Saturday, May 26, 2007

Things In My Office: Top Shelf Coaster

Brett Warnock, the publisher of Top Shelf Productions, handed me the above-pictured promotional coaster years and years and years ago. Like the comics and graphic novels they publish it is attractive and expertly designed. Or rather it was attractive before it started to fall apart. The coaster is severely worn by use (nearly everything I drink every day I sit at my desk spends some time on it) but I continue to use it despite the fact that its best days are behind it. And every time I use it I'm reminded--in a positive way--of Top Shelf. This functional promotional item creates good will and absorbs moisture. I've gotten tons of promo material over the years. Some I'll keep (if I like the look or some other aspect of it) but most I toss away. It's the rare promotional item that gets used day in and day out like my good ol' Top Shelf coaster.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Designing Principle

Most every publication that SLG Publishing puts out lists me as "Art Director." In reality, it would be more accurate to refer to me a "Graphic Design Handyman." When Dan (Vado -- Supreme Commander of SLG) thinks I can be of some use I swoop in and do what needs doin' and then swoop back out again (kind of like an owl but with Photoshop skills). Generally, SLG lets the creative talent working on a project make their own design choices and I stay out of the way unless my help is requested. But occasionally I see something that doesn't quite look right to me as either a consumer or a design guy and I speak up. The original cover design for SLG's recently released original graphic novel, The Clarence Principle, is an example of such a situation. And in this particular instance my input sparked a rethinking of the cover design with the final product ending up as a collaborative, and ultimately successful I think, effort.

Pictured above is Shari Chankhamma's (the artist) and Fehed Said's (the writer) original "final" cover for The Clarence Principle. According to their blog getting to this stage was a bit of a trial but they felt victory was at hand. And then I came along and pulled the rug out from under them. Nice guy.

It wasn't until I was working on promotional material for The Clarence Principle that I even saw the cover art -- months and months after Shari and Fehed had "finalized" it. I found myself staring at the cover as I worked and something about it bothered me. After a bit I realized that my eyes kept being pulled to the empty center of the cover and away from the important elements all around. I felt that there was a strong cover in those elements, it just needed to be teased out. It seemed to me that the two most important elements were the flying heart and the reaching hand (since I hadn't read the book yet this was purely a gut reaction on my part). I didn't like the fact that the flying heart appeared anchored to the right edge of the cover so I set it free. And I made the reaching hand more central because I felt that attention needed to be drawn to the scars on the wrist. I removed the head as it was an unhelpful distraction.

I created a couple of concepts to run past Dan.

Dan sent Shari and Fehed the first concept with the red background (I liked the colors and the size of the hand better in the second design but the order of the elements was wrong). They took my suggestions with quite a bit of grace and openness. With input from SLG's Editor-in-Chief Jennifer de Guzman, Shari, Fehed, and an unnamed friend of Shari and/or Fehed a truly final version of the cover for The Clarence Principle emerged:

Sure, this a completely insane, backward way to produce a cover design but we're all crazy here. That's just how it is.

If you'd like to sample the inside of The Clarence Principle you may do so here.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Must Read: Rian Hughes Interview

Forbidden Planet interviews Rian Hughes (not only an excellent cartoonist but a wonderful designer and typographer as well). Be sure to check out the accompanying Flickr set. Via Journalista!

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Byte Pirate

SLG Publishing was briefly interested in creating a website, called Byte Pirate, for daily and weekly webcomics that would be distinct from their site (which is devoted to digital comic books and graphic novels). The image above is one of my early attempts at designing the website. I don't present it here as an example of good website design (it plainly sucks). The project got ditched before I was able to come up with something attractive and useful. But Byte Pirate didn't completely sink into the Ocean of Good Intentions. The Byte Pirate logo, which I also designed, has managed to sail on... as a t-shirt (sold in all the popular sizes).

Saturday, May 12, 2007

House in the House

I just got the latest House Industries catalog in the mail today promoting their new typeface collection, Burbank. A post card or a flyer would have been a quicker and cheaper mode of self-promotion but House opted to produce a full-color 32-page booklet with a playful mid-century advertising look instead. It's fun and it's beautiful. Their attention to detail always gets me: in the close-up below you can see how they've duplicated the look of hand-cut color separations. Whether this was simulated on the computer or they still have their register mark tape and rubylith I can't say (apparently the out-of-register color gave the printer fits).

