My wife is cool for reasons too numerous to go into here (though she'd love it - who wouldn't?), but one recent example of her Fonzie-ness is when she suggested to me that our son Nico's birthday party be monster-themed. His birthday is in mid-September - not really close enough to October to be a logical tie-in - which makes it even cooler in my mind. Monsters just for the heck of it! Sharon's a pastry chef by trade, so she may just have been hankering to create some monstrous cupcakes, but whatever the reason, I was very happy with the theme and immediately began sketching. Here's the first concept I came up with:
Yes, Nico being surrounded by monsters is a dream of mine. Brings me back to my childhood. I wanted a Brady Bunch kind of feel for this layout, with Nico smushed in the middle, but that forced me to go outside the bounds of what I consider to be the five classic monsters (for the uninitiated: Frankenstein's Monster, Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy and the Creature from the Black Lagoon) so I had to add a witch, a King Kong (looks too close to the Wolfman), and a skull - traditional Halloween stuff, but I don't think the lesser creatures can really hold their ground when put next to the five legends. Sorry, Kong fans.
I reworked the concept a bit, limiting it to the main five monsters. I wanted to keep the style light and fun (this is a kid's party, after all) and I wanted each shape to be distinct. Round two of the layout:
I was pretty happy with this, though I think I pushed the Wolfman too far into a cartoony realm, and too far away from Lon Chaney Jr.'s alter ego. I redrew him, then I inked the sketch by hand, using my favored brush-tip markers. I discovered these markers in 1988 and haven't stopped using them. They create a nice varied line weight, and they're easier to use than a traditional brush and ink combo. The downside of the brush-tip markers is that you've got to give the lines some time to dry (a few minutes) before your hand goes over them, or they'll smear. And the ink is water-soluble, so you can't color directly on the inked page. This was not a problem, however, since I knew I'd be coloring digitally anyway. The inked piece:
I think the Wolfman and Mummy were much improved here. So I scanned in the inked version of the art and pulled it into Adobe Illustrator. Using the Live Trace feature, I vectorized the outlines, making them into solid digital shapes. Some people don't like this automated feature, but I did some early tests and really liked the way it treated my linework. It was a little rough in some places, but that was perfect. My monsters can take it - they're tough.
Next, I used Illustrator's Live Paint feature to drop big flat colors into the shapes. The colors were very literal at this point (the Wolfman's outline was incomplete, so he's not colored here) and didn't have the subtlety I was going for - but that was fine, too, as this was only an intermediate stage:
Those colors absolutely suck. That's the problem with coloring everything as you "know" they should be - everything looks right on its own, but the colors are so far apart, the full piece isn't cohesive.
My next step was an not a traditional one - I pulled the vector art from Illustrator into Freehand, the best vector drawing tool ever created. Never mind that it's a dead program. In Freehand, I pushed all the colors toward green so the monsters and Nico would work harmoniously with each other. Even the Wolfman's fur is really a very greenified brown, though in the spectrum used, it winds up looking natural (at least, to my eyes). I also manually added the highlights and shadows to each monster, giving them a bit of depth. This was probably the most time-consuming step, but it made the monsters pop (a way overused term) more, which is what I was going for. I like things that pop. Like Pop Rocks. Or those snappy things with gunpowder that you thrown on the sidewalk ("Snappers"?). Those are awesome.
Once I was happy with the colors, I added a white outline, radial gradient purple background for maximum contrast (complimentary colors, you see), and text in Mufferaw and a great free font (Feast of Flesh) I'd recently found online, and used for the word "Monster" and some additional text on the reverse side of the invitation. What a serendipitous font discovery. The result:
The biggest wildcard here is Nico him - I'm sure I'll be tweaking him more before the invitation gets printed. I may have made his flesh too yellowish, but a natural flesh color didn't blend with the monsters' palette - and he needs to blend. He is "one of them" after all. It's also difficult to render fuzzy baby hair in a flat vector style. And his face is still changing, too - that'll need some modifying before I "go to press" (probably Kinko's or VistaPrint).
Because I am an unabashed entrepreneur, I reworked the art into a product design, adding the text "Everybody Needs A Little Monster Love", and repositioning the five monsters onto a crackly heart shape. The new art was uploaded onto my online stores, and the pieces were up for sale. Hopefully all the monster fans of the world will eventually find the products and decide to show their love.
Everybody Needs A Little Monster Love on Zazzle
And of course, Nico will be wearing one of these shirts at his actual birthday party. I've also designed stickers of each monster's individual face, and Sharon is going to recreate the illustration for the cake. Hey, you've got to reinforce the theme, right?