Billings teacher and artist Russell Walks usually depicts movie heroes and characters from science fiction in his nationally recognized posters.
But for his newest poster, Walks chose the man behind the curtain — award-winning writer Neil Gaiman. Why Gaiman? He will be in Billings on Feb. 20 and 21 to talk about the importance of libraries and to help us celebrate our new Billings Public Library.
To Walks and many others who have followed Gaiman’s characters, from “The Sandman” to his acclaimed novels and screenwriting work on “Doctor Who,” Gaiman is a rock star.
So it is fitting that Walks’ poster of Gaiman looks like a vintage rock poster. Unsigned copies of the 11-inch-by-17-inch poster are for sale now for $15 at www.neilgaimaninbillings.com. A limited edition of 200 posters, signed by Gaiman during his appearance in Billings, will be available for $30 at his talk at the Babcock Theater on Feb. 21 and at the Billings Public Library.
Walks is giving half of the money raised through the posters to help offset the cost to bring Gaiman to Billings.
Leslie Modrow, development director of the Parmly Billings Library Foundation, said Walks was able to capture not only Gaiman’s physical side, but his spirit as well.
“The poster is great,” Modrow said. “I think Russell did a wonderful job capturing the spirit and imagination found in all of Neil Gaiman’s work. We’re so lucky to have this type of talent in Billings.”
For the poster, Walks used a photograph taken of Gaiman at a college lecture and created a digital image from it with a splattered-ink look in the foreground and a bright yellow circle in the corner of Gaiman’s profile. Quotes and titles from Gaiman’s books are printed over his hair and the back of his head.
“It was a real low-resolution photo of Neil when he’s looking at an old Babylonian sculpture at this college. The original shot focused on Neil’s whole body with Neil turning back to look at the crowd,” Walks said.
There’s a sly look to Gaiman as he peers at viewers from the poster. And his eyes seem to follow you in an eerie way, which is perfect for a guy
who creates characters like Merv Pumpkinhead, a janitor in “The Sandman” comic book series, or the adventurous title character in his children’s fantasy book, “Coraline.”
“When I think of Neil, I think of him hunched over an old computer monitor with a single light source,” Walks said. “I started thinking of those old rock posters of the ‘60s and ’70s and the primitive method of reproduction, which was either silkscreened or mimeographed.”
Walks got in touch with Gaiman and he has approved the poster.
“It’s already on his Facebook page,” Walks said.
It’s Gaiman’s screenwriting on the “Doctor Who” series and his “Sandman” series that got Walks excited about Gaiman’s visit to Billings. Walks has been pursuing his dual careers for more than a decade. By day, he’s a graphic-design teacher at the Billings Career Center and in his spare time, he designs posters for LucasFilm Ltd. Over the years, he created a poster for the 30th anniversary of the first “Star Wars” film and made posters for the “Indiana Jones” series.
As a kid, growing up in Billings, Walks said his favorite TV show was “Star Trek,” featuring Leonard Nimoy and William Shatner.
“We lived a block away from Will James and if I left school at 3:08, I could get home in time to watch ‘Star Trek,’” Walks said.
He pursued graphic arts in San Diego before returning home to Billings to teach and raise his family. Like Gaiman, who believes libraries are vital to communities, Walks reveres librarians who share books with his three young daughters.
“Neil talks about the idea that finding information is like finding a flower in the desert. And now, it’s trying to find a specific flower in a botanical garden. And the best person to do that is a librarian,” Walks said.