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Tag Archive: original art


Review by C.J. Bunce

When you hear the name Winnie-the-Pooh, what comes to mind?  Phrases like “Oh, bother,” or “Let’s Begin by taking a smallish nap or two”?  For many it’s the images of Pooh and his friends, images that have been around now for ninety years.  Never out of print, the original four books by author A.A. Milne make up a finite set of the stories of the original animal friends of Christopher Robin from the Hundred Acre Wood.  Milne is also who we first think of when we think of these stories, yet as much of Pooh is owed to the drawings and coordination with artist E.H. Shepard, who continued to draw images for new editions and authorized derivative works of Pooh and Friends for 50 years after Milne wrote his last Pooh story.  Shepard is the subject of a new book, The Art of Winnie the Pooh: How E.H. Shepard Illustrated an Icon, written by James Campbell.

The Art of Winnie-the-Pooh is a bit of a family story.  Campbell, author of a previous account of Shepard’s days in World War I called Shepard’s War, is married to Shepard’s great-granddaughter and manages the Shepard artistic and literary estate.  Minette Shepard, the artist’s granddaughter, provides a foreword to the book.  As a child in the 1940s, she was the caretaker of Growler–the original Teddy bear that inspired the look of Pooh we know today.  Fans of the four Winnie-the-Pooh books: When We Were Very Young, Winnie-the-Pooh, Now We Are Six, and The House at Pooh Corner, have long known the story of Milne’s son Christopher Robin Milne and his toys as the inspiration for the stories.  Yet the wider story reveals a working relationship between two creators in a manner not common for the era, and an artist who used his own son, Graham, as much as Milne’s son for his imagery.  Known nearly as well for his famous illustrations of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows, Shepard’s story is a chronicle of a long lifetime of artistry, duty, ups and downs, and a legacy for generations of children and adults alike.

The Winnie-the-Pooh books are one of the earliest examples of a writer and artist working together on a book.  When first published in 1924, publishers typically brought in artists to add images throughout a book after the text had been completed.  That changed with Milne and Shepard, particularly so after the immediate success of the first book.  As Campbell sees it, “Shepard and Milne had torn up the rulebook and made the public look at literature, and particularly children’s literature, in a different way.  Rather than reading to children the books inspired authors to write for children, and in the period up to the Second World War, this opportunity for adults and children to sit and enjoy books together grew rapidly.”  Collaboration became key to the appeal of these books, both the writing and the pictures, and although the publishing industry to this day continues to default regularly to keeping a wall between authors and illustrators, the ready combination of the two can be seen throughout the various niches of children’s picture books, comic books, and graphic novels.

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atari

If you didn’t live through life with an original Pong video game console or the groundbreaking Atari 2600, then you missed out on the beginning of the video game phenomenon.  Coinciding with the advent of the coin-op video game, the home version ultimately sold 30 million units, making Atari the legendary brand it became to this day.  And it all started with a couple of visionaries and an idea to get a dot on a television screen to be moved using the vertical and horizontal hold.  The history of Atari is interwoven with the early history of Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak of Apple fame, the founder of the Chuck E. Cheese pizza and gaming parlors, creators who would leave to form competitor Activision, and countless others who finally get their story told in Tim Lapetino’s book, Art of Atari.  We have a preview of the book for borg.com readers below, courtesy of Dynamite Entertainment.

If you’re like many, including Lapetino, you likely threw away the boxes that housed the video game cartridges to your Atari 2600 immediately after getting the game home.  If you missed out on the Atari games altogether, like classic games Breakout, Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Asteroids, Centipede, Pole Position, Jungle Hunt, and hundreds more, you may not be aware of the role the box art played for early video game buyers.  The artwork on the boxes was much closer to the video game realities of today than the original games of the past, which frequently were as simple as boxes and line barriers with the same dot representing a football, a cannonball, a bullet, or a laser bolt.  But, as the designers interviewed in the book recall, it just didn’t matter.  It didn’t really, as the new form of gameplay was exciting in its own right.  Yet the box art is memorable for many, providing an easy recall to every game from Atari you once owned in an instant flashback.

