Tag Archive: 1960s


X-Men: Fail Class

If you’re a fan of the X-Men or comic book flicks in general, you will undoubtedly have seen at least some of the horrifically shit promotional material produced for the upcoming foray into the universe, X-Men: First Class. As a designer, I find a bad movie poster will have more sway over whether I want to see a film than your average movie-goer, and X4 is so far the best example I have experienced. My personal gripes with aspects of the film aside (beast looks like a gay version of Benecio del Toro’s Wolfman, teen angst forced in to appeal to the Twilight crowd etc.) I was still up for paying £8 to see it come June, but then images like the cast shot above began making their way around the internet and my plans of spending hard-earned money gradually changed.

I see great graphic design all the time, and it makes my brain hurt to think that 20th Century Fox has spent thousands – if not millions – of dollars on terrible Photoshop comps like that. Seriously, what the fuck happened there? Was it really too much to ask the cast for a quick photoshoot? Or if that wasn’t an option, how about assigning the job of making the composite to someone who’s actually good with the software? Still, it was early days when that line-up etched itself onto the eyes of fans the world over, I was sure the real posters wouldn’t be half as bad…

  

Alas, no. What the fucking hell was going on at the studio when these were being made? Did some crazy lunatic bust into the office shouting incoherent bollocks about floating heads and silhouettes and force a trainee designer to produce these two teaser posters in 15 minutes at gunpoint? In fact, considering how epically awful these are it was probably the janitor or tea lady that was forced to churn out these two doozies, because if the man or woman behind these calls themselves a “designer” they are a liar. I can maybe even understand some hack who blagged his way onto a Mac bashing these out, but then he must have had to show them to his peers, his superiors, the people fucking paying him. “Hey Bill, I finished those two X-Men teasers, you want to have a look?” “Yeah sure… Is this some kind of joke?”  But I guess nobody saw a problem, AT ALL.

Something is clearly wrong when work this dire can go through a string of supposedly creative and professional people and not one of them calls bullshit. This has somehow done the unthinkable and out-crapped the poster for Bangkok Dangerous. Say what you like about invisible guns and inexplicable lava, at least Nic Cage’s head isn’t floating in a black illustrator live-traced cut-out.

From what I gather there was quite alot of internet uproar when these were seen by pretty much everyone, and I’m sure that’s the reason for this secondary duo of teaser posters, which to be honest, are pretty good actually:

  

Not bad at all, the whole ‘dark reflection’ thing is hardly original, but it works given the nature of the film. Sadly though, at least for me, the damage had been done. The insanely bad promo material combined with the fact I didn’t think it looked that great to begin with has stopped me wanting to pay decent money to see it. I’d maybe folk out a couple of quid if we still had cinemas at that price (because, ya’ know, it’s X-Men), but we don’t, going to the cinema is expensive, and while I’m more than happy to folk out £10 to see Thor in IMAX, I’m now going to either download X-Men: First Class illegally, or wait until I can catch it on TV. And that is almost solely the fault of the bellends in charge of its marketing.

Getting back to the posters though, it’s almost like the knuckleheads on the board of directors weren’t satisfied with two reasonable teasers and when the time came for the official one-sheet they sent that gun-toting lunatic back into the studio, but this time I’m betting he gave the designer an hour maybe? And the brief probably went something as follows: “We gotta show all the cast, looking cool and walking toward the camera, but don’t do anything that references the source material at all, because we don’t care about the fans, they’re in the theatre already, we need to attract as broad an audience as possible.”

And look what happened…

  

So the film’s about a group of superhero-looking people with broken necks, walking around a blue aircraft hangar with no discernible floor. I’ll admit the second one is slightly better, at least it shows something happening, but movie posters don’t get much more generic than this. They say nothing about the tone of the flick, the characters themselves or really anything useful at all, certainly nothing that would convince me to see the damn thing, and isn’t that what the purpose of a movie poster is? All you’ve succeeded in doing is paying some moron alot of money for something completely and utterly gash.

