and Prostitutes

The Playwright

Political Awakenings

Rashomon poster, art directed by me, painting by Kent Williams

"The Real Thing," written and colored by me, art by Dan Duncan

Walk, by Red Rooster

Revanche poster

Revanche DVD cover

"Spared," written and colored by me, art by Joe Dellagatta

Saving State U

Poster for The Stumblebum Brass Band

"These Kids Today," written and colored by me, art by Connor Willumsen

"A Troubling of Goldfish," for the "A Murder of Crows" show

"Uninvited," written and colored by me, art by Jhomar Soriano

"The Wheel Turns," colored by me, art by Jorge Coelho, written by K.D. Stockton

Wise Blood, art directed by me, illustrations by Josh Cochran.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

ALEC: The Years Have Pants

Well, I've got MY copy, so I'm pretty sure these are on track to hit stores soon: time to get this post up! As with the AX anthology, I'll reproduce my comps here in pretty much the same format that I originally sent them to Eddie Campbell, Chris Staros, and Brett Warnock, with my original notes to them. But before I do that, a few words of introduction:

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. ;)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Twenty Questions

MUCH too busy to put a proper post together, but here's something I can get up without too much trouble. A little while back I got an email from one Adam Rux, student of graphic design at the University of Missouri, who wanted to ask me twenty questions about working at Criterion. Considering some of the questions I get asked in the comments here, I thought the answers might also be of interest to readers of this blog, so here's a transcript of our email Q&A. Hopefully this'll tide you all over until I can find the time for another proper design post.

1. How long have you worked at Criterion Collection?
Since early '02, so... almost 8 years? (Huh... hard to believe.)

2. What was your first position at the company, and what did your job entail?
I was "Art Department Manager," meaning I did most of the production work to make sure all of our files were print-ready, plus a few minor design projects, like promotional "sell sheets" for all new titles. Our sell-sheets are templated now, but back then each one was individually designed to reflect the look of that particular disc. On occasions when we didn't have an approved cover by the time sell sheets had to ship, I would have to create a fake cover for the sell sheet, and basically I tried to make them as good real covers... with varying degrees of success, of course. But I guess they were alright, since after a few months of those, I was given the opportunity to design a real title (Akira Kurosawa's Red Beard was my first), and from then on I've been doing primarily that.

3. Briefly describe your educational background.
I have a BA from NYU's Gallatin School of Individualized Study. The school didn't have majors, exactly, but I basically studied comparative literature.

4. How important has your formal education been to your development as a designer?
I didn't really study design, I learned that more from tangential sources—designing the school literary magazine, interning for magazines, artists, and designers—more like a series of apprenticeships than a formal design education. That said, I actually do think the analytical "literary" skills I learned in school helped to focus the specific kind of design I do, what I like to think of as "interpretive" design (as opposed to [equally valid] "decorative" design).

5. Do you think you could have landed at Criterion today without a university degree?
Huh... That's tough to say. I guess not, but I don't know that I'd draw the link particularly directly. (i.e. it's not that the degree was so important, it's more that through college I had some experiences which lead to some internships which lead to this which lead to that which lead to Criterion... does that make sense?)

6. What was your first portfolio like?
A PDF of rejected book cover designs and some copies of the NYU literary magazine. Nothing that I'd want to show anyone now, I'm sure!

7. What was your first design job after university?
Well... Criterion, really, although I'd been working for designer Stewart Cauley for a couple years during college, which continued for a few months after I finished classes in December of '01, though I was working at Criterion by the time I technically graduated in the spring of '02.

8. What, if anything, about that position helped you land at Criterion?
Stewart gave me my first glimpse of design as a full time job, and helped me to understand exactly what that job would entail, not to mention taught me quite a lot.

9. Before Criterion, where else have you worked?
With Stewart, and simultaneously as a production intern at BOMB magazine, and also I've done some freelance work since coming to work here. (And of course I spent plenty of time paying bills at various coffee shops, delis, grocery stores, etc.)

10. Specifically, what experiences made you a desirable candidate for Criterion?
Like I say, the job I was originally hired to do wasn't intended to involve much design, so really the relevant experience was a proficiency with getting files set up to print properly (something I did at BOMB and somewhat for Stewart as well). Then once I got to Criterion I kind of carved out a niche for myself as a designer, too.

