The Places You’ll Go

January 28th, 2014

Paths of the Northwest Explorers, illustrated map by Lloyd P. Pierce for Ford Times magazine, 1962.

In digging around for some interesting stuff to put on 4 Color Cowboy (now at 500+ posts!), I came across these wonderful vintage map graphics from Flickr user matthunterross. The colors, the diagrams, the repackaged history – so much to enjoy. And, further proof that Ford Times was one of the greatest magazines ever printed.

This is a definitive case where one needs to click on the images to see the full details!

“A Hysterical Map of Death Valley” illustrated by Jolly Lindgren, 1948.

Guide to Disneyland Hotel, Map & Special Services, 1973.

Battlefields and Historic Shrines 1861-1865, Edwin Fulwider for Ford Times magazine, 1961.

Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom map, 1977.

Ford Times Guide to Sightseeing in Detroit map by Adele Bichan, 1962.

Guide map of Busch Garden in Tampa, Florida, 1985.

The Drew Struzan Effect

January 7th, 2014

Boris Karloff as the Mummy, 2012.

Being a person who avidly looks forward to any and all documentaries on artists and illustrators, the DVD release Drew: The Man Behind the Poster came as a welcome sight. Erik Sharkey’s flawed but very interesting 2012 doc acquaints us with the iconic ’80s movie artist Drew Struzan. If you see that name and think “Drew who?,” perhaps a list of his most memorable posters will ring a bell – Star Wars. Back to the Future. Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The Muppet Movie. The Goonies. The Thing. Blade Runner. Police Academy!

While Drew: The Man Behind the Poster tends to get too superficial at times, it’s a worthwhile and admiring portrait. Director Erik P. Sharkey got an impressive array of Hollywood types to sing Struzan’s praises, including Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, Michael J. Fox, Guillermo Del Toro, Thomas Jane, and Frank Darabont. The film opens with a documentary cliché that I particularly loathe – the endless montage of people fawning over the subject – a sequence which would undoubtedly make the laid-back Struzan cringe. The following 90 minutes, however, establish Struzan as an unassuming regular-guy with an extraordinary gift for rendering movie stars with the right balance of painterly expression and fairy dust.

Drew: The Man Behind the Poster was made from the point of view of a movie fan wanting to dig deeper into the guy behind moviedom’s most iconic posters – from an artist’s perspective, it’s something of a letdown. The best sequences have Struzan discussing his start in the funky ’70s L.A. art scene, including his early album covers for Black Sabbath, Alice Cooper and others. Another good sequence has Struzan and Charles White III gabbing about their collaboration on the famous Star Wars retro-look poster (I also loved the part with Struzan and an obviously grateful Lucas together, perusing the Star Wars art). One amazing thing that comes across is how prolific he was, often re-doing completed artwork from scratch without breaking a sweat (the adding of Mary Steenburgen to the Back to the Future Part III poster is the standout in that regard). As is befitting a film that climaxes at San Diego Comic Con, however, you have to wade through a lot of puffery to get to the meat. This blog post by illustrator Jed Alexander explains that frustration pretty well, along with providing some primo examples of work from Struzan and his contemporaries.

While The Man Behind the Poster never strays far from being a simple celebration of Drew and his art, there is a little bitterness around the edges. The subtext of this movie is basically “Why did they stop making posters like Drew’s?” Sadly, even in the case of an über-talented artist like Struzan, Hollywood has moved on from using illustrators (by and large) for marketing their stuff. After all, it’s easier for a studio to exert control over a Photoshopped montage of movie star heads floating in the sky. If that turn of events affected the mellow Struzan, it doesn’t show as he’s seen in the film having a comfortable semi-retirement – painting his own subjects and enjoying quality time with his family.

For this write-up, a review copy of Drew: The Man Behind the Poster was supplied by the folks at Kino Lorber. You can buy a copy of this DVD at Kino’s site, or at Amazon.com.

Blade Runner re-release poster art, 2003.

Adventures in Babysitting poster detail, 1987.

Ladyhawke limited-release poster art, 1985.

Sahara poster art detail, 1983.

Sketch for Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade poster concept, 1989.

Hellboy special edition art, 2004.

The Goonies poster art detail, 1985.

My 2013 in Music and Everything Else

January 1st, 2014

I don’t know about you, but for me New Years Day serves as a time of contemplation, a bit of relaxation from the holiday hubbub spent simultaneously looking back and anticipating the future. Unlike many recent years in which my life seemed to be in a holding pattern, I had an eventful 2013 filled with some letdowns (getting sick in February and being dogged with vaguely flu-ish feelings for the next eight months), a dose of the same-old same-old, and lots of delights. Here’s some of the accomplishments:

  • Debuted three new designs at LitKidsLittle Bo Peep, Winne the Pooh, and Sherlock Holmes. Also, I’m starting to see signs that this LitKids thing might become something other than a wallet-draining labor of love.
  • Related to the above, in August I addressed a roomful of Etsy users about the ins and outs of selling there (conquering public speaking fears = very healing).
  • Opened Pishtosh, Bullwash & Wimple, an outlet for selling quality vintage designs and kitsch. Unlike LitKids, this enterprise has turned into a quick, modest profit.
  • Read Pride and Prejudice and biographies of Pauline Kael, Flo Ziegfeld, Vincente Minnelli, and Willy Wonka actress Julie Dawn Cole.
  • Designed about a dozen manga books for Viz, another ten-odd books for various individual authors (including my spouse), a t-shirt, a personal branding logo, six theatrical playbills, and four or five projects that never came to fruition for various reason.
  • Hit ten years as a freelancer with all the ambivalent feelings about my profession intact (only now the competition is even younger!). I still haven’t designed or illustrated a Little Golden Book, Criterion Collection release, New Yorker cover, Taschen book, hip record album cover, or indie film poster, damn it.
  • Filed 90 reviews at DVD Talk. Best one: The Big City. Worst: Twisted Romance.
  • Watched five films in a theater, and 181 films (including documentaries) at home.
  • Listened to a lot of Cilla Black, Everything But The Girl and Margaret Whiting (the top three artists of 2013, according to my Last.fm stats).

