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Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Unique 3D Shadowbox Art of Todd R. Reis

Todd Reis has been creating framed 3D dioramas of comic book covers, posters, and other prints since the early 1970s. With his Facebook fan page entitled 'The Unique 3D Shadowbox Art of Todd R. Reis', his work merits every word of that title. Requiring multiple laser-scan prints of a high-quality image of the issue cover or print he is working on, a single piece can take on average from 20 to 30 hours, some even longer. After a cover is selected and the appropriate number of heavy semi-gloss paper copies are made, Todd then proceeds to cut out various layers and overlap them, using balsa wood (colored black) to separate them and give them support. Depending on the size, depth and detail of the image, cost can vary with each one, some taking over 80 hours to create. Sometimes clients do insist on all layers being made from original comic book covers, and if they are willing to foot the bill, Todd will oblige if at all possible (such as with current comic book covers, not so with historic classic ones). As this is highly specialized work, some of Todd' biggest clients include comic book professionals themselves.

Reis tells us about his experiences meeting with these creators and the items they've commissioned:

"While writer Roy Thomas was living in LA during the mid-80s to early-90s, he frequented Passport Books in North Hollywood, CA where I had my 3Ds on display. In becoming a fan of my 3D work, I must've created at least a dozen 3D covers of various DC books he's worked on throughout the 80s. Off the top of my head, I'm remembering All-Star Squadron v1 #1 (1981), Captain Carrot and His Amazing Zoo Crew #1 (1982), America vs The Justice Society #1 (1985), Arak #1 (1981), Jonni Thunder AKA Thunderbolt #1 (1985), Last Days of the Justice Society Special (1986), and The Young All-Stars #1 (1987). I also did the cover to Marvel's WHAT IF... Conan walked the earth today? (1979) for him since he wrote his wife Dann into the story with her on the cover."

Roy Thomas in his home office sometime in the late 80's. Note 3D covers on shelf above his head.

"In 1980 I also did the Showcase #100 (1978) cover in 3D twice! One was for artist Joe Staton and the other for writer Paul Kupperberg. In 2014 I reconnected with Paul thanks to Facebook. Turns out his 3D had gotten badly sun faded over the years. I rebuilt it for him using laser scan prints instead of covers this time. Joe recently confirmed his 3D is still in fine shape since he kept his out of the sun. I also did a Showcase #101 Hawkman 3D (original art by Joe Kubert) for writer Jack C Harris which he still has. For myself I made a 3D of the subsequent Showcase #102 Hawkman cover also by Joe Kubert which I still have, but needs some restoration. I showed it recently to Adam Kubert when I met him at a recent Long Beach Comic Con. Turns out it was a favorite cover of Joe's of which the original art had been framed and displayed at the family home. After I finish restoring it, I will be working out a deal with Adam for the 3D."

Jack C. Harris with Showcase #101 (1978) 3D (circa late 70s)

"After having met John Byrne at a San Diego Comic Con during the 80's, he commissioned about a dozen 3Ds over the following years. Most of them were of his Marvel comics work. Since I was starting to collect written endorsements of my work, this is what John wrote in 1984:

"What most of us are doing in comics is trying to overcome a single insurmountable obstacle: the third dimension. Many have found ways of creating fabulous illusions of speed and scope, but few, if any, have ever given a true illusion of depth. Todd has simply skipped that step altogether. There is no illusion here. This is reality. You don’t simply get the FEELING of being able to reach into the picture, of being able to see AROUND the characters, YOU CAN. And all this without violating the inherent form of the original work. I love ‘em!" (John Byrne, April 1984)

In 1985 while I happened to be visiting back East Coast on other business. I took advantage of being there to visit a few artists that I’ve connected with such as Curt Swan, Dick Giordano, and Jim Aparo. As it turned out, Byrne had a house party with several comic pro notables in attendance, among them Len Wein and Dick Giordano. I overheard John talking to Dick about what he would do with Superman. Was that the start of something, perhaps?"

John Byrne at his home (circa 1985) posing next to a Fantastic Four 3D cover.

"After I initially met Mike Grell at a San Diego Comic Con during the 70’s, I went on to make some Warlord, Green Lantern, and Jon Sable 3Ds for him. When I was attending my cousin’s wedding in Minnesota, I rented a car and drove to Mike’s home in Northern Wisconsin for a quick afternoon visit. We have met up a few times since then and he has always been a strong supporter of my work."
Mike Grell showing off his 3D covers. (late 70s)

"It was on that same trip to my cousin's wedding in St. Paul, Minnesota that I also visited Dan Jurgens at his home. I had previously done a 3D of his Booster Gold #5 (1987) cover. He later would receive a 3D of his classic Superman v2 #75 (1993) cover as a gift from DC which they commissioned me to make for him and other Death of Superman team members in 1993."

