Mask of Fu Manchu - I had
wanted to continue working on my Universal 50's Sci-Fi
movie posters, and have been playing around with a couple
different ideas, but nothing had completely clicked.
Sometime around Halloween though, I bought a boxed set
of MGM 30's-era horror films, called The Hollywood Legends
of Horror collection. It featured the films Mad Love, Doctor X, The Return of Doctor X, Devil
Doll, Mark of the Vampire...and The Mask
of Fu Manchu.
had seen Fu Manchu once, about 10 years ago,
and didn't remember much from it. But watching it anew,
the movie really came alive for me--it's totally
insane. Depravity of all kinds, torture, rioting
mobs, severed limbs...this film has everything, and
was made before the Hayes Code really cracked down on
movie content, so they threw in everything but the kitchen
sink here. And presiding over it all is Boris Karloff,
an old hand at this stuff, and Myrna Loy, for
pete's sake, who had a legendary career in much more
respectable films ahead of her.
the dang movie got me inspired, and I started messing
around with the Karloff potrait--I had had an idea in
my head of what he should look like, and how he'd frame
the rest of the poster. So I started on it, and old
Boris came together quite well. Then I came back to
it a day later, and the ideas just kept comin', where
to lay in the type, what colors to use, all of it.
of my biggest issues when I try these retro-type posters
is, try as I might, they always end up looking too modern
to me. I find that my design--what looks "right"
to me--tend to lean toward a more modern look. This
time, though, I found the right color combos that looked
cool to me (lighter, more subtle instead of the in-your-face
tones I normally use), but also genuinely old-fashioned
(I was also looking at actual Fu Manchu posters
also to know what to try differently). When all was
said and done, I felt that this design could actually
pass for vintage, maybe. I even spaced the type of the
co-stars in a manner that looks weird to my eye, but
I know is also time-period-accurate.
Time Machine - Sometimes, ideas for
posters just come to me, unannounced, and if I think the
idea is sufficiently worth pursuing I sit down and design
a poster around it. Other times, I want to do a poster
of a particular movie, with no set idea in mind.
two posters, based on the 1960 classic The Time Machine and the 1951 movie serial Blackhawk, fall into
the former catagory--in fact, they use basically the
same format, at least up top--a separate image and part
of the poster, leaving the rest to be the main selling
points of the movie.
knew I wanted The Time Machine to look different than
all my others--there was a very definite change in poster
aesthetics from the 1940s to the early 1960s, and I
wanted to reflect that in the colors and overall "busyness"
of the piece.
didn't have room for it here, but I thought a great
viral marketing idea for a new Time Machine movie
would be to put up "Missing" posters all around
major cities, with the picture of the time traveler
and asking people if they've seen him, leaving those
little pull-off phone numbers at the bottom. Anyone
to check up on it gets fed further clues to the story,
etc. I'm an idea guy.
Feature: Laura/Gilda- This is a custom-made
poster for a double feature that never existed, but
was asked by my pal Eddie
Muller, writer and film historian, to work up a
poster for a Laura/Gilda double feature, to accompany
an article currently appearing on his Film
Noir Foundation website, called "Single Word Double
Bills" by Don Malcolm, all about great, single-word-titled
film noir movies paired together.
got so excited about the prospect of putting this piece
together that I literally couldn't wait to work on it,
and ended up putting other work aside so I could get
to this. I
spent one wonderful, sunny Sunday putting most of this
together, then finished it off the next day.
soon as Eddie asked me about doing the piece, I came
up with main visual motif in my mind--having both title
women be (of course) the focus, and having their male
co-stars match each other as monochromatic background
elements. From beginning to end, it was a pure joy to
work on, and I'm proud that its up on the Film Noir
Foundation site, and I'm so glad Eddie asked me to do
Joel Martin - "The Man Behind the Music" -
This was a piece I was commissioned to do for a magazine
article on Joel Martin, a music producer and entrepreneur,
who has worked with people as diverse as Eminem, George
Clinton, and The Romantics.
wanted some sort of rock poster type feel for the cover,
but that was the extent of their ideas. I had planned
to just put together a rough for them to look at, but
when I sat down on a Saturday afternoon(with Johnny
under my chair, snoring contentedly, and Sports Night:
The Complete Series on the DVD player) something
came over me--in an instant,
had an idea in my head what the poster should look like.
