Wednesday, March 22, 2023

Let's take a look at "The Illustrated Al" from Z2 Comics!

Every once in a while, two great things converge. Sometimes the result is ranch dressing-flavored ice cream. But other times, two great things coalesce into a somehow perfect combination. Even more infrequently, I get to make the dang things. So here we are at today's much-anticipated blog post about The Illustrated Al, Z2's "Weird Al" Yankovic graphic novel, inspired by Al's catalog of songs.

As an aside, would you look at that picture at the top? I'm going to be buried with it. Anyway, let's move on.

The Illustrated Al is a collection of graphic adaptations of a number of Weird Al songs, mostly focusing on his original material from various albums over Al's decades-long career. I was contacted by Z2's EIC in May of last year asking if I would like to participate to this project, to which Al himself was overseeing. I've loved comics only slightly longer than I have loved Weird Al, so I naturally agreed and picked my contribution from a list of pre-selected songs. Wouldn't you know, my all-time favorite Weird Al song, "Good Old Days" from the 1988 "Even Worse" album, was available, so I jumped on that and contacted my friends Jeff McComsey and Mark Welser to help me make this short story. Folks, I gave it my all, and I'm happy with the results.

I knew from the beginning that I didn't want to just adapt the song in a literal way. First of all, "Good Old Days" is a very dark and violent song when taken at face value; making a comic about this means that right away, we're lacking the accompanying James Taylor-like musical track which adds half of the humor to the song. I could go on about how the combination of those two disparate elements creates a pitch-perfect package.

What I tried to do was create a narrative around the lyrics that centered around the story's main character looking back at his life and all of the havoc he's created. He's at the end of his life and he wants it all to mean something - he wants to perform his biggest and most terrible act yet. So he's a pretty much a serial killer, which is an idea that is, in some ways, so difficult to accept as a concept that it lends itself to hyperbole from the beginning. Then I set it in outer space, because I like outer space.

Over the course of creating and submitting the story, I got a few notes from Al, his manager, and Z2's editorial team, but the story was mostly accepted as we made it.

I'll let the story speak for itself, but there are a few things that I want to call attention to. The panel above is from a sepia-toned flashback scene, where we meet the song's Mr. Fender ("who ran the corner grocery store"). There's only one line of dialogue in this story, while the rest of the lyrics are presented in dialogue boxes, which seemed more appropriate. This one line gave me the opportunity to use a different font, and I felt that I should probably use it to include my newly-minted McClellafont. Really, if there was a reason I made the thing in the first place, this was it.

Let me also point out that I did add several Easter egg-style references to some of Al's other works and the like in this story. A few people have found some to this point, and there are some in this very panel. Most of them are pretty obvious, though maybe not all.

In addition to lettering, I tried my hand at color separations (or flatting) for the first time with this story. This is the process of adding color to the image that a traditional colorist will refine later. I will say that this process didn't take a lot of skill (perfect for me), but it did take a LONG time to do. It was very time intensive. I did what I could.

In true form for the modern comic book industry, the hardcover volume was released with a few different covers. The main cover is on the left and has art by MAD Magazine's Drew Friedman. On the right is the limited Local Comic Shop Day exclusive cover by Mark Fredrickson, also of MAD fame. It's interesting to note that the LCSD version of the book was actually the first to be released in late November of '22, while the proper, wide release version didn't come out until early this year.

The back cover actually has my name on it (and they spelled it correctly, too!), alongside some real comic book heavyweights. You might notice, along with myself and Jeff McComsey, a few Planet Comics contributors in this list such as Hilary Barta and Weird Me creator Kelly Phillips.

"Good Old Days" is located toward the end of the book. It's surreal to see it printed in this fine collection. Oh, and I also feel like mentioning that I created the 3-D title effect in Illustrator specifically for this story.

There was also an oversized, super deluxe model that came with a slipcase, a cover by Mike and Laura Allred, and a bunch of extra stuff like trading cards, coasters, a turntable dust cover and a print set. There's supposedly a miniature accordion still in the works that got delayed in production. This version is really extravagant and it seems like a real collector's item that some folks will keep for years.

I mentioned Planet Comics earlier - issue #3 ran this ad in the back, which I believe is the only print ad for the book out there. I contacted the folks at Z2 and they put this ad together. I suggested they use the line, "give meaning to your boring, miserable life," which is along the lines of something Al would say about his songs and concerts in the past, and they went with it.

In the very back of the Z2 hardcover, we find this page, which was probably created to fill some blank space at the end. Am I implying that this sequence made it into the book because of my ad copy suggestion? I am outright speaking it into existence, my friends. You are all welcome.

Once the book was widely released in January, Al and the Z2 staff went on something of a mini promotional tour, talking with a number of comic book and mainstream entertainment outlets about the collection. I get how these work: so that a bunch of sites can claim that they have exclusive looks at the book, giving them an incentive to promote their interviews and by extension the product being sold, creative talent will talk about certain things with one site and other things with other sites. Cynicism aside, it was still very gratifying to see my name pop up at a few of these outlets, such as Entertainment Weekly.

This was, and is, a pretty big deal to me, and I'm really grateful that Al noticed the story and some of the effort we put into it.

A lot of this coincided with Al's 2022 tour and the release of Weird: The Al Yankovic Story from the Roku Channel. And speaking of effort, I got to play "Weird Al Jeopardy" at the Pittsburgh tour stop and I cleaned up. Don't worry that one of the individuals I beat was a literal child.

After the show this night, I got a brief opportunity to speak with Al. Without any prompting (I promise), he told me how much he enjoyed the Illustrated Al story that I worked on. I realize that he is both a professional and an actor, but he seemed genuine and I choose to believe that this was a truly spontaneous moment. It is - without a doubt - a moment that I will remember for a long time to come, and I really appreciate his words.

Around this same time, I got to attend the premiere of Al's movie in Toronto...

...and I found a seat at the Weird panel at the New York Comic Con...

...where I bought this "Fat" portrait from artist Clay McCormick.

At the very end of the year, a radio station in Wisconsin changed their format to all Weird Al, all the time for a brief period. Suffice it to say, 2022 was a big year for Weird Al, and a big year for me and a few different Weird Al projects.

I walked away from this project with some really great original art, too, starting with pencils (and a book of thumbnails) from Jeff McComsey.

I also managed to grab the title page image from Craig Rousseau, who put together the "Melanie" adaptation in the book.

Danny Hellman drew the trading card art that was also included as a set of pinups at the back of the book. I got this one, drawn on vellum, of the absolutely incredible "Living with a Hernia" piece. I'm debating on whether or not I should frame this one.

This was an incredible experience, and it was something to which I took a lot of pride contributing. I'm eternally grateful to Al and his team for considering me when this project was just starting out, and to Z2 for their work in putting the book together.

The book itself has had a pretty wide release, and you can find it at comic shops and bookstores worldwide, as well as online on Z2's website and the usual places like Amazon. I'm hoping to grab a bunch more to take to conventions with me this year.

I think I've made it clear on this site that I'm a really big fan of Al and his music, so this was a really big deal to me. And in case I need to show off my nerd cred even more, check out these stage-worn boxer shorts I just bought that Al rubbed in someone's face while singing "One More Minute:"

Take care, all.


Larry Franks said...

Franks and Beans!!!!!

This is truly an amazing post about an amazing experience. This is peak Jeff!

Jeff said...

Immortalized in the pages of this book.