Most of the commissions I’ve created revolve around imagery extracted from pop culture references which originated outside of Mexico (e.g. Star Wars, Star Trek, Doctor Who, etc), but this commission was very special, because it’s based around a piece of pop culture which is 100% Mexican: our own superhero Kalimán.
If you’ve read Jeffrey Kripal’s book Mutants & Mystics then you might remember his chapter on Orientation, and how some of the first superheroes depicted by pulp novels and comic books were not aliens like Superman, or the victims of weird scientific experiments like the Hulk or Spiderman; these ‘proto-heroes’ received their powers from occult knowledge kept by exotic mystery schools in the far East. Such is the case of Kalimán, which started out as serialized radio drama in the 1960s revolving around the adventures of a man who was a direct descendant of the Pharaohs, and had been taught occult Eastern practices in India and Tibet: he was a martial arts expert and his control of his body was so great that he could accomplish amazing feats –hence why he was called “the incredible man”— and his esoteric knowledge endowed him with great psychic abilities like hypnotism, telepathy, etc.
The series became so popular that Kalimán and his young sidekick Solín jumped from the radio airwaves into comic books, and the comic enjoyed a very long run in both Mexico and Latin America. In 1972 they even produced a movie filmed entirely on location in Egypt, which was for the longest time the most expensive motion picture production in Mexican history, according to Wikipedia.
But getting back to the commission, a client contacted me because she wanted me to create an illustration for his husband’s birthday, which was meant to commemorate their mascot, a beautiful Yorkie which had unfortunately passed away recently. When she told me it had been her husband who had named this little dog Kalimán, just like the famous Mexican superhero, I found the situation so funny that I quickly came up with the idea of trying to recreate those old comic book covers, and I would then portray the dog as the hero and the husband as his sidekick!
The first task at hand was to mimic the design layout of the comic book using Illustrator, and at the same time I studied many old covers to try and see if I could recreate its somewhat garish style. I also requested many photos of little Kalimán, because –contrary to what one might think– making portraits of dogs and cats can actually be harder than making portraits of humans! Like people, dogs have unique characteristics that make them easily recognizable to their owners, so capturing that can be quite hard –the client, for example, requested a few changes to improve the resemblance, like shortening the ears and paying attention to the tongue. Previous commissions have given me the opportunity to acquire practice in painting fur, but it always proves to a challenge, especially when the animal’s color has a lot of variation as in this case.
Overall I’m very pleased with the result, although in hindsight I wish I could have made little Kalimán’s fur look ‘wilder’ and more untamed. But illustration work is always a compromise between how much ‘realism’ you want to give to the project, your amount of skill, and how much time you can afford to invest until you get what you want. I also thought about applying one of those ‘aging’ filters which have become so popular nowadays to make modern covers look like dog-eared vintage books, but I wasn’t sure if the client would have approved it.
If you want me to make your pet look like a superhero –or just a regular good boi– then contact me at absurdbydesign[at]gmail[dot]com