All images © Alex Ross and Todd Klein.
In June of this past year I released the second of my signed prints, “Before You Read This,” in collaboration with writer Neil Gaiman. It sold very well, as had the first signed print with Alan Moore. In early July I began to think about doing a third print, this time collaborating with an artist rather than a writer. I’d had an idea: a boy sits happily reading a comic, while around and above him are a cloud of phantom word balloons and captions, representing some of the comics he’s reading, or has read. Above that is an obscure image of a flying super-hero, perhaps one the boy is reading about or imagining himself as, and at the top a large title, “Comic Book Dreams.” The title would feature a large letter C at the beginning, continuing the alphabetical theme of the first two prints (something I hadn’t planned, it just happened.)
My ideal choice for artist was Alex Ross, but I didn’t know if he’d have time or would be interested in doing it. For those who don’t know, Alex is an award-winning artist and painter. You can find lots of his wonderful art on his website. Alex and I have been working together since I lettered KINGDOM COME over his art in 1996. Numerous other projects followed. I’ve written about that here.
In mid July I gave Alex a call and nervously made my proposal. Happily, he agreed right away, and from my description said he already had a visual in mind. “When would you need it?” he asked. I told him I wouldn’t have time to work on my part of it until September, so we made that the tentative due date.
Time passed. ComiCon International in San Diego kept me busy in late July, and I worked hard in August to catch up with regular work and still have time to go to the beach occasionally. In mid September I called Alex again to see if he’d made any progress. He was busy, and asked if I could refresh his memory on the concept, though he had it mostly right. To reinforce the idea, I made this laughably awful layout for him:
About a week later he emailed me this layout/design:
I loved it! Infinitely better than what I had imagined, Alex added depth, perspective, action, and so much more. Alex told me he was under a lot of deadline pressure, and would have to get me the final art in October. I said that was fine, meanwhile I’d work on the title and lettering.
The title layout in Alex’s design reminded me of the logo for one of the first science fiction pulp magazines from the 1920s, AMAZING STORIES:
This was an interesting idea, but I wanted something that suggested comics more than pulp magazines. I began with a title design that I thought captured the fun of the comics logos I grew up with:
It looked good at this point, but when I put it over Alex’s layout, I wasn’t happy:
The style seemed all wrong for Alex’s photo-realistic style, the open letters didn’t look right, and the telescoping 3-D effect fought the perspective Alex was going for. I made another attempt at it:
Retaining the open area only on the C, the rest of the letters were solid black, which I could gray down to match the art once I had it. The letterforms on “Comic Book” were more traditional block letters I thought would work better with Alex’s art, and “Dreams” added a more fanciful art deco design element for variety.
This one looked much better to me over the Ross sketch, and I thought it would work. I’d develop it further once I had the actual artwork.
Next I began working on the balloons and captions that I wanted to float around and above the boy. These would need to each be hand-lettered separately, and I’d arrange and develop them further later on the computer once I had the final art. I wasn’t sure how many I might be able to fit in, so I just lettered enough to about fill two pieces of 11 by 17-inch art paper.
Finding and choosing examples wasn’t hard. There were some iconic characters and lettering I knew I wanted to include, and lots more that came to mind as I progressed. The hard part was knowing where to stop! I’m sure I could have found hundreds of worthy examples. The ones I used were those I thought of that seemed good choices, and that I had handy reference for. Rather than copy them exactly from the original sources, though, I tried to change them some. The balloons, captions and sound effects were intended to be “inspired by” the originals, not exact copies. Text on most differed a bit, and of course, while I tried to imitate the lettering and border style of each one as I worked, there were bound to be subtle differences. My goal was to make them close enough to allow the reader to make the connection, but while some were obvious, others were more obscure, and they covered a range in time from the earliest days of comics to nearly the present, and a wide variety of sources from the big companies to independent and self-published work. The more I did, the more I thought of, but I knew I could never get them all on the print, so I stopped with these two pages holding about 50 examples. (And I know they’re too small to read here, mostly. I’m trying not to give too much away yet!)
The title and balloons were lettered. To do more I needed the final art, and Alex delivered that in October. I’ll continue the evolution of the print with that in Part 2.