Thursday, December 1, 2011

Frazetta Sketchbooks

Cover for the hardcover version of the Frazetta Sketchbook

Cover for the paperback version of the Frazetta Sketchbook

In the next few months, Vanguard Productions, will be releasing the Frazetta Sketchbook. The book contains 128 pages of rare and unpublished drawings, along with painting preliminaries. This is exciting news for all fans of Frank Frazetta's work.

The covers above were actually done as 2 different options for the cover of the book. The publisher, J. David Spurlock, liked both of them, and decided to use one for the paperback cover, and one for the hardcover version of the book. That worked out fine for me, because I liked both versions of the cover for different reasons. I'm hoping that when the books are published, that the hardcover, will have an actual cloth binding, instead of a represented one as seen in the artwork above.

I'm sure having fun, can you tell?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Mars Attacks!

Proposed cover for Mars Attacks! comic

Back in 1962, the Topps Gum Company put out a set of 55 cards that came packaged 5 to a pack along with a stick of pink bubble gum. The card set was called Mars Attacks! At the time, Topps was the largest seller and manufacturer of gum cards. Collecting and trading gum cards was a national phenomenon. Primarily, known for their baseball cards, they also created several other odd assortments of exciting collectibles. Previous to producing, Mars Attacks!, Topps had great success with their Battle line of gum cards. Battle showcased scenes taken from events in WWII. Most of the scenes were either exaggerated or flat out fabricated. The cards were bloody, violent and brilliantly depicted by pulp artist, Norman Saunders. Even though they weren't historically accurate, none of that seemed to matter to the kids who enthusiastically snatched up the packs. After the success of Battle, Topps was looking for a way to continue their momentum.

Inspired by the B-grade monster movies of the time, and tapping into the uncertainty and fear brought on by the Cold War, Mars Attacks! was born. The series revolved around a Martian invasion of Earth, where all kinds of destruction and mayhem occurred. Topps again turned to Norman Saunders to paint the images for the card set. Saunders was assisted by lay-out artist Bob Powell to create these miniature masterpieces. Because of the questionable imagery, Topps decided to publish these cards under an alias name, Bubbles Inc. The cards had limited distribution, and it wasn't long before parent's made their disapproving voices heard. Topps ended up pulling the cards, but not before their impact had been felt. Today the cards remain very popular, and are hard to find in complete sets, and when they are available, they are extremely high priced.

Recently IDW acquired the license to do a comic book series based on the card set. When I heard that, my heart started racing. I've always loved those luscious, lurid little paintings printed on cardboard. I always looked at them as being "fine art." I was too young to experience them the first time around, but was introduced to Saunders paintings through his work on the Batman card series. Those definitely imprinted my very porous mind at the time. As I got older, I realized all of the different things Saunders had produced. Mars Attacks! was a card set I had to own. I have a couple of re-printed sets, and a few of the original cards. I treasure them. I love that I never really have to grow up!

Because of my enthusiasm for IDW's announcement, I took it upon myself to mock up a cover for the comic book. I sent it off to them, hoping that they might see my desire to be part of the project, and grant me my lifelong desire. We'll see...

On the cover, I wanted incorporate the old with the new. Since I love the paintings so much, I thought it would be fun to include part of that image, with a new inset illustration by me. I contrasted the enlarged card image showing the dot patterns and modeling effects with my flat color and heavy black outlines. I tried to be clever with my imagery, using influences from the old B-grade invasion movie posters. I like the idea, I think it would stand out on a shelf next to the other comic books.

