For serious poster collectors and Universal Monsters fans, it will come as no surprise that Drew Struzan—the legendary artist who created some of the most well-known, iconic movie posters ever to come out of Hollywood—once created a poster for Universal’s Creature From The Black Lagoon: after all, the image has been bouncing around since 2001, and it’s easily discovered for anyone who does a little poking around on Struzan’s website; it’s not as though Struzan’s been keeping this thing a secret. And yet, I recently noticed—over the course of several email-based conversations with readers—that very few of you seemed to be aware of this print’s existence.
With Mondo’s Universal Monsters show just about a week away from opening, I figured it’d be a good time to take a look at the history of this piece: how it came about, who produced it, and—last but not least—where people may be able to get ahold of one if one were so inclined. For all of that (and more), meet me after the jump, folks.
Today’s Limited Paper is going to be a little different from columns past, so don’t be alarmed: we’re not announcing anything new today, nor are we debuting exclusive images (as we did last night thanks to the valiant efforts of Collider’s head honcho, Steve Weintraub). Instead, we’re taking a look back at an older piece of printed movie art, one that a surprising number of readers I’ve spoken to lately seem completely oblivious of. This is, yes, a history lesson of sorts…but I guarantee you that it’s worth paying attention to (ahem).
As you well know, Mondo is on the verge of opening its latest gallery show, a surefire blockbuster based entirely around the “Universal Monsters” series. Y’know: Dracula, The Wolfman, The Mummy, the Creature From The Black Lagoon, Bride of Frankenstein, and the like. Their new show promises to deliver new screenprints (and original pieces of artwork!) based on these characters, and—as you might expect—the buzz surrounding that show has been tremendous: collectors are flying in from all over the world to attend the show, and some of those people are talking about getting in line for next Friday’s opening as early as Wednesday morning. Mondo has promised the biggest show they’ve ever done, and the word I’ve been hearing through the grapevine is that it may well be their best show, as well.
As a result of all this buzz-building, it’d be fair to say that the Universal Monsters have been on Limited Paper’s mind a lot lately. I’m a fan of all the Uni Monsters, of course, but my all-time favorite—the one I love above all others—has to be the Creature From The Black Lagoon (also referred to in some nefarious circles as “the Gill-Man”). I first saw Jack Arnold’s 1954 film back in 1987 or so, back when I was just a little kid still decades away from a crippling poster addiction. I specifically remember my dad picking up a VHS copy of the flick in a bargain bin at the local video store, buying it, and then staring at the cover all the way home, fascinated by the images on the front and back of that box. Something about the design of that monster really stuck with me, and through the years I’ve always counted it as one of my all-time favorite bits of rubberized-costume design.
When I first started collecting posters and learned that Mondo had an entire series planned for the Universal Monsters, I was thrilled. Sure, at that point they hadn’t done all that much with the license—I believe only Aaron Horkey’s Dracula had been released back then—but I was excited to know that a Creature From The Black Lagoon would show up sooner or later. It turned out to be “later”: it was well over a year before Mondo’s first CFtBL (from artist Francesco Francavilla) print arrived at Comic-Con 2012, but we were thrilled to be given the opportunity to debut that print here at Limited Paper. You guys remember what it looks like:
It was right around then that I first became aware that Drew Struzan had created a CFtBL poster. I was sort-of amazed to discover that I’d never seen the image before, that somehow a poster for one of my all-time favorite creature-features had never crossed my radar before then. As with just about any piece of work by Struzan, Drew’s Creature From The Black Lagoon is jaw-droppingly beautiful, artwork that demands to be framed and placed upon a wall as soon as possible:
I was stunned to learn that there were over 200 giclee prints of this image bouncing around out there, and I instantly set my sights on trying to track one down. In the process, I learned a few things about the poster, and—seeing as how we’re about to enter “Universal Monster Week” here at Limited Paper—I figured you guys might be interested to know what I learned. While I’m sure many of you are already aware of the print (hell, some of you may even own a copy), I’ve learned through several recent conversations that many of you are still as unfamiliar with the piece as I once was. Thus: this writeup.
Apparently, Struzan’s Creature From The Black Lagoon was commissioned back in 2001 by a gentleman by the name of Tony Calvert, who owned the Texas-based company called Hollywood On Paper. A cursory glance around the web seems to indicate that Hollywood On Paper may no longer be up and running, but back in the day they catered to the same crowd that now chases the kinds of stuff being released by Mondo, Gallery1988, Spoke Art, and the like. In an interview with Chiller Theater magazine (issue #17), Calvert had this to say about the pieces beginnings:
I started out wanting to do a celebrity-type poster…I had a different artist, an unknown, working on it in the beginning. But I’d always been a big fan of Drew Struzan’s paintings, and I was always telling my artists to give me something of his look. Then I happened to come across Drew’s website, and I realized that he works for himself—he’s an independent artist who accepts commissions. So I figured, why not go straight to the source? And that’s exactly what I wound up doing.
