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.