Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Curious Job of Kevin Cornell

The Curious Job of Kevin Cornell

Rumors greatly exaggerated...

As you may remember, I had to take a hiatus of sorts from Bearskinrug back in February. Despite speculations to the contrary, I did not go on a pilgrimage; and even if I did, it wouldn't have been to Furhnersville, Ohio (I'm not even sure what religion is based there, Mr. Tolleson). Also, I did not go undercover in order to reveal magicians' secrets (get your head on straight, Biggest Apple).

Nor was I abducted by aliens — well, let me rephrase that. I was abducted by aliens, but that's really not why I went on hiatus. I mean, I was back the next morning. They did some light dental work, and replaced a crown — top notch job for extraterrestrials with beaks.

No, I actually was working on a graphic novel.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Image of the Book

If this name sounds familiar to you, it's probably because there's a movie of the same name being released in December. But, as tends to happen in film adaptations, the movie version deviates considerably from the original short story. So in December of 2007, local Philadelphia publisher Quirkbooks contacted me to see if I was interested in doing a graphic novel adaptation, intended to be as true to the original tale as possible. Seeing as it gave me a chance to draw people with large beards, mustaches, top hats, and bow ties, I summarily agreed.

As I'd hope you can gather from the amount of thumbnails pictured above, it was quite an undertaking. I needed to create approximately 115 pages of art, as well as the cover, within 5 months. And while I'd created comics before, I'd never worked on one so large in scope. What's more, being a period piece, I needed to do appropriate research on not just one single era of fashion, architecture, technology, and other social bric-a-brac, but on seven decades' worth (1860-1930). The story takes place in several prominent locations, including Baltimore, Yale, and Harvard, all of which have their own landmarks worthy of include. All of those landmarks then required proper research on how they appeared (and whether they appeared) in the appropriate time period. Throw in the usual responsibilities of properly-drafted anatomy and setting, clear storytelling, character design, and layout, and I had my hands full.

Interior of Benjamin Button

But thankfully, I was working with an excellent team. Nunzio DeFilippis and Christina Weir scrupulously adapted the script and did the immeasurably tedious work of deciding what action and text appeared in each panel on each page. The book designer, Bryn Ashburn, handled the typesetting and design (and graciously shared the balancing act I had to perform with regards to type versus image hierarchy). Lastly, Jason Rekulak, the Editorial Director, kept the job and story on track, and added the "infectious enthusiasm" a recluse tends to need while said recluse is drawing 12 hours a day.

Interior of Benjamin Button

And that, as they say, is that. Hopefully that's an acceptable explanation for abandoning this website for several weeks. There's quite a bit of leftover concept art I hope to share, so keep your eyes peeled for that. The book itself will be released in stores come October, but for anyone interested in pre-ordering, it is listed on Amazon (though the interior samples it's displaying are the roughs).

Comments on this Article

There are currently 55 comments.

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Silus Grok

As much as I'd like to buy from Amazon … what would really set my dye would be an autographed version from you.



Simply amazing work here.

And how can I hail these extraterrestrials with beaks? I mean, I just had some dental work done and Yowza! that hygienist should have bought me dinner beforehand.

(testMonkey no likey that rough)



Oh, sorry.




This is absolutely beautiful. I swear, anything you create or are involved with, I will buy. Echoing Silus: will you be selling any copies yourself?


I agree with respect to desire for an autographed copy.


Wow... I hadn't considered selling autographed copies. We'll see — it actually might be against my contract to sell copies from Bearskinrug.


A question, too: Would you tackle a project of this magnitude again? I'm curious whether 12 hours a day of drawing day after day takes away some of the joy of drawing. Bill Watterson, for example, took two separate sabbaticals from Calvin and Hobbes due to drawing fatigue (as well as fatigue from licensing and syndication fights). This always suggested to me that an artist, even when they enjoy their air, can get burned out by the sheer quantity of work and the repetition involved in creating it.


Err... that should say "enjoy their art." Perhaps artists enjoy their air, too, but that's another matter entirely.


Good question!

