Comic Art, Clandestine Operations, and the High Cost of College Tuition
Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 27, 2013
An auction of comic book art held in early August featured two works which played a role in the event which inspired the movie, Argo. The artwork was created by iconic comic book artist, Jack Kirby, the co-creator of Captain America, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and the Hulk. After a long and prolific career at DC and Marvel Comics, Kirby left publishing to work in animation, creating storyboards and animation art. In 1979, he was hired by producer and visionary, Barry Ira Geller, to create storyboards for the film adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s scifi-fantasy book, The Lord of Light. Geller’s vision included a theme park, Science Fiction Land, for which Kirby created architectural renderings.
The movie and them park were never produced; under allegations of embezzlement on the part of Geller’s assistant producer, the entire operation was shut down. The project materials, however, were resurrected when CIA operative Tony Mendez contacted Geller’s make-up artist with a request for a suitable film project which would provide a cover story for a clandestine operation in Iran. The agency needed a film project to provide a cover story for a rescue operation of six Americans hiding in the Canadian embassy during the Iran hostage crisis. The script and Kirby’s illustrations for the Lord of Light – renamed “Argo” for the operation – were used as props. Iraninan authorities bought the ruse, and the Americans were successfully smuggled out.
Geller was kept in the dark about the operation and the role Kirby’s artwork played. In 1993, with Kirby’s permission, he sold the drawings at a Sotheby’s auction (ostensibly to pay for his son’s college education). Two of the drawings were snapped up by a young comic book artist and publisher, Jim Lee. A fan of Kirby’s work — Jim Lee had started his career at Marvel Comics, where he worked on the revamp of X-Men — Lee snapped up the works without knowing the back story. When the tale behind the operation became public knowledge, Lee (now a co-publisher at DC Comics) realized the value of the work and put it up for auction — also to meet his children’s college costs. The artwork was auctioned off August 2 for purported total of $41,000.
While Geller wishes he had known the role Kirby’s artwork played in the rescue operation (and its true value) at the time he sold it, he remains upbeat about the publicity. As he reported to Wired Magazine, “I’m very, very happy, in fact, to see it in auction because anything that further brings notice and credit to Jack Kirby and his life is important to have.” The full story of the operation was covered in an extensive Wired article in 2007. In November of 2012, a documentary on the Argo backstory, “Science Fiction Land”, received full backing as a Kickstarter project and is now in post-production.
Above right and below: Two stills from the documentary, "Science Fiction Land", showing Jack Kirby's renderings for the theme park. Copyright © 2012 Flatbush Pictures | Brooklyn Film Networks, Inc.
Mixed Reactions to Adobe’s Creative Cloud™ Subscription
Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 22, 2013
In the three months since Adobe® announced it’s discontinuing its boxed version (and perpetual license) of Creative Suite® products in favor of a cloud-based subscription service, reactions from professional creatives has been mixed. The move provides both a deterrent to the rampant piracy of Adobe® software as well as a more stable revenue stream, since currently many users are unable or unwilling to pay for costly upgrades. Adobe® has bundled significant additional features in with the Creative Cloud™ software sets, including integration of a personal portfolio site via Behance® Prosite, integration of Typekit® webfonts, syncing of personal settings, tutorials, and more.
A cost analysis of the individual plans show that for Adobe® product users who purchase upgrades frequently, the cloud subscription service will lower costs initially. CNET calculated that the Design Standard boxed set would cost $1,648 for the initial cost and one upgrade, versus $1,800 for three year’s worth of Creative Cloud™ – and that would include eight additional software packages (such as Premiere Pro®) and online services.
For those users who skip version upgrades as a savings tactic, the new model will be more expensive. (This savings tactic may have been on the way out. Adobe® attempted to offer upgrades to CS6 only from CS5 and 5.5, but after a firestorm of criticism, changed the policy in January to permit upgrades from CS3 and 4). Digital Arts calculated that the tipping point on Cloud subscriptions – the point at which the monthly subscription becomes more expensive than a perpetual license – is 26 months for a CS6 Design Standard and 38 months for the CS6 Design and Web PremiumCS6 Design and Web Premium. Students are impacted the most; the tipping point for CS6 Design and Web Premium Student and Teacher Edition is just 20 months at the student subscription rate.