Dan Jurgens with his Booster Gold #5 3D at his home (circa 1987)

"I met with Bob Kane in 1978 in San Diego in his hotel room to present him with a 3D copy of the Detective Comics #27 cover using the Treasury reprint cover. My friend Michael Reidy was with me at the time. Bob drew a quick Batman & Robin head sketch, probably something he drew countless times for fans, as a gift back to me. There was an exhibition of his art going on at a gallery in Old Town San Diego at the time, and not part of the convention. A decade later he moved to a condo here in Los Angeles off of Sunset Blvd. I think he had moved here as a result of his involvement with the Tim Burton Batman movie (1989). We somehow connected again. This time I had my friend Jim Patton from the Magic Castle [of which Todd is also a long time Magician member] with me. We sat around Bob's condo and chatted about Houdini. Bob was working on some story about him and was keen to meet Dai Vernon, also known as 'The Professor' around the Magic Castle and 'the Man Who Fooled Houdini'. At the time I traded another 3D with Bob. In exchange, he gave me a proof run print of one of his new Batman posters. We met again with Bob a few months later by the pool at his condo. Unfortunately, a meeting with Vernon could not be arranged even with Jim’s help and influence. Part of that was due to Vernon’s age (who was in his 90’s) and health. Jim then wrote about our encounter with Kane in his MAGICANA column within GENII Magazine [an international trade publication for Magicians]."

Bob Kane in 1978 old town San Diego holding 3D of Detective Comics #27 Treasury Reprint cover.

Curt Swan, whom Todd created a 3D recreation of the cover of World's Finest #143 (1964) for, was also a big fan, and left this endorsement:

"Please use my name as an endorsement of the beautiful work you do on 3D boxes. I’m very impressed by the thought and patience that I know you put into your work. Really excellent and I treasure mine and display it in a special place in my studio. Continue the good work and all the very best of success and good health." Curt Swan, Sept 1986

Curt Swan at his home circa 1985 with World's Finest #143 3D.

Thanks to his unique interaction with comic book professionals, Todd Reis has been able to barter with artists to amass a huge personal collection of art, primarily of that of The Batman. It was his way of building up his rep among comic professionals. Initially he would always request a Batman piece from an artist in exchange for a 3D he made of something they drew. That became especially interesting when the trade was done with an artist who had not been known to draw the character. It was sort of a Rorschach Test on how Batman was interpreted. To that end, a few of the comic professionals he connected with and who own at least one of his 3Ds with were Berni Wrightson, Joe Staton, Dick Giordano, Mike Grell, Walt & Louise Simonson, Jack Kirby, Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Joe Kubert, George Perez, John Byrne, Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Paul Kupperberg, Jack C Harris, Steve Englehart, Bob Rozakis, Frank Brunner, Dan Mishkin, Ken Steacy, Phil Foglio, Sergio Aragones, Gil Kane, Mike Zeck, Jerry Bingham, Alan Grant, John Bogdanove, Tom Grummett, Butch Guice, Denis Rodier, Karl Kesel, Jerry Ordway, Dan Jurgens, Doug Hazlewood, Mike Carlin, Howard Chaykin, Bill Sienkiewicz, Carl Potts, Marshall Rogers, Scott Shaw, Brent Anderson, Don Newton, Terry Austin, Rick Hoberg, Mike Nasser (Netzer), William Stout, Bruce Patterson, Nestor Redondo, Mike Sekowsky, Ernie Chan (Chua), Jan Duursema, Richard & Wendi Pini, Cat Yronwode, Norm Breyfogle, Dave Stevens, Marv Wolfman, Len Wein, Mike Friedrich, David Anthony Kraft, James Pascoe, Steve Liealoha, Jim Balent, Steve Mitchell, Don Glut, Cary Bates, Matt Wagner, and Jose Garcia-Lopez. In the case of several artists where the friendship grew (such as with Jim Aparo and John Byrne), Reis would do even more 3Ds of their work for them in trade for some of their comic pages. An article on Reis' original Batman art collection appeared in David Anthony Kraft’s COMICS INTERVIEW #78 (1990). A few years earlier in 1986, COMICS INTERVIEW had done another interview with Reis on his 3D work in issue #41. Unfortunately, as time when on, Reis had to sell off most of his art collection due to personal economics and other life-changing decisions.

