Steve Wacksman
Drawing On Bygone Obsessions
'Overdrive'- AD'd by SooJin Buzelli (natch) for Plansponsor

Funny how ones interests can border on obsession and one day- after excessive study, relentless collection, borderline pathological fandom - simply disappear into the ether. Such was the case with my Japanese pop-culture phase.

Somewhere in the early 1990's my appreciation of city-trampling behemoths and platter-eyed pixies took root and blossomed into an all-consuming aesthetic overthrow. I was compelled to watch almost naught but bootlegged Japanese movies, most of relatively poor quality and in a language I hadn't even the faintest understanding of. Monthly I would board a shuttle bus to Fort Lee, NJ with a gaggle of Japanese grandmothers and golfers to explore the tiny paradise that was Pony-Toy-Go-Round. PTGR was a 300 square foot shop nestled in between a stationary store and a golf boutique. Attached to an enormous supermarket and food court, this was Yaohan Plaza- a strip mall catering (almost) exclusively to the greater NYC area's homesick Japanese population. Reflecting now on the obscene amount of money I spent on imported vinyl toys makes my teeth clench but the folly of youth is well-documented and foolish expenditures are rite of passage. Or so I console myself as I envision the $350 flocked plastic Mothra toy that now molders unseen and unloved in the attic.
Some good came of my ruling passion, however. I began studying anime and kana and incorporating what I learned into my work. I developed a typestyle influenced by Japanese letterforms and began employing dramatic shading and highlighting in an obvious nod to Anime (as seen in the promo postcard pictured here). Luckily I was in tune with the zeitgeist and the demand for my anime-inspired work was amazing: album covers and merchandise for several major record labels, logos and lettering, skateboard decks and my first Los Angeles Times Magazine cover ('first' implies there were subsequent covers. Alas, there were not). I was riding the wave, but soon anime and manga-inspired art became ubiquitous in American pop-culture design and I simply petered out. The toys and figures and VHS cassettes were unceremoniously filed into boxes and stashed out of sight.
Behold! The Mighty Atom in all his two-color glory!

Some of the survivors of the phase, however, were art books. One in particular set my imagination ablaze- the Art of Mighty Atom by Osamu Tezuka, Japan's own 'God Of Manga'. This book compiles much of the artwork form the 1950's manga series. Tezuka was a masterful page designer and a peerless comic illustrator and remains one of my favorites to this day. But what stood out most was the unusual printing technique spotlighted in this edition as a solution for cheap pulp printing - the sole use of blue and orange inks.
I tried without success to mimic this technique for some time but my inexpert Photoshop skills left me floundering. Finally I realized my goal in the Astronaut image seen here. When SooJin Buzelli called me with a simple directive - 'overdrive' - the image of a man piloting a giant robot immediately came to mind. It seemed fitting in this case to refer back to the great Osamu Tezka and the Mighty Atom pulps of the 50's.

Neither the NY Mets or the NY Knicks EVER looked this cool in blue and orange!

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