Thursday, October 28, 2010

Hallowe'en with the Criterion diaspora

Lots of seasonally appropriate design-blogging going on!

First up, designer/rock star Sam Smith has been picking up a lot of my slack on the Criterion-design-process-blogging front: check out his excellent posts on the poster for the Janus release of the creepy Kuroneko and the DVD/blu-ray design for the bats**t insane House.

Then check out Jesse Marinoff Reyes' fantastic blast-from-the-past post on the cover to Equinox, which he art directed and was illustrated by Tavis Coburn. (The link is to his Facebook page but I don't *think* you need to be facebooked to see the post.) It's part of his always interesting "cover-of-the-day" feature--that's right "of the day." Not "of the quarter-year" like some slacker bloggers...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Charade Blu-ray

I'll offer these without too much commentary, since there's not a lot of high-concept thinking behind them: we wanted to take the original Charade cover and update it slightly for the Blu-ray release. Ultimately, we basically just went back to something a little closer to the original poster, with the title treatment taken directly from the film itself, but as you can see there were a few detours along the way. Here's the original DVD cover (not by me), and a few of the various original posters on which it was based. I'm actually not sure which of these was the original, or who did them, but they're obviously all very indebted to the great main title work by Maurice Binder. (NOT Saul Bass as I've seen a few people inaccurately suggest. Bass was also great, of course, but Binder, who gave the world most of the classic Bond opening titles, among others, was no slouch himself!)

And here's my tweaks... interesting how subtle things (like changing the angle slightly from the DVD version) make a big difference, right?

Some at the office wanted to go for more of a departure, something like those last few above, but in the end I think we made the right choice. Those other covers might have been the right choice for a whole new edition, but this release is all the same content as the DVD, just in a new format, so it just made sense to keep the same basic look as the basically successful original DVD, just slightly tweaked to fix a few things that had started to grate on us over the years. Getting a little closer to the original poster gave me some confidence that we'd have something which had already stood the test of time. Here's the final cover:

Post-NYCC rundown

Thanks to everyone who stopped by the table this past weekend--I hope you all enjoyed your Liar's Kiss promos!

NYCC was an interesting experience--in some ways very different from the more crafty vibe of shows like MoCCA or King Con, but once you get to talking to people it's always good fun.

And I met some very cool people, on both sides of the tables... not least of which my tablemate Jorge Coelho, former (& future, hopefully) collaborators Dan Duncan & Joe Dellagatta, their buddy Shaun, Charles Ardai, Jason Latour, Rico Renzi, Jamie S. Rich, Scott Forbes, and of course the Portugese contingent, Ricardo Venâncio, João Lemos, Filipe Andrade, Nuno Plati and Ricardo Tércio, just to name a few off the top of my head. Talented folks, all.

Also: proper design post coming later today...

Friday, October 8, 2010

NYCC is on!

NYCC opens today! Come by my table (R-11) for lots of fun goodies, including a free (FREE!) minicomic sampler of Liar's Kiss, coming this spring from Top Shelf!

Thursday, October 7, 2010


That's where to find me and Jorge this weekend: table R-11 in "Artist's Alley" at the New York Comic Con. Stop by, say hi!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

New York Comic-Con

Have I mentioned yet that I'm going to be at NYCC this year? I'm splitting a table with co-conspirator Jorge Coelho in Artists Alley. (That's Jorge's drawing above; the first image from a project we're working on together that we're going to start pitching very soon... gorgeous, right?)

More immediately, I'm going to have the usual stuff for sale, comics & prints, including a proper colored version of "The Deserter," the return of the much-requested Steel Helmet print and a new print for everyone who liked the more whimsical style of the "Troubling of Goldfish" thing I did a while back:

(In case you can't tell, that's an elephant in Groucho Marx's pajamas.)

Not sure exactly where our table will be located yet but I'll update here when I know more. If you're in New York the weekend of October 8-10, stop by and say hi!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

The Night of the Hunter

I'd like not to have to begin every post here with an apology for not having posted for a month, but, well... I suppose to do that, I'd have to actually post with some regularity. Luckily, I've built up a little mini-cache of posts at the moment, so at least for the next couple weeks I'll be able to keep this blog on something approaching a weekly schedule. Here's a nice juicy one to start us off; there are at least four covers below that I personally would have been very happy to have gone with, so lots of eye candy here...

The Night of the Hunter is a film that a lot of people L-O-V-E, and which has been unavailable for a long time, so it was a daunting design assignment. The hardest thing was to capture the correct tone--storybook but sinister and threatening, melodramatic without being tongue-in-cheek, theatrical and stagey at times, seemingly slapdash but all about the details, over-the-top but deadly serious… Laughton throws so many different stylistic flourishes into the mix it's a wonder the film works at all, let alone that it works so well.

