Monday, December 12, 2011

Branded to Kill / Tokyo Drifter

I believe these hit stores tomorrow, so now seems like a good time for a process post on these two Seijun Suzuki classics!

The backstory of these films is that Suzuki was working as a “director for hire” for Nikkatsu in the ‘60s, cranking out genre picture after genre picture, getting progressively more and more stylized and “out there,” until culminating with his masterpiece, Branded to Kill, which was so shocking to the suits at Nikkatsu that he got fired and subsequently blacklisted. I had been told that before watching the films and thought, “oh, those provincial businessmen! How shocking can it be?” But I think you’ll agree after watching it, that if you were expecting a simple noir picture and got that, you’d be pretty shocked, too.

Tokyo Drifter is the best (or one of the best, at least) of Suzuki’s genre pictures: a noir story executed in the most stylish way possible. Branded to Kill, by contrast, takes the bare bones of a genre film and builds something completely new and different. Both totally fantastic films, but Branded in particular is in a class all its own. HIGHLY recommended if you haven't seen it before.

In our previous editions (before my time) we had treated them very much as a matched pair, but this time around we wanted to emphasize the differences. We toyed with the idea of giving the two projects to two different designers, but ultimately decided that they should go to the same designer, more to avoid unintentional overlap than anything else.

(We actually first went to an outside designer, who did some fine work that unfortunately just didn't click with how we were hoping to present the films. So we then brought them in house and the project fell to me to design. If that previous designer would like to share his own comps, he's more than welcome to, I just didn't want to presume on his behalf.)

So, taking the films separately, starting with Tokyo Drifter: this one doesn't need to be too overly deep. The movie is slick and just plain cool, so that’s really the main thing we wanted to get across in the design. The way the film uses color and composition is certainly bold and striking, and we definitely wanted to capture something of that feel. There’s also something interesting about the way it encorporates city signage and advertisting (that hair dryer!). Producer Jason Altman really loved the scene early in the film where star Tetsuya Watari is spotlighted against a black background in his bright yellow suit, so we soon narrowed in on that scene and it really became a question of how best to execute it:

The first one was a early favorite, and Bob's your uncle.

For Branded to Kill, we came up with the idea of starting with a base of something relatively straightforward: the kind of thing that could be the cover to the film Nikkatsu might have imagined they were getting, simple genre stuff. Then we take that image and violate it with some seemingly incongruous element, probably the butterflies in the film. Some kind of strong transgressive action in what would otherwise be a very simple cover.

The butterflies are a perfect encapsulation of this idea, because their function in the plot (a butterfly--representing Joe Shishito's growing obsession with the mysterious woman--lands on the barrel of his rifle, upsetting his aim), mirrors their function formally (the butterfly motif keeps recurring, getting more and more abstracted and disruptive), which in turn mirrors what Suzuki is achieving with this film: the ultimate triumph of style over "substance," his own vision as a filmmaker making the otherwise cookie-cutter noir plot almost irrelevant. I was VERY pleased with this idea… I just needed to find a way to execute it!

My first attempt was pretty close, though I probably let myself get carried away with the patterning and such… the rain, in particular, makes the whole thing look a bit like Eurythmics album cover…

I had the idea of including Japanese type on the "underlayer" to suggest a complete Japanese poster that was then being "violated" by the butterfly… but the overall effect was maybe a bit too simple:

A few more variations on those themes…

…but the choice was obviously between the first two. The first was definitely my favorite, but was seen as a bit too "out there," so I tried some tweaks:

Thankfully, everyone agreed those were too tame, and after a little more tweaking, wound up here:

Which I was thrilled with! Definitely my favorite cover (of mine) in a while!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Best of 2011?!

Hey wow! Critic Nathan Wilson at Graphic Novel Reporter just selected Liar's Kiss as one of the Best Graphic Novels of 2011! (You have to scroll down a bit in that link.) He also says the book "combines all the flavors of a classic Bogart film with the soulless debauchery of a Jim Thompson novel," which might be my favorite pull-quote yet. Thanks, Nathan!

(P.S. Hope to see any NYC-based folks at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival in a couple hours!)