I had originally thought of a late 60s, psychedelic
poster, like for The Grateful Dead or Jefferson Airplane.
But then I thought a better idea was a riff on those
classic, fun, dynamic Motown Records concert posters--that
way I could work in pictures of some of the famous people
he's worked with, instead of just being stuck with a
picture of a guy nobody recognizes. As I kept working,
the damn thing kept getting better and better, and each
little piece fell into place like clockwork.
around dinnertime, I had produced this--the rare piece
that actually looks better on the screen than it did
in my head(that never happens). I had forgotten to eat
lunch and other than to take Johnny for a walk, I never
stopped working for about five and a half hours.
soon after this the whole project fell through(d'oh!)--the
article, now finished, focused more about his past than
the people he worked with, and the magazine decided
to run photos from his life rather than use any illustrations
while I'm of course disappointed the piece never ran,
I am so glad I saw this through to the end, because
it's instantly become one of my all-time favorite pieces,
and it was a total joy putting it together.
American Eskimo - Tracy
had been bugging me for a while to a portrait of our
pup Johnny, since I had done pieces on pretty much every
other pet in our extended family. It's not like I didn't
want to, I just could
never find the right angle on it.
then I came up with the idea for poster promoting the
hearty breed of which Johnny is a part(half of her,
at least), and I immediately pictured her as I'm sure
she sees herself--brave and indefatigable, immune to
the bitter winter weather. I originally just had her
and the mountains, and then I kept adding the little
details--the wind, the snow, and it all just came toegther
loved it so much, we had it made into a t-shirt. Yes,
we're those kind of pet owners.
Off Our Back - This
idea was a real burst of imagination, since its entirely
made up and not based on anything I had going on at
love doing the fashion-y
glamour stuff, so Iillustrated this woman looking
very smart and began building a poster around it. Fashion
for fashion's sake doesn't appeal to me, but I liked
the idea a fund-raiser for some charity, so in my head
I imagined a selling of expensive fashions, with all
the proceeds going to an organization whose goal it
was was to find homes for homeless people.
added the sketchy pencil-ish lines to the figure to
give it that sketchy feel, and the original shocking
red dress was replaced with a more fanciful and more
Batman - This
was an instance of having a vague image in my mind,
and building a poster around it.
had a still from the 1943 Batman movie serial,
where Bats looks, er, let's say less than imposing.
In fact, he looks downright stupid. But--in this particular
still, Batman is leaning over, looking off-frame, and
his cape is covering up most of him. When I saw this
still, I saw a basic shape that just screamed "Batman"
I played with it for a while, and kept removing all
the details until I ended up with this, which in some
ways reminds me of the almost abstract approach artist
David Mazzucchelli took on Batman: Year One.
I had that, it didn't take long to come up with a justification
for such a painterly approach to a superhero, and the
bright yellow just made the whole thing *pop* to me.
particularly proud that nowhere on this poster do you
see a bat.
of Captain Marvel - I
did this poster the same day as the Batman one(it was
a good day), and of course the approach to this is about
as far from the Batman one as possible.
Batman is stripped down to the bone, design-wise, this
one throws in all the necessary details for a genuine
movie serial poster. And also like Batman, I had wanted
to do a poster for this movie serial for a while.
wanted a sort of two-pronged approach, one where we
sort of introduce the character by giving a super-short
version of his origin, and then we get to the adventure
contained in the serial itself.
Theatre - Another
poster just for something I like, in this case Orson
Welles and his Mercury Theatre.
imagined a poster advertising his old shows, being rebroadcast
somewhere out there in Radio Land. I had seen an old-time
poster for cigarettes starring Spencer Tracy, and it
featured a color portrait of him in front of a monochromatic
collage background, and that visual appealed to me tremendously.
took a while to put all the elements in the right spots,
but eventually I settled on something that looked classy
and sophisticated, but hopefully not too stuffy.
American Prospect -Boy,
was this fun.
