Tuesday, 9 September 2008

The Devil in the detail

This is another cod image. I think all illustrators enjoy producing fake covers for books or records or films they love. Personally, I like anything that alludes to a narrative, I love making little theatres out of  these things (as with the Love cover below). 

Robert Johnson is the guy who sang about meeting the Devil at the crossroads and being pursued by Hellhounds back in the 1930s. As with the Love thing I'd love to work on a semi-fictional version of his life where there are real Hellhounds on his tail and where he makes that Faustian pact with the Devil. (I'm not saying he didn't btw). Griel marcus and Robert Palmer have both bought into the mythology in their writing about Johnson and there's so much mystery around Robert Johnson's life it's hard not to get swallowed up in the legend.

I don't know precisely what it was that I was trying to ape in this mock LP cover. I guess there's a mixture of those primitive printing techniques from the early part of the 20th century and the cartoon representations of black people from the same period. Black people only appeared on products related to slavery and service during very early years. (see the image below)

And if it wasn't as slaves it was as savages that black people were depicted - running about the savannah with the lions. Again, it was the cartoonist/illustrator's  job to make these images come to life and plant those seeds (see snakes and ladders below).

The black man it seemed had to be depicted as terrified and that image from illustrations is mirrored by the plates-for-eyes faces of comedic terror you see in early cinema roles for black people. Perhaps it's no coincidence then that the same images occur on the real artwork for the Blues records of that time.

Dunno where that leaves me in trying to work out what I was thinking when I set out to do that mock LP cover. Those early illustrators were clearly part of an agenda in their portrayals of black people. Funnily enough I've found myself victim to the reverse agenda as an illustrator. I'm all in favour of "PC", but found it odd how often I was asked to make my black people look more caucasian for fear of causing offense (To whom???).

 I guess all of that period stuff is in there on some subliminal level on my mock LP cover. You certainly see something of the agape face and white eyes on Johnson in my picture, but I'd like to think it's more double take than comic terror. He's certainly standing toe to toe with the Devil rather than cowering - he's here to meet with the Devil not about to run.

A portrait of Robert Johnson I did for the Inkshed brochure 2004

(I must give a mention to Ian Culbard's blog because I nicked the idea of scanning old books and comics and lifting the battered edges off to give a fake aged look to digital stuff from him. You can see the effect on the Love cover and the Robert Johnson portrait. The mock LP cover actually does look that battered, it was painted on a canvas board then sanded down and kicked around the yard.)

1 comment:

Roger Langridge said...

Rob - thanks for the comment over on the Hotel Fred blog! I'm so glad you posted, as I've been asked to write some stuff for Marvel and I wanted to throw your name into the hat as possible artist. No guarantees, mind (the editor has his own ideas), but I'd love to see you do a WWII era Captain America story. Drop me an e-mail so I can pass on your contact details (assuming you're interested)!

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