A quick Google search revealed something I was sure of before even typing the words, that there would be several fan-made posters that shit all over the stuff churned out by the ‘pros’. This is true of pretty much every high profile film (e.g Thor, Source Code, Iron Man 2, Inception), but it’s overly appropriate here as the real ones are just so amazingly bad. These guys (aside from possessing actual talent) probably would let Fox use their work for free if they asked them nicely, and prove that there is original, engaging and excellent material waiting to be mined from your big-budget abortion of an X-Men film. If I saw any one of these presented as an official poster I would be in the theatre with bells on.

  

by Dane Frost

 

by Jeffrey Zang

My favourite ones all reflect the film’s period setting with lovely, retro style. It fits really well and offers so much great imagery. Also after watching the trailers this X-Film seems to be a more serious, almost sophisticated comic book flick, something not conveyed in the official posters at all. Jeffrey Zang’s versions on the other hand make First Class look like The Third Man and Vertigo. These next two are also wonderfully 60s, and give the movie some serious credibility, conveying comic-book sensibilities as well as tension and action:

   

by Bryan Lenning & Michael Dee

Now as much as I dig the retro style posters, I do understand that from a mass marketing standpoint they don’t connect to the kind of audience Fox wants to attract. The basic principle of movie-making is – sadly – to make as much money as possible, and your run-of-the-mill Twi-hard probably won’t see one of the above posters and think “Gee, what a great throwback to the work of Saul Bass.” But the below piece, by Barry Villegas is much more mainstream, even using the same idea as the second teasers, but executed with more of a restrained flare, definitely reflecting the tone of the trailers, and I think it looks really good.

by Barry Villegas

Finally, if seriousness and brooding undertones isn’t your thing you have these two frankly awesome comic-book themed efforts by Erik Johnson and Rory Phillips. These are just crazy cool to me, again channelling a 1960s style and going in a slightly different direction from the others by portraying a more light-hearted comic feel. After all, it is a comic book movie, to ignore that fact is like slapping us fans in the face. Not to mention Johnson’s young Charles Xavier looks way better than James McAvoy’s real version.

by Erik Johnson

by Rory Phillips

These ones remind me of classic spy thrillers, like From Russia With Love or The Ipcress File. A suave, Mad Men-style, which again fits the film really well. Now compare the above to the latest piece of official artwork released:


See what I mean? I really hope this film tanks, people need to learn from this that you can’t be so incredibly lazy with your ad campaign simply because you’ve got a famous name. If anything this should have been the opportunity for Fox to go balls to the wall in rejuvenating the X-series (after one disappointing sequel and one truly awful prequel), to remind us that there’s life in the property yet. But it’s just another million-dollar blunder.

Do yourselves a favour and go see Thor a second time, if you pay to see First Class you’ll be proving these idiots right, and they’ll be laughing at you all the way to the bank.

Post Script – I got all the fan made posters from a competition run by the good folks at Super Punch, check it out here.

For Craftsmen of All Ages

Tombland Books in Norwich is pretty much my favourite shop now. See they have these shelves outside the shopfront, with everything on them £1. The vast majority of my old book collection has come from those shelves, and to make it even better the guy once told me they give the money to chairty. Fucking-A. And to make it even better I had a scope round one of the book sellers in the market, one of the ones that has shelves and shelves of mostly damp crap from the mid-90s, found a couple of cool Pelican’s, and they were selling them for £4… seriously?! Right, off to Tombland then.

I picked up this copy of ‘Hobbies Weekly‘ from 1964, and this thing seems dated even for the 60s. Back then toys were made out of wood, and you could make things out of card and copper tubing. Much like the technical drawings in my last post, the illustrations and diagrams in this are pretty cool, and there’s some awesome old-school type and some vintage ads (“Airfix — Just Like the Real Thing!”). The paper is dirty and faded, and there’s no way in hell someone nowadays would build their own plinth for an aquarium, but I guess people did once upon a time, and this is a cool relic from that age.

