On September 13, 1991, television stations across North America began running an ad for Levi’s 501 jeans starring an unlikely person: a 23-year-old comic creator. You might have heard of him by now, Rob Liefeld.
The then-New Mutants writer/artist is now sharing the full story behind that unique pairing between him, Levi’s, and Spike Lee, over on his Facebook page.
“I had answered a contest from Levi’s to ‘pitch your job that you do in your 501’s,'” Liefeld explained. “After initially setting up to film it at my office in Fullerton, a week prior to shooting they told me that they were going to stage it at Spike Lee’s studios in Brooklyn.”
Just a month after New Mutants #100 was released in April, Liefeld brought pages from X-Force #3 to work on while he was there; this was still months before X-Force would debut on August 10.
“Upon arriving on set I witnessed the Hollywood style magic up close as they had staged my office exactly as it was back home, matching photos and video they recorded the week before,” Liefeld said. “Two Levi’s ladies proclaimed ‘He has no ass! Omigawd, he has no ass!‘ When I tried on their jeans. I remember feeling completely emasculated by these two hysterical women but I just shrugged and smiled, because, in truth, I have no ass!“
Several fittings later, Liefeld and Levi had found wardrobe they could agree on. But then there came issues with director Spike Lee.
“Spike Lee wanted me to speak the dialogue out loud while I was drawing, he wanted me to shout it out. I told him, I’m not an actor, I didn’t think I could do it,” the writer/artist continued. “A dolly went all around me as I mumbled my lines, Spike asked me to speak up, I froze. ‘Why’d we get this guy again?’ An exec blurted out. Spike paused the shoot and moved to change things up, he had an idea.”
According to Liefeld, Lee re-grouped and asked if he could interview him and then cut it into a finished commercial.
“He improvised using all his comic book knowledge, he’s the real deal,” Liefeld continued. “Following the interview portion he asked me to draw him as a super hero. I had about a 30 minute head start on the drawing as they re-set to film, Spike stood over me asking about the drawing and Spikeman was born. We broke for lunch and afterwards they set me up in the platform with the big green screen and Spike repeatedly asked ‘Is your fly buttoned?’ which I would shout out, ‘Yeah, it’s buttoned!’ 30 times. Apparently none of those takes worked and he brilliantly used the outtake in the finale.”
Liefeld’s Levi’s commercial hit airwaves on September 13, just as the first two issues of X-Force had been released. By the time X-Force #3 was released – which fans could see him drawing in the commercial – it was a hit.
“It arrived as X-Force #3 hit the stands and ran thru 1993, 7 cycles. It was on all the time,” said Liefeld. “Comic books were on tv all that time! Last January, Deadpool 2 brought me to the Critics Choice Awards where I spotted Spike and thanked him again all these years later. He nodded, smiling. It was wonderful closing of the circle.”