Tag Archives: Artwork

Lost in the wonderful world of Mr. Product

4461391534_02cce86892_oAs a kid I spent a disproportionate amount of time wandering around supermarkets and discount outlets every weekend with my mother.  Like most kids my mom would drag me out to the store to do the weekly grocery shopping, but unlike most (I think) my mother usually went out close to midnight and would spent hours picking through the aisles looking for new products and browsing endlessly for stuff.  Since I knew she was going to be awhile, it was pretty common for me to wander off, lost in my own head and making up stories as I let my eyes scan across the thousands of boxes, cans, jars, bottles and packaging. Much later I’d come to the realization that this time was her precious escape from the isolation of being a homemaker, her chance to get out and just not be cooped up in the house and the routine.

For me, it was the beginning of what would become a life-long obsession with branding, packaging, and art.  Every product on those shelves had a story, many of which even had convenient main stars right there on the box.  Tony the Tiger, Cap’n Crunch, the Kool-Aid Man, Big John (he of the beans & fixin’s fame), Mr, Clean, Chef Boyardee,Mr. Bubble, the old timey lady on the raisins box, all of these characters, all of this art and branding was swimming around my head as I tried to keep myself entertained and sane while wandering the aisles, lost in the supermarket.

From the collection of Jason Liebig, CollectingCandy.com

This love of branding, product mascots and art was reinforced in my teens and early 20s after I got a job stocking grocery store shelves on the night crew of my local Kroger.  Again, to keep myself sane I’d lose myself in the various labels and boxes, making sure all the packaging was upright and facing front at the end of the night.  It was very centering in a weirdly zen way, being a sort of shepherd for products, making sure they were presented as they were designed.  Again, this just reinforced my love of branding, and has informed my taste when it came to doing my own freelance design and artwork.

Recently my friend Belle Dee had shared a picture of some books she’d just bought, a couple volumes called Meet Mr. Product and simply Mr. Product, Vol.2, and they really caught my eye.  Written and compiled by Warren Dotz and designed by Masud Husain, this two volume set features the graphic art of advertising characters and mascots covering a plethora of brands over the majority of the 20th century.  Well, I got my hands on a copy of the second volume and I am in love…


This volume’s 272 pages are crammed full of hundreds of mascot illustrations and paintings mainly covering the years 1960-1985.  The book is broken into two halves, the first deals with short essays and examinations centering on the design trends of those two and a half decades.  Transitioning away from the Googie futurism of the late forties and fifties, the book chronicles the tumultuous era of design that saw America through the ultra-hip beatniks, flower-power psychedelia, anthropomorphic machines and electronics, the surf, mod, and monster cultures and on to the ultra-weird Sid & Marty Kroft-inspired McDonalndland gang, the salacious playboy and disco era, and eventually to the height of product merchandising in the Regan era. I really enjoyed reading through these micro-chapters.  They’re not only fun and conversational, making connections between mascots and trends, but they lay the groundwork for really appreciating the second, larger half of the book which focuses solely on on the advertising mascot artwork.


As much as I enjoyed the first 80 or so pages of examinations, it’s in the last couple hundred pages where I fell in love with this volume.  The artwork is broken down into 7 sections, Food & Drinks, Kids are King, Fast Food Franchises, Car Culture, Modern Life, Travel and Amusement, and Public Services and Safety.  Inside these chapters each two page spread is a curated collection of similar mascots, be it because of design or sub category.  For example, in the Fast Food section there’s the wonderful couple of pages that feature early illustrations of the Chuck E. Cheese and Showbiz characters (in this case using imagery from various promo buttons as seen above.)

The pages above also underline another aspect that I really love about his book which is that there was a lot of time and care taken with the artwork to showcase the actual illustrations as they were originally designed.  At first this might seem like a pretty simple thing, but I know from 10 years of sharing ephemera on this site that it requires a lot more than just snapping pictures or scanning old packaging or items.  There was a tremendous amount of care taken with cleaning up the artwork so that it could be presented in a very crisp and clean fashion enabling the reader to fully appreciated the design which I love.  It’s this attention to detail in the presentation that makes this book an indispensable resource for graphic designers, both for inspiration and research.


Another aspect that I was very pleasantly surprised by was the sheer volume of mascots and characters presented.  Being a collector myself and having been steeping in this world for over 30 years you get to a point where it feels like you’ve seen it all.  Even though I was born around the middle of the period this book covers, I’ve spent years thumbing through old magazines, deconstructing the products found in the backgrounds of old movies and television shows, and scouring the internet for examples of product packaging and I still was only familiar with about half of what’s presented in Mr. Product.  Flipping through the book I noticed a mascot I that looked sort of like the Fruit Stripes Gum Zebra, Yipes, but was instead the Beech-Nut Gum-Fetti Giraffe.  Turns out the two were both offshoots of the same company and might be representing the same gum, but this is something I never stumbled across in 30 years of paying attention to this kind of stuff.

In the photo above you can also see a really cool piece of artwork for Count Cola.  Again, longtime readers of this site know that I adore Halloween and monster branding, and I hard never stumbled across that particular brand of cola or its awesome cartoon vampire mascot.  I even Googled it, looking for pictures or info about Count Cola and was only able to find one tiny pixelated illustration, so this book has some really great obscure artwork from Dotz’s collection.