Obviously the big icon of the film is Robert Mitchum as the evil preacher. We wanted to stay away from his "LOVE" and "HATE" hand tattoos, now parodied and homaged so often as to be cliche, but the idea of finding a new kind of iconic image of Mitchum was appealing, so that was where I started off. This was the early favorite:

I still like it a lot, I think it does a fine job of getting at the weird staginess of the film, plus the creepy religious elements (a serial-killing preacher, after all!), while keeping the focus squarely on Mitchum. Not everyone liked the handwritten type but I'm still quite fond of it. The biggest problem with it, though, was that it failed to capture anything of the children who are so central to the film. It's not that we felt the children themselves had to be on there, necessarily, but somehow that childlike perspective needed to be present.

This next one gets the right basic elements in--the kids, Mitchum being threatening, nature, etc--but winds up being a bit too bookish and boring for such a big release.

These next two, pulling back on that kooky Mitchum pose, have a similar problem with bookishness:

The last of the first round of comps was this one, which I sent along with the note: "this one is probably a joke, unless you all like it, in which case I'm totally serious."

The image here is actually a completely unaltered production still, that twisted Norman Rockwell quality is inherent in the image, which was just too weird not to do something with. But while the obvious Saturday Evening Post riff doesn't have too much meaning relative to the film, there's something about the kind of twisted storybook quality that works, and it certainly gets the idea of the children's perspective in there. Ultimately it's a bit too funny for a film that isn't really, but I still thought there was something to it...

There developed a sense that the first image was maybe the right way to go--simple and bold, create a new icon for the film, etc--but people weren't totally sold on the handwritten type and thought it was maybe a bit hard to parse the image. I did a subtle variation, trying to accentuate the ramrod-straight posture:

…followed by some more drastic variations on the same image:

…a few misguided tweaks on the Norman Rockwell image:

…and just for good measure, some totally new directions that didn't really quite work:

None of those quite clicked, so it was back to the drawing board again. This moment of the boy looking out at Mitchum on the horizon* was suggested, but I think it reads a bit too "Western" out of context:

This was my attempt to get some more "storybook" qualities into the cover, but it got pretty "Watership Down" pretty quick.

With nothing else quite working, some variation on that very first comp was still the front runner, even if there was some hesitation about it. At this point we received some legal requirements from the studio (that had unfortunately been delayed up to this point), which required that the names of Robert Mitchum and Shelly Winters both appear above the title at (if I remember correctly) no less than 25% of the height of the largest letter in the title treatment. So, take a look at the size of the "N" in "Night" in that first comp and you'll see how that would totally throw off that whole design. So I tried a few variations on that image with new type treatments…

But by this point everyone was getting a little bored with that cover. (And I certainly liked it a lot less without the energy of the handwritten type, myself.) I tried a drastic move toward something more high-concept, trying to capture the predator/prey theme of the film in a single striking image:

It's not Robert Mitchum, obviously, but it kind of is, if you know what I mean… Probably a bit too extreme of a departure for such a well-loved film, but I kinda like it. (I didn't want to push too hard for this direction, though, since I had no idea how to carry it forward without doing 300 new drawings, which… ack!)

Some photographic representations of the same idea were much less successful:

Getting a little desperate now, I went back to the Norman Rockwell image again, and found a solution that I thought actually solved the reference problem pretty well, making the "storybook" thing much more explicit by referencing Little Golden books:

For the record, if we had gone in this direction I would have redrawn the spine graphics so as not to literally steal them from Golden Books. Since "storybook" was a descriptor we'd kept coming back to, I thought that reference had resonance with the film in a way the Saturday Evening Post didn't… I was, apparently, the only one who thought this was an improvement, however.

Finally, we were getting down to the wire. (You might notice all the rest of these comps use the same title treatments: that was because I had already committed to that type in the menus, which were already finished and couldn't be changed without delaying the release… that's how behind schedule we were at this point!) I just abandoned all the previous imagery and went back to the archives to find some new imagery. This first one is nothing special:

This next, referencing a scene in the film where the girl innocently makes paper dolls out of the stolen money that is the (ostensible) reason Mitchum's character is chasing them in the first place, is kind of a neat idea but in practice it looks too much like a heist movie or something… the money is never really the point of the film.

But this next one I liked:

I thought this image had some of the same Norman Rockwell qualities of the other image, but keeping the background black felt more in keeping with the film. The only problem was, it lacked Robert Mitchum, the big movie star.

Which led to the final option.... Frankly I was a little worried that it implied that Mitchum's character was a slightly different kind of predator, but no one else seemed to share my concern: the character does spend the film murdering women and children, after all, it's not like this qualifies as character assassination even if it is slightly misinterpreted. And it definitely captures all the main qualities we were looking for: Mitchum, ominous threat, childlike perspective, staginess, the idea of Mitchum pretending to be a good guy while in fact being a predator… there's even a nice bit of plot in there for those already familiar with the film, with the doll between the two characters and Mitchum oblivious to what's inside. So, lots of good work being done by this image, which is why it was our final choice for the cover:

*(Funny story: that's not actually Mitchum: the soundstage they were shooting on was too small to get that shot, so Laughton put a midget on a pony! See what you can learn from watching the special features?)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Top Shelf sale

In case anyone isn't already aware, Top Shelf Productions is having an amazing sale this week, with some books as low as $3! Perfect chance to pick up such Skillman-designed editions as ALEC, The Playwright, or AX... (or dozens of other great Top Shelf books!)

