It’s mortifying to think that my last posting was in August this year. So many projects with future publishing dates keep a person from tooting their own horn until the magazine hits the stands. Before you know it, you’re forgetting about the pieces and onto something else with another somewhere in the future appearance. Now that we’ve acknowledged the matter, let’s address some of the images and get up to date.
I’ve had the pleasure of working with Robert Best a number of times since he’s taken the helm of art direction at The Nation. He’s one of those rare art directors who gets it and trusts the people he hires. That in turn inspires people like me to hopefully exceed the expectations and justify that trust.
Back in September Robert sent me copy for a feature assessing the Supreme Court under Justice John Roberts. It was quite even handed but didn’t hold back on some of the major decision fails over the past decade. I chose not to go the caricature route and instead make the concept take center stage. The cover idea, with one not insignificant adjustment suggestion from Robert, came pretty quickly and graphically looked strong as a cover image. Covers are different from inside art as covers must grab attention. They don’t need to cover all the details of the story; they need to make a point. In this situation, the close-up of a judge stepping on the back of Justice (originally Uncle Sam) got the message across quite strikingly, especially as it appeared in the layout. The inside follow-up illustration, a bit less serious, visualized a judge’s gavel as a pendulum with a mean swing. While we were on a roll it seemed a perfect opportunity to take a whack at Trump hogging all the chairs in a GOP musical chairs contest. Still seems to hold true as his popularity holds strong. I doubt even being caught on tape committing murder would diminish his numbers among the hard core.
My cover image for the GOP Cracking Up owes much to my affection for the visual sight gag. It’s a tip of the hat to early MAD magazine but also inspirations like Rick Meyerowitz. It’s been a liberating experience since dropping pen and ink many years ago as the nearly sole form of working. My comfortableness with the medium has decreased over the years and I find I can often get better effects with good old pencils and wash. Also keeps the drawings feeling fresher. Many toss in the can starts and then you nail the drawing you want.
Patrick J.B. Flynn has been handing me interesting pieces to illustrate, pieces I normally would associate myself with. The current Baffler has a excerpt from the play “Monticello” about an imaginary encounter (I’m assuming it’s imaginary.) between a close to death Thomas Jefferson and a young Edgar A. Poe. Jefferson has one of those great faces that I can never get tired of drawing. I’ve never really done Poe to my memory, and wouldn’t consider volunteering an image as he’s been done so magnificently by other illustrators (see Joe Ciardiello). Google searches proved somewhat helpful finding dress styles of the time and as there are such few images of E.A.P. to choose from, the opportunity to imagine, emphasis on imagine, him young.
The American Prospect
The Prospect has undergone some major changes, especially in terms of publication frequency (it’s a quarterly now) so it’s always great to hear from Mary Parsons, for whom I’ve done some of my best work. Not a major spread piece but an essay on how every election looks like a guaranteed GOP beatup of the Dems that doesn’t always pan out. I focused on a boxing weigh in- usually an opportunity to indulge in some pre-fight intimidation and played to a terribly uneven confrontation. Then I took it a couple steps more and went all prison on the elephant covering him in tattoos expression a more hard right bend. The editor thought it was over the top and unfair (liberals, what can I tell ya) and strongly suggested I tone it down. Though lacking the acid flavor I was shooting for, the result is still a good comic image in large part because of the body language of the contestants and that the jackass is the closest I’ve come to doing a Don Knotts in my career.
A piece for National Affairs on prison sentencing reform by Nick Pinto, and the small but significant steps being taken to start reducing the prison population of non-violent offenders, more often than not people busted for drugs. The US can boast of a prison population that from a percentage stand point exceeds all other nations on earth, even countries that one might reasonably assume to be police states. I tried two approaches, one where justice is attempting to replace the huge gavel in the hands of a judge with a smaller, less formidable one. The other idea was to show a dark prison cell with just the slimmest bit of light coming in through a barred door that has cracked open slightly. Some hope. I modified it further by morphing the cell door bars into a US flag. My sketches had a murky nighttime feel that I loved and suspected would not carry over completely into the finish. Why? Because we (well, at least I) just naturally tighten up when the decision is made to go ahead. Rethinking the drawing and getting more ‘correct’ almost immediately kicks in. What had such appeal in a rough drawing suddenly gets a disapproving squint from the inner critical adult. 41 years in the business and it remains a challenge to hold onto as much of the rawness of the original sketch as possible. This one managed to find a nice balance.
It's comforting to note that no matter how desperate and depressing the current state of American politics is, Matt Taibbi will manage to find the very dark and very funny humor in the craziness. His follow up report from the campaign trail in the current RS is a pure pleasure to read. My biggest challenge when illustrating a piece by Matt is trying to match the quality of his writing. There was no finished copy to read but Matt did send some notes how he was going to pursue the theme. The idea of a magician continuously pulling skunks from a hat was worth pursuing. In this case the latest skunk happens to be Marco Rubio.