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival 2011

This Saturday is the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival, at which I'll be set up with a table, selling the usual comics and prints, including Liar's Kiss and a hot-off-the-presses new issue of EGG! (That's the cover above.) The Festival looks to be expanding exponentially this year, with TONS of great artists in what I imagine will be a tightly-packed room. New Yorkers, elbow your way in and say hi!

The Festival is in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, at Our Lady of Mt. Carmel Church at 275 North 8th street. As you can see on this (PDF) map, I'll be upstairs toward the back, table 27. It runs from noon to 9 PM, hope to see you there!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Miami International Book Fair!

For what it's worth, this blog isn't *quite* dead, just a bit fallow lately... I have a couple of posts in the queue that I'll get up here soon(ish)...

In the meantime, anyone in the Miami area is invited to come check me out this weekend at the Miami International Book Fair! The fine people at the Book Fair have very generously invited me out there to participate in a panel and talk about Liar's Kiss, which I am both excited and frankly a little nervous about. Should be a fantastic event, though! In addition to the talented folks sharing the stage with me at our panel (Rob Venditti, Philip Gelatt, and Tyler Crook), the HUGE festival includes appearances from people like Kate Beaton, Dan Clowes, Jeffrey Eugenides, Jennifer Hayden, Michael Ondaatje, Chuck Palahniuk, Seth, Adrian Tomine, Colson Whitehead, etc, etc, etc...

Our panel is 11 AM on Saturday, so if you're planning on being at the book fair, please do come by!

Also, just in case I forget to mention it later, I'll also be appearing at the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Festival on December 3rd in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. And if all goes to plan I should have some new comics in one form or another to debut there.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

NYCC 2011

Hey, remember how I have this blog? Yeah, me neither. Anyway.

In case anyone was wondering, yes, I will be at New York Comic Con this weekend. Mostly hanging out at the Top Shelf table, signing copies of the not-really-a-'new-release-anymore-but-still-worth-your-time Liar's Kiss and just generally being personable. Stop by, say hi!

Friday, September 30, 2011

ATP 2011

This year's ATP posters... or, postcards, actually. Collect 'em all! Trade with friends!

More info on the film schedule for this weekend here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

TR!CKSTER / San Diego

In case you haven't already heard the news, I'm curating a small gallery show in San Diego this weekend. Criterion is partnering with the TR!CKSTER crew to present this one-night-only show at the TR!CKSTER space. I think you'll agree it's a pretty stellar pool of talent: Mike Allred, Scott C., Josh Cochran, Francesco Francavilla, Robert Goodin, Victor Kerlow, Ted Mathot, Scott Morse, Sho Murase, Bill Presing, Jim Rugg, Yuko Shimizu, Bill Sienkiewicz, and Connor Willumsen have all generously donated their time and talent to pay tribute to the films of Akira Kurosawa. The show starts at 7:00 PM this Friday night and runs until 1:00 AM. It's free to enter, but proceeds from the sale of the artworks will go to benefit the Japan Society Earthquake Relief Fund.

There's also going to be Criterion DVD and swag available at TR!CKSTER throughout the weekend, and Kent Williams may be stopping by at some point to sign Rashomon posters. For those not already on the bandwagon, TR!CKSTER is the spot across the street from Comic-con where all the "cool kids" are going to be hanging out all week. With talks and "symposia" and rock shows and specialty cocktails, not to mention lots of cool exclusive stuff to buy, TR!CKSTER is the place to be in San Diego. And when I say "across the street"…

…I really mean it!

So if you're one of the 125,000 people descending on that city for Comic-con, hop across the street Friday night for what should be one hell of a great show--and hopefully a pretty good party, too!

(Below: a sneak preview of Josh Cochran's Throne of Blood piece and Victor Kerlow's I Live in Fear.)

Also: just a reminder that I'll be in San Diego myself this Friday and Saturday, splitting my time between TR!CKSTER and the Top Shelf table at SDCC proper, hawking Liar's Kiss. I'll try to update the tweetymachine with my location at any given moment if you want to try to track me down. Hope to see you there!

