Thursday, March 31, 2011

More Senso!

I did add just add this to the original post also, but it's worth highlighting on it's own: For those who were interested in the Senso process, F. Ron Miller just posted his half of the story (taking that cover illustration and rippling it out into a fantastic package) on his own blog. Well worth a read!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Senso was absolutely a group effort: I worked with illustrator Glen Orbik and Criterion Art Director Sarah Habibi worked with designer F. Ron Miller to get to the final result. And I have to say, I'm really really happy with how everything came together! This post will be primarily about the cover, so let me start by sharing the text of the note I first sent to Glen Orbik:

[...] So here’s what we’re thinking: Visconti said that he wanted to show in this film the “melodrama of life”, to show that big operatic melodrama can be powerful and meaningful. So all of the emotions of the film are deliberately heightened and exaggerated, but in a deadly serious way. So we want the cover to have that same feeling of heightened emotion, without straying into tongue-in-cheek self-parody. We thought your style, so influenced by the great mid-century illustrators, would be perfect for this.

We’ve had one fairly specific idea that we think you could execute really well. Taking inspiration from the costuming of the film, with his white uniform with the cape, and her progression of black dresses, I had the idea of something very graphic, where the black and white areas are reduced to simple shapes but all the other details are rendered very painterly and realistically. Something like this kind of thing:

That’s an old Mike Ludlow illustration from (I think) the Saturday Evening Post, but hopefully it makes clear the kind of thing I’m thinking of. So imagine a black background, her in the foreground in her black dress, him behind her in his white uniform, so the shape of him helps to outline the shape of her. This has the added advantage of showing the lovers together but not in a traditional embrace; ideally they’d even be looking away from each other.

The final piece of the puzzle, I think, ought to be the red, quite, and green leaflets dropped on the opera in the very first scene of the film, fluttering in the blackness around them, both to add some splashes of color, and to suggest the political undertones of the film (Italian flag colors, etc). Here’s a very quick and dirty photoshop mock-up of the kind of thing I’m thinking of:

The poses here aren’t ideal--the image of her is actually kind of alright, I think, in the kind of emotion it expresses, but his pose is a bit stilted and nothing special… plus the leaflets obviously look horribly silly in this sketch, but I have faith that they could be striking and beautiful when rendered as part of a painting. But hopefully it reads as proof-of-concept, at least? (And just to be doubly-clear, I’m not suggesting black & white imagery, that was just easier to throw together.)

It’s also worth mentioning that we’ll probably want a decent amount of space at the top (more than in my crappy photoshop sketch, even), for title, director name, etc. Just something to keep in mind.

I should say that this is a lot more specific instruction than I normally like to give to an artist, but the nature of this film just lead us to this idea, and I thought you’d be the man to execute it. If you have any other ideas after watching the film, we’re more than happy to have you sketch those out, as well, but this is the idea that was most exciting to us in the abstract, so we definitely want to see some variation on this sketched out.

(I should take a moment here to credit Sean Phillips with introducing me to the work of Mike Phillips, as seen above. For Sean's own take on a mid-century illustration style, check out Sweet Smell of Success.)

So, working from that incredibly specific brief, Glen sent the following sketches:

Glen also sent along these references for the faces, and a period reference for her pose, to help clarify the sketch.

Glen's new ideas were excellent, too, but at the end of the day the second one was too focused on the bedroom (we wouldn't want to give anyone the impression that this is Dangerous Liaisons or something), and the third made her into a bit too much of an ingenue, when really she's kind of swept up in things, not ultimately in much control at all…

So we were still rolling with the original idea, but we thought her pose wasn't quite right… a bit too heroic. And the wind-swept leaflets were a bit overdramatic, even for this film. So we asked for a revised sketch, and got this (with the understanding that the leaflets would change from sketch to execution):

Closer, but not quite enough of a departure. We asked for another take, and also asked to maybe try the figures higher up in the frame, to accommodate a bottom-of-the-page title treatment. Glen sent the following, with and without the leaflets. Again, reference for her face follows:

We approved the last of those and were off to the races! Glen quickly turned around the final painting, which was absolutely stunning!

…and here's the final, composed cover with type by Ron Miller:

EDITED TO ADD: The story continues over at F. Ron Miller's "Flog."

Monday, March 28, 2011

Friday, March 25, 2011

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


So… Close-Up. This one really surprised me when I watched it; great, but not at all what I was expecting. I thought it was going to be a real challenge to design a cover for, since it's very much a film of ideas more than visuals, but as it turned out we hit on a great basic concept in the briefs meeting, and the rest pretty much just came down to execution.

The basic idea, of zooming in super-close on a printed image to reveal the process dots that make up the printed image, might seem a bit on-the-nose for a film titled "Close-Up," but is actually kind of perfect: Kiaristami's whole methodology in the film is to lay bare the structure of filmmaking, it's both the main mover of the plot and the theme behind the whole thing. But then, of course, he's playing with you, too, you're never entirely sure what's real and what isn't, what's "re-enactment" and what's documentary, and even some of the things that seem to be very real--the final scene, for example, where the audio cuts in and out--are actually very deliberate choices to draw attention to the constructs of filmmaking.

