By Mark Olsen, The Envelope
November 19, 2007
Ware, among the most renowned illustrator/authors working today, is perhaps best known for his graphic novel "Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth" and his ongoing series "The Acme Novelty Library." With a meticulous intricacy, his work draws the viewer into a world of sadness, whimsy, nostalgia for a past that might never have been and, sometimes, redemption. The experience of reading panel to panel has rarely been so emotional.
When the opportunity arose to contact Ware by e-mail, we at Envelope HQ jumped at the chance. What follows are his unedited responses.
Is this your first movie poster? Have you ever been asked to do one before? How did you come to work on this?
I designed a poster for Jessica Yu's 2004 film "In the Realms of the Unreal" (about Chicago artist Henry Darger), and I've occasionally been asked to work on posters for other films but generally turn them down because I'm a horrible illustrator (e.g. I was also invited to work on Fox Searchlight's "Little Miss Sunshine," though that was as an illustrator, not as a designer).
As for "The Savages," I was already an acquaintance of Tamara Jenkins' husband, Jim Taylor, who, along with his writing partner Alexander Payne, had gone out of their way in 2005 to hear an arcane presentation I was involved in at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles -- something which really bowled me over because they're both artistic heroes of mine. Anyway, aside from Jim's own kind words about my stuff, he also let me know that his wife, whose work I didn't know at that time, was working on a film called "The Savages" and that she'd (incredibly, to me) clipped a page from one of my comics as an inspiration for a bit of its art direction. So, a few months later, they invited me to sit in on the final edit session of the film. I really loved it, and was taken by its honesty, sophistication and approachability. Months later, when she asked me if I'd be interested in working on the poster, I was of course more than thrilled to give it a try. I think "The Savages" clearly presents the emotional problems and family difficulties of dealing with an aging parent unclouded by the Hollywood steam which would've otherwise compromised its truthfulness. Plus, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Laura Linney are both amazing and intelligent actors, and the characters they portray are complicated, touchy and touching. In short, it's a very literary film, but also very "readable."
Just from your poster, it seems you felt some affinity to the wet, wintry landscapes of the film. It also strikes me that "The Savages," like your work, is an unlikely mix of funny and sad.
I'm not sure if funny and sad are really so terribly different things; I've been to violent films that I find patronizing, dishonest and depressing, yet the people around me are all laughing their heads off. As a half-writer myself, I try not to think of what's funny and sad in a story but simply to think of what, to the best of my ability, seems truest; whether it's funny or sad is simply how it settles with the reader. In the wake of any horrible natural disaster some well-known religious figure is inevitably asked, "How can a good God allow something as bad as this to happen?" Really, though, what difference does it make to God whether 10,000 people or 10,000 fish die? Good and bad, like funny and sad, are phenomena relative to the perspective of the organism that's laughing or dying.
Did you come up with multiple designs, or was this the only one? Was the drawing you did the size of the poster, or was it blown up?
This was pretty much it, though the original design was much more literal and unforgiving, and it was actually through the suggestions of the studio that it got better. Not to speak pejoratively, but it's been my experience that editorial and artistic guidance generally doesn't always help something, but here such advice was quite helpful, and it made the final poster better. And, since you ask, while I usually draw with an eye toward reduction, here I drew the picture to be enlarged, so I had to be extra careful with my brush.