"Some of the art exchanges became legendary. In the case of Walt Simonson, he was interested in a 3D recreation of his cover of X-Men/Teen Titans. He was so impressed with the amount of work put into the 3D that in exchange, he created a giant poster-sized piece of Batman vs Joker original art for me. At the time Len Wein was the editor of Batman. When Len saw the print before Simonson shipped it to me, Wein insisted it be used as a Batman cover. [That became the cover of Batman #366 Dec 1983]."

Batman #366 (1983)

Reis held onto the original art until 1996 when a deal was made with art dealer Jim Warden, who also owns a custom Batman 3D Todd made of a Matt Wagner cover. In his endorsement of Reis' 3D work, Walt wrote this: 
"Todd’s 3-D BOXES are gems of craftsmanship and patience. To examine them is to be constantly surprised and delighted at the degree of care and skill that has gone into their creation. The BOX he made for me of the X-Men/Teen Titans cover occupies a prominent place on my wall."

In an exchange with Berni Wrightson in 1978, Reis made a 3D of Wrightson’s Original Swamp Thing Saga wraparound cover for him. In return Wrightson sent him an original color piece with Batman in a thinking position with a smoldering volcano in the background. Reis held onto that prize piece for years until 2011 when he sold it to art dealer Albert Moy for his personal collection. Albert (and others) had been after Reis to part with it for decades!

Original Swamp Thing Saga 3D (1979)

"I was a very big fan of Jim Aparo's work all through his tenure at DC starting with his run on Adventure Comics in the 70’s. I initially communicated with him via DC since he did not like to attend conventions. I made several 3Ds for him by the late 70’s including a 3D collage of various characters he worked on at DC. I managed to visit him at his home in Connecticut twice. Once in 1978 and again in 1985. He was very generous in giving me some of his own original art covers since he also appreciated my 3D work. So much so that in Brave and the Bold #139 (1978) he put "3Ds by Todd Reis" on a background billboard on one of the story panels. I last saw him at a San Diego Comic Con during the early 90's that DC finally talked him into attending."

"I first met Dick Giordano at the 1976 San Francisco Comic Con (along with Neal Adams, Jenette Kahn, Jim Starlin, and Gil Kane that I recall). Then again numerous times at various San Diego Comic Cons, visited his office at DC in New York in 1978 & 1985 and also spent some time at his home in Connecticut on an afternoon with Jim Aparo. I pretty much just listened to them talk of old times from Charleton comics and DC. I had done a few 3Ds for Dick personally (Robin II mini-series Joker face cover holding a hologram of Robin), and the Batman head Crime Alley cover of Detective Comics v1 #457. As a result of our friendship and his support, he was instrumental in having DC commission 12 3D shadowboxes as special gifts for the Death of Superman Creative Team in 1993.

Dick Giordano in his office. Note the Captain Carrot 3D shadowbox to his right.

"I’ve met Len Wein numerous times over the years starting in the late 1970’s. I have a picture of him holding the ORIGINAL SWAMP THING SAGA 3D before sending it to Wrightson. I may have done that complex cover second time for Len along with some other 3Ds. He was also at the house party John Byrne held in 1985 and gave me a ride back to my hotel. When I reconnected with him at a Long Beach Comic Con in 2014, he told me his 3Ds had been destroyed in a house fire unfortunately. I have since seen him several times at local conventions here in Los Angeles where he now lives. That allowed me to show him the recent 3D I made of the classic INCREDIBLE HULK #181 cover (first Wolverine appearance which he wrote) that I had made for client Ketan Patel in NM."

Len Wein with a Swamp Thing 3D (circa late 70s)

"Like Len, I met Marv Wolfman several times starting with at the San Diego Comic Cons of the 70’s. I also recall meeting up with him and Len at the 1978 Chicago Comic Con where I had a display. To be honest, I don’t specifically recall what the deals were that I made with Marv on the 3Ds I made for him, but it might have been for a small amount of cash instead of a trade. After I got back into making 3Ds in 2014, I reconnected with him via Facebook only to find he was now living in my area. I when to his home to take some photos and video of the 3Ds only to find the frames had been damaged. The 3D work was fine and there was very little color fading. He also had 3 other 3Ds which were very shallow and flat which thought I had done, but I assured him I had not. Most likely they were made by Jeff Gelb or Hanzi. I offered to repair the frames for him at no charge thinking that would also allow me to take better photos and videos of the 3Ds while out of the frame. Apprehensive as he was to part with them, he let me take them. A month later I returned them to his home and he was very appreciative with the result. He then send me this written endorsement:"

"Years ago, Todd Reis made the first of many 3D covers for me and I became a huge, huge fan of his beautiful, intricate and detailed work. His covers have been proudly displayed in my home office ever since I got that first one. They were also the first things I hung up in my new office when we moved to our current house nearly three years ago. They are among the very first thing people notice when they enter the office and I've never heard anything other than total admiration for his work. I love it!"

