Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Ranking The 'Breaking Bad' Art Project Posters (Worst to First)

Pop culture art has really exploded in popularity in recent years and it's easy to see why. It's highly collectable, somewhat affordable, and more importantly, it just simply looks better. There's something to be said for the handmade, personal touch that can't be replicated by a studio or network promotional department just slapping a photoshopped image on a sheet of paper. It's real artwork, and there's no other series on TV that's ever lent itself to such a treatment as well as AMC's Breaking Bad.  So when it was announced this summer that in honor of the show's fifth and semi-final season (review forthcoming) the website Breaking Gifs would be launching an official online art project commissioning today's top artists and designers to depict the series' "most memorable scenes, characters and shocking moments" in 17 hand-pulled, limited edition screenprints, anticipation amongst fans was justifiably shot through the roof.

While I agree with those who feel the prints designed for Lost a few years ago in a similar limited poster series were a bit stronger overall, there are some serious gems here that anyone would be lucky to own. Out of this batch I'd only call one a total stinker, so that not a bad average. I also can't help but think this series may not be over as they could easily start up again next summer when the final 8 episodes air. Especially when you consider that this fifth season has already produced a slew of unforgettable moments and images just begging to be immortalized in print (like THIS, THIS, THIS and THIS). You can view all the additional pieces over at Gallery 1988, who hosted of the recent Breaking Bad art show. Here are all 17 prints, ranked from worst to first. Obviously, there are some MAJOR PLOT SPOILERS AHEAD.

*Click images to enlarge

17. "Heisenberg," by Todd Slater
Ugh. Sorry, but this is awful. If I told you this was supposed to be depicting one of the most iconic moments in TV history you'd think I was crazy. At least crazier than (a guy who kind of resembles) Walter White in what's supposed to be his famous breakdown in Season's 4 unforgettable episode, "Crawl Space." Looking more like a photo on the wall rather than a hole in the floor, it's amazing how Slater failed to even properly capture the tone of the scene. And especially a big surprise considering he's a really great artist. Is that shadow supposed to be the shape of a coffin? Ugh again. Almost worth purchasing as a joke. Almost. At least there's still a similarly themed but far superior print by Glen Brogan that captures most everything this failed to.

16.  "The Cousins," by Jeff Boyes
Solid artwork, even if it looks like it should be airbrushed onto the side of a bike or truck, or the back of a leather jacket. That seemed to be the intention, so a success in that regard. Still, it's pretty ordinary. But is there anyone craving a memento of these characters? If we had to go there, it would have made more sense to do an illustration of their sensational parking lot shootout with Hank in Season 3.

15. "Emilio's Disposal," by Dave Perillo
Well, this is what it is and mostly works. A pivotal first season moment is captured in a so-so print. I'm not sure Perillo's light touch exactly matches the dark intensity of show but it's fairly obvious that contrast is the entire point here. Well done as a humorous diversion, though it's tough to imagine anyone hanging it on their wall.

14. "Hector Salamanca," by Tom Whalen
Ding. Ding. Ding. Many were crazy about this when it dropped but I'm a little less enthusiastic. It's clever once you figure out what it is, but it's so minimalistic it may take even the most diehard fans a couple of seconds. Whalen's a Disney artist so this isn't exactly an ideal fit and it kind of shows, as it's a bit cartoonish. Don't get me wrong, it's a nice print, but it seems like a golden opportunity was lost to depict the terrifying, heavy breathing countenance of actor Mark Margolis.

13. "Saul Goodman," by Chris DeLorenzo
Love the character, but this is just okay. Maybe I'm just disappointed that the awesome Constitutional wallpaper in Saul's office wasn't worked into a poster in some way. This is very Hitchcockian though. Really like the "Beneke Fabricators" ad on the bottom left. Nice touch. Now, there's someone who needs their own poster asap (Beneke vs. Area Rug?) But considering how hilariously sleazy Bob Odenkirk is in the role, this rendering does seem a bit ordinary. If there was a print to go over-the-top with, it was this.   