I don't usually pitch ideas, but I was so thrilled to hear that IDW was going to be involved with this property, so I thought I would give it a shot. Are you listening IDW? Please...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

John Romita's The Amazing Spider-Man Artist's Edition

Cover for the Artist's Edition

Title page

About This Edition page

Chapter divider

Chapter divider

This book to me, created one of my most unique design challenges. I understood the direction I needed to go with the Rocketeer (Art Deco). With the Wally Wood book, it made sense to create extensions of EC comics logos and type styles. But, what do you do with 60s era Spider-Man? First of all you eliminate things it's not, it certainly isn't the psychedelic 60s. Paisley print and Woodstock posters weren't going to be the inspiration. Pop art and Andy Warhol didn't feel right either. I started thinking more Mid-Century design, Charles and Ray Eames, Alvin Lustig, Robert McGinnis paperback book covers, Mad Men TV show. That seemed like the right direction. I can just about image Jazzy Johnny Romita relaxing in his "Egg Chair." I love the research part of the job. Actually, I should clarify, I HATE it until I figure out what's going to work. I really had lots of anxiety over the direction to go, and Scott kept asking me if I had anything to show him. You really don't want to tell someone you don't have any idea what you're doing and that you are getting frustrated. But, here's the part I do love, after crawling through the desert for days, when you finally come to that design oasis, that you've been looking for, nothing is more exciting. Nothing.

That's where the fun begins. And it is fun, part of the process of design is problem solving, it's not all about making pretty pictures. Does the design direction you are going make sense, does it fit and enhance the project? It takes research time and inspiration to connect all the dots. That's why there was a real sense of satisfaction completing this book. It presented one of the largest challenges to me, but there is a sense of accomplishment when you are able to overcome the obstacles.

Each of the stories starts out with a design page that is unique. So, I had to create a design that worked with the other pages but was distinct in it's own way. Each story ends with another design page which shows a slightly different version of Spider-Man swinging through the city. I want each book I design to have it's own distinct personality. I love the idea of creating a book of art, that is also an artbook. It's hard to know if there is an appreciation by others, for some of the details that I try to put into the book design, but I would be extremely disappointed with myself, if I didn't put in my best effort.


You know, it really isn't within my comfort zone to promote myself, but I do realize there is a benefit to it. With that being said, on August 21 of this year, I found out that I had won a Harvey award. This, along with the Eisner, are considered the top honors in the comic book industry. Here's an excerpt from an article written about the awards ceremony, "For those not familiar, the Harveys (named after comics legend Harvey Kurtzman, founder of MAD Magazine) are the Tony Awards to the Eisner’s Oscars. Given to comic creators and professionals, the Harvey Awards are important because winners are determined by peer ballot. It is a great honor to win a Harvey, as it is an honor to even be nominated."

The book that won the award, was The Rocketeer Artist's Edition, which won for, "Special Award for Excellence in Presentation." My editor, Scott Dunbier was also honored as editor of the book. The Washington Post had a nice article on the event dated August 21, 2011.

It certainly is nice to receive acknowledgement and awards, and I really do appreciate it. It is humbling, in the sense that you are surrounded by people who have so much talent. I really believe anyone that was nominated in the same category could have just as easily won. I am grateful and realize that I have to continue to work hard to keep up with the competition around me.

One more promo piece, and I promise I'm done... There was a piece that was written in the August 18th edition of the New York Times in their entertainment section on comics. One of the images they chose to show was of Walter Simonson's Thor Artist's Edition. That was cool to see.

Rocketeer Adventures Collection

Cover for the Rocketeer Adventures book collection

Title page

Credits spread

Story divider page

My involvement with the Rocketeer continues, thanks to IDW editor, Scott Dunbier. This time, I had the opportunity to design the book collection of the 4 comics, that had come out this past summer. This allows me, in my nerdy and geeky way, to be associated with, Alex Ross, Michael Kaluta, Darwyn Cooke, Geof Darrow, Chris Weston, Ryan Sook, Brendan McCarthy, Scott Hampton, Tony Harris and everyone else who contributed to the comic. How does it possibly get any better than that? It puts a little more pressure on, because I want the design of the book, to be a positive representation of the artist's whose work I admire!

When I heard the comics were first going to be published I set an email to Scott with a new Rocketeer logo design, hoping it would be considered for the comic book. For reasons, I understand, Scott chose to use the one that Dave Steven's had originally designed. When Scott asked me if I would be interested in designing the book collection, I asked about resurrecting the logo I had created. Scott gave his approval, so there it now sits on the cover of the book! That remains something that is on my list of things I would like to do...create a logo/masthead for a comic book. So, even though this came close, it doesn't really count.