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Lapetino provides interviews with former Atari designers and staff, including those who created everything from the games, to the consoles, and the marketing materials that sold it all.  The artists who created the box art are identified and featured in their own sections.  No doubt Atari fans will likely encounter games they’ve never seen, including countless movie tie-ins.  You might recall the Raiders of the Lost Ark game and the infamous E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, but how about Superman, Dukes of Hazzard, Pigs in Space, and Gremlins?

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American Dreaming artwork

Some classic car aficionados are creating a documentary about the post-War art designers behind Detroit’s big automakers, including General Motors, Ford, Packard, Chrysler, Hudson, Nash, and Studebaker.  American Dreaming: Detroit Automotive Styling 1946-1973 is a project from artist Robert Edwards and Greg Salustro being crowdfunded through Indiegogo.

The filmmakers have interviewed the university-trained art designers behind mid-century car designs, hired by the auto companies between 1946 and 1973, and take a close look at their original artwork, including designs for concept cars that never made it to the city streets.  Some of those designs are pretty stunning, and landed in collectors’ hands in a roundabout fashion.

American Dreaming concept

As in many other industries, designs created by in-house staff became the property of the car companies, and in Detroit auto designers were not allowed to even keep a portfolio of their works at home.  Worse yet, like the early days of comic books and comic strips, the companies threw nixed designs and old artwork into the trash.  It will be those few pages of art that managed to make it out of the companies, through the back door or otherwise, that will be featured in American Dreaming.  These hand-drawn designs for real-life classic hot wheels are great works of American art in their own right, yet never before seen as a unique field of fine art study.

Check out this trailer to promote the documentary project after the break here:

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Captain America Agent Coulson cards

What better item to take to a convention to get Chris Evans’s autograph than a set of Agent Coulson’s Captain America trading cards–vintage and near mint, as Coulson bragged in the movie The Avengers.  Next month you’ll be able to land your own collectible set of the cards designed from the original digital images used in the film.  And that’s not all that is coming your way if you like collectible trading cards or playing cards from your favorite movies and TV shows.

In fact you can pre-order the set now here from Entertainment Earth, including both a near mint set and the bloodied Captain America cards resulting from Coulson’s death scene.  The set comes with its own display folder.  It’s scheduled to ship in April.

Coulson and his cards    Coulson cards

While you’re at it you can pick up a deck of the Tall Card game inspired from the game played on board the Serenity in Firefly.  You can pre-order it from Entertainment Earth here.  That game includes those recognizable round cards you remember from the TV series.  It also is scheduled to ship in April.

Tall Card Firefly screen shot  Firefly Tall Card Game

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Tims Vermeer poster

Review by C.J. Bunce

Whether learned or innate, the skill of a master artist is like nothing else.  That is true no less for the understanding of color, light, and shadow exhibited by 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer. His work is lifelike, so much so that a Texas-based inventor devoted years of his life to try to understand why Vermeer painted in a style so much different from his peers.  The result is Tim’s Vermeer, a masterful documentary by director Teller of Las Vegas magic act duo Penn and Teller fame, in limited theatrical release last year and now available on Blu-ray, DVD and Video On Demand.

Scientists and artists for hundreds of years have speculated what tools Vermeer might have used to achieve his mastery, other than his sheer artistic genius.  He left no notes to this effect to assist scholars.  Tim Jenison, a successful businessman with time to devote to an immense intellectual pursuit, spent years speculating, then he created his own optical device involving a simple mirror that would allow anyone to replicate perfectly any image.  This is an even bigger feat than one might expect, because Jenison is not, and never was, an artist.  Friends Penn & Teller accompanied Jenison on his research, meeting with experts and artists, and ultimately the magic duo decided to film Jenison’s journey of discovery.  Teller directs (and co-produces with Jellette) and Jellette narrates this unusual and enlightening story.

Vermeer and Jenison compared

Which is which? Tim Jenison learns what may be Vermeer’s technique in Penn & Teller’s documentary.

Does Jenison get it right or not?  Penn leaves that question to the viewer, but he and Jenison give an abundance of reasons to support Jenison’s study.  The mission was simple:  Can a layman paint something as well as Vermeer with tools that would have been available to Vermeer in the 17th century?

