Six hundred years into the future, Gabriel is the last man standing in modern-day art master Daniel (Dan) Luvisi’s digital fantasy world. The talent and imagination of Luvisi has taken the world of digital art and illustration by storm. As these digital artworks, the artists who create them and the industries that make them popular continue to revolutionise our sensory experiences, the influence of Luvisi will be increasingly felt as his own ambitious project with Gabriel takes shape over the next few years.
It all started about four years ago, when the corporately burnt-out Dan set out to create his own universe of characters in a project that would become known as Last Man Standing: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter (LMS).
Revolving around a protagonist named Gabriel, a smart-mouthed, god-like super-soldier that has the uncanny ability to walk away from being shot in the face, LMS is a story set six centuries forward and chronicles Gabriel’s adventures and interactions with a colourful ensemble of allies, affairs and antagonists. Amongst other things, these adventures include escaping from an inescapable prison and killing the most evil man since Satan retired from his world tour, circa 33 AD.
It’s got sex, music, machine-gun-mounted electric guitars, violence, action, drama, love, a god called Hex, super soldiers named Paladins and even a mutant bodybuilding shark, aptly named “Jawsome,” to name but a trifle of the over-the-top characters and scenarios within LMS’s pages.
Dan pulled absolutely no punches in creating his universe, going with the mantra that if it’s awesome, if it’s big, or if it’s cool, it can be made more awesome, much bigger and far cooler. Luvisi’s universe became part of dinner-table banter in the digital art community, and pretty soon a publishing deal was made between Luvisi and the infamous Heavy Metal Magazine, currently owned by Kevin Eastman, the illustrator and co-creator of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Part of the surprising rise in Internet popularity of Luvisi’s universe was the paradoxical approach to its creative process. Instead of starting out as a linear, monthly comic, LMS took a rather maverick approach in that it was set up as the basic art book, bible, and manual to a story yet to be written and illustrated. Think of it as something akin both in size and nature to the Marvel Universe’s yearly updated Character Guidebook and as a story-in-the-making. Where common sense would tell you that “spoiling” the story before it’s even published would inhibit sales or popularity of the product, quite the opposite happened – the universe of LMS just became more and more popular.
Shortly after the release of LMS at the San Diego Comic-con in 2009, Dan received a call from none other than Warner Brother Studios, who wanted to broker a big-budget, big-name movie deal with him. Within less than a day from the first call, Paramount Pictures also contacted Dan, wondering whether they could broker a bigger-budget, bigger-name movie deal with him for LMS. What would you do? “Foremost I’m the creator but I also managed to nab a Producer title, which I feel incredibly grateful for,” Dan says. “ I’m included in all of the story meetings and casting choices. So they definitely take care of me on there, which is surprising after so many horror stories you hear with artists and their adaptations.”
Horror stories of Hollywood’s habit of destroying creator-owned property are plentiful, but it seems that for Dan, this won’t be the case. From the get-go, Paramount pictures did the right thing and kept the project in Dan’s hands. “When I first took the meeting with Paramount about purchasing LMS, I told the head there: ‘Just please allow me to be in the art room when this gets green-lit!’ and they responded with ‘Who else would we ask, other than the creator himself?’ So I’m quite happy about that and can’t wait to see these costumes and creatures turn into physically tangible objects.” Of course, having to jump from creating an art book to making a film is a daunting task, even for someone of Dan’s calibre. Nonetheless, Dan is still playing a part in work for the film, including story writing and artwork. Also having a group of hand-picked conceptual designers and illustrators on the team helps, especially with names such as Andrée Wallin and Reid Southen (both popular artists on deviantART, under the nom de guerre of The Andree and ‘Rahll respectively).
“It’s really all up in the air, but being controlled,” says Dan, regarding the production process. “It takes time to do these type of things, and to get a writer and director, not to mention the entire cast and crew. We’re only in the screenwriting stage right now, so hopefully we hit it out of the park and get a green-light! But I wouldn’t imagine anything until at least 2014-2016”. Though Hollywood has more than its fill of book-to-screen adaptations, as well as comic-to-screen adaptations, Last Man Standing: Killbook of a Bounty Hunter is one of those rare glimpses into the mind of someone truly inspired, and truly inspiring. It’s neither a comic book, nor an encyclopaedia, and though there is nothing quite like it or its story out there, it’s set the bar pretty high for whatever flight of fancy digital illustrators may want to throw our way.
by Marthinus van Rooyen
Published in Playboy SA April 2012