Once again, I got to use some of Dave Steven's original Rocketeer images, and use them in a fresh new context. This really is fulfilling for me. It's a challenge to take something you may be very familiar with, put a slight spin on it, and create something that looks new. Throughout the design process, I'm still trying to maintain the look and energy of 1930s streamline/art deco. Hopefully, there will be an appreciation for how all the Rocketeer books I've worked on, have a cohesion through their design, aesthetic (they go together).

Wally Wood's Artists Edition

First cover concept, not used

Title Page

First contents page

Second contents page

Third contents page

The first image at the top, shows my first cover concept for the "Wally Wood's EC Stories Artists edition." This was based on not having complete information, such as title, and what image was going to be used. I wanted to try to stay ahead of the deadline, and anticipate what possibly might work for a cover. I did end up using part of the design elements, as you can see on the cover in the previous entry.

The other pages shown are my design pages. There are 3 different sections in the book and that is why there are 3 different contents pages. My goal with these, was to try and stay true to the look of EC comics. The title lettering is based on how Wally would create the title lettering for stories he worked on. As a sidebar, isn't that kind of interesting that he was responsible for doing his own title treatments. I'm not sure if that was something he wanted to do, or was part of what was expected. Anyway I think that is really cool, because it certainly identified his stories and made them feel more complete as designs. The body copy or text part is based on EC's Leroy style of lettering word balloons.

What's always so fun about these assignments is, not only that Scott Dunbier is willing to see what my personal design solutions are, but I get to play with other artists images and create new ones. Obviously, the images on each of the contents pages, didn't exist as you see them pictured here. I was able to take different elements, do a little Photoshop work, and blend them all together to create a totally different image. I hope each of them tells their own individual story.

Friday, August 19, 2011

More Comic-Con Stuff

During the San Diego Comic-Con, I was pleasantly surprised to see these beautiful slipcased hardcover versions of Frank Frazetta's White Indian and Johnny Comet at the Vanguard booth. I was delighted to see how they had turned out. I think the special treatment is appropriate to the contents of these books. I'm very excited to receive my copies. I believe they will reach Vanguard's warehouse sometime next week, and then, maybe another week before they reach retailers. Wow, these look fabulous...

Here's a picture of artist Walter Simonson holding the special very limited edition of his Thor Artist's Edition. This edition is limited to ten copies. Each book will have an original drawing by Walter which is glued onto the debossed area on the cover. The cover is also printed with metallic ink. The book also comes in a special slipcase with a wrap around image of Thor and Beta Ray Bill. Unfortunately, I'm not going to be comped one of these versions, and I certainly don't have enough money to be able to afford one. All inquiries about purchasing one of these books, can be directed to IDW.

During Comic-Con, an announcement was made about the newest IDW Artist's Edition book. The latest book will be on Wally Wood's EC stories. This book, is even bigger than the previous Artist's Editions, this behemoth measures 15" x 22". Through editor Scott Dunbier's hard work, there have been 16 stories that have been collected for this edition. When you realize that these stories are over 55 years old, that is an amazing accomplishment, to gather all of the original art in one place. Each page looks like a collage of different techniques and layers. I think it really takes looking at this artwork, this way, to appreciate the drive and determination, that Wally Wood had to be the best at his craft. Each page looks so laborious and intense, there is so much detail in each panel that he drew. This is really so amazing to see, I think this will really blow people's minds.

I'm so grateful to be able to work on so many amazing projects.