12. "Episode 5.01," by Jermaine Rogers
Yo! Magnets! The only Season 5 print in the series is a good one, if a bit comic book-y. Then again, maybe that's fitting considering this was exclusively available at Comic-Con. Great to see a cool supporting character like "Old Joe" on a poster but after viewing this season's premiere ("Live Free or Die") the image of Walt and Jesse in an intense stare down doesn't make much sense. Or at least it didn't then. I'm wondering if Rogers saw the episode before designing this. Probably not, or we'd more likely be looking at an image of a magnet-happy Jesse jumping excitedly in the junkyard or Walt with hair and a beard mysteriously sitting in a Denny's on his 52nd birthday. Either is preferable.

11. "Mexican Shootout," by Rich Kelly
My second favorite BrBa moment (right behind "Crawl Space") spawns one of the more polarizing prints in the series. At first glance I didn't care for it at all, probably in part because I felt no illustrator could do this sequence justice. The more I look at it though, the more it grows on me. It helps to be familiar with Kelly's other similarly abstract work to appreciate what he's going for. No, it doesn't look like Jesse and Gus' face is blanked out but sue me for thinking that approach is kind of strangely cool. It also fits because the entire sequence is so heart-pounding it almost feels like it's remembered in a blur anyway. If some of the other prints were too cartoonish or comic looking, this is the cover of an intriguing graphic novel. Say what you want, but it nails the tone of the scene and there's nothing ordinary about it.

10. "Wayfarer 515," by Justin Santora
Another unusual piece and easily the most minimalistic of the bunch, depicting the Season 2 plane crash indirectly caused by Walter White's irresponsibly heinous actions. What I like about it is that it really works as a piece of art that would look classy hanging on someone's wall, whether or not they had any idea about the show or not. In that respect, Santora accomplished something none of the other artists could. No one without intricate knowledge of the series would have a clue what this is supposed to be. As a work of art, it's pretty clean and flawless. How much you appreciate a restrained piece like this will likely come down to personal taste. But what doesn't?

9. "Los Pollos Hermanos," by Jessica Deahl
Love it. Anything featuring Walt's legendary Pontiac Aztek gets my vote. This Southwestern style image  brings to mind something out of a classic Western, which you could argue the show actually is.  I'm probably in the minority but the cheesy tagline on the bottom, while not entirely necessary, is a clever touch that makes the print double add for Gus' prized fast food franchise. Also great that you can actually spot him through the window. This is probably one of the strongest pieces as far as visually exploiting the show's terrific settings and locations. Great use of colors. Currently serving as my desktop background for good reason.

8. "Lily of the Valley," by Phantom City Creative
I'll probably catch flack for ranking it this low because it is a visually great call back to the what's undeniably one of the show's most indelible closing images, but I'm just not as crazy about it as everyone else seems to be about it. That's mainly due to the incorporation of that skull as one of the petals, which seems to be an unnecessary touch that not only takes away from the striking simplicity of the image, but also spells everything out a little too much for an audience that knows exactly what it is anyway. Other than that it's difficult to find much fault with it. Brilliantly subtle. Except for that skull.

7. "Breaking Bad," by Ken Taylor
Taylor's probably the most renowned artist on here so it stands to reason that any BrBa poster of his should easily wipe the floor with all the others. Not exactly, but it is still pretty damn impressive and justifiably sold out in what seemed like milliseconds. I'm not sure how i feel about the all green and it's a bit cluttered with too many heads, but that's the price you pay when you have an ensemble with so many rich supporting characters. Likely to fans' delight, this marks Skyler's only appearance on a print, but she's rendered really well (as is Hank). I would have left off the cousins but you probably could have guessed that already. Maybe not the best work Taylor's ever done, but what does it say that it's still better than most of these?

