If you read enough comic books—or watch enough upcoming Marvel movies—you come around to the idea that there are universes within universes, alternate worlds where events play out differently. It could be something infinitesimally small (Ant-Man is called Gnat-Man, for instance) or monumentally huge (we lost World War II). In comics and movies and TV series this is called the Multiverse.
But this post isn’t really about comics or movies or TV series. It’s about a painting. One that I commissioned back in September from a British artist by the name of Imogen Hawgood. But in a small way, it’s a painting from another universe.
I first discovered Imogen’s work on Instagram. I’m pretty sure she popped up as an account that might be of interest to me, since I follow a number of photographers who specialize in retro/pop culture/iconic images of neon signs, motels, restaurants, etc. Most of the new ones that come to me I ignore, but with Imogen I was interested enough in what I saw in that initial post to explore her Instagram feed, and ended up purchasing a print from her, of her Cinerama Dome painting pictured below. I’m a huge fan of this theater, which—sadly—is closed right now. I’ve seen two movies in the Dome itself (the great Inside Llewelyn Davis by the Coen Bros. and the absolutely awful Inherent Vice, and a number of other films, including Stan and Ollie, in smaller theaters in the complex). I think I bought this print right around the time the Dome closed, or was at least closed due to the pandemic, like just about every other movie theater in the world at the time. I am still heartbroken that it sits empty.
The print arrived and I loved it, especially all the tiny details Imogen added in, like the 1960s cars and the Krakatoa, East of Java poster. That was a film I saw in Atlantic City, New Jersey, while on summer vacation in 1968, and while I have less than fond memories of the movie (it was a stinker, to say the least, starring pretty much no one remembered today), Imogen’s inclusion of that particular film evoked a kind of nostalgic chuckle for me.
Cut to the more recent past—September to be exact—and Imogen mentioned on her Instagram feed that she was accepting commissions for the holidays. I felt the pricing was very reasonable for a full painting, so I pitched her a concept for something I wasn’t sure she’d go for, because it was a bit complex. I knew she could do it … but I felt it was maybe a bit too complex for the kind of money she was charging. If working as an editor/designer at San Diego Comic-Con for many years taught me anything, it was treating artists with respect and paying them a decent fee to do artwork.
But lo and behold, Imogen loved the idea and started in on it. If you’ve followed this blog for a while, or looked back over some of my posts, you know I’m a huge James Bond fan, of both the movies and original Ian Fleming novels. Somewhere along my 007 journey, I came across a photo of a huge movie theater billboard in Times Square in New York City in 1964, for the initial release of Goldfinger. The image (shown above) was all text, but I loved one of the original posters for the film (also shown above), showing stars Sean Connery and Honor Blackman superimposed over the gold-painted body of Jill Masterson (actress Shirley Eaton). In fact, a reproduction of this same poster graces my living room wall, nestled in amongst my bookshelves. What if, I asked Imogen, you combined both the poster and elements of the original type from the DeMille Theater ad to create a new billboard, kind of an alternate world Goldfinger in Times Square display. She went with it, and added so much more to it. The original photo was black and white, but she asked me if I wanted her to colorize it, and if it should be night or day in the painting. I opted for both color and night and she hit it out of the ballpark (as us Yanks say) with her color choices. We had a little back-and-forth discussion on some minor things: I really wanted the 1960s era United Artists logo, which was basically just type, even though the ancient UA logo—dating, I think, back to the 1920s or so—was on the Goldfinger poster I sent her for reference. I was overjoyed with the finished painting, which arrived earlier this week. (So much for shipping delays.)
In retrospect, I think this idea came to me from watching a trailer for Edgar Wright’s new movie, Last Night in Soho, starring Thomasin McKenzie and Anya Taylor-Joy. One of the opening shots featured a huge Thunderball poster atop a movie theater in London and I think that just stuck with me. To be honest, Imogen’s version of the Goldfinger billboard for the DeMille Theater is so much better than their original, type-heavy one, that it should be retroactively placed in our timeline (where’s Loki and the TVA when we really need them?).
So that’s my little Multiverse story. I fondly hope that somewhere, in some alternate universe, there’s a big painted Goldfinger billboard that isn’t just all text in Times Square. It’s not earth-shattering, it’s not life-changing, it’s not going to save or ruin the world. It’s just … nicer.
Check out Imogen Hawgood’s work on her website at www.imogenhawgood.com or on Instagram @imogenhawgood