Its Birth and its Resurrection

HERE'S THE BACKSTORY: In the summer of 1972 I was commissioned by an Alabama radio station to create a combination psychedelic poster and calendar for the upcoming year that would simultaneously dazzle the city’s acidheads and promote the station’s youth-appeal.

Being an aspiring underground cartoonist and unrepentant acidhead myself at the time, I jumped at the chance to fulfill a years-long dream to create a poster like the hallucination-bait masterpieces that had provided so much visual pleasure to my then-partner and me. Ideally the poster that was being commissioned would have been printed in full color, but the station wasn't ready to spend the money that would entail. Still, even within the limitations of black-and-white, I relished the idea of plunging myself into a trippy avalanche of eyeball-candy that would be viewed by all of my fellow trippers who lived within the radio station's broadcast area.

Unfortunately, our agreement was a handshake deal with no contract involved. Bad idea! We denizens of the counterculture were far too trusting of anyone who sported the shoulder-length hair that signified identification with the burgeoning idealism that had been sweeping across the country since the Summer of Love. The deejay who was hiring me to draw the poster had that look, so I wasn't going to insult him by insisting that our agreement be printed on paper.

I spent weeks pouring every trippy detail my subconscious could come up with into every inch of my oversized original art. It took a long time, to put it mildly, but below is the image I came up with.

I suspect you've already guessed what happened then. I got screwed.

Not only did WJLN fail to print the poster or pay me for my many hours of labor; they also never got around to returning my original artwork. Not that having the artwork in hand would have done me any good. By the time I realized that I was in the process of being stiffed, 1973 was well underway. Seeking a replacement market for the drawing would have been futile because the calendar that was intricately imbedded in my art would be wrong for any upcoming year. It had been tailored for 1973’s specific configuration of days, weeks, and months. By 1974, the calendar would no longer apply.

Decades passed while I moved on to other projects. I drew more underground comix and sought other freelance work, for which I tried to make sure that all provisions were safely put on paper before I took my rapidograph in hand. I moved to New York, freelanced when I could, and art directed Starlog magazine for eight months when my reserves got low. I spent much of the 1980s drawing my Wendel comic strip and the first half of the 1990s was devoted to Stuck Rubber Baby. I would only be reminded of my 1973 calendar/poster fiasco when rummaging through old file folders. That's when, from time to time, I would come across the lonely photostat I had made before turning loose of my lost poster artwork.

Then came Facebook.

In mid-2017 I recounted the foregoing sad story in the course of telling my Facebook friends about times I've been screwed by my freelance clients. I shared a scan of my 1973 calendar/poster and explained why its specific configuration of days had doomed its prospects of ever being printed.

Facebook users love a challenge, though, and one of them did some quick research and discovered a surprising coincidence. 1973's arrangement of days was about to be exactly replicated — in 2018, no less!

Why not revise my poster accordingly and release it now?!

All I would have to do would be to replace its prominently featured "1973" with "2018" and get rid of the radio station's logo. Both of these tasks could be easily accomplished using the digital patching techniques I describe elsewhere in this Cartoonists Corner. As I mulled over my 1972 art's renewed prospects, long-suppressed ambitions began surfacing. Not only could I resurrect my lost poster; I could at long last add the color that its visual cacophany had always begged for!

And that has been my main project during most of November 2017. For starters, below is the first leg of my journey, in which I swapped years and ditched all references to the Alabama radio station that started it all.

Graduall,. bit by bit, I added colors to various parts of my image. For reasons I'll describe below, there was no need to worry at this stage about which colors I was using. The poster's viewers were never going to see my first bunch of coloring. But by taking the time to do this preliminary labor, I was laying the groundwork for the more interesting trippy details that the viewers would be seeing.

Below is the finished version of my preliminary coloring. Next would come creating a freshly colored version that would make practical use of this crazy mish-mash of hues. But before I move on to the finished art, let me do a little explaining.

When I say that what I've done up to this point will go unseen by people who look at the finished poster, I'm referring to the fact that this first swath of colors will reside on a Photoshop layer that's hidden underneath the layer that will ultimately be providing my eye candy. The purpose of the color scheme on the lower level is to make the job of adding shading to my initially flat drawings a lot easier.

Below is a demonstration of how my process works. Let's take one small detail: the puffed-out cheek of the Sun at the top of the page. It's puffed out because of the chunk of Moon that's inside of it. I need some soft shading to convey the stuffed cheek's roundness. I'm starting with a Sun that's colored flat yellow (1). But by using what's called a "brush" in Photoshop parlance, I'll give it an illusion of three-dimensionality.

All of Photoshop's brushes are round, but they come in different sizes and levels of softness. I'll need a fairly large brush to communicate a gentle, graduated shadow on the underside of the Sun's cheek. But if I use a large brush to achieve that softness, the tone will spill messily outside of the cheek's perimeter (2).

In other words, by having my first, crazy-quilt version of the poster waiting on a lower layer, I can solve that problem.

In order to create an illusion of roundness in the cheek without spilling loose shading around willy-nilly, I'll first give the cheek area on the lower layer a color other than yellow. I can then "select" that differently colored cheek with Photoshop's "Magic Wand" tool (3). When I move back up to the top layer, no changes can be made outside of that selected area. This means I can use as large a brush as I like and my soft shading will nevertheless stay inside of the cheek's boundary(4).

A more complex example is the shading I've added to various portions of the elephant in the poster's lower-left corner. On the lower layer that the viewer won't see, I've divided the elephant's body into more than a dozen distinct areas. By isolating each of those areas separately with the "Magic Wand" tool, I can move to the top layer and add shading to each area, one at a time.

Of course, there were probably a few hundred distinct areas in the entire poster art. That's why it took me nearly a month to prepare my preliminary layer before I could begin creating the shaded imagery that will hopefully make the poster worth grooving on for hours — whether or not the viewer has partaken of any hallucinatary substances. That's what psychedelic posters are for, after all.

It's been many decades since I last took LSD myself, but as you may know, those trips of my youth have provided inspiration for many a weird drawing throughout my entire career.

Below: the finished poster artwork!

P.S.: If you'd like to own your own copy of this poster, click on this link!

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