Monday, June 20, 2011

San Diego

Just booked my flights: I'm officially headed to the San Diego Comic Con this year. I'm busy enough this summer that I can't justify the full 5 days, so I'm only going to be there Friday and Saturday (July 22-23). (Limited engagement! Catch me while you can!) I'll be promoting Liar's Kiss with the Top Shelf folks, plus I'm also involved with another fun event that should be of interest to readers of this blog. I shouldn't talk about that yet but it'll be announced next week. (Here and elsewhere.)

This'll be the farthest I've yet travelled on my "book tour," and my first time at the (in?)famous SDCC... I'm mildly intimidated, but also psyched! Hope to see you there!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Tweet, tweet

Two (?) years behind the curve as usual, I gave in and signed up for the Twitter. I don't promise to have all that much to say, and anyone who follows this blog will know that limiting myself to 160 characters is going to be difficult, to say the least. But if you're interested: @EricSkillman.

Lots of irons in the fire at the moment, but I've got a couple of good design process posts cooking. I hope to find the time to write them up properly soon. (Cul-de-sac should be first on deck, I think...)

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Heroes Con this weekend!

If you're anywhere near the Charlotte, NC area this weekend, come on out to Heroes Con at the Charlotte Convention Center! I'll be set up somewhere in the "Indie Island" area, I believe adjacent to the Top Shelf table. Prints, comics, and copies of Liar's Kiss will all be available for sale.

And for those who only check this blog for the design talk, I'll be participating in a panel discussion on design in comics on Saturday at 1:30, room 203A. Here's a description of the panel from moderator Rich Barrett:
"What is it that draws your wandering eye to one particular book on a shelf that is brimming with loud, look-at-me, multi-colored covers? It is the design of the book that makes that first impression count. Join cartoonist Rich Barrett (Nathan Sorry) as he dissects the art and function of Design with some of the most important and innovative names in the business: Jonathan Hickman (FF, The Nightly News), Chris Pitzer (all things Adhouse) Matt Kindt (Superspy) Drew Weing (Set to Sea), Eric Skillman (Liar’s Kiss) and Jim Rugg (Afrodisiac)"

That's a pretty fun line-up, I'm sure you'll agree. Hopefully I won't embarrass myself too badly speaking in public!

Friday, May 27, 2011

Solaris by Sam Smith

You guys all have Sam Smith's blog bookmarked by now, right? So you don't need me to tell you about his awesome process posts, like this one for Solaris? I didn't think so.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Liar's Kiss hits stores this week!

Just a quick post to bump this info back to the top of the page, given it's timeliness: Liar's Kiss hits stores this Wednesday! Obviously if you're any kind of regular reader here, I've talked this thing to death, but for those who want a little preview, the first few pages are here, and you can browse through a selection of my favorite panels if you scroll through the blog archives.

And anyone in the New York area should consider themselves invited to the Release Party on Thursday, May 19th, at Desert Island in Williamsburg, Brookyn, 7-9 PM. Free beer! [Not free] books and hand-pulled silkscreens! Hope to see you there!

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Liar's Kiss Design Process

Most exciting design process post yet? Maybe! (For me, anyway. Your mileage may vary.)

This, obviously, was a big one for me: my own book! (Or, mine and Jhomar Soriano's, more correctly.) I've talked in the past about my half-baked theory where "art" communicates your own ideas and "design" communicates someone else's… but this time there'd be no client to blame things on if the cover doesn't come out right. This had better be a damn sexy cover, or I won't be able to show my face at the weekly graphic designers meeting again. (Note: there is no such meeting. Or, if there is, I've never been invited.)

Naturally Jhomar had to draw it—his art is probably the best thing about the book, and it'd be crazy not to advertise it on the cover. But at the same time I wanted it to feel "design-y," something more than just another page from the story. And, selfishly, I wanted to put my own visual stamp on it, too, if possible.

My initial, not-that-inspired idea was something like the following sketch (cobbled together from Jhomar's interior art):

I liked the idea of cropping the top of Abbey (the woman)'s face, to emphasize her lips (playing off the "kiss" in the title) and keep her intentions a bit mysterious, and Nick kind of hovering around in the background seemed appropriate, if not particularly motivated. I explained the idea to Jhomar, who turned it into this lovely drawing:

Which I proceeded to color and add type to:

(I should mention that at this point in the book's development we were still planning on printing the whole thing in color, though we (okay: I, really) ultimately decided that wasn't getting the mood we wanted as well as the stark b&w did, so we dropped it. The colors here reflect the basic look of what we were doing inside.)

