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On Comics and Design.
Written by Jacob Covey | Filed under Design 9 Apr 2008 7:15 PM

spiritoutdoorartsmall.jpg


Above is the poster triptych for the upcoming film for Will Eisner's Spirit, as done by Frank Miller-- a poster set that I feel deserves some scrutiny in this age of design consciousness.

Basically there are two mediums coalescing here: Comic Books, a medium defined by multi-panel narrative, and The Poster, a medium that relies upon bold, single-image impact to resonate at a glance. Granted, the poster can have multiple levels-- allowing for a more involved, secondary narrative within the primary image-- but at the most basic level it must compel people with the initial impact of a single, overall form.

In many ways it seems a dream opportunity in teaser marketing to use the staggered movie poster concept with a comics film. Afterall, the staggered delivery of poster teasers essentially requires a kind of multi-panel narrative. (The first poster goes up in Week One, the second poster goes up in Week Two, and finally the piqued audience is rewarded with the payoff with the final poster in Week Three.) Throw in a master of dramatic, 2-color imagery (Frank Miller) and you should have it sewn up.

posterwall.jpg

Yet whoever is behind this design has managed the least compelling image possible as a 'teaser' for the new Spirit movie. To make my point, I've Photoshopped the second teaser poster onto a wall of posters you might see around town. Can you even find it on there? It's a bad sign when you can't stand apart from the chaos of community posters (and I didn't even bother with the first poster which has zero visual interest). The only saving grace is that the image has a lot of "white" space. Perhaps the folks behind this just figure they'll put up all three posters together all the time, which goes against all of the realities of postering. Competition for wall space is fierce and there are limited venues for blanketing a wall with the posters. More likely, they just lost sight of the fact that comics can do so much more than this one static, hacked up image does. And, on the other hand, if they do intend to only do these as a set I'm offended if only because of the oppulence of it. That's not guerrilla marketing, that's a lot of money thrown at a half-considered solution.

In any case, the point of a teaser poster is to post a single compelling image that leaves the viewer wondering what's next. But here you get one part great primary poster image and two parts lazy extension of the main image. You get a vague red tie. Comics fans can love this trio of images but the fact is a lazy red tie isn't going to hook anybody not already interested in this film. A lazy red tie isn't even going to get people to waste their time wondering what the formless red mass on black might be. It's not even interesting enough to be used in a Rorschach test.

Maybe it works with all three posters placed together (I still find it lazy and even cheesy... especially as they have it animated on their official website). I realize this is Miller's style and that Miller is Hollywood Gold but that doesn't excuse this weak campaign. There's just no reason whatsoever that the Spirit's multi-panel comic book storytelling couldn't have translated brilliantly onto the individual posters that compose the final triptych.

You may wonder why I care. Basically I care because graphic design is a field that is currently in a position of finally being understood and valued by the mainstream culture while becoming overrun with unconsidered value for novelty and the idea that anyone with a computer is a designer-- resulting in a pervasive mentality that "if it looks cool, it's good." This phenomena also happens to parallel the position of comics as the field breaks into mainstream acceptance as valid Art and grown-up Entertainment while also being overwhelmed with Johnny-Come-Latelys who think there are any number of ways they're going to get rich quick. Both of these fields are weakened by work that is created with only a surface understanding of "the rules" but has no follow-through. In the case of the Spirit poster series the look of the final tryiptych is a superficial accomplishment, completely lacking in real-world follow-through.

I'm particularly critical of this campaign because the film has such high visibility (and huge budgets) that this type of work is dragging down the potential and perceived significance of both comics and design. And this isn't a philisophical issue-- it even makes economic sense. In fact, I originally thought this film was produced by Marvel or DC (I guess DC owns the publishing rights) but it's telling that this appears to be independent of any comics publisher and that, in spite of Frank Miller's connection to it, the marketing is so insensitive to the source material and the comics medium. This kind of marketing will only serve to perpetuate the popular opinion of comics as gimmicky and lacking in thoughtful and savvy substance. Ultimately I guess it's fitting that even without Marvel or DC involved the marketing for Spirit continues popular comics' own established track record for undervaluing the power of the work and misunderstanding even the basic strategies of marketing that every other industry seems to grasp.

'Nuff said.