From the Freelance Files

May 15th, 2008 | Posted in Freelancing

Going through some old files the other day I came across these illustrations from an old job I did for Topps candy company:

They are a good example of how odd product and advertising jobs can be, and how you can go all the way to final and yet never see the results get printed. Plus there are two funny stories related to my trying to get reference for the job that I thought would be worth sharing.

These are three of a set of seven or eight (can’t remember and could not find any of the others) that were meant to be part of the labels for a new kind of candy product manufactured by Topps. They were going to wrap around a plastic cylinder with a pop off cap that contained a flavored candy powder… basically colored sugar. The art direction was to do exaggerated (but not too exaggerated) 8 to 10 year old kid’s heads buried in the sugary powder with energetic and varying expressions… Big eyes, lots of energy. Varying in race and gender. These are not digital, but airbrush and mixed media.

I thought it was a weird, kind of drug-like image concept that kept reminding me of “Scarface” when Al Pacino‘s face was buried in a huge mound of cocaine, but whatever the client wants! I thought I’d do the kid’s faces in a fish-eye lens sort of perspective, which naturally makes the eyes big and gives them the kind of look I thought they were looking for.

Working on the job I did some web surfing for references. Since they wanted various races and genders, I was thinking “white boy and girl, black boy and girl, hispanic boy, etc.”. With that in mind, I did a google image search for “young asian female”…


Hooo boy. I don’t think I could have brought up more porno image results had I specified certain anatomical parts of the reproductive system in my search. My computer instantly burst into flames, and several men in dark suits and radio earpeices screeched up in a black sedan and began banging on the front door.

Okay that last sentence didn’t happen but I am sure I’m on a government watch list somewhere after that.

That was not going to work, so I figured I’d do better to just snap some pictures of some of the neighborhood kids and my kid’s friends. With that in mind, I called my daughter Gabrielle‘s friend Szumei‘s house, as she had an older sister of just the right age and was Asian. I’m sitting in the kitchen with The Lovely Anna nearby and my conversation with Szumei’s father went like this:

Me: “Hi, this is Gabrielle’s dad.”

Szumei’s dad: “Hi, how are you?”

Me: “Good. Listen, I was hoping I could come over and take some pictures of your daughter.”

Szumei’s dad: “…..”

Me: “Hello?”

Anna looks at me in horror, covers the phone’s mouthpiece and says “THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU JUST SAID!”

The rest sounded like an uncomfortable Ben Stiller routine. Eventually I got the explanation across and even got my reference pictures… fully supervised of course.

After all of that, the job got finished and the client was quite happy with the results. However the candy itself was never actually produced. That happens quite a lot in the product development world. These kinds of things are made as a prototype, test marketed and then sometimes never see the light of day. It’s amazing the money companies waste on that kind of thing. I was paid a fair amount of money to do that artwork, which never made it past the development stage.

Ah well, the check cashed just the same, and I think after a certain amount of time you get removed from government watch lists… at least I hope so.


  1. yondaime_kazekage says:

    you’re good at this. 🙂 you should do a script for movies. lol

  2. That second kid looks scary!
    Also, just had to laugh when I got to both reference pic stories.


New profile pic courtesy of my self-caricature for the Scott Maiko penned article “Gotcha! Mug Shots of Common (but Despicable) Criminals” from MAD 550

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