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Blade Runner one-sheet John Alvin   Young Frankenstein one-sheet John Alvin

Back in early 2012 we reviewed one of several books released on movie poster artist Drew Struzan, a useful and interesting resource called The Art of Drew Struzan, reviewed here.  It chronicles the best of painted motion picture advertising one-sheets that Struzan created, and even more enlightening, includes commentary by Struzan about his process and the politics and business of his years of leading the craft.  The picture he painted wasn’t pretty, but despite his own roadblocks he is generally thought of as the best motion picture poster artist of the last 50 years.

Along with Struzan, another poster artist created posters that often could be confused for Struzan’s.  That was the late poster artist John Alvin.  Unfortunately Alvin did not document his own personal account of his creative and professional experiences, but his wife Andrea has put together a book that at least documents his most popular work, released this month by Titan Books as The Art of John Alvin What we don’t know from any of the books we’ve reviewed on poster artists is how they might have competed for work over the years.  Andrea Alvin makes no mention of Struzan, but seems to indicate Alvin was able to keep a nice niche of clients over the years, ranging from the decision-makers behind the movies of Mel Brooks, Steven Spielberg, Tim Burton, and the renaissance of animated Disney blockbusters.

ET one-sheet John Alvin   Empire of the Sun one-sheet John Alvin

Alvin’s work seems far more commercial compared to the paintings of Struzan, as can be seen in Alvin’s posters for Empire of the Sun (1987), Cape Fear (1991), Batman Returns (1992), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country (1991), and Batman Forever (1995).  But that doesn’t mean they were any less effective at drawing moviegoers to the theater, the entire point of the poster.  The one-sheet for Empire of the Sun is often seen as one of the most memorable images in the history of movie posters.

The power of much of Alvin’s posters is the simplicity.  In 1982 when the public first learned of a movie called E.T., the Extra-Terrestrial, the only thing we knew was a newspaper ad showing a wrinkled alien hand touching the hand of a kid, inspired by Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam.  His teaser poster was equally as effective—never did these pictures show E.T. himself.  Those same images were reproduced on movie posters, cardboard standees, and eventually all over picture books sold via school book orders.  Simple images, but lasting images, and what they didn’t show was part of the enticement to reel in an audience.

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Reinke art baseball cards A

What could be more amazing than those oceanside beach competitions where artists work feverishly to create gigantic, elaborate palaces made only of sand, only to be judged, and be obliterated by the tide–the artistic masterpiece never to be seen again.  The same effort and brief life is shared by ice sculptures and the butter cows each year at the Iowa State Fair.

Some art is created to stay the test of time.  Michelangelo’s ceiling paintings.  The Pyramids.  The Statue of Liberty.  Mount Rushmore.

Then there is the surprising.  An ancient bronze coin depicting the new emperor and that emperor’s symbol of his reign, still firmly stamped and present more than 2,000 years later, accessible to anyone today for less than thirty dollars.  Cheaper yet, Victor D. Brenner’s sculpt for the 1909 Lincoln penny, the most reproduced–and small-sized–three-dimensional work of art ever created, several scattered throughout every U.S. household for more than 100 years.

Reinke art baseball cards B

In trading card collecting you can find more pocket-sized art, and not just duplicate prints, but one-of-a-kind original artwork.  Like the sand castles, sketch cards are sprinkled across mass produced box sets of both sports and non-sports trading card sets.  Often limited in availability, a sketch card if commission by an artist, it is then randomly placed in a pack or box, and if that box remains sealed forever, no one will ever see that one-of-a-kind artwork.  A sketch card is as rare as it gets and in a new baseball card deck produced by In the Game, Inc., sketch card artists Nathen Reinke and Keven Reinke have produced a limited edition of 150 sketch cards featuring baseball legends.  All that detail in less than two inches of space.  The images are simply brilliant.

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For the past decade I have tried to ask at least one artist at every comic book or pop culture convention that I attend to draw me a Green Arrow or Black Canary (or both) sketch.  I’ve asked this from artists whether or not they have drawn these characters before and most artists are happy to do it.  Some well-known artists charge a fee for sketches and many others will sketch for free.  Sometimes the key is letting the artist know your sketch is not just going to appear on eBay the next day.  Adam Hughes was in the news about this a few years ago when he worked all day on a sketch for someone that promptly flipped it on Ebay for several hundred dollars.  He vowed off Con sketches after that.  Some people, usually guys who have been going to cons for much longer than me, started with a sketchbook—a blank art book—and hand it off to artists at conventions.  These books convey to artists that this fan is going to keep whatever they draw and sometimes artists will take more time when they draw in someone’s sketchbook.  I’ve never gone the book route but like getting sketches on blank paper, usually supplied by the artist soI don’t have to leave a book behind.  I have featured some of this original art at borg.com previously.