Believe it or not, I also listened to a lot of current music over the past year. The stuff that caught my attention has been assembled into MRH 2013, a bloated marathon of melodic pop and retro-music of all types (videogame music, disco, psychedelic, soul, even a ’20s jazz cover from Bryan Ferry). After at least a decade of being indifferent to most new music, it came as a pleasant surprise that there was so much refreshing, unique stuff gaining popularity in 2013 – I mean, you wouldn’t find something like “Thrift Shop” hitting #1 in the immediate past, would you? When relatively tame, mainstream singers like Celine Dion come up with weird-ass tunes like “Loved Me Back to Life,” you know you’re in for an interesting year. Part of it comes from the fact that genre lines in music are blurring into each other – yet, instead of being a boring, awkward mishmash, the resulting music is kind of invigorating. This Grantland article by Steven Hyden uses the latest album by teen heartthrobs One Direction to delve into that, articulating the phenomenon far better than I could (the 1D song singled out by the author, “Little Black Dress,” truly is a fantastic blast of power pop, by the way).

Anyhow, the playlist. While some of my favorite artists are represented multiple times (Haim, Camera Obscura, Quadron), most of it is limited to one or two tracks per player. I kinda wish it was more concise, but at the very least it’s arranged by mood and feel – there’s a mini-suite of tracks produced by Greg Kurstin, for instance. Enjoy.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year

December 25th, 2013

New at LitKids – Sherlock Holmes

December 1st, 2013

After toiling away for a few weeks in our converted garage studio, I finally have a new LitKids print ready – the master detective, Sherlock Holmes! Sure, the colors are somewhat offbeat (manly shade of maroon for the outline, with yellow ochre, pinkish salmon and metallic bronze), but they came out beautifully. Like all the LitKids prints, they are hand-signed and printed atop pages from a classic book (A. C. Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes) along with a random splash of gold paint for an extra touch of uniqueness.

This has been a busy few weeks for LitKids. In addition to completing the Holmes print, we have a selection of the prints and merchandise displayed at Olivastro here in Phoenix this month. Olivastro is a cool locally owned shop that sells delicious flavor-infused olive oils and vinegars. Phoenix peeps, check it out!

Sherlock can be purchased here. Through December 15th, use code SCROOGE to get 20% off on this and everything LitKids!

Display of framed LitKids prints at Olivastro, December 2013.

Penguin Droppings

November 14th, 2013

Penguin Drop Caps is a line of republished classic literature that has captured my eye lately. The cover of each brightly hued Drop Caps volume sports a large, fancy letter designed by Jessica Hische, which represents the author’s last name. Hische’s creativity with the letterforms is truly inspiring (check out those little insects on the Willa Cather volume!).

While I’m still not sure that all of these Drop Caps will be added to our home library (for now, I have Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Cather’s My Antonia), the series as a whole is pretty encouraging proof that nicely made mass-market books are still thriving in these tablet times. Penguin’s Paul Buckley designed the spines, backs and interiors in a thoughtful way that manages to look both hip and stately. The only problem I saw is that the binding is coated with a strange, waxy texture that easily picks up sweat or dirt from readers’ fingertips. Also, Penguin decided to festoon the backs with ugly ISBN stickers which can’t be peeled off (grrr!). The Drop Caps can’t be beat for anyone who desires to have a clean, diverse reading rainbow on their shelves, but for durability issues I think Penguin’s cloth-bound classics may have a slight edge (they’re priced about the same, as well).

Penguin is currently at #16 in the process of publishing all 26 of the Drop Caps books. While P just came out this month, the rest will be released throughout the end of 2014 (Amazon has all the titles listed now, linked below). I just finished A, and am getting ready to start C. Aside from reading B and D in high school, and I about twenty years ago, these are all new to me. Suggestions, anyone?

A – Austen, JanePride and Prejudice
B – Brontë, CharlotteJane Eyre
C – Cather, WillaMy Antonia
D – Dickens, CharlesGreat Expectations
E – Eliot, GeorgeMiddlemarch
F – Flaubert, GustaveMadame Bovary
G – Golding, WilliamLord of the Flies
H – Hesse, HermanSiddhartha
I – Ishiguro, KazuoAn Artist of the Floating World
J – Joyce, JamesA Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
K – Kidd, Sue MonkThe Secret Life of Bees
L – Lee, Chang-raeNative Speaker
M – Melville, HermanMoby-Dick
N – Nesbit, EvelynFive Children and It
O – O’Hara, JohnButterfield 8
P – Proust, MarcelSwann’s Way
Q – Queen, ElleryThe Greek Coffin Mystery
R – Rushdie, SalmanHaroun and the Sea of Stories
S – Steinbeck, JohnCannery Row
T – Tan, AmyThe Joy Luck Club
U – Undset, SigridKristin Lavransdatter: The Wreath
V – VoltaireCandide, or Optimism
W – Whitman, WaltLeaves of Grass and Other Poems
X – XinranSky Burial
Y – Yeats, W. B.When You Are Old: Early Poems and Fairy Tales
Z – Zafon, Carlos Ruiz and Lucia GravesThe Shadow of the Wind