Friday, July 16, 2010

More Compact Disc Art From The Bronze Age

Back in 1994 I worked as a graphic designer at a compact disc company, designing CD art. In 1993 we entered a series of CDs, starring my Screenman character, in a National Screen Printing Expo, and our company's superior screen printing work won a coveted Golden Squeegee Award. Yes, that's a real thing. Go read about all that and see the CDs I designed here.

Flush with our success, we decided to enter the contest again the following year. It was decided that since we'd had such luck with the previous Screenman story, that we'd do a sequel.

Unfortunately I got a little carried away. The first series was simple and concise, so of course I felt the need to try and top it. Like all sequels, my follow-up adventure was bigger and bloated, but not necessarily better. That's how I see it now, anyway. At the time I thought I'd achieved greatness.

Anyway, on with the Further Adventures of Screenman!

Here we're reintroduced to Screenman. For some reason, in the original story he was Screen Man, but in this one he's Screenman. Who needs consistency? Since we last saw him, he's gained a sweet ride called the Screenmobile, and a Robin-like sidekick named Squeegee (because every name in this story has something to do with the screen printing process).

The two heroes are patrolling the streets of Screentown, which has some interesting architecture. Take a look at that impressive skyline, won't you? Somehow it contains the Empire State Building, the Sears Tower, the Twin Towers (yikes!), the Hancock Building, the Daily Planet (!), the Space Needle and the Gateway Arch. Maybe Screentown is like Vegas, and those are all scale replicas?

Also it's hard to see here, but there's crosshatching all over the Screenmobile, implying that it's constructed of a metal frame with silk stretched across it, like the silk screens we used to print. Not very safe in an accident.

I like the way that Screenman seems oblivious to the fact that Squeegee is an ungrateful little punk.

A little about the process used here. For the first Screenman series, I drew the art and colored it using the traditional four color comic book method of cutting amberlith sheets. You can read about that in the previous post as well.

This time I was more ambitious. Photoshop was still relatively new back in 1994, and I got the bright idea that I would scan in my artwork and color it on the computer. With the amberith method, you were limited to 20 or so colors. With Photoshop, the color possibilities would be endless.

I'd used Photoshop to color artwork before, but never on this scale. It took me weeks. I'm not kidding, literally weeks to color it all. Partly because I was learning as I went along, but also because in 1994, Photoshop didn't yet have layers (!) How I managed to do anything without layers, I have no idea. It also only had ONE undo back then. And I was coloring with the mouse-- I didn't have a graphic tablet. It's amazing I was able to do anything at all.

Coloring the characters went fairly quickly; it was the detailed, painterly backgrounds and special effects that ate up the time.

Today, comic books are all routinely colored this way, with Photoshop or similar programs. Back in 1994, it was a radically new idea. I'm not saying I invented computer colored comics, but I was definitely there on the front lines.

Because this wasn't actual paying work, the company wouldn't allow me to work on Screenman during normal hours. I had to come in and work overtime on it. And the only time we had a free computer was at night. So I would come in at 6 pm and work on it until midnight, or sometimes even 6 am. Nothing like staring bleary-eyed into a computer monitor for 12 solid hours. Oy.

Today I could knock out a project like this in a day or two, but of course I've got nearly 20 years of experience under my belt (20 years! Oy vey iz mir!). Plus Photoshop has layers and a lot of other features it didn't have back in 1994. Still, I wish I could contact 1994 Bob and give him some advice on how to speed up the process a bit (along with some lottery numbers).

Looking back, I see that I was trying to cram way too much detail into these tiny panels. There's way too much dialog as well. Hey, we learn from our mistakes.

It looks like I was trying to model the yellow-shirted screen maker guy after someone, but after all this time I have no idea who it might have been.

I wish I would have come up with a better catchphrase for Screenman than "Great Scot!" Geez, Superman said that one all the time. I could have at least had him say, "Suffering Screens!" or something like that.

I like that Screenman is consistently referred to as "The Living Embodiment of Good Screenmaking." It makes him seem more pompous (which is the effect I was going for) and actually becomes important later.

Note that Squeegee is playing the part of audience surrogate, pointing out flaws in the story.

Here we come to the meat of the story. This was the 1990s, so of course Screenman had to meet his evil counterpart. Nineties comics were full of dark versions of heroes, with slicked-back hair and ponytails. I guess Steven Seagal was still a big influence back then.