I've been getting their promotional mail for years. Sometimes it's elegant...

And sometimes it's kitchy...

But it's always well done with, as I've said, a superb attention to detail. Below is a page from a catalog promoting their monster fonts (I get the impression this was a popular offering, I see these fonts a lot). House often creates limited edition theme-appropriate packaging for their font sets. These fonts came in a box resembling old Aurora monster model packaging (it's kind of small but you can see the box on the page below). Wonderful.

You can get your own copy of House Industries' latest catalog for free here.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Eye Times

Dan Vado, Supreme Commander of SLG Publishing, and I have a very informal working arrangement. Hours, if not days and weeks, of work can be initiated with a short phone call or brief email. And once he sets me on a design task there's no micro-managing. I like that. Sometimes it can take days to come up with a usable solution and I have to really wrack my brains. Other times an idea comes quickly. I've had good results working both ways but prefer a prompt notion to a tardy one. When Dan called me last September to request a logo for his digital comics initiative,, a logo concept occurred to me while we were still on the phone. I, of course, was thrilled and made a quick sketch as we talked...

I usually do at least a few sketches to explore different possibilities but when the concept hits me right away I like to jump in and get straight to work in order to preserve spontaneity (I don't think many designers advocate this approach but I'm mostly self-taught so that's how it gets done). Before I even began to draw out the design in Illustrator it occurred to me that a single dripping eye didn't really sell the digital aspect of the concept so I constructed the dripping eye with rounded squares to suggest a pixel. But then I sort of chickened out, worrying that the eye looked too weird so I stuck the squared eye inside of a solid circle (to reemphasize the "eye-ness" of the logo). I then created some color variations and sent them over to Dan for review.

If you've been to you'll recognize the logo on the upper left as the official version. However, Dan wasn't initially grabbed by my first take so he asked for something a little more visceral and I tried to accommodate him...

This one grossed everybody out (too bad, it's my fave). Dan then suggested that I make my first design more round like an eye (and bring it closer to my original concept).

This version didn't seem to work for Dan either so he decided to go back to the first design (declare victory and retreat, I guess) and that's the one we're using. Mostly. A new version of the logo turned up on a banner at the SLG booth at last month's APE. It was designed by Bryan Dobrow over in SLG's shipping department (talent is everywhere at that place) and turned out pretty nice, I thought (sorry I couldn't find a picture). So for now it appears that the end to the saga of the logo is yet to be written.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

The Doctor as a Book

Last year was the 20th anniversary of SLG Publishing and my friendship with SLG's Supreme Commander, Dan Vado. To celebrate the event I created the hand-made hardcover book pictured above. The book is composed of the three trade paperback collections Dan published a couple of years ago featuring my first comic book character, Dr. Radium (you can check out an example of one the books here). I've produced a small pile of hand-made books for family and friends over the years but none as hefty (over 300 pages) and sturdy as this one. I was so pleased with the results I almost didn't give it to Dan but I did, and so now he has the only one. The book is covered with a white velour paper designed to look like Dr. Radium's lab coat. His head, seen sticking out of the top of the book, is actually...

...a bookmark. And, yes, he's shirtless because, well, the book is his outfit. It certainly made sense at the time.

Saturday, May 5, 2007


I left my last blog (Comic Book Heaven -- a continuation of my now-defunct magazine about weird old comics of the same name) to wither and die about a year ago. It's still up but due to a switch of ISPs the images no longer load. My apologies to any curious late-comers.

In addition to my interest in weird old comics, I have long had a strong love of graphic design. In fact, my interests in comics and design converge in my professional life as I am the "art director" of SLG Publishing (I really don't do much directing, I provide design services and snarky comments on an "as needed" basis), a company that has put out a lot of excellent work over the last 20-plus years. What I intend to do with this blog is share and discuss my own work and processes with occasional unrelated detours as my mood dictates. I also want to point out work from other designers and artists that grab my attention.

A word about the name of this blog: I realize it's a phrase that has a negative connotation -- it's the sort of thing I often say when frustrated. And while it's a phrase that certainly reflects my own cranky nature, I also believe that it is in things not going as expected that some of the best creativity can emerge. That, at any rate, is how things often go for me.

Plus, it made my wife laugh knowingly.