I probably would take on a project of this magnitude again, but it'd have to be a perfect fit and have at least double the amount of time.

Truth be told, I was in a state of considerable anxiety throughout those months. I ended every day worried I wouldn't meet my deadlines, and feeling guilty because I couldn't get each drawing as perfect as I envisioned it in my head. I actually still have considerable concerns about anachronisms, but I accept that those are incredibly hard to avoid when you're trying to document daily life 140 years in the past.

This always suggested to me that an artist, even when they enjoy their art, can get burned out by the sheer quantity of work and the repetition involved in creating it.
Boy, did you hit the nail on the head. I was indeed pretty burnt-out up until last month, and I'm still not drawing in my sketchbook with my previous regularity.


Having the same issue myself at the moment. Drawing concept art for a theme park 10 hours a day for the last month has affected my normal style (I have to be much tighter for concepts) and general enthusiasm for scribbling.

Would I take on the job again? Realistically, of course I would! I need the cash! Drawing for a living is slightly better than sweeping streets. Although there is always that left over burger from the gutter from the night before...


Haha - true. One DOES need to eat. And better to draw and grumble about it than clean greasetraps and HATE it.


Simply amazing. In general, I enjoy seeing process nearly as much as the finished product, this is no exception.

Fantastic work. It's definitely going on my list of books to pick up.

Clayton Hynfield

I'd be in for an autographed copy…you know, if it wouldn't land you in the hoosegow.

Captain Purple

You know, I don't mind the alien dentistry. If only they could properly explain *WHY* they have to go in through my "probe hole."

And congratulations on the novel. More importantly, thanks for sharing those thumbnails. They really help convey the scope of such a project.


Can't wait to get my copy! Looks fantastic from the previews.

PS - The Amazing Ralph wants his rabbits back.

Hugh G.

Holy crap on a stick! Fabulous work, Kevin!


Sign me up on the "Interested!" list for a signed copy if it pans out! The little teasers you've posted here look thoroughly awesome.


Amazing work, Kevin. Very cool to get a glimpse a the process. Can't wait to pick this up!

Hopefully you're getting something on the back-end. With Brad Pitt box office sales this could be huge.

Silus Grok

Well … I could buy it from Amazon, and then send it in for an autograph. I'd even pay a wee bit extra for some custom art in the front matter.

Castle Waiting's Linda Medley is quite good at secondary profit streams. So is PVP's Scot Kurtz.

But I want to be first in line.

: )

Luke Dorny

Wonderful stuff. Can't wait to see the movie AND read your novel / stare and drool at wonderful colorwashes and pen and ink drawings…
Beautifully done!


Cliener von Cleanskin

Fine work indeed, good sir, however I find myself rather displeased with the apparent direct link you have to my credit card compelling me to immediately purchase every last piece of your “work”. Please cease this cunning financial manipulation at once.

Silus Grok

Jeee, Luke … are you following me now?!
: )

Mike Carp

Well done! I think the hiatus was certainly well spent.

Although, I must say I find it strange that you mentioned the aliens had beaks. Didn't the Montauk Monster have a beak? Wasn't he rather alien-ish?

If these beings are one and the same, then I'd say you have some explaining to do.

You can tell the whole sordid tale in your next graphic novel.


Wow, Mr. Cornell. I am impressed. F. Scott FItzgerald. Does this make you a member of the literati?

Stevie Killen

Fantastic stuff, any idea when it will be released in the UK?

I believe a book tour is in order as well, as I would also like to get my copy autographed.


I want an F. Scott Fitzgerald adaptation featuring Mojo the Sockmonkey. "This Side of Mojo"? "The Beautiful and Mojo"? "The Great Mojo"? "Tender Is the Mojo" or alternatively, "Mojo is the Night"? When are these classics going to be written??

P.S. I live in Balto., right down the street from ol' Scotty Fitz's house.


Looks Great!

I can't wait to read it. BTW I'm uber-jealous of your ability to drop one project and switch to another. I'd to stop working at my job for a month and spend it painting... *sigh*

Looks Great!!!!!

