Thursday, February 25, 2016

The other cover: Hamlet Special Edition

The back cover of The Billionth Monkey was designed to look like the cover of a comic book. The idea was to have a flip-book with what purports to be an excerpt from the "authorized" graphic novel adaptation of Hamlet Special Edition. It was the kind of gag that I would have expected from a Monty Python book.

Since it turned out that I couldn’t do a flip-book for the paperback or eBook versions (more on that in tomorrow’s concluding post), the cover appears after the acknowledgements in those formats. That is why we’re talking about it at this point in the walk-through. The eBook includes this "other" cover in glorious color, same as all the other illustrations. The paperback, meanwhile, reproduces it in grayscale but with the color version appearing on the back cover—just not upside-down. For the true flip-book experience, you’ll need to go with the limited-edition hardcover: but don’t wait too long: as of this post, only 15 copies remain.

This cover I pays homage to Marvel’s Star Wars treasury edition, which pretty much every kid I knew growing up had. But it also pays homage to the original Hildebrandt movie poster...which was the basis of the Marvel version. Artist Robert Randle loved the concept and ran with it, delivering a beautiful compromise between the two. Notice these artistic flourishes:
  • The Death Star becomes a moon (I know, I know: that’s no moon, but…)
  • The disembodied head of Darth Vader becomes the Force ghost of King Hamlet
  • We see the castle Kronborg in the misty background
  • Luke is transformed into a classic-looking Hamlet
  • Leia is Ophelia—or is that OpheLeia?—with her right leg extending into the water...an absolutely brilliant adaptation on Robert’s part of the original pose 
  • C3PO and R2D2 become the grave digger and Yorick. 
The artwork is more Hildebrandt than 1970s Marvel in style, but that’s definitely an upgrade! I mean, who doesn’t love the Brothers Hildebrandt?

The cover of Hamlet Special Edition alongside its inspirations: the original Star Wars movie poster by the Brothers Hildebrandt, and the cover of Marvel Comics' Star Wars treasury edition.
If you like Robert’s artwork as much as I do, you can purchase it in various forms at his Redbubble page.

Aaron Tatum added the necessary graphics for that bronze-age comic book feel. The bar across the top is a Marvel convention from the era; Aaron went with red instead of the blue as in the treasury edition for maximum contrast. The Comics Code Authority seal was replaced with the Stanley’s Marvelous Comics seal (I really wanted to use the CCA seal, but my production deadline didn’t permit enough time to negotiate a license for using the image). We find the first issue published in February—consistent with events in The Billionth Monkey—for a price of 93 krone, the official currency of Denmark. This works out to be close to the list price on the paperback.The title at the bottom of the cover is done in a font that recalls Star Wars to drive home the three-way mashup.

I couldn’t have asked for a better realization of the concept: Hamlet meets Star Wars meets bronze-age Marvel. Plus all of this is in time for the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death on April 23, 2016...which is why I thought the idea of an "authorized" graphic novel was funny: it’s not like Shakespeare is around to authorize it!

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