The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Poster Design

As is common with my approach to poster design, in particular hand-drawn illustrations, I spent a good deal of time walking around thinking about what a Huckeleberry Finn poster would look like seen through the lens of my brain. This process can go on for days and days, provided there’s enough time (sometimes even if there really isn’t time – ask Geoff, he’ll admit he often has to play Mob boss: “Hey kid, where’s the friggin’ poster already for Christ sakes? You said Tuesday, now you say it’s Saturday at the soonest – I’m dyin’ over here! Dying, kid! It’s a poster, not the Sistine chapel!” ). Deep in the brain, iteration after iteration will cycle through until an element sticks – say, how the lettering would look – then another and another, until after a while there’s a pretty solid idea floating around my pink/grey matter. At that point I’m aching to get home and draw it.


R. Crumb

For example, I was totally certain right away that the lettering would be big, bold, and R. Crumb-y, not unlike the illustration to the right.

The obvious way to do the text for a Huck Finn poster would be ornate and old-timey, so I wanted to run as far as possible to the other end of the spectrum. Seattle people, Bushwick fans – they’d appreciate that, I thought. I started working on the big block letters thinking that would be the easy part and once I had those done I’d know how much space was left for the illustration. Little did I know that every attempt to make good letters would result in awful, shitty letters staring back at me, wondering why I summoned them into such a mangled existence. It simply wouldn’t do, and I felt like I was back at square one.

HuckFinnMovieposterThe other thing I was confident about going in was the illustration, which I figured would borrow heavily from the example to the left.

Huck and Jim on the raft, rowing away from the viewer. Perfecto! Bam! – just put it on the paper. Let’s do the illustration first, I thought, and worry about the lettering later. I cracked open a beer, threw on Creedence to set the mood, and got down to business. Little did I know that every attempt to draw real-looking people would result in two awful, shitty people staring back at me wondering why their backs looked like their fronts (truly, their bodies seemed to be simultaneously facing you AND facing away from you – it was disturbing) and why the raft they stood on looked like long blocks of rigid string cheese mashed together with twine.

Now, don’t get me wrong: I can draw. But there are some things I can draw better than others, and some things I definitely need to work on for a while before delivering the product. Sometimes I’m surprised how easy something is that I thought would be hard. Other times, what I think will be tremendously easy turns out to be utterly impossible.

In the end, I decided to try a design built around whorls. I’d had fun using them in a limited way for a different project, so I took a crack at seeing what it would be like if they damn near filled the page. Suddenly, the entire design snapped into view: how the letters would be weaved amongst the whorls, how the banners would hang above and below the main design, even what color palette would best serve. I’ll let you be the judge on the final result but it’s at least a step up from what your cousin drew up for your high school punk band.

In another entry to come, I’ll explain the actual, physical process of creating separate hand-drawn elements, converting them to digital, creating a composite image and making the real magic happen. Until next time, readers!


  • Geoff Larson

    All I know is that we always end up with something amazing. You always kill it Michael!