Jason Beaird

This looks incredibly awesome, Kevin. My curiosity is piqued by the thumbnail sketches alone. Can't wait to see the final product!


I went straight to post a comment about autographs to find others have beaten me to it. Make sure you ask your publishers, Kevin.

Of course, I'll bet that, as a conscientious soul you only signed over the rights to the final illustrations. You would be free to create some other bit of signed, limited edition artwork with the rough-drafts, wouldn't you...

John Whittet

Gorgeous, Kevin. I wish I could draw the way you do. Count me in for a signed copy, even it if does land you in jail. You can still sketch in cellblock B.


Holy Berlin, you just took my breath away.

The Philanthropist

Pre-Order at Amazon complete. This is great work


That looks just fantastic Kevin, congratulations! I will await it with bated breath.


* totally unrelated, but..*

I walked into the kitchen this morning and big was my surprise when I discovered a picture of mojo on the side of a box of PG Tips tea. I never knew mojo did photo shoots.

very photogenic though...


Wow. As always, truly amazing work, Kevin! I'll definitely be checking this out at Barnes and Noble! BTW, SEARS .... cute! Course, you could go a bit more trendy and change your name to Lloyd Lyle Bean. ;-)


VERY impressive! You've done an amazing job!

Dan Rubin

I keep gazing at the cover artwork — if a very large poster happened to be made available for purchase, I would happen to buy it.


Well, I had been thinking that one of the interior spreads might make a good print... you might have just pushed me over the edge, Dan :D

Jared Rhizor

That looks spectacular! I'll definitely order one. I'd wait longer, though, if there was an autographed copy available.


Man, this is stunning. Not sure why I'd be surprised though, you have some serious talent! Keep it up man, don't burn out just yet! ;)

Terry Tolleson

Absolutely incredible work, Kevin.

Yes, I will, in fact, buy this book (if nothing more than the sheer quantity of your typographic skills present).

Simply impressive. What are the chances of getting a print/copy of those thumbs? I have no idea why I am interested in that, but they look absolutely fascinating.

Glindon Marten

Wow, wow, wow... :)


your work is simply amazing...every time i visit this inspires me a lot.




This looks amazing. A worthy venture for you, sir. Can't wait to get my hands on this book!

Kim J

Wow, I love your drawing style! I am learning so much about drawing just from reading your articles.

C Rudy

A smiling box has just arrived, and surprised me with a copy of the book! Thus do I park my posterior to peruse its' pages.


Thanks to you


I picked this up on a whim while in my local B&N, since the cover art was so different from everything else there. A cursory flip through was enough to make me snap the book up immediately without a second thought. This is brilliant work.

I now have another graphic novel artist to look up to, being an aspiring artist always looking for awesome influences and inspiring work. Great research, indeed and wonderful pen and ink! =) If you should do anymore, I'll be happy to follow the paper trail!


Fantastic book - my signed copy arrived just in time for a rainy weekend. Having devoured it in one sitting, I plan to spend many more hours enjoying the artwork.


Hey Kevin,

Bought it this weekend and finished it this morning on the train ride into work. I absolutely loved it. Your work is inspiring as always, and a perfect fit with the tone and theme of the story.


I received my copy a couple of weeks ago and have had the pleasure of reading it twice now. It is absolutely bloody brilliant! This chicken eating bear spanking Cornell-dude should be in line for the next Nobel prize. Yeats and Hemingway both have no need for theirs and could easily be without it.


I was GOING to order the book from your Quirk Books thing, but, apparently ‘Cast from string "$15.95" to type 'Double' is not valid’. Which is the first I’d heard about it. Huh, and now there's a thread being aborted. (I guess they’re just being irrerevant.)

Michael Hessling

I put this graphic novel on my wish list when you announced it in August, as it's one of my favorite short stories. Your illustrations bring the story to a completely new level.

When Roscoe's son is born, one of the ladies oohing over it has her eyes crossed. Lovely details like that throughout.

Simply outstanding. Kudos to you, sir.


Thanks Michael! I actually specifically concentrated on that gesture, too. And that woman, because I believe her to be the woman who becomes Benjamin's nanny later on :D

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