For more than a year, illustrator Matthew Maley has poured his soul into one single image. He worked meticulously on 5-inch-by-5-inch segments, hiding small clues and details that most eyes would just quickly scan over. He’s hidden quotes in the image as well, including an especially inspiring one by Ralph Waldo Emerson.
“Adopt the pace of nature — her secret is patience,” Emerson wrote. Given the scale of what the illustrator achieved, that’s something he kept fresh in his memory.
The cartoon illustration begins at the left end with the dawn of time, moving right into the Cambrian Period, the Ice Age, Ancient Egypt and all the way to present day and beyond — into the bubble cities of the future. At 3 feet by 6 feet, the illustration in front of Maley takes up most of the wall. Throughout the picture — which is actually a giant game, akin to an overgrown “Where’s Waldo?” picture — people are challenged to find more than 425 hidden items.
At first, Maley had come to New Paltz to set up shop in an art studio, giving private lessons in cartooning and sculpture to local kids and adults. He also spent his days working on freelance art assignments for clients. Where once it had been done in secret and bit by bit, his project, The World’s Greatest Search & Discover, gradually started to eat up most of his time.
“I never had a project that was that intense for that amount of time,” he explained. “I was squeezing this in between jobs and after-school classes.”
Maley drew the original pencil sketch of the image, inked and colored the 18 square feet of the poster himself. There were days that he felt he’d made some progress, only to zoom out and see the rest of the still-unfinished poster waiting for him to color.
But now that he’s done, the giant search-and-discover poster has already taken him around the East Coast, running the gamut even to the New York Comic Con. He is now focused exclusively on developing ideas around that poster.
“We’re building this up like a rock ’n’ roll tour, up and down the coast,” Maley said. Asking people to look for hundreds of minute, hidden images hasn’t been too difficult a request. “People just get it. They just immediately get it.”
For Maley, a former artist and inker for Archie Comics and Marvel Comics, getting back onto the comics circuit has been a bit of a homecoming. Former colleagues from Archie took time away from pitching the continued adventures of Jughead and the gang, those blockbuster panels on the DC Comics reboot and movie previews to stop by at the World’s Greatest Search & Discover booth.
All the hard work seems to have paid off with the target audience for the dry-eraseable poster as well. Kids love it.
“We give it to our kids. They turn off the TV and they plunk down in front of it for three hours,” the artist said.
It’s possible that children like the poster because of its origin. The five-year-old son of Maley’s business partner John Balis pitched him on the idea — what if someone made a Waldo-esque image bigger than anyone else had ever done before?
Teachers, too, have liked what they’ve seen on the poster, in part, because of Maley’s incredible attention to detail and obsession with getting historical facts right.
“This turned into a really amazing educational tool,” he explained. One of the goals for the project is actually to develop teaching lessons around the poster for the classroom. Maley and his business partners have the Race to the Top program in mind, and they’ve worked with a few teachers in New Paltz to make sure those lessons conform to the federally mandated “common core standards.”
For Maley, it was important that the poster was printed and manufactured in the United States. However, that also presented some problems. Printing plants that still do 3-by-6 posters have become rare in the States, and they had to enlist the help of a plant in Chicago to keep it American made.
While the comparison to Martin Handford’s “Where’s Waldo?” series is inevitable, Maley said he didn’t draw much inspiration from those books. “‘Where’s Waldo?’ didn’t really come along until I was grown up,” he explained.
Maley said he had fond, fond memories of the image-search puzzles in MAD Magazine and Highlights magazine in the 1970s. “That genre has expanded so much,” he said.
The artist stayed quiet about what might come next, but confirmed that he had more search-and-discover games on the way, as well as a children’s book in the works with writer Keith Karchner.
To get a look at the poster or to order it for yourself, head to www.wgsad.com. ++