Similarly, the 4-color process dots in the cover here draw your attention to the actual process of printing, but of course are actually an affectation… there's no press in the world that would use dots that big. (That's one reason why the cover was made totally digitally… we could have actually printed something out very small, then scanned that in and blown it up, but I liked the artificiality in this case, I thought it worked toward the theme.)

So anyway, with that idea in mind I put together the following comps. The very first one I did is the clearest execution of the concept, taking an image from the lovely scene at the end of the film--the greens and pinks really hold the whole thing together, (and it didn't hurt that this seemed like a good moment to use green in the design for an Iranian film):

I was pretty convinced that was the way to go, but I did a few more variations on the theme just to give people some options to chose from. This first one below is kind of interesting, but kind of blows the 4-color process concept by printing all 4 colors at the same angle (i.e. directly on top of each other). It's a neat look, though, I should just it for something else sometime… (I recommend clicking to embiggen.)

The rest are just variations on the theme, not terrible but not as nice as the first one. So that's where we wound up!

Hey, look!

The book is printed! It's a real thing and not some elaborate prank someone was playing on me! (Excuse the lousy iPhone photos, the pink is brighter in person.)

Get your own here,* or at MoCCA in NYC on April

*Price has dropped to $9.66 on Amazon, by the way... that's only $.08 per page!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Friday, March 18, 2011

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Interview with me

I talk about Liar's Kiss and the similarities between writing comics and art directing over at MTV Geek.


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

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Comics Journal #301

The Comics Journal #301 doesn't hit stores for a little bit yet, but I thought this was worth posting now in honor of last week's long-overdue and very promising relaunch of

This was such a monster of a project, I'm worried this post doesn't do it justice. But for the sake of sanity, I'll stick to the initial concept/cover design here... you'll have to buy the magazine to see the interiors. (Which I highly recommend doing, by the way... last time I checked Amazon was selling the thing for like $16.50, which for 624 heavily-illustrated pages is nothing short of crazy.)

I was pretty excited when Jacob Covey emailed me to ask if I might be interested in re-designing the venerable Comics Journal for its upcoming relaunch as an annual (rather than monthly) publication. Then I found out it was going to be 600-something pages. But by that point it was too late to say no! (I'm kidding... mostly.)

Since this issue was to be something of a change in format, my initial impulse was to do something expansive, that related more to the Journal generally--or even comics criticism generally--than to any specific content-related story. To get away from the idea of a "cover story." I had a cover concept in mind that I *almost* sent but didn't, but I'm not going to share that idea here because I will absolutely use is on something, someday... (If anyone has a book on Wally Wood they're putting together? Call me.)

BUT, the issue in question was to be very R. Crumb-centric: a 50-page interview with the man, plus a 100+ page critical roundtable on his recently released Book of Genesis Illustrated, and another article on Crumb in the '60s besides. So obviously Crumb is a major selling point for this issue, and since he's just about the biggest-name "alt"-cartoonist out there, it seemed crazy to use anything but Crumb on the cover. So, starting from that foundation, here's the pitch I sent to Gary Groth and the other editors of the Journal, with a few added notes in italics to clarify some things that might otherwise be unclear):

Some thoughts on TCJ...


It sounds like the fact that the ads are already in [ads had been sold for the issue before they decided on the format change, and so the advertisers submitted their ads in the same size/proportions/etc as previous issues.] is probably going to limit us to keeping the same size/shape as the previous issue.

If we COULD change formats, I had been planning to suggest something a little less magazine-y and more bookish; something closer to 6.25" x 8.5", not unlike that issue of L'eprouvette that Kirsty was kind enough to send over. I think it's enough of a shift from what's come before, and it would accommodate the sketchbooks and comic reprints perfectly. If there's any way to adjust the ads or make them fit in a new size, that's the size I'd recommend.

BUT, if we CAN'T change the dimensions of the book, we're left with the problem of how to differentiate the new, bigger, annual Journal from the old, smaller, monthly magazine. I know cost is an issue but if we're stuck in the same size, I think switching from softcover to hardcover is a pretty solid way to signal the shift, and hopefully bring a little extra attention to the relaunch. If that's not an option, then hopefully the designs below will do enough good work to differentiate the new format on their own.


I think these are relatively self-explainatory--big pretty Crumb art, tough to argue with, right? The only real formal conceit is to basically shunt all of what would normally be the magazine cover copy onto the spine, which serves a few purposes: (1) it highlights the thickness of the book, just how much is in there; (2) it totally separates the art from the words, which I think has a nice, subtle resonance for a book that is, after all, writing about art, and (3) it reflects the shift from a magazine-style scenario, where everything's displayed cover-out because nothing has a spine, to a bookshelf scenario, where the majority of the time the book is going to be displayed spine-out on a shelf.

(And of course the current spine copy is not final; we can highlight whatever stories you want to highlight.)

I'm envisioning it printing as 3 colors--black, orange, and white--on a brown kraft paper, so that the texture of the paper really comes through and gives it a nice tactile sense. I think the same basic idea would work as either a softcover or a wrapped-board hardcover.