The backlash against Adobe® resulted in an online petition asking Adobe® to “Eliminate the mandatory Creative Cloud™ subscription model.” Protesters have a number of concerns beyond the pricing structure, including worries that Adobe® will hike up the monthly fees at any moment, and concerns about Internet connectivity, access to files, etc. (Adobe® has addressed many of the misconceptions about the Cloud model in their “5 Myths about Adobe Creative Cloud™.”) As of mid August, the petition had gained 38,000 signatures. Some users have been turning to alternatives to Creative Cloud™ and Adobe® products.
Adobe®, however, has been on track with their projected subscription levels since the release of Creative Cloud™. In a mid-June MacWorld article, Adobe® reported a total of 700,000 subscribers, and expected to reach their target of 1.25 million subscribers by the end of 2013. So far, Creative Cloud™ seems to be a success as a pricing model. But as a solution for piracy, the jury is still out; one day after the official release of Creative Cloud™, a torrent link to a pirated copy was uploaded to The Pirate Bay. Reports are that the copy works fine.
Putting a Face On It – Inside Book Jacket Design at Random House
Posted by Rebecca Blake on July 30, 2013
Random House has posted a series of videos highlighting recent publications and giving an inside peek at the publishing house. One of their most recent uploads features some of their most noted art directors speaking on The Art of Cover Design. The video offers intriguing insight into their approach, as summarized by Robbin Schiff: “Our job is not to illustrate the book. Our job is to intrigue the consumer, set the tone, set the stage…” Key to their process is thorough research, including meeting with the editors, interviewing the authors about what their mindset was as they were writing the book, and closely reading the book manuscript.
While each art director brings his or her unique sensibility to the design process, they all take inspiration from the author’s words. The process is very intuitive; Chip Kidd describes getting a feel for a typographic versus illustrated versus photographic solution for a particular work. Sometimes surprising elements are incorporated. Peter Mendelsund, the designer of Stieg Larrson’s The Girl… trilogy, describes using a photocopy of his daughter’s hair in the cover design for the Girl Who Played with Fire. The insight into the arduous process of repeatedly revising the designs, often working in tandem with illustrators, is priceless.
Brought to our attention by @brainpickings
Below: In the video, Peter Mendelsund, Chip Kidd, and Robbin Schiff discuss the process behind the design of selected book jackets.
Creative Freelancers Conference: Recaps & Resources
Posted by Rebecca Blake on July 29, 2013
Miss the Creative Freelancers Conference in San Francisco this summer? There are a number of wonderful blogs posting links to recaps and resources. Guild member Cedric Hohnstadt posted on his blog a brief summary of the conference, as well as a list of articles written by conference presenters, and recaps from other attendees. The list includes some real gems, such as a link to Jessica Hische’s “The Dark Art of Pricing” article, as well as a recording for daily podcasts from HOWLive published by the design blog 36 Point.
Cedric cites the Pinterest page of Ilise Benum, the conference host, as the source for many of the links. The page features images repinned from a number of attendees, and gives a nice peek at the conference goings-on. Another good resource is the Creative Freelancer blog associated with the conference. The blog has published articles written by conference presenters with common sense advice, such as 7 Ways to Keep the CFC Momentum Going by Tom Tombusch and a video interview with Sara Horowitz of the Freelancers Union on How Not to Become Extinct.
To This Day – Collaborating to Combat Bullying
Posted by Rebecca Blake on June 24, 2013
Canadian poet Shane Koyczan's childhood experience of being the target of relentless bullying led him to write his spoken word poem, To This Day. The poem is a moving recount of the pain and isolation bullying causes, and a call for those who've experienced it to live their lives as "a balancing act that has less to do with pain and more to do with beauty." Shane partnered with animation studio Giant Ant in Vancouver to create a collaborative animation of the poem. Overwhelmed with the quality and creativity of the submissions, Giant Ant incorporated the work of 86 artists to create multiple versions. The final animation was published in February of this year, and quickly went viral, garnering over 5,000,000 views in one week.
To This Day continues to educate on bullying and provide resources to victims. Their microsite publicizes an anti-bullying hotline and educational resources and recently released a free iPad app. The app includes the multiple versions of each segment of the animation, so that repeat views result in a different animation each time. The app also permits users to record their own version of the poem, and includes translations in Spanish and French.
Below is a selection of frames from the animation. (Images courtesy of Giant Ant. © Giant Ant)
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