Friday, December 31, 2010

The Fly: An Obsession.

Sorry I haven't posted in a while. I've been obsessed. Here's my latest image:

And a detail:

There was a reproduction of this Simon and Kirby cover, originally seen by me when I was about 10 in The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide, about the size of a couple of postage stamps:

For some reason this cover fascinated me. I have no idea why. I didn’t know anything about it when I first came across it, and as detailed in an earlier post (which you can read, here), from that point on I became enamored of this goofy and largely unpopular character. I found a reprint of this particular issue in a recent collection and the story was more than a little disappointing. I don’t know what I expected. During that period, covers didn’t always match their interiors, so these weird robots with their purple scaley skin were not featured in the story that was supposed to correspond to it. So after decades of wondering what this story could possibly be about, it turned out to be pretty lame. “Tim O’Casey’s Wrecking Crew” is all of six pages, and is about a leprechaun who threatens to tear down the city with his unexplained army of robots unless his treasure is returned. The robots in the story are your straightforward, tin-can style robots and looked nothing like the ones on the cover.

Now the cover, though still compelling, no longer carries the strange power it had over me as a kid. There’s a primitive charm in its weirdness—the robots, the Leprechaun apparently steering the robot from controls in its head, The weird anatomy of The Fly—his arms are way too short, among other things--the fact that The Fly is swinging on a rope when The Fly can, well, fly.

There’s a site called, "Covered" that features the covers of old comics redrawn by contemporary cartoonists, and every time I thought about doing one, this cover kept coming to mind. I think that a part of me thought that through the magic alchemy of doing my own version of this cover I would recapture those childhood feelings. That didn’t quite work out.

The Process

My often literal self couldn’t help trying to “fix” the naive anatomy and perspective in the rendering, which was actually part of its charm.

Then there was the process of recreating the lettering and typography. At first I thought I would just copy and clean up the lettering from the original comic in Photoshop. All I had was a reprint, but even if I had the real thing, it was originally printed on absorbent paper so up close the lettering bleeds really badly. There was a crisp “THE” in one of the interior reprinted pages, so I was able to auto-trace that in Illustrator (with some alterations), but most of this was hand-traced in vectors. If you don’t know what any of that means, lets just say, it took a while, and while I was working on it, it looked like this:

It’s hard to explain, but all those little blue lines represent vectored curves. This blurb took me about three hours to trace. “THE ADVENTURES OF” took about the same amount of time, “THE FLY,” all straight lines, took about 10 minutes, and the rest was slightly altered Ariel type. The famous “comics code”, the little seal of censorship that was on most comics from the late 50s to the early 90s, was lifted from an E.C. comics “New Direction” reprint. As was done initially in the early days of the seal, it was printed really really huge on the cover, so it came out pretty crisp, here.

I’m perfectly happy with the image on it’s own terms, but needless to say, I wasn’t able to conjure up the magic of this part of my childhood with this picture. Why I would even try is beyond me. The original cover is still, in my opinion, a superior piece of art. With all its flaws, it’s still perfect in so many ways I can’t even begin to explain. Just look at those frigging robots! I mean, what the hell? And there’s a leprechaun. Steering its head with levers. And The Fly still looks amazing to me. Hell, all of it does. My version took so long because it seemed that no matter what I did, I couldn’t make it what I wanted it to be, and believe me, I tried. A lot. So I can’t help but think of the whole endeavor as somewhat of a failure.

As a bonus, here's the "flatting" stage of the image:

"Flatting" is the process of blocking in color arbitrarily so that it's easier to select different portions of the image to manipulate. The only thing you need to worry about when flatting is that each section you want to isolate is different than the sections adjacent.

As usual, the line portion of the image was inked with a brush, then colored in Photoshop digitally and with scanned textures. A little more digital color in this one than usual, though.


  1. I prefer your version to the original, but I know what you mean about images that captivated us when children retain a power we can't revise. True for me for the Oz books and for the covers of the Avengers comics I first bought.

    Happy New Year!

  2. Thanks Glenn--there's something sort of magical and amazing about the original that I can't put my finger on, but I'm glad you think so highly of my version. I'm feeling better about it at the moment.

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  6. I love it! The undersized wings, the over-sized boxers, fantastic! I think my favorite part, though, is the huge smile; he looks like he's having so much fun!