August 2004, I was contacted by American
Prospect, a political magazine
about doing several illustrations to accompany a series
of articles called "A New Progressive Era?",
all concerning what a Kerry Presidency might be like,
how to achieve it, etc. The art director there wanted
a series of WPA-styled "posters" to illustrate
some of the themes of the articles, as well as a one
full-page piece to kick off the whole thing.
was given several of the articles and other topics and
asked to choose which inspired me the most. I settled
on the above six, ones dealing with building the labor
unions, equal rights for gays and lesbians, investing
in infrastructure, leadership, getting young people
to vote, and how to take on the curiously-named The
Right. One thing I definitely wanted to do was approximate
some of the various styles of WPA art--the abstract
silhouettes of Building a Better Tomorrow, the fun,
loose The Time is Now, the more cartoony A Good Investment,
the serious, propaganda-ish Equal Rights. I wanted lots
of different colors and ways of using them, and with
the text, a somewhat-serious-yet-cheerily-optimistic
tone, which the WPAs had (no doubt reflecting the tone
of the man whose administration created the program,
Franklin Delano Roosevelt). I
wrote the text myself, mostly just to show themagazine
where I thought their text would go.
my delight, when I submitted the pieces, the magazine
was so happy with what I had come up with that the art
AND the text remained unchanged--I had managed to strike
the exact tone AP was looking for. There's only been
a handful of times when a piece I submitted went from
my first "draft" to printed page, and it felt
like that, for this assignment, I could do no wrong.
final touch to all of them was just to entertain myself.
Most of the WPA posters had a small credit line on each,
listing where they were made--"Chicago Works Progress
Administration", etc. So I added the line "Works
Progress Administration Marlton, NJ" to each one,
just to give them each a little more verisimilitude--my
new favorite word, and one I finally stopped using incorrectly!
the Magnificent - I loved--love--Johnny
Carson. Always did, even when I was a little kid, and
didn't understand half of the jokes. When
the Carson Tonight Show began it's last-couple-of-months-wrap-up,
each show filled with the hugest names in showbiz, I
watched it every night. Most of show biz is phony, of
course, but watching giants like Clint Eastwood or Steve
Martin stop in one last time made me feel that this
emotion was real. Looking back on the shows now, I'm
struck by the gentleness of Johnny--he got laughs at
other people's expense of course, but it never seemed
as callous as a lot of the comedy nowadays.
after Johnny died, I wanted to do some kind of piece,
some sort of tribute. I caught a pic of Johnny as one
of my favorite characters of his, Carnac the Magnificent
(Answer: "106 in Los Angeles." Question: "Under
the Reagan plan, how old will you have to be to collect
Social Security?"). Knowing that Johnny started
out as a magician, and that it was a favorite pasttime
of his, I thought, why not do a Carnac concert poster?
I had that idea, it was enormous fun putting this together.
I know I wanted a mid-60s ultra-show-bizy look, with
all those weird squiggles and star shapes. The opening
line "Silence, please" was, of course, what
Carnac would always ask for before attempting to divine
the answer in the envelope held to his forehead. The
show had to be at 11:30pm, the time that the world got
to see Johnny, every night for 30 years. I fiddled with
it for a long while, moving eah little piece back and
forth--I designed the living hell out of this thing.
It had a white background for the longest time, and
then when I sort-of accidentally dropped black in the
background, it pulled together for me, giving me that
late-night, night-clubby feel that I knew I wanted.
this is a show you could go see, in some nightclub in
Food - This poster was based on my
just having finished author Michael Pollan's newest
book In Defense of Food: An Eater's Manifesto.
I had read his previous book, An Omnivore's Dilemma,
and enjoyed them both immensely--entertaining and informative
examinations of an all-important subject: how, why,
and what we eat.
In Defense, right on the cover, Pollan boils the
entire book down to a simple seven word mantra--"Eat
food. Not too much. Mostly plants." Aside from the
staggering amount of wisdom contained in just those
seven words, it reminded me a bit of the very simple
language used on the WPA posters, which of course are
never far from my mind.
this is what I imagined a WPA-era poster would look
like if some artist was enlisted to communicate to a
large number of people the best and simplest way to
eat right. I knew I wanted to stay away from any black
on the poster at all, to give it a lighter feel. After
finding the right font, I kept trying add more little
bits of design to it to spruce it up a bit, but after
several tries I realized I liked it exactly how it was--just
the text and the food. Simple.
Update: I emailed Mr. Pollan, and sent him a link to the poster.
He actually wrote back (how cool is that?) and told
he really liked the poster, and thanked me for alerting
him to its creation. Wow!