In their original conversations, Struzan and Calvert had kicked another idea around: creating posters for movies that never were, “What if?”-style mockups for films that might—for example—have starred Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe. But according to Struzan, it wasn’t long before they realized their efforts (and especially Drew’s) would be better focused on films that they loved…but that they felt hadn’t been given the proper “poster treatment”. Interviewed around the time, Struzan said:
As we talked, [Calvert] realized that maybe it might be more powerful to do the actual movies we loved, but movies that could really use an improved poster treatment. These new ‘one sheets’ would be just as artistic as our memories of the movies themselves were. Because sometimes, artistically, the original posters just didn’t have it.
After an aborted attempt to take on Frankenstein (apparently, there were likeness-rights issues; one can’t help but wonder if Struzan would’ve produced the same image he later made for Mondo, in 2011, when he made a Karloff-centric Frankenstein poster for them), Struzan settled on Creature From The Black Lagoon. Only Universal had to sign off on the “likeness rights” for the Gill-Man’s mask, and with Struzan already a favorite of the studio it was apparently very easy to get the clearances necessary to get started on the piece. Struzan watched the then-newly-released Creature From The Black Lagoon DVD for inspiration, and that was that. According to Struzan, however, creating a poster for a film years after its release—a “new and improved” poster, at that—was a lot easier to take on than something the studio’s still looking to promote:
[The process] was a little different from normal: I didn’t have to include the billing blocks, or make the usual changes from producers. And that’s because we weren’t actually selling the movie. What we were doing was a reprise, celebrating an experience that we all loved from our childhood. I had to honor that. Which is basically how I approach most of my work: I find the spirit for it. Only this spirit was a little different, since I didn’t have to worry about the advertising angle. I could cut to the heart of what it’s really about: the Creature, and the Lagoon.
And goddamn, did Struzan knock it out of the park. As you can see in some of the closeup shots we’ve scattered throughout the article, this piece is just as impressive as anything else that Struzan’s ever done, up to and including the brilliant work he’s done with Mondo over the past year or so. It’s been said that Struzan will have new artwork available at the Mondo Gallery’s “Universal Monsters” show next Friday, and we have every reason to believe that whatever it is—original works or screenprints—will be just as impressive as his work on Calvert’s Creature From The Black Lagoon.
Now, you’re probably wondering where the hell you can track one of these down: well, even though Hollywood on Paper isn’t plying their wares online officially anymore, Calvert does still have remaining copies of Struzan’s Creature From The Black Lagoon giclee up for sale via eBay. In fact—and this is pretty cool—he’s got two different versions:
- Creature From The Black Lagoon by Drew Struzan
- 27×41” (one-sheet size)
- Giclee print
- $575 regular edition signed by Struzan
- $795 “variant” edition signed by Struzan, Ben Chapman (the Creature), and Julie Adams (the Creature’s lady-friend from the film)
Pretty steep…but if you look at the going rate for Struzan’s work, they’re almost a steal. And to be able to own a copy signed by the stars of the film in addition to Struzan? Shit, I’d be all over that in a heartbeat if I only had the spare scratch. It’s worth noting, as well, that the copies Calvert has remaining (which can be seen at this page (for the regular) and this page (for the variant)) are the only ones left on the open market, and there aren’t that many to go around (less than 15). With Universal Monsters fever at an all-time high, we figured that some of Limited Paper’s readers—especially those of you who consider yourselves hardcore Struzan and/or Creature fans—would want the head’s up about this. Pretty interesting stuff, no?
Stay tuned for more Universal Monster-related goodness from Limited Paper in the days ahead, folks: we’ve got a ton of stuff waiting for you over the next few days, including the announcement regarding our next big contest/giveaway (if you haven’t guessed what the poster-in-question is at this point, well, you’re probably just not paying attention), exclusive reports from both Mondo’s Universal Monsters gallery show and the Limited Paper/Shaman Body Mod’s “Uni Monsters Tattooapalooza” event happening the day before that opening, and much, much more. Gonna be a busy week here at Limited Paper HQ, so stay tuned!
As always, if you’re an artist or gallery with artwork you’d like to see featured on Limited Paper (or if you’re just some lucky bastard who happened to overhear a bit of poster-related gossip while standing in the bushes outside Martin Ansin’s house) we wanna hear from you! Email Limited Paper directly at LimitedPaper@gmail.com, and be sure that you’re following us on Twitter via @LimitedPaper for ongoing commentary, news updates, giveaways, and more!