If you’re a fan of design, product branding or artwork, the Mr. Product books should be mandatory purchases.  Not only will they provide a wealth of inspiration, but for those that think they’ve seen it all, I’m pretty sure this book will prove otherwise and be a very welcome addition to your collection.  Dotz and Husain have really outdone themselves with this volume and as soon as I started flipping through the book I immediately logged into Amazon and ordered the first one as well.  My hope is that sometime soon the duo will reconvene and put together a third volume that covers the latter half of the 80s and the 90s to finish off the archive of a century of advertising mascots.


Alternative Movie Posters bringing the Art back to Design

I’ll be the first person to admit that I have my gaze set firmly in the past when thinking about pop culture art and design.   The packaging, ad campaigns and poster designs, all of the branding that I love to examine, catalog and collect.  I know a big part of this is because of my nostalgia, looking back to my childhood to what I consider the heyday of innovative and interesting artwork and design.  And I know that this can become a trap, where I’m blinded to great modern work because it’s doing something different than what I might prefer.  In my defense though, there are what seem like unending trends in graphic design these days that have made the landscape truly mind numbing and boring. In particular I’ve noticed this with a lot of modern poster design for films and DVDs, which I’ve mentioned before bugs me to no end.  I mean seriously, is it just me or do the following posters all blend into one giant mess of bland, sad, white noise?

Movie Posters the same more

I would certainly not lay this at the feet of the films themselves as there are some really great movies in this bunch (as well as some truly horrible films.)  All I know is that if I walked into a theater with a wall of these posters all lined up and had to pick a movie based only on this imagery I’d be confounded as to which one to pick.  They’re all the same.  Even when the campaigns are a little more successful in terms of good design, you quickly see so many other designers jump on the bandwagon, diluting interesting concepts and bringing it all back down into the pool of white noise, boring static…


Obviously this isn’t always the case.  There is still some great poster design out there in the mainstream, for instance the campaign that was recently run for the 2013 release of The Wolverine

the wolverine poster good

Simple, beautiful and tied into the story of the film (what little coherent story there was in that very horrible movie), the artwork in the above poster is a breath of fresh air even though it was the cream in an ad campaign that was rife with other horrible designs like this argument for banning the “brightness/contrast” function in Photoshop…

the wolverine sucks

So, does this mean that the art of design died sometime in the late 80s?  Of course not, it’s all about trust for creative vision and the lack of which exists in the large movie studio system.  These companies have millions of dollars riding on marketing and design campaigns and when attempting to sell their product to as large an audience as possible they can so very easily lose sight of the merits true art, favoring instead to stay the course of design by committee honed by market research and focus groups.

But there is a fascinating response to this bland design in film art, and in his new book Matthew Chojnacki explores this phenomena.  Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art from the Underground dives into the limited run screen prints, glycees and digital prints created for revival and festival screenings of movies that have been cropping up over the last decade.  There’s been a movement to bring the intimacy and limited edition of band gig posters to the film world where thousands of artists celebrate screenings with interesting conceptual designs.

Film Art

For those of us that don’t want to do battle with the shopping cart at Mondo (trying to land a copy of their popular, insanely fast selling screen prints), or who can’t afford to keep up with all of the amazing artwork with these alternative posters, Chojnacki’s book is a great archive highlighting the work of over a hundred different artists from all over the world.  Much like he did with his previous book, Put the Needle on the Record, he really does an amazing job curating this collection of independent artwork.  Whether it’s double page spreads highlighting a specific artist or using these opposing pages to compare and contrast between artists, focusing on a particular style, medium, or similar concepts, there was a lot of care put in the arrangement of the designs.

Goonies Gremlins

There are over 200 posters spanning the gamut of the past 80 years of film, from stark expressionistic takes on M through to unbelievably creative spatial collages for The Dark Knight Rises.  For lovers of film and design Chojnacki’s Alternative Movie Posters is a welcome raft in the sea of uninspired corporate design.  Not every piece of artwork in the book will win you over, but all of them go a long way to recapturing a time when studios actually seemed to care about producing and commissioning true works of film inspired art.


Each work is accompanied by artist commentary including poster specific inspiration, the art, films and other artists that influence their work, as well as what they use to create and their thoughts on film.  The book also annotates each piece with biographical info and how to contact the artists to find further work or commission some of your own.  Though the book doesn’t focus on any specific genre or era of film, for children of the 80s there is a lot of work focusing on the films we grew up loving.  Tron, Robocop, The Dark Crystal, Gremlins, Goonies, Labyrinth, The Burbs, The Lost Boys, Ghostbusters, Beetlejuice, Big and a ton more…


I also love that Chojnacki didn’t limit himself to work being released in America, the roster of artists is truly international and an interesting mix of well known and up and coming designers.  I was just as excited to spot artwork from folks I recognize like Joe Simko, Tim Doyle and  Jason Edmiston, as I was to be introduced to folks like Gary Pullin (contributing outstanding Teen Wolf and Street Trash posters), Laurie Shipley (with a great Revenge of the Cheerleaders piece), Rocco Malatesta (with a great eye for minimalism and spacial conceptualization in his Raging Bull piece) , and Ryan Luckoo (who did a phenomenal job with the Dark Knight Rises.)


If you have a film buff, artist, or designer on your Christmas list this year, do yourself a favor and pick up Matthew Chojnacki’s Alternative Movie Posters: Film Art From the Underground (and while you’re at it, pick up a copy of Put the Needle on the Record too.)  You won’t be sorry you did!