It's just after 6 p.m. and the line for “The Official Edgar Wright Art Show” at Gallery 1988: West is halfway down a side street south of Melrose Avenue. This isn't a mad rush to secure tickets to purchase one of the limited edition prints. It's an orderly queue that has been building since the previous evening. People have brought lawn chairs.
Jake Menache and Max Golden arrived at noon. They're friends from back in their film school days and Wright's breakthrough movie, Shaun of the Dead, was a big deal for them. Aside from being fans of Wright, they had their eyes on a couple prints that would be available here. A few minutes before they met, they got their numbers, 18 and 19. They were still close enough to the front to have a pretty good chance at getting what they wanted and, in the end, they did.
Up at the front of the line is Alex Solether. He has been here for just over 24 hours. It's the first time he's camped out for something. Before this, he hadn't spent more than five hours in a line. “I feel like I'm running on fumes,” he says.
The experience may have been exhausting, but Solether looks ecstatic when we meet up again inside the event. He had just bought an Alex Pardee print of The Wright Stuff. It's the image used on the showcard for this event. Shaun, the titular character of Shaun of the Dead, appears with sunken cheeks, blank eyes and an exploding head. Out of the gore emerges references to multiple Edgar Wright films. There are records and bullets and beer bottles, swirling around characters from films like Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Hot Fuzz. It's an impressive piece. Solether now owns the first signed and numbered print out of an edition of 15.
Camping out for a spot in line has become a semi-regular occurrence at Gallery 1988. The gallery, with two outposts on Melrose Avenue, does a lot of tribute shows dedicated to hot properties and popular directors. People come here in part for the prints, which feature the works of a wide variety of artists in limited numbers and at fairly low prices.
This show is a little different in that the subject of the tribute, Edgar Wright, is set to appear at the event with his frequent collaborators, Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Pegg and Frost both star in Wright's latest film, The World's End, which will open on Friday. Pegg co-wrote the script with Wright.
“The Official Edgar Wright Show,” however, is special for more than just the tie-in to the new movie. “It's almost seven years in the making,” says Jensen Karp, co-owner and co-curator of Gallery 1988.
Seven years ago, the gallery launched a popular series of art shows called Crazy 4 Cult, where artists draw inspiration from cult films. They worked with Kevin Smith on the first show, who introduced the gallery to some of his friends. Amongst them was Edgar Wright, who had recently made a cult hit of his own, Shaun of the Dead. Karp remembers a conversation where Wright mentioned that he hoped to one day have enough films to spawn an art show. Last year, Karp brought up that conversation to Wright and the pieces started to fall together.
Shaun of the Dead is an incredibly popular point of reference for the show, which runs through Sept. 7, and took a number of forms. Artist Nick Stokes made a board game based on the film, called Get to the Winchester. However, the popularity of Shaun of the Dead isn't at the expense of Wright's other work. There are a number of nods to Hot Fuzz, the police action comedy that also starred Pegg and Frost, as well as Wright's adaptation of Bryan Lee O'Malley's Scott Pilgrim comics. There are a few pieces dedicated to Spaced, the British television show that launched the careers of Wright, Pegg and Frost.
Later in the evening, Wright, Pegg and Frost do make an appearance at the gallery. They emerge from a room behind the sales desk and are immediately swarmed by fans. Despite this being a thick crowd in a very small space, they are friendly and approachable and appear genuinely excited to check out the art on the walls. They talk to the artists and the fans, sign a few things and pose for a lot of photos.
At San Diego Comic-Con last July, I attended roundtable interviews for World's End. During the Q&A sessions, I asked Wright about how word of his work spread to the U.S. He mentioned the Internet as a means of diminishing “cultural barriers” between the U.S. and U.K.
“When I was growing up, British comedy didn't hardly travel to the States at all,” he said. “You maybe saw 2 percent of the shows that were being produced, Benny Hill and Are You Being Served?“
Throughout the latter half of the 20th century, if you were an American kid who really liked British comedy, you were going to have a heck of a time trying to track down new stuff to watch. Since then, comedy from the U.K. has become much more accessible and the popularity of Wright, Pegg and Frost is testament to that. That there are about 100 artists who knew their work well enough to create pieces based on them (and multiple pieces, in some cases) is a big deal. That there are people who spent at least half a day in line to buy a print and maybe have the chance to meet them is bigger than that.