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#SGQ (11/16/15): A Creative Review of Unused Survivor Series Posters


The 2015 edition of Survivor Series is a week away. For what ever shade the WWE Universe may be throwing the WWE's way over weak promotion and haphazard booking caused by former WWE World Heavyweight Champion Seth Rollins' unfortunate injury, it's pretty clear that there's one major focal point for the event: the 25th anniversary of the Undertaker's debut in a WWE ring as part of Ted DiBiase's Million Dollar team way back at Survivor Series 1990.


Don't get us wrong, the official poster is nice. But for an event as momentous as the Undertaker's 25th anniversary—and having wrestled for a quarter of a century is pretty damn momentous—it isn't enough for a poster to be nice. It has to be absolutely perfect, and unfortunately, this one is far from it.

The funky layout of the headline ("Years of Undertaker, 25") leaves us thinking that Yoda wrote the copy, while Taker's vacant stare looks more like he's thinking what to have for merienda more than about whose ass he's going to kick next. The cheap spotlight effects make us think he's about to go burlesque. Heck, even his iconic black trench coat, with all its creases and katsa-looking fabric, looks like he got it for P50 at the barangay ukay-ukay. Get some GlideTM and an iron, you hippie.

It isn't even the nicest Survivor Series poster the Undertaker has headlined. The 2005 edition was pitch-perfect, establishing multiple things about him—his Texas roots, his stature as a near-mythological creature, but also a man approaching the dramatic sunset of his career.



Even his cheesy Survivor Series 1991 poster, where a young, bug-eyed Undertaker presented himself as Hulk Hogan's "gravest challenge" (and he did, in fact, win the World Championship from Hogan for five days thanks to a controversial assist from Ric Flair), was cool in a kitschy 90s kind of way.


We wish the WWE could have this much rich storytelling in all their marketing materials, but we'll cut them some slack; it isn't easy coming up with multiple fresh designs when the wrestling calendar demands 12 pay-per-views each year.

But going back to the whole point of this article, WWE.com recently shared some unreleased poster designs for this year's Survivor Series, and because here at the Smark Henry offices, we're design nerds as much as we are wrestling nerds, we're here to share our opinions on each one, from our least favorite to our most favorite.

*****

10.


This is about as generic as it gets. From the uninspired headline to the poorly-chosen lip-curling smirk that makes Taker look like he got a whiff of a Luke Harper fart, it's pretty obvious why this design didn't make the cut. An event poster is supposed to be meaningful and unique to the event it's promoting; you could slap an In Your House logo onto the damn thing, and it would still work. Lazy AF.

*****

9.


This layout is essentially same as the tenth-ranked one, but we're giving it a slightly-higher rank thanks to a much better choice of photography; crazy-eyed Undertaker with the thick guyliner is always a cool look, and the headline itself is interesting allusion to his pretty decent 12-5 win-loss record at the Survivor Series. It doesn't explicitly call out his 25-year history, but the use of purple accents is a subtle callback to his early days.

*****

8.


Hey, "Day of the Deadman" is a pretty cool thing to call Survivor Series, and we do like the way the headline is neatly integrated into Undertaker's torso to minimize elements that would be floating around in the layout. Of course, this design choice may slightly take away from the air of menace that the designer was trying to build; it looks like he's wearing a graphic tee from Team Manila. We get the intent behind the choice of photography and the background, but it's a bit closer to comical than to awe-inspiring. Sometimes, less is more, folks. Take that to the bank.

*****

7.


This may be just us, but the red-versus-blue color play speaks more loudly of the old RAW-versus-SmackDown brand rivalry, and dividing this particular design with that same contrasting spectrum brings up the wrong questions—was OG Undertaker a RAW loyalist, while today's version is a SmackDown guy? We aren't digging the poor composition choice either; OG Taker looks like he was slapped on as an afterthought, and it would have been nice to see some sort of neat transition between both aspects. We do see some beautiful detailing work on Taker's leather trenchcoat though, making us wonder: Is there an Undertaker collection at Dolce & Gabbana?

