BEHIND THE COVER: COMIC BOOK BABYLON May 27, 2014 – Posted in: A Picture's Worth, Blog, Featured Columns

 

Written by and ©2014 Mike Pascale

 

 

I was honored to be chosen to pen the covers for Clifford Meth’s delightful, fascinating, frustrating, entertaining, educational, biographical and autobiographical COMIC BOOK BABYLON published by Aardwolf Publishing. Here’s more than you’d ever want to know about how it came together.

 

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The finished cover of COMIC BOOK BABYLON.

 

Several years ago, during the initial phone call, Cliff said he wanted a group of creators featured in the book standing in front of a typical Tower Of Babel as it’s being constructed. This was tough to compose because with so many characters, the focus and detail for each is sacrificed. (There’s a reason that you rarely see any book covers with more than two or three main characters.) I submitted some roughs and he chose “A” with some minor alterations.

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Three “thumbnail” roughs for the initial CBB cover

From there I gathered reference for the caricatures, drew them in pencil and then inked them in. Since I knew I’d be assembling it digitally (for much greater flexibility with sizing, color and placement), I drew it all in pieces, scanned them, assembled it and sent to Cliff for approval. (Can you guess who everyone is? Answer is in the caption below.)

 

 

The b/w line drawings with my notes for changes…

The b/w line drawings with my notes for changes…

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…and the final, assembled version. The players, from L to R: Cliff Meth (seated), Peter David, Harlan Ellison, Mike Pascale (shoe polisher), Dave Cockrum, Marie Severin, Gene Colan, Neal Adams, Michael Netzer, Stan Lee and Barry Windsor-Smith (in the air). Yes, BWS’s neck would be technically broken in that position, but it was better for the gag and composition.

…and the final, assembled version. The players, from L to R: Cliff Meth (seated), Peter David, Harlan Ellison, Mike Pascale (shoe polisher), Dave Cockrum, Marie Severin, Gene Colan, Neal Adams, Michael Netzer, Stan Lee and Barry Windsor-Smith (in the air). Yes, BWS’s neck would be technically broken in that position, but it was better for the gag and composition.

 

We changed Harlan Ellison’s face a bit, then I added the color in Photoshop. I gave Cliff three choices (we went with the orange sky–I thought it was more ominous and noticeable):

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The colored versions. At the time, Dave had recently passed away, hence the halo. We eliminated it on the printed version, since Gene and Marie had sadly passed as well.

The colored versions. At the time, Dave had recently passed away, hence the halo. We eliminated it on the printed version, since Gene  had sadly passed as well.

 

Life and career being what they are, the project was shelved until 2013 when Cliff called me and said he and partner Jim Reeber wanted to put together a Kickstarter campaign to help fund the project. Not long before, I’d found a 1st edition copy of Kenneth Anger’s (in)famous tome, HOLLYWOOD BABYLON at an estate sale and thought a parody cover would be not only more appropriate but have more impact and visual/sales appeal. (Let’s be honest: most comic-book buyers are guys, and guys are horny. Straight guys like pretty girls. They make us stupid and spend more money. And thematically, the visual tie-in should match the title’s.)

 

Kenneth Anger’s iconic HOLLYWOOD BABYLON book cover with its famous shot of Jayne Mansfield. Though it has had numerous printings and different covers, this is the most iconic. ©1975 Kenneth Anger.

Kenneth Anger’s iconic HOLLYWOOD BABYLON book cover with its famous shot of Jayne Mansfield. Though it has had numerous printings and different covers, this is the most iconic. ©1975 Kenneth Anger.

 

After pitching the idea to Cliff and Jim, they enthusiastically agreed to make that the front cover and use the initial cover on the back.

 

Rough idea for the new front cover with the figure as a generic female superhero.

Rough idea for the new front cover with the figure as a generic female superhero.

 

I then pencilled a version of the Mansfield character in costume. (I did NOT trace it or use a projector, though it would have been faster and easier.)

 

Pencil version

Pencil version

 

After scanning it into Photoshop, I began the finishing process.

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Two stages of the digital coloring/rendering.

Two stages of the digital coloring/rendering.

 

For the background, I purchased a royalty-free image from Cutcaster.com of the NYC skyline (since the major players in comics are located there and not Hollywood…at least not yet). I wanted the author’s name to stand out more and didn’t like the cape. (Clifford asked for the “camel toe.” Sigh.) Lastly, I couldn’t quite duplicate the “shoddy” photo effect used on the old Mansfield shot but decided it would have been too dark; I thought something closer to the digital-art look on many of today’s comic covers would work better, but with a bit of grain/muddiness added in. After trying various effects, I ended up with a final approved version.

 

NYC background photo and then the final, “unredacted” version.

NYC background photo and then the final, “unredacted” version.

 

During a phone call with Cliff and Art Director Jim Reeber, I asked whether or not they were comfortable with the semi-nudity. Jim (I think) suggested doing a “censored” version, both for salability and keeping with the theme of the book (how creators are treated by the corporate powers-that-be). I thought it was a brilliant idea and submitted a rough. They wanted a less common word than “censored” so I suggested “redacted” which is used mostly in government and business. They liked it. Jim then emailed me a suggestion for a more “organic” treatment, such as a piece of tape for the censor box (again, keeping with the “gritty” theme). I wrote the word on a real piece of white tape, scanned it and recolored it.

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Cover with typeset “REDACTED”. Jim Reeber suggested something less polished so I did it by hand on tape and scanned it in.

Cover with typeset “REDACTED”. Jim Reeber suggested something less polished so I did it by hand on tape and scanned it in.

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Lastly, I added the title text and effects and they approved the final:

 

Final printed version. I changed the angle of the title merely for aesthetic reasons. Unfortunately, there was a glitch somewhere in the conversion/printing process to cause the white spot on the model’s left shoulder and right clavicle to print weird. (I purposely painted the art in CMYK to avoid any issues, but something wonky occurred from Photoshop to InDesign to the printer.) My apologies! Proof that one is never too old to learn.

Final printed version. I changed the angle of the title merely for aesthetic reasons. Unfortunately, there was a glitch somewhere in the conversion/printing process to cause the white spot on the model’s left shoulder and right clavicle to print weird. (I purposely painted the art in CMYK to avoid any issues, but something wonky occurred from Photoshop to InDesign to the printer.) My apologies! Proof that one is never too old to learn.

 

We initially planned to print both a “redacted” and “unredacted” version, but Cliff also added a limited edition Dave Cockrum cover as a Kickstarter incentive, and the publisher decided that three separate covers were just not cost effective since the printer would have charged each as a separate book (unlike the comics printers which are used to printing alternate covers).

Limited print edition of the Dave Cockrum cover, available only to Kickstarter supporters and later on eBay.

Limited print edition of the Dave Cockrum cover, available only to Kickstarter supporters and later on eBay.

 

The only printed versions are signed editions. One by Clifford Meth, and one signed by Meth with an earlier bookplate signed by late, great artist Gene Colan

The Kindle edition is on sale for just 99 cents as of this post.

So for now, this is the only place to see the “uncensored” version! I will make prints of each later on and will offer them here on Wednesday’s Heroes and at any conventions I attend. Stay tuned!

 

Best,

Mike

 

 

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