Art Director, Mark Maltais.
The New York Observer
The Top 40 Power Players- State of Confusion. That state being New York, which is watching the unfolding of significant corruption trials (Shocking!) of powerful leaders of both parties. There are any number of other Albany pols probably sweating plenty as Preet Bharara, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York, lays out his indictments and brings to trial the seriously ethically challenged representatives of the people. This was pretty straight forward- compose an image of some of the nervous key players with a very calm Preet central to the image. A woman needed to be added to the image so poor Eva Moskowitz, not under any corruption scrutiny got the dubious honor of appearing on the cover. Art Director- Lauren Draper.
“Trustees and the Rise of Football in the 21st Century”. It’s great when an art director you haven’t heard from in a while and whom you enjoy working with touches base. I’ve known Jeff Kibler from the days we were both still living in New Jersey and he was working for the design firm, Johnson and Simpson, in Newark. Trusteeship is just one of the publications he art directs for McMurry/TMG. He contacted me regarding a piece examining the responsibilities of college and university trustees allocating money to a bedrock college sport that has come under severe scrutiny the result of all the medical findings of brain damage suffered by the athletes. Where should future money be allocated? What benefits the university more in the long term? I tried several approaches playing to the idea of the elephant in the room that needs to be addressed but threw in an image of a gigantic football player competing with a less than gigantic music student for college dollars. That was approved and we went to finish. I enjoyed all the physical gestures in the illustration.
It seems you can find anything on Google, including reference of Jefferson's wine cellar. Added to the fun of illustrating this piece.
THE AMERICAN PROSPECT.
THE NEW YORK OBSERVER. L to R in the background: Eva Moskawitz,head of Success Academy Charter Schools, Dean (Oh Dean!) Skelos, Sheldon Silver, John J. Flanagan, Carl Heastie. In front-Preet Bharara.
I love drawing Andrew Cuomo. He looks like he's in a perpetual fit, even when he's happy. And that voice. Like a hectoring mother.
Taibbi: "A bitter Bush recently pegged Rubio as a Republican version of Obama, a comparison neither Rubio nor many Democrats will like, but it has a lot of truth to it. The main difference, apart from the policy inverses, is in tone. 2008 Obama sold tolerance and genial intellectualism, perfect for roping in armchair liberals. Rubio sells a kind of strident, bright-eyed dickishness that in any other year would seem tailor-made for roping in conservatives.
But this isn't any year. It isn't just our energy, education and anti-poverty systems that are outdated. So is our tradition of campaign journalism, which, going back to the days of Nixon, trains reporters to imagine that the winner is probably the slickest Washington-crafted liar, not some loon with a reality show."
Read more: http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/the-gop-clown-car-rolls-on-20151117#ixzz3sNFyggy3
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That was my first thought when I received an email from Mark Maltais, AD for ROLLING STONE and he put me on alert that a Matt Taibbi piece was being written about the GOP candidates running to be their party’s nominee for President. First response was, “Oh, sort of a clown car scenario.” Why did I write that? The clown car image was already suffering from overuse. Any quick Google search would clearly confirm that.
Matt was in the Midwest following the candidates in Iowa. His rough, unedited piece finally arrived on Monday evening and RS needed a finish by Thursday. Matt never disappoints whether he’s writing about politics, financial wrongdoings, or even sports (there were times when he was writing a sports column for Men’s Journal that I would illustrate that I felt his eviscerations of athletes were even funnier than politicians). He’s on point but with an acid, near macabre sense of humor. The GOP piece in which Donald Trump plays a key role, almost a leitmotif, throughout the article, was great fun to read, and even though Matt made use of the clown car reference, I felt there was enough within the piece to avoid becoming but just another repetitious image maker. I had no problem using the clown theme, just not all in the car.
It was just my good fortune that the day I received the copy was also the day that the 10 candidates to appear on the FOX debate were announced. That narrowed and focused whom I had to concern myself with in the image. I emailed Mark and let him know I’d use clowns but wanted very much to avoid the car. He seemed fine with that.
A beautiful book on circuses and another one on clowns were pulled from the shelves and I went to work on ideas. My initial sketches referred to circus posters, circus freak acts, and in a right before bedtime flash, a pooping reference. Yes, poop jokes are old reliables and not to be dismissed, especially when your GOP elephant is forcing out a gigantic, snarling head of one Donald Trump, like a large wad of bubble gum stuck in a rectum.
Any of the ideas would work for me. The decision was up to editorial at RS. The responses to all the ideas were very positive but the elephant rectal image got the nod.