*****

6.


"...and if you look carefully, TADA! The bunny rabbit is gone!"

Nice intent by the art director to capture the then-and-now aspect of the Undertaker. It's just unfortunate that the chosen pose reminds us of a bad stage magician trying to get some 8-year-olds to laugh, while the mid-torso graft makes him look like the world's creepiest Siamese twins. There are way too many elements drifting around—where exactly are our eyes supposed to focus?—and they missed a beautiful opportunity to craft some Dan Brown-esque ambigram design work into the poster copy so it spells out a message even when read upside-down. Getting better, guys. Not there yet though.

*****

5.


And in another variation on the same theme, here, we have the Undertaker standing in a mist-filled graveyard, while in an underground jungle-filled gave beneath him, old school Taker is hanging upside-down by his feet like a bat—wait, what? This particular design is poorly done. The visual logic is all over the place. We feel like the artist for this one fell in love with the idea of a symmetrically-reflecting Undertaker to show his evolution through the years, but had no idea how to actually pull it off in any way that doesn't break our brains. We'll give credit to the cool atmospheric effects and the brave use of near-negative space to center our eyes, but that's about it.

*****

4.


FINALLY. This is a much better execution of the same idea as the previous two posters on this list; pulling the camera out to reveal a spooky graveyard background for the main image takes away the comical feel of the first version, while tying in the event details around the Survivor Series logo unclutters the layout in a big way. Unlike both of the preceding versions, this one at least doesn't break our brains as much—he could be standing over a blood-red pool, where his reflection shows his original spirit, immediately resolving the dilemma surfaced in the second version. Note to all budding designers out there: Sometimes, a good execution can help save an unmemorable idea. Or, at the very least, it can make your poster look good enough for a Michael Bay summer blockbuster. 

*****

3.


Ministry-era Undertaker was nasty cool, and we loved that old ankh logo he got out of it. We're surprised that out of all the possible designs that the WWE's art direction team came up with, this is the only one that made use of it in a distinctive, stand-out way. We love the choice of photography here as well; you don't need to see the Undertaker's face to know it's him. His silhouette, his presence, just the slightest glimpse of his stubbled jaw is enough to tell you it's him. We're not crazy about the atmosphere and lighting in this layout—it's a bit too bright and neon for a Deadman—and there's a bit too much man-cleavage for our liking, but it's a kick-ass design we wouldn't have minded seeing for actual use.

*****

2.


Here's the thing we realised we didn't like about the first two entries on this list, which both featured close-up portraits of the Undertaker: They look like Tinder profile pics. In our humble opinions, there is only one acceptable way to shoot an Undertaker portrait: with his eyes rolled up into the back of his skull, and his face about to enter an I'm-gonna-pound-your-ass trance. It's a beautiful choice of photography as well. He's not a pretty boy looking to score a date; he's a grizzled war veteran who has his game face on, and is about to kick some asshole's ass. If we had one complaint, it would be the lack of atmosphere in the piece—it's very static and clearly taken in a studio. Part of Taker's aura is his supposed affinity for the supernatural, and in this particular treatment, it's entirely invisible.

*****

1.


We loved the raw, gritty minimalism of the previous version, but we'll take a 180-degree turn here and say this would have been the most perfect fit for the Undertaker's 25th anniversary in the company. The surreal proportions, the mystical background, and the back-to-the-camera pose evoke the powerful mythology associated with the Deadman over the past two-and-a-half decades. He almost looks like the Slender Man here, except he's capable of Tombstoning your ass to hell instead of just creeping out kids on the Internet. The Undertaker is more than just a man—he's a legend, and this is the one poster out of all the designs that properly captures the gravitas and mystique behind the Phenom.

*****

What do you think of the unreleased Survivor Series posters, y'all? Do you agree with our rankings, or do you think the official poster is just fine as it is? Leave us your thoughts below!

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