By Abdulkareem Baba Aminu
During this year's Comic-Con in San Diego, there was an exhibition of paintings, drawings and other types of art by a variety of folks. Being an artist myself, I naturally wandered in and was enthralled by a lot of the great work on display, some on sale. But one of the exhibits, a collection of 3-D work housed in shadowboxes blew me away. They were made by artist Todd Reis (no relation to Ivan) cutting up many original comic book covers in the process. His work, painstakingly done, has got a wow factor which literally needs to be seen to be believed.
I introduced myself and a conversation followed, wherein Reiss spoke about his experiences over the decades plying his trade and his methods. After a client picks a cover and supplies the needed number of copies, the artist cuts out various layers and overlaps them while separating them with balsa wood. The result is a spectacular 3-dimensional effect which makes a viewer feel like he can actually reach into the picture.
Fans might cringe in horror when they hear Reis cuts up several comic book covers to produce his lovely labors of love. Once, he says, he had to use several copies of an old Captain America comic from the 40s, then over $35 a copy. "I would have preferred printing out copies, but the client was bent on having original covers used and willing to pay for them and did," he told Bleeding Cool. Whenever he needs to use many copies of a valuable issue, dealers often wonder why he needs that much. They wince when he tells them.
With many pros as fans, Reis soon began to amass a great collection of original art which he would be given to him in trade with several famous artists. One such instance is sometime in 1982 after the DC/Marvel X-Men and Teen Titans crossover book drawn by Walt Simonson came out and Reis made a 3D Shadowbox of its cover for Simonson. In exchange, Simonson made a huge, gorgeous piece with Batman battling the Joker. Reis said before he got the gift, then-Batman Editor Len Wein saw it and insisted he had to have it as a cover and a story was written around it for Batman #366 in December 1983. Reis, however, sold it due to, as he said, "personal economics". Below, are excerpts from the interview he granted Bleeding Cool:
Todd Reis: DC Comics, back in 1993 when sales went through the roof of the Death of Superman, Dick Giordano who was already a fan and owned some of my works, commissioned me to do 12 shadowboxes for the team which handled that arc. There were four Superman titles and I did one cover of the four titles three times each in 3-D and the creators received them as special gifts. This year, in Comic-Con, I finally got to meet Tom Grummet and Butch Guice twenty years after they received the 3-Ds and I never knew what they thought of it and they told me they were blown away and were glad to meet me. Other people on that team like Jon Bogdanave, Louise Simonson and Jerry Ordway who I've heard from over the years have told me they are prized possessions.
When I met Bogdanave who worked on Superman: The Man of Steel about five years ago at a convention just before I started getting back into 3-D shadowboxes and he gasped: "You're the guy!" And he had just moved here to California from Maine and he told me packing the 3-D and bringing it with him was something he made sure he did.
I've never done anything for Marvel. I've done some for Roy Thomas, though, and other writers and artists who either bought them or traded stuff for them. I'd do 3-Ds of their favorite covers and they'd do their versions of Batman for me. I'm a huge Batman fan. For a while, I had an extensive original art collection because of that.
TR: They've never asked. But I'm very open to the idea. I've hinted it many times. I even made a couple of trips to the DC offices and even Geoff Johns liked them. But nothing's come out of that so far.
ABA: How much do the shadowboxes go for typically?
TR: I figure my time at about $30 an hour per 3-D and they take 20 to 30 hours on average. It all depends on the depth, detail and other factors. I'm getting quite a good stream of commissions.
ABA: For how long have you been making your 3-Ds now?
TR: Since 1973. The early ones were kind of flat and not as detailed as I later began to make them. I eventually had to get custom-built frames to accommodate them.
ABA: I understand you've done some early Star Wars stuff back when the first movie came out. True?
TR: Back in 1976, Howard Chaykin had done a publicity poster for the George Lucas movie and they were being given away at a convention. Chaykin knew of my 3-D work, and he gave me all these posters to do the 3-D version, which I did. I showed it to him a year later and I have a photo on my website, with him holding it.
I came very close to meeting George Lucas over that poster. Charles Lippincott, who was the advertising publicity supervisor on the first Star Wars film, arranged for me to go to the special effects studio, the precursor to Industrial Light & Magic over in Venice, California. I waited for about three hours hoping to show myself to George, but it didn't happen.
Abdulkareem Baba Aminu is a newspaper editor, award-winning journalist and comic book creator based in Nigeria. He has reviewed comics, novels, movies and music for a variety of platforms and is currently the Editor of the Saturday edition of the Daily Trust, one of the most influential newspapers in his country. This year's was his second Comic-Con, but he'll remain awestruck forever. You can follow him on Twitter: @KareemReal