Fashion Exhibition - Another faux-WPA
poster, inspired partially by my association with the Design
For Social Impact and all their WPA-related projects
in the Fall. I admit up front, this design is partly
ripped off from one of my all-time favorite movie posters,
the Bette Davis film Bordertown.
never seen the movie, nor do I have any great desire
to, but the poster is so exquisitely beautiful that
I've always wanted to incorporate the basic design scheme
into something of my own (maybe someday I'll do a post
here of my top 10 favorite movie posters, based on design
had the toughest time leaving that big white space there,
and I think the time I took trying different things
in there (different colors, wiggly lines, arrows, etc.)
was equal to the time it took me to do the whole rest
of the poster. Finally, I realized I'm just afraid of
the Big White Space, and since I'm a grown man, I told
myself I shouldn't be and called it a day.
Macbeth - As I've talked about ad
nauseum lately, I've been really into the WPA-style
being involved with the 75th Anniversary celebration
the Design For Social
Impact put together, I started working on faux-WPA
posters, like the one you see above. Orson Welles and
his Mercury Theater did a bunch of productions under
the auspices of the WPA, including some Shakespeare.
did a production of Macbeth, a legendary one
set in Haiti with an entirely black cast, but I've never
seen any promotional art for it, so this was all my
of Sin - I hadn't done one of my fake
movie posters in a while, and was itching to put another
one together. Each time I do one, I think they come
out just a little bit better than the last one. The
last one I had done, Cat O'Nine Lives, was a
50's pastiche, so I knew I wanted to try and mimic another
era of moviemaking this time around. I sat down with
my lapboard and just did some rough sketches and then
tried to write some taglines to match.
liked the idea of multi-panel look, and that immediately
read to me as late 60s/early 70s-era movies. So I created
my own exploitation film, The Sisterhood of Sin.
It would have sex, violence, crazy dialogue, maybe some
car chases...and no time for subtlety (as the poster
suggests). It would feature actresses from some of the
more notorious women's revenge films and in my fantasy
world would be the ne plus ultra of this kind
of film. It would star the late (*sniff*) Cheryl "Rainbeaux"
Smith, who, in her title role in the soft-adult version
of Cinderella, was instrumental in nudging me
down the path of Becoming A Man. Thanks, Rainbeaux.
put this together over a few days, piece by piece, and
really enjoyed myself. I think this has a nice, open,
fun look, and totally devoid of subtlety. I wish they
still made movie posters like this today, and I wish
I was the one doing them.
A Pet - Ever since I discovered the
WPA posters of the 30s and 40s, I have made a concious
effort to try and infuse some of my poster work with
the same level of beauty, skill, and aesthetic grace
that the best of those posters had.
whole family is very animal-centric, and that only got
amplified by a factor of a million once I met Trace.
No one cares for animals more (she'll pick up an ant-infested
chicken bone laying in the street, just to ensure some
random dog doesn't come by and choke on it), no one
walks the walk like she does when trying to care for
them. I'm not quite so selfless (though I too love animals),
and one of the best things I think Trace has done for
me is make me a better, less self-centered person in
I thought what would a WPA-style poster look like if
the idea was to promote animal adoption? Of course,
I would find the cutest puppy and kitten I could (the
kitten, purely accidentally?, looks remarkably like
a very young Berry T. Goll) and have them stare doe-eyed
out into the viewer, hopefully tugging your heartstrings
with their itty-bitty wittle paws.
bigger dilemma was what else could go on there--I had
the animals, but now what? I messed with this thing
for a few days, racking my brain for some other things
to add. I think I was scared of the open space.
soon I realized that, with this piece, the way it was,
I probably came closer to the actual look of a WPA poster,
with its main central image and big tag line. I decided
to leave it alone after that and now I see it as one
of my most successful of the WPA imitations.
American Life - This is a piece I've
wanted to get to for a long time!
year or so ago, I did a portrait of This American
Life host Ira Glass when he was interviewed for Time Out New York's "Hot Seat" feature. I
was really happy how it came out, and I knew I wanted
to use it as the basis for a full-on TAL poster.
I finally sat down to work on it, it was a huge amount
of fun, finding the right balance of old-timey and modern
think my favorite element is the last thing I put on
there--the scratchy Chicago postmark, which I thought
gave the whole thing a feeling like the show is a big
postcard, sent from Chicago--via the radio--to the rest
of the world.
Orion - Having seen (and loved!)
the new Star Trek movie, I've been in a real Star Trek-y mood of late.
been renting DVDs of the original series, and watching
episode after episode while working. As a kid, one of
my favorite little parts of the series was, over the
end credits, how they would show stills from previous
episodes. Having not seen all the Treks, I marveled
at seeing these little glimpses of adventures, and it
made the show's universe seem so big. One of the stills
was of the Orion Slave Girl, which ended up becoming
one of the more iconic images from Star Trek.