Once again, because of the deadline involved and the number of personalities to draw, I followed my gut and started working out the finish in pencil instead of the unforgiving pen. For any number of reasons my confidence in my crow quill skills has diminished some over the years and in crush circumstances I will trust my gut and go with pencil- not because I can erase- which I really don’t- but because I can feel the paper and the sensitivities of drawing better now with pencil. We’re a tactile bunch, us old schoolers.
Concentration was very good and I was in the zone for almost the entire time, and time I pretty much forgot about. If I’m chuckling while working and looking at the faces I draw, then that’s a good sign. Ultimately, getting The Donald right first was paramount as he is the punchline and the line connecting all the dots. Once I was satisfied with his characterization the rest flowed along nicely. A redesign of the layout by Mark allowed me a little more breathing space with the multiple characters and even gave Chris Christie a little stretch out for a nice body scan.
The gang at RS was very pleased with the finish as was Matt. It was great fun tackling a piece by Mr. Taibbi. His writing always pushes me to, at the very least, match his contribution and hopefully bring the image up a couple notches higher than I would have anticipated. Thanks all for the assignment.
Some of the candidates are simply more fun to visualize as clowns. Mike Huckabee is one. Scott Walker, Jeb Bush and Rand Paul also seemed very adaptable. Ben Carson and John Kasich not so. Carson is remarkably bland.
I love the iconic photo of the carnival performer who drove nails into his head through his nostrils. I saw Uncle Sam in a similar predicament.
Nothing to add here except maybe I thought I could do better with Christie and redraw based on his poor decision baseball uniform photos.
Attempting to keep up with postings of recent work while juggling multiple plates continues to be the challenge. There are a good handful of us on Drawger who not only enjoy posting our illustrations but writing about what we do to make them happen. I’m one of them. Writing something that hopefully is worth reading often takes much longer than uploading images.
The AMERICAN PROSPECT Magazine has undergone a change in format and publication, its issues now seasonal rather than monthly. Luckily for the magazine and happily for me, Mary Parsons remains the art director. She trusts her artists and when she does offer suggestions they are on point. In an era where editors increasingly seem to make the decisions on visual matters and art directors seem to exist merely as executors of those decisions, it’s a pleasure to work with someone who is willing to push back if necessary and advocate for the illustrator and for the visual solutions. Many times it’s the difference between images that have teeth and images that act as wall paper.
The “Plutocracy Forever?” issue is a great example of why you should never throw your sketches and ideas- in particular good ones- away even if they don’t make the cut for a particular story. This is a concept I have only come to appreciate more in my later years. The ability to store files of rejected ideas in hard drives as opposed to boxes of paper makes it a lot easier to access a sketch that was for any variety of reasons rejected for one story but still a perfect match for another. In this situation Mary asked me to create a number of illustrations for the issue and we had a treasure trove of old ideas done for The Prospect and other magazines that found new life and seemed totally appropriate.
The cover was a mix and match situation taking a singular image, the reclining reinvention of the Monopoly man morphed with a swine, and adding a portion from another illustration. Mary originally had reservations about the size of the cover copy, which the editors seemed to want, but the illustrations fit perfectly and complemented the layout giving the cover a nice sense of openness.
The interior pieces were a combination of revisited old sketches as well as new ideas to fit the essays. Once again the rejects hold up well and remain archived for some later potential usage. After a certain point there are only so many ways one can illustrate the ever returning core of themes- greed, corruption, venality, etc., that are part of political and social commentary publications and a visual that has you chuckling is a keeper. Recycling is not just about plastic.
In this earlier version, done for another publication, the member of the 1% skips exuberantly over people smothered in debt. Mary suggested thinking of an alternative representation of the 99%. People in barrels seemed a perfect metaphor.
Used inside as well the lower portion of the finish became the bottom of the cover.
I did a variation of this image many years ago of sports team owners and regulators. I suspect you can guess who held the short leash.
Addressing the disparity of the fortunate few vs the majority of senior citizens in the current environment of growing inequality. Comfortable retirement vs working till the grave.
Depending on your economic status the housing collapse had a different impact. A couple of approaches, one which leaned on a favorite Winslow Homer painting with some adjustments, the other looking at a washed away coastline and a mansion resting on high solid ground.
For THE NATION- Received a call from art director, Robert Best, for an illustration on a piece by Don Guttenplan prior to the recent elections in Britain. The article didn't present a pretty picture of the current Labour Party and its party leader, Ed Milliband, and its very uncomfortable relationship with the Scottish National Party represented by Nicola Sturgeon. I don't really follow British politics. US politics provides enough of a headache. But Milliband and Sturgeon presented a potential for some good comedy. This was my initial idea. The rose symbol of the Labour Party loses its petals and the loop of the SNP I used as a noose around Sturgeon. While he loved my caricature of Milliband, Don felt the noose off the mark. Back to the drawing board.