San Diego Comic-Con 2011

The hardware

Feeling like I'm being watched during my acceptance speech

Blair Butler from G4 TV talking about the Rocketeer Artist's Edition

I'm still in recovery mode from the San Diego Comic-Con experience. I really look forward to going, but while I'm there it is just so overwhelming, that it's hard to keep days straight and remember everything that happened. I do remember however, the absolute highlight of the 4 days, that I was there, it was winning the Eisner Award for "Best Publication Design" for the Rocketeer Artist's Edition book. Before going I didn't want to make a big deal about it, because when you have high expectations, it can easily be followed by big disappointments. The experience was certainly surreal. To be in a big ballroom, surrounded by people, who's work you admire, is quite humbling. Even during the ceremony, I didn't feel any sense of anticipation or nervousness. I was just attending a banquet to celebrate other people's achievements. Suddenly, when the big screen flashed up a picture of the Rocketeer book, along with my name for my award category, things changed drastically. I, at that moment, wanted to win...badly! It was very exciting to have my name announced, right along with Dave Stevens. Then panic set in, because, I'd have to walk all the way up to the stage and actually give an acceptance speech. I'm pretty sure I thanked all the people I was supposed to thank, I really can't remember much about it. It's certainly a great honor and privilege to be acknowledged by your peers for doing good work. I realized, this makes me want to work that much harder to continue to do my best work. I'd love to be able to add another Eisner to my shelf someday.

John Fleskes wrote a very nice personal blog about his feelings on my Eisner win, it can be found here...

I don't know if there is any interest in this, but here's an audio version of the entire Eisner Awards ceremony. My award comes at the 1:04:32 point in the evening.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Flesk Prime Book Cover

Here's a description, from the inside flap of the book,
"Flesk Prime serves as a fresh look into the imagery of five exceptional artists: Craig Elliott, Gary Gianni, Petar Meseldžija, Mark Schultz and William Stout. The essence of each craftsman is captured here to satisfy their fans as well as individuals who are enjoying their first glimpse. The section on each artist begins with an introduction and a biography written by Flesk publisher John Fleskes. The five were invited to handpick their pieces for inclusion, to showcase the best representation of their works. Furthermore, new quotes have been obtained to capture the artists’ own thoughts. Each chapter shows the dynamic range of styles and illustrations and the unique diversity of these five creators. Almost all of the artwork has been reproduced direct from the originals."

When John Fleskes asked me to design the cover for this book, he had a certain visual style in mind. He wanted a more gritty, urban, edgy look, that would peak people's interest, who might not normally seek out a book of this content. I think it was a very wise marketing decision. What a great way to introduce the artists that Flesk Publications work with to a new audience. I liked loading up the cover with different layers, textures and materials, it has a real density, that is reflected in the contents also. It's nice when it all works and comes full circle and feels complete. The book should be available in time for the San Diego Comic-Con.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Tuna Egg Casserole

I had a lag in my work schedule, and was looking for some productive way to fill that gap. I came across a website called, "Just Add Ink, A Comic Cookbook." It was an invitation to local (Minnesota) cartoonists and comic book artists to contribute to a book compiling, recipes, cooking tips, or comics "how to." Each artist is given a page 8 1/2 x 11"- 2 sides, to give their recipe, or tell their story. I've always been interested in combining illustration and storytelling, but never had the guts, to really give it a try. This seemed like a good outlet to cross that wish off of my list. This is really, more of a series of individual illustrations put together to create a comic, then true panel to panel continuity. But, you know what, I had fun with it, and even though it's not really my strong suite, it forced me to think differently and try to create something I've never done before.

I usually like the work to speak for itself, but feel this needs a little explanation. I wanted this to look and feel like it was an insert into a woman's magazine from the 50s. Hopefully the "host" doesn't need an introduction. I hope that there is enough reality or believability to off-set the ridiculous. The whole joke is supposed to be summed up in the last panel, when Norma Jeanne is pointing to the name of the tuna as "Purr-fect" and making reference to how much the family cat enjoys this brand of tuna. I'm not sure the subtly came through, that she's actually using cat food to feed her family. Is it perhaps too clever?

Altered Esthetics is one of the sponsors of this project and will have a gallery show and book launch on August 5th, celebrating the release of the "Just Add Ink- a Comic Cookbook." It's all a little out of my comfort zone, but you can't grow if you don't challenge yourself. Purr-fect Tuna, try a can today! (if you can wrestle it away from your family cat)

San Diego Exclusives

San Diego Comic-Con has become the Shangri-La, Eden, and Nirvana of pop culture events, all rolled into one package. When one hundred thousand people descend upon the San Diego convention center for the four day event, there is great anticipation for getting all their animation, manga, comic book, low brow art, B-grade movies, original art and collectible urban toy, needs met. It never disappoints, to be an adrenaline soaked event.

