Leben mit Herman Melville

Nicola Black, Molly Crabapple, Neil Gaiman: Desert Wind

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Update for Thought is a powerful formidable essence:

Molly Crabapple puts it like this:

Molly CrabappleWhen I was 7 years old, I fell in love with the cool girl at camp. She was 14, with a shaved head, an ankh necklace, and a copy of The Sandman. Neil Gaiman has been my favorite author ever since.

One of the coolest moments of my career was when, last spring, Neil twittered me and asked me to draw a poem poster for him. I agonized over it for months. Nothing seemed good enough. I tore through tent cities, researched Canaanite gods. At long last, here it is, ready to present to you. It’s one of my favorite illustrations ever.

This is a 10” x 22” full-color bleed print illustrating Neil’s dark mirage of a tale DESERT WIND. It’s designed by Nicola Black, one of my fave collaborators. […]

Cat Mihos, the headmistress of the convocation of coolness that is Neverwear, gave me a sweet interview too.


Nicola Black puts it like this:

For this portfolio piece, I thought I’d post about my process. This collaboration between Neil Gaiman, Molly Crabapple and myself was so much fun — I had to share my experience. […]

My job was to find the perfect type style for the title, layout the poem itself and possibly embellish the art work and text elements when and where possible. I began looking through fonts for the perfect style to accentuate the illustration as well as the words of the poem. This process is one any designer can get lost in. I know I always do! There are oodles of well designed fonts out there to choose from (my fave go to site is allowing me to set aside a nice, big bundle as possible contenders for this poster. ArcanaGMMStd-Manuscript ended up being the perfect font for this project – a little weathered, a bit of a Middle Eastern flair, all mixed with just a touch of whimsy.

Nicola Black. Woo hoo, I got my Molly Crabapple piece, April 18, 2008When designing, there can be quite a lot of details to be applied to the text to accommodate the layout. After all, my goal is to make sure the text really feels like a part of the piece. I don’t want the text to feel disjointed and simply pasted on top of the illustration. My next step was to stack the text as well as tilt each line a bit. This allows the title to fill the top portion of the design nicely.

Next, I applied a few distortions to the text. Even though the type face provides a nice organic feel, this step adds just a bit more movement to the treatment. I found that the text alone in the space wasn’t quite right. Something was missing. It still felt a bit lonely. I needed to incorporate more elements to tie the treatment into the illustration. So, I got out the sketch book and jotted down a few of my own little swirls inspired by those found in the illustration. I also pulled out my trusty tracing paper and began to apply some extra embellishments to the text. Dotted swirls, loops and curlicues did the trick! Here’s what it looked like before I applied it to the illustration. Keep in mind, I had a plan for the color and transparency of the different areas of the text – so this example is a little overwhelming being that it is the high contrast, black and white version.

Next step – apply it to the illustration! I experimented with color and transparency creating multiple versions of the piece. I then held official voting in my studio with my fiancé (thanks, Todd – ha ha). […]

The body copy went through a lot of revisions. In some of my first compositions, I treated the text similarly to the title treatment – giving it a bit of movement. In the end, simplicity prevailed. After looking back at some of those other compositions, I’m so glad they were vetoed. The poster has so much going on it was best to keep Mr. Gaiman’s poem untouched in regard to fanciful embellishments and distortion. At the foot of the poster, I felt it would be a fun element to reiterate the words, “this time,” from the poem. They become ghost like and an after thought I felt added a little something extra to the piece.

And there you have it! This project was SO much fun to work on. It’s always a pleasure working with Molly Crabapple (as you can tell from my portfolio – only my favorite jobs make it there). And I am so very honored to have been able to work on this poem for Neil Gaiman, Cat Mihos and One of the most rewarding pieces I’ve had the pleasure of working on yet! The poster will be available for sale beginning Friday, April 2nd, 2010 at 4PM PST on There will also be limited quantities available here soon! More info to come – please check back regularly!

Neil Gaiman, Nicola Black, Molly Crabapple, Desert Wind, 2010

There was an old man with skin baked black by the desert sun
who told me that, when he was young, a storm had separated him from his caravan
and its spices, and he walked over rock and over sand for days and nights,
seeing nothing but small lizards and sand-coloured rats.

But that, on the third day, he came upon a city
of silken tents of all bright colours. A woman led him into the largest tent,
crimson the silk was, and set a tray in front of him, gave him iced sherbet
to drink, and cushions to lie upon, and then, with scarlet lips, she kissed his brow.

Veiled dancers undulated in front of him, bellies like sand dunes,
Eyes like pools of dark water in oases, purple were all their silks,
and their rings were gold. He watched the dancers while servants brought him food,
all kinds of food, and wine as white as silk and wine as red as sin.

And then, the wine making good madness in his belly and his head, he jumped up,
into the midst of the dancers, and danced with them, feet stamping on the sand,
jumping and pounding, and he took the fairest of all the dancers
in his arms and kissed her. But his lips pressed to a dry and desert-pitted skull.

And each dancer in purple had become bones, but still they curved and stamped
in their dance. And he felt the city of tents then like dry sand, hissing and escaping
through his fingers, and he shivered, and buried his head in his burnous,
And sobbed, so he could no longer hear the drums.

He was alone, he said, when he awoke. The tents were gone and the ifreets.
The sky was blue, the sun was pitiless. That was a lifetime ago.
He lived to tell the tale. He laughed with toothless gums, and told us this:
He has seen the city of silken tents on the horizon since, dancing in the haze.

I asked him if it were a mirage, and he said yes. I said it was a dream,
and he agreed, but said it was the desert’s dream, not his. And he told me that
in a year or so, when he had aged enough for any man, then he would walk
into the wind, until he saw the tents. This time, he said, he would go on with them.

I put it like this: Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is the best graphic novel series in existence.


Illustration © 2010 Molly Crabapple • Design © 2010 Nicola Black Design, L.L.C. • Poem © Neil Gaiman from Smoke and Mirrors, 1998.

Written by Wolf

5. April 2010 at 12:01 am

Posted in Laderaum

5 Responses

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  1. Niel Gaiman’s Sandman … sigh … in the mid 90ies … my now Ex-Girlfriend made a Sadman with Windows “Paint” for me. I still have it.


    5. April 2010 at 7:23 am

  2. In the mid-nineties, my now-wife made a Sandman and Death t-shirt for me. I don’t have it any more. Sigh :o)

    Have you met? There was a new reheat volume after The Wake and The Dream Hunters his editor talked him into by promising 7 European artists — Endless Nights, in 2003. Gorgeous again!


    5. April 2010 at 7:33 am

  3. Thanks for spreading the word about this collaborative project, Wolf! It’s very much appreciated. Only thing that’s incorrect is the picture of Nicola Black. :) That’s of the film producer and not myself. Just thought I’d let you know. Cheers!


    8. April 2010 at 4:58 am

  4. Thank you back for stopping by and sending appreciation!

    As for the picture… Gee, sorry for mixing you up — and I was so happy to find an accessible Wikimedia portrait… Now I found one in your Flickr account using a Crabapple work. Very fit and proper :o)


    8. April 2010 at 2:46 pm

  5. No need to apologize. It’s no problem at all! The pic you chose is very appropriate! Glad you found it!


    8. April 2010 at 4:15 pm

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