6. "The White Residence," by Mark Englert
Aztek alert! Englert's an expert at these types of landscape prints and this is definitely no exception. How can you go wrong with a portrait of the White residence? This house has basically been a character in and of itself, providing the show with so many of its most memorable scenes and moments. Of course, it's great to see the trusty Aztek back in the driveway where it belongs and I love the touch of the pizza on the roof and Walt being visible through the window. Odds on Flynn/Walt Jr. eating breakfast? Englert forgot to photoshop the shadow out of the driveway but that's nitpicking. It's a beauty that needs to be hanging on my wall instead of languishing on this page.

5. "Jane," by Frank Kozik
Plane Crash Kills! I had my fingers crossed they'd do a print for Jesse's doomed, heroin addicted girlfriend Jane and this Warholesque graffiti collage by legendary 90's rock poster artist Frank Kozik exceeded even my wildest expectations. Those finding fault are likely missing its entire point: That this actually seems like the kind of macabre piece that art-obsessed Jane would own or design herself. No poster fits its character more than this one. The colors, the skull and planes, the typography and even that chemical equation for heroin on the bottom. Maybe not the absolute best in the series, but hands down my personal favorite.

4. "Superlab," by Kevin Tong
Wow. Just wow. Imagine all the work that had to go into this. And not just the artwork either. I'm talking about all the details concerning Walter White's "Protocols, Procedures and Practices." Tong had to actually fill in all the steps for cooking and the equipment. Plus, you gotta love all the inside jokes he squeezed in like the "Do's" and "Don'ts" with Jesse blowing up his suit, Mike looking on in disappointment and the danger of flies and other contaminants. Talk about having all your bases covered. This is why Season 4 is unbeatable. It's all on this poster. And what a design idea. Nearly as impressive as the lab itself.

3. "Gus," by Anthony Petrie
Two of the show's most iconic moments eerily merged into one unforgettable image. Symbolically linking the flight crash bear Walt fished out of his pool in Season 2 to Gus' explosive demise in Season 4's famous "Face Off" doesn't seem like such a stretch at all when its presented in such a visually striking manner by Petrie. One of these elements would have likely made for a fine print, but together it's twice as impactful. Before looking at this I never really considered the freaky symmetry of the two events, but yeah, it totally makes sense to do this. It's also just about perfect, shining the spotlight on the two characters haunting the conscience of Walter White. If he still has one.

2. "The Rise and Fall of Jesse Pinkman," by Rhys Cooper
Everyone was probably anxious for Jesse to get his own print and this sure doesn't disappoint, depicting his gut-wrenching decision at the end of the Season 3 to kill Walt's superlab assistant Gale Boetticher and the dark path that led him there. And if that's not enough, you even get Hank, Walt, Gus, Saul, Jane(!) and the (recently deceased) Mike Ehrmantraut together on a single print. And they're all illustrated incredibly, through that hall of mirrors style illusion with the crystal meth. In terms of capturing likenesses, Cooper's artwork is the strongest of the series. Pretty much a must-own for any diehard fan.

1. "My Name is Walter Hartwell White," by Daniel Danger
The first print of this series is also the best. An absolutely stunning work that actually would earn its place in any art gallery. Those as completely sucked in as I by the puzzling opening minutes of the pilot episode will appreciate this. What's with the RV? Why is that guy in his underwear in the middle of the desert? Why is he pointing a gun? We got those answers, and are still getting them, even as the show enters its final season. And all that is Breaking Bad is encapsulated in this beautiful orange-tinged landscape portrait of the New Mexican desert. I like how the RV is plainly noticeable but you have to look closely to even be able to make out Walt, as if he's completely lost and swallowed up by the scenery. Like he's nothing. I could stare at this all day. There were probably many ways to go about depicting this moment, but Danger took the simplest, and most effective route.


Ryan said...

Is it too much to ask for a Mike-centric print?

jeremythecritic said...

I have a feeling we'll eventually see one. Especially given recent events.