I was at my parents’ house and found their pile of “stuff our son has published” and spotted a book I often forget about, even though it was my most ambitious graphic work up to that point: my wraparound cover for the sixth issue of Top Shelf’s erstwhile flagship anthology.
Brett Warnock invited me to do the cover and I took it on even though it was way beyond anything I’d done except for my own minicomics covers (and a not-too-successful gouache cover for an anthology called One Eye Open One Eye Closed). I don’t remember the sequence of ideas or images but I settled on a Sternberg Brothers-inspired Soviet movie poster style (maybe not quite as clichéd then as it is now).
I’d also been wowed—along with everyone else—by David Mazzucchelli‘s 2-ink overlay style in the story “Discovering America” from Rubber Blanket #2 so I decided to use that technique for my cover, in part because it evoked the look of old lithographic printing.
(The image from “Discovering America” is swiped from Derik Badman’s blog, where he wrote a good post about the comic.)
I made the cover over the course of a few weeks, drawing in ink and soft pencil (for the soft-edged, lithographic pencil effects) and putting it all together in Photoshop, which I was still learning how to use. Looking back it strikes me as more ballsy than I realized at the time, ah, the follies of youth! Sometimes they pay off. I think this one has held up pretty well, overall. This may have been the first time I drew an Ames lettering guide, though it was not the last! The only thing I’m not happy with his the red Pantone, which is a bit too fluorescent and pink. Here’s the whole cover:
And here’s the back cover in a better scan:
I like my little ink bottle guy on the back cover and have thought about reusing him at some point. The signature 1Madden1 is an homage to the Sternbergs’ typical 2Sternberg2.
I had a comic in this issue called “Friends & Family” (which you can now read here), and I was in good company: Craig Thompson, Brian Ralph, Dean Haspiel, Warren Craghead and Sirk Productions were among the other contributors. I never got the complete story but my understanding is that Top Shelf 6 had a very low print run and not much distribution. As a result, I rarely see this issue in stores and I couldn’t even find an image online when I Googled it—now that’s obscure!