So, anyway, even before we get to the half-assed type design… it's just not quite there. It's a fine drawing, fits the story, but doesn't elevate anything. Not enough "wow" factor.

The story was intended to be the quintessential noir, so it was important to communicate that classic noir vibe… but at the same time I wanted to find a new tweak on the usual visual language. I love what Hard Case Crime does, for example, with their totally classic pulp style, but that kind of painted look isn't really Jhomar's style, and besides it's kind of done to death in a comic book context.

So I tried to think of what I liked best about Jhomar's art—the gorgeous thin lines, for example. I tried to get back to the roots of crime imagery, what makes that work? Shadows and angles, sure, but also: seedy locales and flickering neon. What about running the lifework without any spotted blacks at all, to evoke neon signs in the night? I did a quick (EXTREMELY quick) sketch as proof of concept and sent this note to Jhomar:

…anyway, here's my idea: Abbey, naked and wrapped in sheets, sprawled out on the bed in Nick's office, playing with Nick's gun. The room is totally dark, except for light pouring in from the open door, where we can see the shadow of Nick in his fedora and coat. Then wrapping all the way around to the back cover, just show all the clutter and mess of Nick's office, with whatever noir-ish details you can fit in there... photos on his desk, etc. I'm attaching a rough sketch of what I'm thinking of, hopefully that helps give you an idea.

And here's the most important part: I think the whole drawing should be OUTLINES ONLY: NO shadows or blacks of any kind. The outlines should be as detailed as possible, but all consistent thin lines, no big areas of shadow. So you give me something like the black and white sketch attached, and I'll reverse parts of it to make something like the color version. Does that make sense?

And please feel free to pose Abbey in different ways... I kind of like the legs in my sketch, but I can't quite figure out an interesting way for her arms to hold the gun. I'm sure you can figure something out there. Maybe sketch out a couple different poses and we can pick the best one? We probably shouldn't see her face, but other than that whatever you want to do is fine.

Jhomar liked the idea, and quickly sent a few sketches:

I liked the first, and set it into my layout, which quickly showed that the angles needed to change just a bit to fill the space properly.

Jhomar tightened the sketch up a bit...

...and we had a working sketch. I liked my new title treatment, but had a little trouble at first figuring out just how to get our names, etc, on there. This, for example, was a terrible idea:

Ultimately I went for a much simpler approach to the names, as you'll see in the final, below. I was getting sick of the red, though… it had always been kind of a placeholder color. Black, white, and red always works… but is used so often that there's almost always another color that could work BETTER. So going back to the whole "neon" concept, I figured just brighten it up to a super-hot neon pink. I thought fluorescent pantone at first, but the Top Shelf guys weren't crazy about that idea, so I settled on a more magenta-ish (but still pretty bold) pink on the final cover. Anyway, once the sketch was approved by the fine folks at Top Shelf, Jhomar completed the final (and gorgeous!) drawing:

And here's the shadow he made, which is kind of cool by itself:

I combined the elements and assembled the final cover, seen here in all its glory:

We did talk briefly about putting a spot varnish on the pink lines, to give it even more "pop," but the printer felt that the lines were a bit too thin for them to guarantee the varnish could register correctly, so we decided against it. Anyway, having held the sexy little hardcover in my hands, I can say with certainty that I'm extremely happy with how it came together; hopefully the world at large will agree next week!

Just in case there's anyone out there who ISN'T sick of me shilling this book yet, I'll mention again that it'll be for sale in comic shops across the country this coming Wednesday, May 18. (And presumably book stores around the same time, though I think they tend to be a little less release-date oriented than comic shops.) Or there's always Amazon.

And anyone in the NYC area can come on out to Desert Island in Williamsburg, Brooklyn on Thursday May 19th from 7-9 to pick up a copy of the book and maybe an exclusive hand-pulled silkscreen poster, have a beer, say "hi." (I'm friendly, I promise!)