Publishers look for this time, to make special announcements and also roll out their plans for the upcoming year. Part of all of the fun is, when special limited editions are released only for those attending the San Diego Comic-Con. IDW is producing 2 special edition covers especially for this event. Dave Steven's Sketchbook and Walter Simonson's Thor Artist's Edition both will be represented with very limited edition covers. I believe, you can order both of these ahead of time through IDW's website, and then pick them up at the convention. Of course, you could take your chances, and try to purchase them from IDW's booth while you are there.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

Dave Stevens' Sketchbook

Here's the cover I designed to the new IDW sketchbook coming out from IDW. It continues to be a privilege to be associated with work by Dave Stevens. This is a 256 page hardcover book that collects all of the sketchbooks that Dave self-published. Also included in this book, is approximately 80 pages of additional sketchbook material, being printed for the first time. There is a great mix of both black and white images and full color art pieces. With designing this book, I wanting to keep with the Art Deco influences of the previous Dave Stevens books. I thought it would be a great companion piece to "The Rocketeer Artist's Edition" book, and also "The Complete Rocketeer Deluxe" book. The lightning bolts on this cover are a nod to that similar design element in the Deluxe book.

Inside the book, you get to see how versatile Dave's abilities were. Along side of the pin-up drawings, are hollywood portraits, animation drawings, advertising art, figure drawing, movie poster concepts, watercolors, charcoal, pen and ink, commissions, and personal work. Along with the variety, is also a window into his working style and growth as an artist. To me, the book feels really complete and a valuable resource to fans of illustration.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Walter Simonson's Thor Artist's Edition

Here's the new cover to the latest version of IDW's Artist Edition series. When I say series, keep that in mind, in other words, there will be more announcements soon! This book prints 7 issues from Walter Simonson's run on The Mighty Thor. The art is all printed from the actual art boards at actual size ( a whopping 12" x 17"). Walter provided all of the original artwork himself, which was scanned in at a very hi-resolution and in color. Even though the actual artwork itself was done as black and white, all of the nuances of the original art page appear as if you are looking at an original piece of art. The artboards retain the slightly yellowed appearance of age, along with pencil lines, white out and zip-a-tone. This book is following in the path of last years release of, Dave Steven's The Rocketeer Artist's Edition, (which has been nominated this year, for an Eisner award for book design). The goal on this book, is to have it printed in time for the San Diego Comic-Con.

Bruce Timm Art Book Covers

One of the latest projects I've been working on, is a hefty art book of Bruce Timm's good girl art for Flesk publications. Once again, this project has been nothing but pure joy! What's posted above, is a selection of designs that were presented for approval, for the cover of his new art book. This was a real process of getting to know each other's style, and trying to execute a cover that met with Bruce's vision.

The original source of inspiration for the designs, were based on the great paperback cover art of Robert McGinnis and Mitchell Hooks. During the mid 50's to mid 60's, thousands of these crime/mystery paperbacks were released to the enthusiastic hands of the general public. Bruce wanted to not only pay homage to the cover artists, but also to the design style of that period. I noticed that a lot of the books had hand-rendered title treatments. I wanted to explore that idea and see if in my own way, I could create something that felt authentic. It was a fun challenge to try to create something new and fresh, without relying on a pre-existing type font.

I tried to incorporate floating shapes and complimentary colors to the cover design, which combined with the painting, would look vintage. The cover design ultimately picked, was the last cover posted, which shows a more elegant and less busy design. This actually puts more emphasis on the figure and less on the title. This is a nice simple solution with a feeling of symmetrical balance.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Mark Schultz Various Drawings Volume 5

Various Drawings Volume 5: front and back cover and flaps

Here's the new cover to Mark Schultz Various Drawings book. It's hard to believe, that we are on Volume 5 already. Because Mark was so busy with so many projects last year, there wasn't time to do a collection of his artwork. This should be a pleasant sight to the fan's of Mark's work. This, like all of the other volumes, will contain stunning illustrations that Mark has worked on over the last 2 years. Of course, included, will be a beautiful gatefold rendering.