My second approach struck the right chord and got a good round of laughs. The challenge was repeating the vitality of the sketch for the finish. Several attempts were made.
The finish looked so good in black and white that I didn't want to screw with it and suggested just adding color to the SNP symbol employed as a type of engagement ring. Robert concurred.
Seriously, how can you go wrong? Ed Milliband, Labour Party leader.
The most recent cover of The Nation. Robert Best, AD. "Not Your Grandmother's Librarian". A cover feature on how librarians are on the front lines of pushing back against government surveillance of what people read in libraries. Interestingly, an updated Rosie the Riveter was suggested except that Robert's image of Rosie and mine were different. I referred to Norman Rockwell's iconic figure and Robert was thinking of the We Can Do It woman from the other iconic poster but misidentified on Google as Rosie. Either version would work. I preferred this one because of the dynamic of this new Rosie versus a stymied Uncle Sam.
Finally, a piece for the 150th Anniversary issue of THE NATION, only this time the guest AD was the one and only Steve Brodner who asked me to come up with an image for a Victor Navasky piece on McCarthyism and its consequences to American history. I tried a few approaches, even falling back to a more op-ed-y visual with clouds and little figure on landscape. A return to the 70's for me.
Then there was going for the good old satiric send up of iconic images. J.Edgar Hoover factored into the piece as he in effect laid the groundwork of paranoia that McCarthy was able to cynically capitalize on.
The approved sketch playing off another iconic image of JEH but in the original he was with Shirley Temple.
Haven’t posted much about assignments for Rolling Stone in a while.These three in their own ways turned out quite nicely.
The War on Drugs is Burning Out
Ideas rarely come like bolts of lightning but oftentimes the first thoughts will eventually remain the best thoughts.This was a piece, penned by Tim Dickinson, that inspired two quick images, either one of which could have worked and for a while the decision bounced between the two.There was no necessity to keep thinking of new ideas.
Since a focus of the story dealt with Washington D.C. itself in terms of law and legality within its city limits, it seemed appropriate to replace the Washington Monument with a towering joint a la picture postcard view.The other was to take one of the most iconic spots in the country- the Lincoln Memorial and have old Abe toking.Editorial finally decided to go with the toke.It was far more fun than I anticipated as bringing life to marble busts is not an easy task.I settled on a color themed image to ground the visual and accentuate the punch line.
The GOP’s New War on Obama: Meet the Men Doing the Dirty Work
Another piece from Tim Dickinson focusing on what I read as an updated version of a Jacobin rebellion.A revolution to eliminate anyone not falling into the hard right wing lock step.First to go- Democrats in the Congress.
It was an opportunity to have fun with caricatures and, once again, two ideas came to mind that seemed to satisfy the story.One, non-French Revolution in concept but French by association because it drew upon the famous Dore image of Red Riding Hood with the wolf, had a Lady Liberty a la RRH apprehensively viewing her wolves sharing the bed.I liked it very much but also thought something relating to the Jacobin fever in D.C. should be addressed.Hence- refer to the great British satirist, James Gillray who so wonderfully excoriated not only the British Royal class but the maniacs of the French Revolution.Vive le Revolution.The editorial decision went with the beheading image.
Tim Dickinson once again on the self created problems in Canada where its Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has banked nearly the entire economy on its tar sands oil production and how with the drop in oil prices and the blocking of the Keystone Pipeline, the nation finds itself in serious financial peril.There were several stories going on here and while I did want to bring Harper, a pasty faced looking piece of white bread, into the image I also somehow needed to address the economic part. This was an article that saw many sketches and many that made their way to the circular file.I saw it first as a bad gamble and played off a Vegas like gambling setting, The Tar Sands instead of the Sands.As the first Sands hotel casino was blown up to make way for a new one, there was video of the demolition to play with plus some vintage images on Google.I liked it a lot but editorial wasn’t entirely convinced.I also tried one recalling the Icarus story with Harper flying too high and his wings melting into dripping oil as he falls.Others showed a huge tar sands tractor with an engine dropped out and Harper not exactly flying out of a cannon the way he anticipated.Lastly, and most successfully, the idea of riding over a waterfall of oil in an oil barrel.The dimensions were changed and a different camera angle was established, which quite frankly had the best sense of animation to it.
As always, great fun working with Mark Maltais and Joe Hutchinson in art and Will Dana, editor.
Just in case anyone thinks that political discourse has gone over the top nowadays let us keep in mind satirists like Gillray who pulled no punches.
Okay, going over a waterfall in a barrel is sort of funny but the hook has to be that it's not water.