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I'm married!!

Crazy, right?!

(The image above was our (awesome) wedding gift from Rachel Friere of Dental Hygiene & Secret Identities fame. )

Thursday, July 29, 2010

My phone

I've had this on the back of my phone for over a year now, but for whatever reason everyone's just noticing it now. Apparently I've been more discreet about checking email during meetings that I would've thought...

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Playwright

UPDATED: Now with actual content!

As I mentioned before, I wanted to be sure to remind those who might be interested that Eddie Campbell & Daren White's new book, The Playwright is hitting U.S. stores today. (I think it may already be out in the U.K.? Maybe?) If the snazzy cover I designed isn't enough to sell you on this thing (which is the idea, after all), then take a peak inside and see for yourself that this is the most visually stunning book Eddie has yet made... (UPDATE: I discovered today that it's being sold shrink-wrapped, so you CAN'T actually take a look inside... so I guess you have to buy it to see how gorgeous it is.) Something as simple as switching from a 9-panel grid to oblong 3-panel pages really lets you focus in on each panel as an individual composition, and each page as a composite whole. And the color palate is vibrant and gorgeous throughout: as Eddie himself put it: "I have had enough of the purply brown. For me the rainbow!" And I don't mean to give short shrift to Daren's story, either, which is funny and a little sad and mildly terrifying to those inclined to the artistic life but ultimately kind of sweet. Anyway, if you're anywhere near a comic shop today, do yourself a favor and pick up a copy of this sexy little hardcover. (Proper bookstores are a little less fetishistic about "release dates" than comic shops (Harry Potter notwithstanding), but certainly they ought to have them out soon enough as well. Or there's always Amazon.)

Enough of that: here's the design process stuff, as promised:

My first idea for this would have involved some new art from Eddie, so you'll have to kind of imagine it, as it never really came to be. There's a repeated scene of the book's protagonist sitting on a bus, fantasizing about the women around him. Here's that scene in the book:

I liked the idea of expanding that into a full bleed cover, replacing all the other characters with attractive women to fantasize about. Here's my 30-second sketch of the concept:

That would have been the dust jacket, and underneath that on the cover itself would be the same image, except in the second version, we get a glimpse inside the playwright's head and show all of the women nude, and he himself red-faced with shame. A little silly, admittedly, but I thought it was funny, and kind of fit the cheeky story.

The second idea was less high-concept, I just liked this particular drawing of the playwright, so I took some type from some old playbills. Not unattractive, but a bit too close to what had just been done on Eddie's previous book, The Black Diamond Detective Agency.

Then the final option in the first round of comps was based on that idea, but with some pretty girls added in to give a hint of the root of our protagonist's frustrations. I also liked the way the ball dots the "i" in "playwright."

The later ideas got the most traction, so Eddie drew some new girls (in bikinis this time so as not to offend the delicate sensibilities of the book-buying public), and I tried a few new variations.

The conversation the shifted back to an earlier idea Eddie & Daren had (before I got involved), about a close-up of the playwright's typewriter with little fantasy nudes crawling all over it--an idea that had been rejected for potentially looking too much like a '60s-era Batman splash page. But there was something to the idea of incorporating the typewriter, so I tried a couple versions along those lines, with a bunch of different typewriters, ranging from a more iconic typewriter to something a little closer to the typewriter that's actually in the book...

We got really down into the nitty gritty of tweaking that concept, and it was just about approved, Except... Eddie and I both had some last minute qualms, primarily that the design ultimately wound up a little too quiet and might get lost in the shuffle at the retail level. We felt that a book so colorful and bright deserved a more colorful cover, and I decided it was time to go back to the well... there's only so far you can tweak a concept before it crumbles under the weight of the design committee, and I think this concept had just about reached that point.

So, stepping back from it, I realized that we had actually lost quite a bit by adding the bikinis to the girls... girls in bikinis playing with beach balls is just a beach scene; NAKED girls playing with balls is illicit and slightly surreal, obviously a fantasy. And a curiously innocent fantasy at that (at least until you process the visual pun there), which I think says something significant about our somewhat naive protagonist.

Also, the typewriter was a bit on-the-nose... the title of the book already does the work that the typewriter did, conceptually: it's the concept between the high-minded/creative/artistic ideal ("the playwright") and the purient/sexual/human (the naked girls) that gives the idea its power. The typewriter was only confusing the issue.

So I lost the typewriter and replaced the bikinis with a "censorship" bar to emphasize the illicit nature of the nudity, and that was the answer. I did a "safer" white version (closer to what we'd been looking at)...

...but the clear winner was the version in bright yellow and pink, (with a snazzy spot varnish on the non-yellow areas), which certainly solved the problem of it being too quiet! Everyone was happy here, and we were off to the races!

And, having seen the final printed book today, I have to say it came out really well! (I'm especially happy with the transition from the yellow/pink cover to the turquoise endpapers inside!) All in all, I'm very happy with how this came out, and thrilled to be involved with this fantastic book. Thanks again to Brett, Chris, Eddie, and Daren for letting me be a (small) part of it.