So Comic-Con this year was no different and I added two new Green Arrows to my collection.  First up was by Cat Skaggs, who recently created the cover for Smallville Season 11 Issue 1.  Not only did I get a signed print of that cover, but she drew a quick free-form sketch of Green Arrow for me.  She is not a regular Green Arrow artist, and it was fun to watch her think about how the hat and goatee look:

   

It makes a nice addition to my collection.

I have had some comic book artists draw sketches for me over the years many would consider industry legends, including Mike Grell, Michael Golden, Rich Buckler, Joe Staton, and Howard Chaykin.  This year at Comic-Con I got to chat with Neal Adams, the guy who created the look of the Green Arrow character I am such a big fan of.  He created this classic, cocky Green Arrow image for me:

Pretty awesome.

I had met David Petersen at several prior conventions and he had a slot in his sketch schedule so I asked him to draw me a fox as seen in his current run of Mouse Guard:

A nice watercolor image in his unique style!

So not a bad haul for not being at the Con for a full weekend.  I also picked up a few SDCC exclusives.  Frank Cho was selling his new Liberty Meadows calendar:

I also picked up the new Alex Ross sketchbook:

At the Alex Ross booth I actually spent a lot of time talking with Sal, Justin and Chris, who are always great guys to talk to and deal with.  They had some great sketches and painted original Alex Ross art available.  As a fan of Six Million Dollar Man as early borg, Ross’s original cover sketches for Issues 1, 2, 4 and 5 of the current Bionic Man series struck me as particularly cool, especially seeing the change in logo evolve over the course of creating the covers.  Look at the sketches compared to the final image on the book covers:

   

   

   

   

Featured in last year’s SDCC 2011 exclusive Alex Ross sketchbook, this sketch jumped out at me this year on display:

I love Zatanna in her magician’s box, waiting to make an appearance.  This sketch was created for an Infinite Crisis card game.

Prior to Comic-Con I had connected with the artist for the current Star Trek/Doctor Who crossover series Assimilation², JK Woodward. He was at the Con with writers Scott and David Tipton.  I never caught up with them but luckily my friend William got an extra autographed copy of the book.  Check out these great original, painted pages from Issue #2 of the series.  First, the TARDIS in the Enterprise-D holodeck:

Next, if you like Trek and Doctor Who like I do, you just can’t beat the Eleventh Doctor on the bridge with Captain Picard.

And check out that great rendering of the Enterprise-D soaring above!

Again this year Michael Turner art was available at the Aspen booth and it is always amazing to flip through the late artist’s work.

If you like seeing the creative process behind the scenes, it’s hard to beat seeing original comic art in person.  And if you have the time hundreds of artists in Artist Alley are there sketching away throughout the Comic-Con weekend, and love to talk about their work and process.

C.J. Bunce
Editor
borg.com

Review by C.J. Bunce

If someone were to ask you whether you prefer covers to books or movie posters or compact discs that were either (1) painted or (2) created via computer using compilations of photographs, which would you choose?  Do you know anyone who would prefer a photo cover to a cover painted by an artist?  Would you believe it that the powers that be, those folks who make all the decisions from On High, claim that focus groups and marketing studies show that consumers prefer photos to paintings?  Who and where are these test subjects, and what planet do these people hail from?

The comic book medium has realized what audiences have preferred for years, which is why they enlist the likes of Alex Ross, Mauro Cascioli and Adam Hughes to paint covers, it’s why the main covers of comic books used to entice an audience almost always have renderings drawn or painted and only rarely do you see a “photo incentive cover” as a limited edition item.  Were it true that we, the audience, preferred photo enticements to illustrations by artists, don’t you think comic book publishing would have figured that out by now when they create movie and TV adaptations?  I think the reality is that decision makers in marketing departments in the entertainment industry (outside of the comic world) are often out of touch with real audiences.  That distancing explains why so many movie trailers are made so poorly, too.  It explains why movie posters these days cease to grab our attention like they once did.