3D cover of New Teen Titans #1 (1980)

"The best covers [to add a 3D effect to] are the ones cleanly laid out with proper dimensional perspectives like the art of Curt Swan, Murphy Anderson, Joe Kubert, Brian Bolland, or Gil Kane. Covers which have anything and everything thrown onto a cover without any real logistical sense (such as with many Marvel covers) can be difficult. If an artist is also trying to do some sort of abstract effect, sometimes that works and makes the 3D more interesting or more difficult. A favorite cover of mine is Animal Man #5 (1988) by Brian Bolland where the cover is of Animal Man being drawn from a flat sketch of his foot to the full dimension and color of his body and ground he is laying on. Paintings and photos can also be very difficult to work on 3D. They have no lines, just color separations to cut along. If that is distinct, then no problem, but if the artist or photographer is trying to create a foggy or misty effect where the coloring is indefinite, that can be a problem. I am finding that happening more often with current comic book covers as a result of the use of computer coloring effects. I also find the coloring on recent comic covers dark and muddy, not bright and colorful as they used to be. Hence I prefer working on older comic covers."

Animal Man #5 original comic on left and 3D on right.

"Another problem can be with the slick glossy finish being put on some new covers. It looks nice and can accent the art, but when I tried using actual covers with a recent Action Comics #28 cover by Aaron Kuder, the glossy finish was like non-stick Teflon to any glue I used. I ended up building the 3D from scan prints and putting actually glossy covers on the top layers."

"As with most people, I love the art of George Perez, but he often goes into such small details, that can get very time consuming to work on. Such was the case with the Wonder Woman #7 cover I did in 3D for myself in 1987. He also added a lot of Escher effects making the background buildings go every which way defying logic which added to the challenge. I still have that 3D as part of my personal collection and to display at conventions. I have also shown it to George. Once after I first made it and then again at the SoCal Comic Con in 2015. He was still very impressed by it. Some of Jack Kirby’s work is also difficult to bring out in 3D since he didn’t always follow dimensional logistics or proper anatomy. I’ve always been a DC fan over that of any other comic company. I think that was partially due to fine layout and clarity and appeal I saw with most DC covers over the years. I am still amazed and grateful that my 3D work has allowed me to meet so many legends in the comic business (like Curt Swan) and that they in turn have appreciated the 3D art that I add to their own work."

Wonder Woman #7 3D Shadowbox 1987

"If someone wanted a commission done, the best to contact me is via email. Send me an image of something you might want done in 3D and I will return with an estimate given the size, depth and detail involved. I can also be reached by private message on Facebook. My FB fan page already has a lot of information on it. I also have a website, but that is still under construction. When I post videos and photos of various new and old 3D projects on Facebook, I encourage Likes, Reactions, and Comments, but insist any questions be sent to me in a private message. I may not see the question if it is posted as a comment. Although most of the 3Ds I make are special client orders, one-of- a-kind, some of my older 3Ds or recent ones I’ve done on speculation are available for sale. I rarely will make multiples of the same image in 3D, at most maybe 3 or 4 times if economically and creatively in my interest to do so. I much prefer going on to some new challenge than repeat myself. That just adds to the uniqueness of the 3D shadowbox a client orders. On average, most recent 3D orders have taken 20 to 30 hours spread over several weeks. Some large and complex ones even longer. I currently value my time at $30 per hour which I feel is comparable to what an artist might charge for a commission at a convention and my expertise. Add to that the cost of materials (prints, balsa wood, misc tools, etc), framing (custom made frame by my woodworker to fit the 3D), and shipping."


  1. This is fantastic! Great in-depth retrospective- where and when did you get the idea?
    Thanks, DC Naties!

  2. Imagine this as an advertisement of your company's cover, on your table, with people stopping for a pic. What a fantastic introduction point one of these models would be, presenting original creator-owned work!