5 Penguins and a Sega Mega Drive

We’ve been talking about it for a few weeks now, but this morning my pals and I finally made is to the (locally) famous Kessingland car boot sale in search of whatever old rubbish sparked our geeky interests, which if you know me at all or read this thing on a regular basis will know, has gone into overdrive as of late. I have some really fond memories of this thing, going with my Dad every month or so when I was like 11, buying cool VHS tapes (The Evil Dead and Hellraiser flicks in particular stick out in my mind) that we would then sit down and watch in the afternoon. My father raised me on a steady diet of action, sci-fi and horror movies, so a car-boot sale full of Die Hards, Predators and Terminators for 50p was actually pretty exciting. Obviously no end of other crap is on offer, not just films, but that’s the main thing I remember from my childhood, which is pretty cool really. Most parents these days introduce their kids to smoking, drugs and sponging off benefits. My Dad chose to give me Schwarzenegger, Cameron and Robocop, because, well he’s an absolute legend. But I digress…

The last time I came must have been at least 7 years ago, most likely more, but some things as they say, never change. Rows of cars, tables full of random bric-a-brac and hoards of people. This place is still very, very popular. What amazed me and my comrades though, was that where there was once tables and tables of VHS videos for £1, there are now tables and tables of DVD’s for £1, which just doesn’t seem right. DVD’s still seem like a fairly new technology to me, and I even saw a few Blu-Rays for sale, honestly, at a freaking car boot sale. Madness. The first thing I picked up was a Penguin from 1966, hidden amongst a load of Catherine Cookson novels, for the staggering price of 35p:

Part of a series of Penguin’s that use cover illustration by Renato Fratini, I dig the mix of rough and elegant. The almost photo-perfect faces coupled with the nightmarish, quickly sketched background gives it a nicely dark ambience. For 35p though, this could have been any old Penguin and I would have bought it. We then came to the retro gaming stall, where laid out on a giant blue tarp sat two Sega Mega Drives, a Master System, a Sega Saturn and a massive array of games, boxed and loose cartridges. My friends and I have been on a bit of a retro-gaming trip recently, spurred on by my own obsession with the old and because everyone my age just feels so fondly about the consoles of their 16-bit youth. I was very tempted to buy the old school model Mega Drive for £15, but my good friend Maurice had his heart set on a Model II (the smaller one with the red buttons) complete with original box, and for the reasonable sum of £25, making that two of my closest friends now with Mega Drives. The need to own one seemed a little less pressing, so I’ll wait until next time to purchase my slice of geek nirvana.

The next item I did buy was this fantastic West Side Story vinyl LP for 50p…

Saul Bass‘ (whose work I’ve admired since college) iconic design really stood out and I actually think all the extra type that’s been added looks pretty nice. Very retro, and a cool as hell object to simply have around my desk. After all, West Side Story is pretty great. I also really dig the CBS logo in the corner, a bit more 60s awesome for you. As well as the outer cover, the inner sleeve is pretty interesting too, as it doubles as a magazine for the record company:

The Inner Sleeve’, man the retro-ness just keeps on coming. Loving the 3D block typeface they’ve used on the title, as well the duelling trumpets. The whole idea is pretty neat, and I didn’t realise they did it. Nowadays you just get extra flyers in the album cases promoting the label’s latest releases (which 9 times out of 10 I glance at and throw away), but back in 1961 it was an integral part of the packaging.

Next up is The Action Book for Boys, which although I’ve removed the sticker, was around 30p I think…

There has been a big resurgence in the ‘boys annual’ style book in the last few years, with titles like ‘The Dangerous Book for Boys’ occupying many shelves in places like Waterstones. I think it’s other people like myself really digging the old, prim and proper style of publication our Dad’s used to get when they were little. Tales of Nazi plots and boy scouts saving the day from a group of diamond thieves or something. There’s something quite posh about them, but with age comes fondness and this book has a wealth of great (and by ‘great’ I mean kinda stupid and dated, but fun) stories and illustrations. The one that really stood out to me, is ‘The Mountie Gets His Man’ by Naunton Lane, which tells the story of Constable Bill Dockley of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who ends up battling wolves in the woods for some reason. The illustrations are pretty awesome to say the least:

Next I picked up four more Penguin books (well spotted Zach) for 50p each from a lovely old couple. These ones are the older, colour band versions from the 50s which I really like. As his wife was popping them in a bag for me the guy said, “Once you’re done with them, pass them on to your children.” Which I thought was really nice and reflects the long and varied lives books like these have. Passing from numerous owners, traversing the globe, which is quite literally the case with ‘Elizabeth and Essex’ which proudly displays a sticker on its inside page from Foyles, a book seller based in Cape Town.