I could go through an explanation of the process of creating this cover, but John Fleskes has already done that for me, so I won't post it here, as that would be redundant. So scoot over to John's blog at Flesk Publications, for a detailed description of the creation of this cover.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Johnny Comet Deluxe

Front and back cover to the Johnny Comet Deluxe Hardcover

This is the third cover I did for Johnny Comet. I actually started out doing this cover for fun, (I know it sounds weird, as if I don't have enough to do). I wanted to create or explore the idea of using Johnny Comet imagery, and turning it into a movie style poster. For some reason I hadn't had enough of Johnny Comet yet. After a year of working on the book, you would think I would want to move on...sigh. There is just so much great art in the Johnny Comet series, I wanted to see if I could produce one more fresh look on it. The fun part is, I get to play with Frank Frazetta's toys.

Shortly after I got done playing with this, and trying to figure out now what to do with it, I received a call from J. David Spurlock. David is the publisher of Vanguard Productions books. He had decided after we had finished up the soft and hard cover versions of the Johnny Comet book, that he would like to do a third very special version. This third book would be a Deluxe Edition with 16 additional pages containing original Frazetta artwork along with a slipcase. He wanted to convert the original Hardcover artwork into the slipcased version. Do you really think it was a coincidence that just that day, I had finished up my experimental cover? Well, I showed it to David, and it really didn't take too much persuading for him to decide to use the "movie poster" version for the Deluxe Edition. I'm glad it worked out, I have a feeling the movie poster idea might end up being used again...stay tuned!

Frank Frazetta's White Indian

Front and back cover of the White Indian softcover

Here's another cover, in the ongoing library for Vanguard Productions, of Frank Frazetta's comic work. I just finished up this project along with the 3 versions of the Johnny Comet book. It's nice to finally have all these stories collected in both softcover, hardcover and Deluxe Editions in slipcases. I believe these will be considered the definitive collections. Everyone who knows the history of comic books and storytelling arts, knows the impact that Frank Frazetta has had on that industry. He remains, possibly, the most influential artist of all time.

With this cover, I'm trying to continue on stylistically, with the same template that was created for the Johnny Comet book. I like the idea of having a collection or library of books that have a similar theme or style when sitting on your shelf. It's part of the challenge of design, to create a family of books, that somehow share the same genetic traits. I think people that have a collector's mentality would appreciate that.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Baseball Gala

Large Sign for bar area

Large Glass Display Case

Large Sign for bar area

Event Program Cover

Here's the first post of 2011! My intentions were always good when attempting to keep an updated blog, I don't know what happened, but time flew by. This is a project that I completed recently, for a company that was having a large gathering at Minute Maid Park in Houston. The theme revolved around the golden age of baseball, and the Boston Red Sox. What an absolute delight this job was. I really had no idea what to expect in the beginning, but when the art director started laying it out for me, I got very excited.

The company was renting out the mezzanine area inside of the Houston Astros stadium. They wanted to transform it into a party atmosphere, with several oversized banners, signs, showcase displays, pennants and cut-outs of players. Wow...seriously? I couldn't wait to begin. A lot of the graphics and colors felt kind of like a "no-brainer." The red, white and blue, went through the aging machine to give the right flavor for the palette. I used reference photos of 40's — 50's era players (Ted Williams!), and tried to use type fonts that would reflect that time period. The glass display case measures 80" x 33" with the center glass panel being 80" x 54". There are 4 separate banners that hang from quite a ways up, that measure 15' x 3'. The cut-outs of players are close to actual size. So, you can see the artwork is really large. I also did 2 different versions of a group of players sitting on 2 different benches. I think in all, there were close to 30 different designed pieces. It was very time consuming and challenging, but extremely enjoyable.