11. Describe the art department at Criterion. Your blog is very insightful, but could you describe in more depth the critiquing process?
For my own designs, I usually email them around to all the relevant parties (the disc's producer(s), the art director, and our president, Peter Becker), then there's usually at least one meeting in which we all stand in front of the magnetic wall-of-comps in the art department and discuss all the designs (since I work in-house, I have the advantage of participating directly in those conversations; our out-of-house designers have the results of those meetings communicated to them). Then there may be further rounds of comps sent through email or discussed in person, as needed. It's relatively casual, and varies depending on the project.

12. From conception to design finalization, how long is spent on each package?
Generally around two to three months, though there have certainly been projects that have taken longer.

13. How much autonomy do you have at Criterion?
I have plenty of autonomy in submitting designs, and in advocating for them... of course, whether or not those designs ultimately get chosen is another matter.

14. Is the art department self-contained, or is there a lot of interaction with the rest of the company? What is corporate life like at Criterion?
Lots of interaction; obviously we work more directly with editorial and the producers than with audio or video restoration, but everyone here is pretty sociable.

15. The films obviously dictate the style of the packaging. To what extent do you exert your own personality? How evident is the hand of Eric Skillman in the final release?
I suppose it varies from project to project—Berlin Alexanderplatz has a LOT of me in it, for example, as does most anything with a handmade component (what I call the "arts and crafts" projects), where something like Stranger Than Paradise (which I do think is a fine cover) is more of a direct channelling of the aesthetic of the film, without me adding much to it.

16. What percentage of Criterion packages are designed in-house?
Well, they're all at least art-directed in-house, but as far as actually designed, between me and Sarah Habibi, I'd say approx. 1/4, or maybe a little less?

17. How does Criterion decide which releases are designed in-house and which warrant an outside sensibility?
Generally it's just about the sensibility of the particular designer (in-house or out-) meshing well with the project. Occasionally there's some logistical reason to keep it in-house—it needs to be finished in super-quick time, or if we foresee an above-average amount of involvement from a director or licensor. And sometimes I just get a look at the upcoming schedule and call dibs. (Though admittedly that doesn't always work.)

18. Do you have any input into what films are released by Criterion? How far in advance is the release schedule planned?
None whatsoever.

19. Which Criterion package are you least satisfied with, and why?
Hmmm, I should be careful how I answer this... I guess Night on Earth, maybe? I was working against some constraints on that one, but even so I wasn't really able to step up and make it hold together. Definitely a little disappointed in myself on that one, since I do quite like that movie.

20. Which package makes you envious of the designer?
Good question! There's plenty that I love and wish I had come up with, like Michael Boland's La Commare Secca, Lucian Yang's Floating Weeds, Aesthetic Apparatus's Eyes Without a Face, Ron Miller's Golden Age of Television, or Jason Hardy's Brand Upon the Brain, to rattle off the first few that come to mind. But if I had to pick one design that I never would have come up with in a million years but wish I could, I'd probably point to Neil Kellerhouse's great design for Mishima.

21. If Criterion asked you to choose three films to design, what would you choose?
Another interesting question! Honestly, I tend to like designing for films I'd never seen before getting the assignment, because the films I know and love are already kind of set in my mind, it's harder to find a new angle to approach them from. That said, I'd love to get my hands on Duck Soup, or any Marx Brothers title, really, because I don't know that I've ever seen any really great design associated with the Marx Brothers, and they definitely deserve it... I'd also love to try one of those big, outlandish multi-season TV sets, for something like The Wire or Deadwood. Then, I dunno... Point Blank? In Bruges? The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence? Superman: the Movie? Groundhog Day? His Girl Friday? Kiss Kiss Bang Bang? Now I'm just naming my favorite movies...

Monday, November 9, 2009

King Con postgame

Had a great time at King Con Brooklyn! It was great to meet so many interesting and talented people on both sides of the tables! It turns out to be a bit of a slog manning a table by yourself, as I discovered on Sunday (thankfully I was able to rope the lovely Mariel P. Isaacson into hanging out with me all day Saturday), but all in all it was a fun show... I heard a few people describing the vibe as kind of like the first few years of MoCCA, which I can absolutely see. The space was especially cool, and convenient to my apartment! Hopefully the show will continue--and continue to grow--in the next few years!