Note that Dark Screenman's costume has the same colors as Screenman's, but... darker. That's how you know he's evil. No good guy would wear burgundy. Also note that you never see the end of Dark Screenman's ponytail. This was a little shout-out to Todd McFarlane's Spawn comic, which featured a character with a ridiculously long red cape that always trailed out of the panel.

Degreaser Girl is my favorite new character. She doesn't really do anything in this story other than be captured and spout Yiddish words, but I like her anyway. I never got around to showing her in action, but she has the power to shoot streams of bubbles out of her hands. You're probably wondering about her name-- silk screens have to be washed with degreaser in order to clean off the oil and grime on them before they can be used.

Wow, there's way too much dialog on this disc! Believe it or not, there was even more to start with. I remember cutting the dialog to the bone, but it's still ultra wordy.

Whenever a character gets punched in the face, he has to say, "Oofda!" It's the law.

Note that Dark Screenman's word balloons have wavy and jagged borders. That's so you know his voice sounds EVIL!

I kind of wish I'd have laid out panel three differently. It looks like Screenman's getting blasted in the anal region. The dialog doesn't help matters either.

I like this disc, despite the overdone dialog in panel 1. Whenever I drew a crowd scene in the 1990s, I could never resist the urge to add little in jokes. If you look closely you'll see Beavis and Butthead in attendance. Ask your parents who they were, kids.

Hey, Squeegee finally makes an appearance to remind everyone he exists. Looking back, I see one of the flaws in my story-- four main characters, but only two of them actually do anything. That's my writing tip for the day: If you can't think of something for a character to say or do, then they shouldn't be in the story.

I like Dark Screenman's death scene in panel 3. You have no idea how difficult it was for the 1994 version of me to pull that off.

Nobody ever gets Dark Screenman's line in panel 3. He says he needs to go lie down in a dark room, which is what I have to do when I get one of my migraines. But everyone who's ever read this thinks he's saying "darkroom," like in a photography studio.

I like the color scheme of this last disc. If you look closely, each disc has a separate overall color tone. The first disc is primarily purple, the second yellow, the third orange and so on. I planned it that way so that when the discs were mounted side by side they didn't all look the same. They get redder as you go along too, because red equals danger.

In panel 2, once again it looks like I was modeling the screen makers after someone, but again I have no idea who it might have been.

Squeegee, ungrateful punk that he is, makes a PG-13 pun about underpants in the last panel.

Note the giant green monster in the background in the final panel. That's an emulsion monster. We coated our screens with a light-sensitive emulsion and exposed them in a camera. The emulsion was thick, gooey and green. Yep, I was setting things up for another sequel. More on that in a minute.

So, how'd our discs do in the big contest this time? Well, not as good as the year before. This time our entry didn't win anything, not even a bronze squeegee.

So what went wrong? I think the main problem was the Photoshop coloring. If you look at the original Screenman discs, the ones I colored with amberlith, the colors are all simple, bold and bright. There were very few halftones used as well. On the new Screenman discs, the colors are all dark, muddy and full of halftones. Back then I didn't understand how to properly color and output artwork on the computer. The dots per inch seem a little low as well. Everything looks fuzzy, instead of bright and sharp like on the first discs. I should have printed out the film at a higher resolution. As I said before, we learn from our mistakes.

My supervisor also told me in confidence that the plant was really busy at the time, and rushed through the print job, so that the quality wasn't as high in the previous year. Whether that was true or not, I can't say.

Now, about that monster in the last panel and setting up the possibility of yet another sequel. It was around this time that DC Comics published their Death of Superman storyline. The mainstream media went crazy over the fact that DC had the nerve to kill off Superman, apparently not knowing that characters die and are subsequently resurrected on practically a monthly basis in comics.

My plan was to do a Death of Screenman story for our next Screenprint Expo entry. As I remember it, the Emulsion Monster attacked Screentown, and Screenman was killed defending the city. What followed was a convoluted and badly written trip to the afterlife as Screenman met both God and the Devil before being sent back to Earth. It's probably just as well that story never happened! We didn't enter the screen printing contest the next year, and I left the company shortly afterward, so it wasn't to be.


  1. You should of gotten an award for incorporating "Oofda" and for inserting Beavis and Butthead into the audience!

  2. Ha! Funny how quickly we forget things. B & B were all the rage in the 1990s, now they're totally off the radar.


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