What was the last movie poster that caused you to stop in your tracks and want to go see a movie?  That, after all, is the point of a poster, isn’t it?

The original classic art by Struzan for the 1978 re-release of Star Wars

The Art of Drew Struzan at first blush is a coffee table book chronicling the work of the artist Time Magazine called “the Last Movie Poster Artist.”  Along with the books Drew Struzan: Oeuvre (2004) and The Movie Posters Of Drew Struzan (2004) you can see the entirety of more than 150 movie posters Struzan has produced during decades of painting for studios big and small.  And if you were going to pick one of the three books for a reference book on Struzan at a book shop, you might skip over The Art of Drew Struzan for one of the other books that has more movie posters featured.  But skipping this one would be a big mistake.

Original comp art by Struzan for John Carpenter's The Thing

From the introduction by Frank Darabont, director of such big films as The Shawshank Redemption and The Green Mile, (two films borg.com writer Jason McClain and I can’t stop talking about over the years), you know that you are beginning to read a very unique kind of book.  A bit from Darabont’s introduction:

“I have seen the future, and it sucks…. There’s no sugar-coating this.  Movie posters suck these days.  They’re going to suck even more tomorrow.  And as we shuck and jive (and text and Facebook) ever onward into the digital future, movie posters will just keep doggedly and willfully sucking all the more.  It’s a headlong progression of suckage, a symptom of the mass-produced everything-by-committee mindset of our culture….”

Amen, brother!

Struzan's comp for the Buffy the Vampire Slayer movie, which did not make it to a final poster

What Darabont is speaking of is the advent of the digital creation of “art” via Mac utilities and the likes of Adobe Photoshop, where productions can design a cover or poster work far cheaper by having anyone on staff easily combine photos of actors and scenes into an image, without including any input from a trained artist.  It’s pseudo-art, images made to think we’re looking at a creative work, without considering the artistic thought that used to go behind such works.

Changes in marketing leadership ended Struzan's role in the Potter films mid-way through creating Chamber of Secrets

The text of The Art of Drew Struzan that accompanies the images found in its pages is all Drew Struzan as he explains not just the work of the artist, but the decline of the profession of making movie posters itself.  Struzan uses highlights of his projects from the beginning of public recognition of Struzan for his work on the international poster for Raiders of the Lost Ark in 1981 to a poster for Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in 2008.  Better yet, he uses in-progress artwork never before made public to illustrate his creative process for each movie featured in the book, artwork that he calls “comps.”

If you were just flipping through the book at a bookstore you may pass this one because it is missing a lot of key subjects in Struzan’s past–images like his work on movies featuring the Muppets, for example, or Jurassic Park and E.T., the Extra-terrestrial, that are among his most notable works.  As you read through the book you understand how a lot of his early comps were never retained–the cost was too high for a struggling artist to pay for copies, or studios kept the comps.  So the existence of this compilation alone is a lucky thing to witness.

The comp for Hellboy by Struzan, which never made it to final poster

What Struzan reveals in this book is a story not just of someone who is the universally acknowledged king of movie poster painting.  That of course is true.  But he apparently is like a lot of classic artists of centuries past, who never received the full monetary benefits that his “benefactors” (here, the  filmmakers) were able to make from his work, and the “millions” audiences assume he made from this work.  This is a story of a struggling artist, barely a blue-collar life, in his view, at points in his career, although he was selected and admired for projects by George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, and Guillermo del Toro.  This is also a how-to book of sorts for aspiring artists wishing they could be mentored by such a superb painter.

Struzan reveals a dwindling of artistic control for the artists as it happened over just a few decades for him, where “the suits” from Hollywood showed less and less respect for his artistry to the point that Struzan got fed-up and retired.

Not even this great poster would likely have made Waterworld succeed at the box office

Look for key featured Struzan works for movie posters that never made it to final form in movie marquees, such as Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Waterworld, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, Hellboy, and Pan’s Labyrinth.  And the amazing variety of different styled comps are evident as seen in the pages for Blade Runner, the Back to the Future films, the Indiana Jones films, and the Star Wars prequels.  The quality of the images included stands strong for those wanting the traditional coffee table book, too.

The Art of Drew Struzan retails for $34.95 but can be found less expensive at online bookstores.  And if you’d like to own the original art, many images are still for sale at Struzan’s website.

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