There were also a few people who asked about web sales of prints. I've been a little hesitant to set up any real e-commerce on this site because I don't really want to get bogged down in inventory, but I do have at least one or two left of each of the prints (Glicees of "Steel Helmet," "SOAO (Man with Guitar)," "A Troubling of Goldfish," and the Berlin Alexanderplatz bird silkscreens). I've been selling them for $20 each, except now that I'm down to the last two bird silkscreens I've upped the price to $40, because I'm kind of sentimentally attached to them. If you're interested, send me an email (design [at] ericskillman [dot] com), and we can work out a paypal situation or something. I'll even toss in a free POTUS with any order.

(And comics are still available HERE, of course.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

King Con this weekend!

Quick reminder for any NYC-based folks: come visit me this weekend at Brooklyn's new comic convention, the first-annual King Con. I'll be hawking my prints and comics, including, I'm happy to say, a brand new mini-comic featuring art by the amazing MING DOYLE! It's called "LOST AND FOUND" and here's a sample panel to whet your appetite:

I'll also have copies of EGG #1, (with art by Connor Willumsen, Jorge Coelho, Jhomar Soriano, Dan Duncan, and Joe Dellagata), the as-yet-unvailable-anywhere-else COLD FEET (drawn by Evan Bryce), and prints of various art of mine, including Steel Helmet, SOAO, POTUS, and newly-printed A Troubling of Goldfish mini-prints. If you get there early enough I might even have a couple Berlin Alexanderplatz bird silkscreens left.

This Saturday and Sunday, Nov. 7-8, 11 AM to 7 PM, Brooklyn Lyceum, 227 4th ave (R train to Union Street). Hope to see you there!

Friday, October 30, 2009

And one for the Angelinos...

Before I forget, the closing night reception for A Murder of Crows at Gallery Meltdown in L.A. is TONIGHT, 6-10 PM. I'm told there will be "a costume contest and light refreshments," and that all artwork, including my "Troubling of Goldfish" and Jason Polan's "Journey of Giraffes" (above), among many others, will be cash and carry.

King Con Brooklyn: Nov 7-8

Hey, New Yorkers!!

I'll be set up with a table at next weekend's KING CON BROOKLYN, selling newly-printed copies of EGG #1, hopefully a few NEW mini-comics if they're ready in time, and a selection of artwork (these prints and a few new things).

So if you're anywhere near the NYC area, come on by the Brooklyn Lyceum, located at 227 4th Avenue, next weekend, November 7-8. Tickets are very reasonable: $7/day or $10/weekend, and well beyond my own minor contributions, it sounds like it should be a pretty well-stocked show, with lots of interesting people, from Jonathan Ames to Cliff Chiang to Al Jaffee to Harvey Pekar to Jamie Tanner to Brian Wood... there's a full list here.

Hope to see you then!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

El Descumbrimiento

Here's another I had meant to post about a while back, but it kept slipping my mind...

At the end of last year, out of the blue, I got an incredibly flattering email from the fine actor Julio C├ęsar Cedillo, (who you may recall from The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada, if you've ever seen that film), asking me to design a poster for this short film by a young Mexican director, Alonso Alvarez Barreda: El Descumbrimiento (The Finding). Julio was so genuine in his excitement for the project, and so complimentary of my work, that I just couldn't say no.

The film is about a father and son coping with the loss of their wife/mother, and they had plenty of great on-set photography to work with. My first concept was to try to suggest an absence or hole in the center of the relationship between father and son, represented very simply and graphically:

A second option was a little bit generic, but I thought the two images involved were compelling and was trying to find a way to combine them. (I'm not sure how successful I was.)

Julio and Alonso liked the concept of the first one but worried it wasn't quite coming through, so I tried a rougher version, more obviously a "hole" rather than just a circle.

And finally there was this more oblique version, which just captured the visual style of the film nicely. (By the way, they ultimately wanted to have versions in both English and Spanish, which is why I keep switching the title back and forth.) They also asked for a few minor variations to that--desaturating and resaturating the color, new title treatments:

I was pretty happy with the "hole" version, personally, but ultimately they liked that last version best, that's what they went with for the screening at the San Diego Film Festival. Looking at their Facebook page, I guess they've changed it a bit since then... Not sure who did the new version, I'm only just noticing it now, to be honest.