And finally I spotted this beautiful set of oil paints, which just looks so lovely. I can’t find a year or date anywhere, but it looks pretty old, at a guess I’d say 60s / 70s. The price said £2 but the lady heard me saying I’d buy it for the box alone and said I could have it for 50p. Hell. Yes.

Aside from the cool as hell outer box art (with that lovely CMYK colour spot design), the paints themselves look great and have wonderful names like ‘Zinc Titanium‘, ‘Burnt Sienna‘ and ‘Phthalocyanine‘, whatever that means. One tube is missing, but I couldn’t care less, I would have paid 50p for the empty box, the paints are just a bonus.

All in all it was a fantastic trip out, it brought back alot of nice memories and I got some crazy awesome stuff to clutter my desk and shelves up with. Good. Times. (There will also be a Mega Drive centric post once we get it all hooked up and working, so stay tuned fellow nostalgists!)

The H.G. Wells Collection

It occurred to me the other day that it’s been a while since I’ve stuck any of my own work on here, and being freshly graduated and resting before I try and sort out a career I haven’t really flexed my design muscles recently. So here’s a project rundown of the last thing I did at uni, my final major project based on the D&AD brief from Orion Books, which asked for a series of matching book covers for legendary author H.G. Wells‘ more lesser known novels (aka the non-sci-fi ones). The original brief said they had to be hardback jackets, but the set is aimed at a younger audience and those likely to have a basic knowledge of the author but not these particular titles. Hardback’s just seemed like a contradiction. They’re more expensive and less practical, two qualities I thought were pretty important when targeting ‘young creatives’.

Here are a few of my scamp pages for each book, just to show you where the imagery and ideas came from:

Stuff was pretty varied at the early stages, and I didn’t know how I would realise anything, though it would have to be either illustration or photography. Designing custom DVD covers in high school really helped me with the whole ‘matching set’ thing, but then again, it’s hardly rocket science to establish a visual style and apply it to three books. Before I decided upon the 60’s cut-out style, I made a few random mock-ups digitally, with varying degrees of success:

They’re not too bad really, just not the sort of thing I wanted. The last ‘pink bottles’ one I still think is pretty cool, but I couldn’t make the same thing work for the other two books. All this digital experimenting lead to the old school, cut-out style I would fall in love with. It got me looking at old Penguin books and kick-started this retro crush I’ve had over the last few months and will probably stay with me for the rest of my life. Here is a selection of some of the earlier covers I made for ‘Tono-Bungay‘:

I really dug the pink and black (though I would end up changing it to a green / blue thanks to printing issues with the red on the next title), and I thought that applying a 60’s style to books published in the late 1800’s gave them an awesome modern-retro feel. My original post while these were still in development can be found here, and a bunch of (eventually) rejected designs for ‘Love and Mr. Lewisham‘ is also on here. I moved onto the second book, and it took me ages to get to something that a) I liked as much as the pink bottles and b) looked like part of the same set as the others (and at that point I still hadn’t decided on which one I liked the most). So I ended up making loads of similar covers using vector stylized people and hearts, which I just couldn’t seem to make work:

The two above were the best of the bunch. They’re simple, and fit with the previous designs. ‘Love and Mr. Lewisham‘ is the only book of the three which I actually read during the project, and although I came up with the heart / arrows idea before hand, it’s a really good reflection of the story and it’s key protagonist (three guesses who that is). The Ouija board background disappeared fairly quickly, as did the question mark, it doesn’t add anything and the imagery speaks alot better without it.

Annoyingly I have lost the front mock-ups of ‘The History of Mr. Polly‘, which basically went from a hand holding a match (which I actually re-used here) to a gentlemen’s top hat on fire. Both of which are a reference to the most pivotal moment in the book, where Mr. Polly decides to burn down his clothes shop and start a new life in the country.

Well this post has gone on far longer than I originally intended anyways, so I’ll leave it here, simply by saying that I’m awfully proud of the final outcomes, with each one really reflecting the essence, spirit and themes of each book, and in the Saul Bass style I have been a fan of for years, but had never imitated. If you actually took the time to read all this, thanks alot.