I got this idea, what if the planet Orion was a Vegas-type
vacation spot, and the Orion Slave Girls were used as
a selling point? Once I had that idea, I was off to
the races, and the result was this very silly poster.
had, like, a thousand different Funny Drink Name jokes
("The Mutara Nebula", "The Kobiashi Maru", "The Cloud
Minder"), but finally settled on "The Genesis Torpedo",
probably because I was watching Star Trek II: The
Wrath of Khan at the time. All the elements make
for a very busy image, but that's partly what I was
going for. It was a lot of fun putting this together.
of Liberty - I have one wall here
at NamtabCave covered in repros of those old WPA posters.
There's nothing I like more than producing an illustration(s)
and then having to work them in a grander design with
type and such.
back I sat down to create a series of them, on all different
topics--tourism, advertising, etc. Originall the poster
at far left started out as a "Visit NYC" type
of thing, but when I couldn't marry the tag lines I
had in my head with image of Lady Liberty, it morphed
into a political-action, activist type of thing. This
was one of the rare times when what I saw in my head
actually made it to the paper (or screen). I ended up
being so in love with this thing that I had at least
three, to me, perfectly usable versions, until I pulled
the trigger and decided on this one. I've found that
I'm a lot more interested in politics these days, much
more aware than I used to be, so this won't be the last
of its kind.
Radio - Another in my series of WPA-inspired retro-modern
posters, this time promoting your local radio. For whatever
reason, I find myself listening to a lot more talk radio
(NPR, thank you very much) than music CDs while working,
and I love getting caught up on the days events without
having to sit through ten minutes of news anchor chatter
and footage of car accidents. I also really enjoy old-time
radio programs, as well as audio books--I really do
find I use my imagination more when it's up to me to
provide the visuals.
really do think that radio could make a comeback; and
when I let my mind wander I tell myself I'll actually
sit down, write my own radio show, get some friends
to perform it, then broadcast the thing on the web just
to see if anyone enjoys it. It's kind of a crazy idea;
but it's one I've had that just won't go away, so I
know there must be something to it.
I wanted to make radio seem exciting and fun. The mike
illustration had a lot of heavy blacks, but it seemed
too dark and grim, tinting it all in blues made it look
less so, and I found it popped right off the orange
background. Once I found the right fonts it came together
Body Snatcher - Since I previously
I had done custom posters for two of Val Lewton's films
(Curse of the Cat People and I Walked With
A Zombie) I thought why not tackle one of the films
he did with Boris?
most people's reckoning, The Body Snatcher is
the best of the Karloff/Lewton collaborations. Directed
by Robert Wise, it feels like a hybrid between Lewton's
more intellectual approach to horror, but with a little
more of the gothic touches you'd see in the Universal
films of the time (undoubtedly helped by the appearance
of Bela Lugosi, the last time he and Karloff would appear
in a film together).
I had finished the portrait of Boris carting off yet
another victim, it was just a matter of finding the
right design to put in around it. I originally had a
more design-y white box cutting across the bottom, but
when I dropped in the grass effect, I liked how that
worked a lot better. I added some text from the original
posters and voila!
For The Season - This is the poster
for Closed For The Season, a horror movie from
ShadowCast pictures that had its world premiere at the
Monster-Mania Con in Cherry Hill in 2010.
friend--and co-star of the movie--Damian Maffei asked
me a while back if I would consider putting together
a more old-timey poster for it, and since that's exactly
the kind of project I enjoy the most, I readily agreed.
originally had an even more old-timey look to it, but
over the course of a couple of weeks, suggestions from
Damian, the director, and the producers nudged me towards
a darker, slightly more modern look. Overall,
it still had that look I was going for, so the end result
Krogh - While working on a Lionel
Atwill Monster PSA poster, I was messing around with
different color combos, and at one point I accidentally
ended up with this.
wasn't what I needed for the PSA poster, but I really
liked how it looked. So after I was done with the PSA,
I decided to re-use the Atwill-as-Krogh image, this
time as part of a campaign poster.
knew I wanted a very Soviet "constructivist" style to
go along with the portrait, and the campaign promise
pretty much wrote itself.