Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Thrills, Chills, & Spills: Ladies and Gentlemen...Francesco Francavilla

by JB
I don’t know art, but I know what I like.
Francesco Francavilla has become my favorite modern artist. I was first introduced to his work through his amazing Universal Monsters posters commissioned by the Mondo Gallery in Austin, Texas. Mondo held a special Universal Monsters gallery showing in 2012, highlighting the work of Francavilla, Martin Ansin, Ken Taylor, Laurent Durieux, Drew Struzan, and others. These posters were a delight and a revelation. New poster art being commissioned for the classic Universal Monster films confirmed my long-held beliefs that these films have made a seminal contribution to American cinema, continue to serve as artistic inspiration to new generations of creators, and hold lasting influence in our cultural identity. It also made me wish my job paid more money and my house had more walls.
I love Francavilla’s style, which melds modern design with vintage pulp sensibilities. I admire the way his posters focus on an iconic image from the film while avoiding clichéd iconic imagery. His Invisible Man poster, for example, captures the “You’re crazy to know who I am” moment beautifully.

I love Francavilla’s use of color. I love that he feels unfettered to show anything he wants; the original posters for these films were often loathe to reveal too much. When dealing with modern artistic interpretations of classic monsters, I find that artists often get it wrong: Bela Lugosi and Elsa Lanchester, for example, are very difficult to draw accurately. Francavilla always gets it right. The art on his SDCC Frankenstein poster (above) may be my favorite drawing of Frankenstein ever. Look at the detail on the Wolf Man and Creature from the Black Lagoon posters and you’ll find yourself channeling your inner Monster Kid. This is great stuff!

I am staring at Francavilla’s Wolf Man poster now and thinking of Guillermo Del Toro’s words on Sunday, accepting his Gold Globe award for directing The Shape of Water. Del Toro said, “Since childhood, I have been faithful to monsters. I have been saved and absolved by them because monsters, I believe, are patron saints of our blissful imperfection […] For 25 years I have handcrafted very strange little tales made of motion, color, light, and shadow […] We have made a deal with a particularly inefficient devil that trades three years of our lives for one entry on IMDb. And these things are biography and they are alive." Francesco Francavilla understands these sentiments better than most, especially the “color, light, and shadow” parts.

The Francavilla Invisible Man poster, as well as a few others, found its way onto the walls of our 2013 family room remodel. Look to your left, there is King Kong; look to your right, the Mummy. Frankenstein is there, over the bar. My wife loves me so much that she has made her peace with a family room that, based on all appearances, was decorated by a quirky 12 year-old Monster Kid. Yet we both feel that Francavilla doesn’t just “draw movie posters”—his art provides context, invites interpretation, and creates mood and movement. (I still like the “she loves me” angle, though.)

Francavilla is a comic book artist of some renown, having drawn covers and interior illustration for his own creation, The Black Beetle, as well as illustrating Black Panther, Captain America, Hawkeye, The Spirit, and Afterlife with Archie.

I starting following Francavilla on the Twitter machine about a year ago, and his tweets are delightful. He not only posts sketches and “works in progress,” he will often reveal what music he is using to get himself through a rough night of drawing work. In October, he participated in a “31 Sketches in 31 Days” Twitter dare with other artists, creating 31 new ink drawings of classic monsters. The most charming part of Francavilla’s contribution, though, was his admission that he hated to leave even a small amount of ink in his cup at the end of the session. He would then quickly draw something else just to use up the remaining ink. These “Precious Ink” drawings were also posted. Sometimes his tweets include glimpses of his studio, featuring a foreboding framed drawing on one wall of the Grim Reaper, pointing at the viewer and commanding him to “Draw, Draw, Draw, Draw!”

I have gained insight into what it is like to be a real, working artist by following Francavilla’s tweets. I soon learned that Francavilla did all sorts of poster work and was not limited to my narrow field of interest. He has designed posters for films in other genres and time periods. Take a look. His Jurassic Park poster may be my favorite movie poster of all time.
So why bring up Francavilla on this cold January morning? Am I hoping my love for his work will somehow warm my cold, black heart? Am I hoping to jumpstart my new year with some of the residual pleasure his work affords me every single time I look at it? Well… yes. But, there is also the little matter of the second Mondo Gallery Universal Monsters show, which begins on January 19th.

Yes, five years after that first, amazing show, Mondo is doing it again next week! On display and for sale will be new work by Francavilla, Ken Taylor, Gary Pullin, Jessica Seamans, Jonathan Burton, Eric Powell, Bruce White, and others.

So what should you do? Why, book a flight to Austin and attend the show, of course. Buy a copy of every poster for sale. Use this month’s mortgage payment or your children’s college fund! Purchase that cool new Francavilla Dracula poster and send it to me. (I’ll pay you back. I am good for it! [I will not pay you back. I am retired. I am on a fixed income.]) Can’t fly to Austin? Check the Mondo website for when they will start selling the posters online. This is important because the minute the posters go on sale, they are snapped up in hours and resold on the eBay machine at tremendous markups. It’s a gala day when you can buy a Mondo poster at issue price. You can go here for all the details.

Thank you, Francesco Francavilla. Because of your talent, insight, and empathy, your work has made my world a better place. Isn’t that the definition of art?

Official “Art of Francesco Francavilla” Thrill-O-Meter Reading: 100%

Thrills: 150%
(Exciting art PRICED TO OWN)

Chills: 150%
(Capturing the essence of scary monsters)

Ink Spills: 0%
(Please, no loss of Precious Ink! Much better used in the art)


  1. My kingdom for that Third Man poster. It's a beaut.

  2. i have a weird love/hate relationship with these things. and i don't know how to explain it. i literally have no words to explain why i wouldn't like the concept.

    that being said, check out '24x36 A Movie About Movie Posters', a documentary about movie posters in which they talk a lot about Mondo