I quite like the Sodom and Gomorrah image, myself--it has a nice, "hide your children, Comics are coming!" vibe to it, and it's probably the best single drawing in Genesis, for my money--but since that one kind of needs to wrap around, I'm also including a second option, in case we wind up needing to print an ad on the back cover (which would be a shame)...

I should note: the comps above were made at 6.25" x 8.5", but either would work fine at 7.5" x 9.25" as well... here's the Sodom & Gomorrah one resized:


The other big open question, of course, it how to treat the reprints and sketchbooks. As Gary and I talked about, I don't really like the idea of printing them as separate booklets shrink-wrapped together. [Which was an idea that had been floated by the Fantagraphics folks.] The shrink wrap keeps people from browsing in the store, and then once you've got it home it's not really part of the same magazine any more... the "text" goes on your bookshelf and the "comic" probably goes in a box somewhere. Which isn't the end of the world, I suppose, but if you're publishing it as one product it should stay one product, right?

So, I don't see any reason we can't reprint the McBoing Boing [Gerald McBoing Boing is the name of the comic being reprinted] stuff within the body of the magazine.... my preference would be to set it off by printing those signatures on a different paper stock (ideally something like that nice newsprint-y stock DC's been using for their Kirby reprints), but if that turns out to be a difficulty for the printer, we could certainly achieve a similar effect using a very light 5th color to "yellow" the relevant pages slightly, thus setting them off from the rest of the book at a glance. (It's worth mentioning: the reprints and sketchbook pages would fit pretty perfectly in the 6.25" x 8.5" size (which is why I was suggesting it), but of course we can make them work in the other size if need be).

The sketchbook stuff: I still haven't seen the Dixon or Woodring sketchbooks, but I'm told they're not dissimilar to the Hensley stuff, format-wise. We could certainly use a third paper stock there, something a little heavier and extra toothy, that would feel like sketchbook paper... Or again, we could set them off with a 5th color on the same paper as the rest of the book.


Hopefully we'll be able to get the ads/format issues sorted within the next few days so that I can get started on the interiors. Let me know what you think of all this, and thanks again for getting me involved in this.

So... thoughts?

So. They dug my cover idea and I reformatted it to a size that was the same proportions as previous journals but slightly smaller. Then came the interiors, and taking you through that process would probably take 600 pages! Suffice it to say, budget and space concerns caused me to scale down a few of my loftier aspirations, (as is only fair), but overall I'm pretty happy with how the book came out. (Or, how the design came out--I haven't seen the printed book yet, fingers crossed it'll look great.)

One last thing to point out, which is the lettering on the spine: I felt like mixing Crumb's artwork with hard-edged computer typography would do it a disservice, so I set it in Yoter, then printed out that type at something like 400% size in a very light blue, and traced that with my trusty Sharpie markers. I then scanned that in and placed it in the file, and hopefully that gives it the feeling of being hand-drawn, but with the even-handedness of typography. (Plus it provides a bridge to the typeset interiors, which use Yoter for headlines and such.)

Anyway, here's the final cover with approved copy from the TCJ folks:

Monday, March 14, 2011

Friday, March 11, 2011

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Tuesday, March 8, 2011


I don't talk enough about book covers on this blog... I do fewer of them than I do DVD covers, but I've done a bunch, and some are alright. It's nice to keep my hand in, as books are often a different kind of process than DVDs, since you don't have an already-established visual aesthetic to work within (or play off of, as the case may be). I just turned in a couple sets of comps for a couple books that I was pretty happy with, which inspired me to raid the archives for a few older book projects. Here's one from last year, Gristle from the New Press.

A pretty straightforward project, this one was mainly a question of locking down the details. When I was assigned the title, I was given a concept that came from the book's editors, Miyun Park and Moby. (Yes, that Moby.) idea was to show a butcher's diagram of a cow, but replace the labels (shank, ribeye, etc) with the chapter names from the book. Simple, graphic, cool idea. I found a diagram to reference, (since I can't quite fabricate a cow from memory), then built an image around that:

I felt I should include at least one other idea of my own, just for the sake of appearances, and found this image on some stock image site. (Corbis or Getty or something, I can't remember.) My thinking was, I'm not a vegetarian myself, but I thought this image was somewhat less than the most appetizing way to present meat, especially when paired with that title, and maybe that would fit the book's contents?

But like I say, I dug the editors' concept so I was happy when they decided to stick with that. They weren't quite happy with my color choices, however, and so asked me to take another crack at it. Also, I was asked to try adding a sad little eye to the cow, to make it a bit more sympathetic-looking. (I was skeptical of the eye at first, but I think it kinda works.) They also felt like I had been a little too flowery with the script font, which... fair enough. Anyway, here's my rainbow of options from the second round:

For some reason I can't recall I was really reluctant to make the title and lines in black, but of course the one time I did that it was the one they picked. (Actually, that was a weird week where every approved design was bright yellow for some reason... this, Political Awakenings and The Playwright were all around that time.)

Originally the publisher had asked me to make Moby's name bigger than his co-editor's, him being a rock star and all, but to his credit I believe it was he who asked for the two editors' names to be featured equally, so I made that last tweak and we had a final cover: