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Comic-Con International is over — Whew!

I’d like to discuss what happened this last week in a couple of parts. Here’s Part One; it all concerns King Kong.

If you’ve been following this Journal/blog, you’ll recall I was commissioned by Mondo Tees to design and illustrate a new poster for the 1933 King Kong. They make high quality silk screen prints on very luxurious heavy paper of new imagery for old classic films.

The print debuted at the convention on Thursday at 2:00 PM, when I began signing them.

As I was signing, my Gal Friday Kris asked me, “Have you seen the line?”

“What line?”

“The line for your prints.”

I looked up and there was this huge line that seemingly materialized out of nowhere. Mondo had sent out a Twitter blast to their followers on the floor and it did the trick. They were selling faster than I could sign them.

Now that the print has gone public, I can return to showing you the process of its creation. I’m going to repeat my first entries on this for those who missed it, then continue on.

Recently, I received a commission from Mondo, an Austin, Texas-based company ( For those of you out there who are not familiar with Mondo, they came up with a great idea. Mondo commissions their favorite contemporary artists to create new movie posters for old, classic films (and some popular current ones, as well). For example, Drew Struzan painted a new poster for the 1931 Frankenstein.

The posters are serigraphs (limited edition silkscreen prints). As this non-Twitter guy understands it, you have to be on Twitter to be able to purchase a Mondo poster at the time of release. The moment the poster goes on sale, a Twitter blast is sent out to all of the Mondo followers. Typically, their print run sells out in about ten minutes. The prints have an extremely healthy secondary market; many folks buy multiples as investments.

I was commissioned to create a new poster for my favorite movie of all time (and the first movie I ever saw): King Kong.

I thought you might like to follow the process of creating this poster from beginning to end.

Posted above are the thumbnail sketches I drew in my sketchbook, trying to come up with an idea and a design. I chose one of them and began to sketch it up full size (slightly larger than its final printed size of 36″ x 24″). Here’s that beginning (3H and HB pencils on extra heavyweight cold press illustration board):

Here, I’m developing the pencils. I refine them with my 3H pencil (a 3H gives me a fairly hard, light line), getting a little darker as needed. If I need to go even darker, I switch to my HB pencil. Note that in the previous drawing I had made Kong‘s right leg too short, so I’ve lengthened it here (In studying Kong, I’ve found that he has very short legs in proportion to his massive body).

Seeing that I had inadvertently chosen one of the most difficult angles of which to draw Kong’s head, my pal, fellow artist and regular Journal contributor Rick Catizone just sent me a series of freeze-frame head shots of Kong taken from his DVD.

I had already done something similar. I began my first sketches of Kong’s head using a little cast I’ve got of Mighty Joe Young‘s head. That was OK for the rough, but I soon discovered many differences between Kong and Joe. I got out my Kong blu-ray (I don’t recommend the blu-ray version of King Kong, BTW; it looks like the first half of the film was shot in a sandstorm. Two things blu-ray does not do well: mist and smoke. It granulates both. For this same reason, the Island of Lost Souls blu-ray looks awful compared to the laser disc version) and went through it, shot-by-shot, looking for head poses similar to my drawing, then corrected my drawing accordingly. Now that I’ve got Rick’s pics, I’ll compare them to my drawing and see if anything needs adjusting (knowing, too, that the features of Kong’s head change throughout the movie depending upon which figure Willis O’Brien was using in each shot. Then, there’s that giant head they constructed which bears little resemblance to the stop motion figures’ heads).

I’m comfortable with obscuring part of “KING”, as “KONG” is so associated with “KING KONG” that I think any of my potential audience will get the “KING” part because they’ll see the associated “KONG” and put two and two together. It’s all part of my making my audience a participant in the picture. Plus, I wanted to have the K, N and G of “KING” and “KONG” directly on top of each other. The problem with that is the funky spacing (there’s too much room around the “I” compared with the tiny spacing between the other letters) of the “I” in “KING”. I solved this problem by overlapping the Tyrannosaurus rex head over most of the “I”, giving the viewer something interesting to look at while obscuring the “I” (as I pointed out, also making the viewer a participant, as the viewer has to figure out that’s an “I”). My theory is that if you have a big T. rex head to look at, you won’t mind the odd spacing.

Also note that I tipped the “KING” back in perspective to lead the viewer’s eyes into the picture. I have also designed the picture so that the main composition of the Kong/T.rex tableau is triangular. Then, I set it against a big “U” design (the negative space behind Kong). The triangular design psychologically suggests stability and triumph. The “U” leaves a psychological impression of sadness or depression with the bottom of the “U” graphically pushing down. The overall effect, psychologically, of this triangular shape placed on top of a “U” is Triumph over Adversity.

So, here it is all inked. A famous director told me that if I colored it, he would purchase it.

So I hand colored it with watercolor and Prismacolor pencils:

After I finished inking the piece, I noticed something about the T. Rex —- his head seemed too small. So, I fixed its black and white version in PhotoShop

…and then colored it in PhotoShop (see image at top of this entry).

The hand-colored version sold six hours before the opening of the show (I didn’t sell it to the film director) — I hadn’t even put it up on my booth wall yet. The silk screen prints sold like hotcakes, too.


Next: More Convention Tales!

8 thoughts on “MONDO KONG!

  1. My God, this is beautiful. Thanks for showing us the process. Drawing pictures on paper is probably the closest to creating magic. Pencil, paper, suddenly a picture and this picture is defintely magic.

    King Kong is easily one of the most perfectly made films. I saw it recently (for the typical upteenth time, I’ve lost count) and I’m always amazed how there is never a wasted moment. Everything counted.

  2. Awesome, Bill. I love all of them, altho’ I’ll admit I love the punch of the uncolored one.
    Glad to hear that they went like hotcakes.

  3. @ Oscar: I agree — taking a white board, canvas or piece of paper and turning it into something that is beautiful and desirable in just a few hours is indeed magic. I don’t take it for granted; I am always amazed.

    And King Kong — well, I think most everybody knows by now that it’s the first movie I ever saw and my favorite film of all time.

    @ Rick: An initial price of just fifty bucks each really moved those babies. Lots of folks were buying multiples. And I’m a sucker for good black and white line work, too.

  4. And reading it again…..I think it’s very cool that Bill also has PS skills. Sometimes traditional artists just don’t want anything to do the “new world technology”.

  5. Amazing!! I love both the black and white and color version. I have to admit I didn’t notice the Ann Darrow figure until I saw the colored work.
    Yes, most of us will pick up on the “King” part even with the T-Rex head covering the I. 🙂
    Oh, and I still want one as a T-shirt.
    Seems like you haven’t put out a new T-shirt in awhile. Maybe the time is right!

    Thanks for the look at this!

  6. Beyond the fact that you are the consummate KONG hommage artist, in all of your illustrative permutations over the past 30 years (?), it is such a treat, as a layman, to see the visual variations you go through to get to the final version.

    As a KONGPHILE, like yourself, I was thrilled to see you include the detail of the “vine lizard” and “pit spider” as framing devices. Especially when, as we all know, we never have seen the spider in the film!

    I agree wholeheartedly with Aaron that this deserves a T-Shirt – The gorgeous colored version, please?

    Look forward to seeing you at Son of Monsterpalooza in the fall, where those T-Shirts will be the talk of the show – hint! hint!

  7. Getting to this late.
    Will prints or posters ever be available online?

    great work,

  8. Finally getting my copy of this print framed today! With a cool, rough-wood-island-ish sort of wood frame. As a stopmotion filmmaker and illustrator myself, I LOVE this piece of art! The details you chose to depict are just perfect. Love the little Ann Dorrow too, one of my favorite parts of the drawing. Thanks for making this!

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