Until news of the slaughter in Paris flooded the internet, television, newspapers and magazines, I had been unaware of the publication, CHARLIE HEBDO, a weekly magazine of gloves off satire and cartoon commentary. And while the initial reports made it sound like HEBDO focused on Islam and Muslims alone, it became evident that the magazine excoriated all faiths and spared no politician.It was a horrible act of criminality, perpetrated, depending on your point of view, by thugs and losers misrepresenting their religion or a crime committed by homicidal religious fanatics acting as sanctioned enforcers for their version of God, seeking to strike terror into the heart of free expression. They planned on dying no matter what. Their allegiance was not to life, laughter and love, but to an ideology saturated in nihilism and death.
Reactions were immediate and across the board condemnation- at least on the surface level.However, as Salman Rushdie, no stranger to the murderous threats of reactionary Islamic fundamentalism, pointed out, the “Buts” were infiltrating the commentary.“It was a terrible act, BUT the magazine was sort of asking for it by publishing inflammatory cartoons…BUT the cartoonists shouldn’t be disrespecting religion…BUT for the lack of restraint…BUT…BUT.Even Pope Francis, who has been enjoying a love affair with the general public for his seemingly more balanced viewpoints on religion and Catholicism dropped the ball by echoing the “BUT” by applying notions of censorship or self censorship in matters pertaining to satirizing religions- all religions.By saying all religions the bases are covered and one does not sound like a special interest ideologue.
An examination of the history of satire quickly reveals that religion and politics, and their leaders and partisans, have been the frequent objects of visual assault.Where nations are governed by more democratic, freedom embracing principles the stinging and provocative nature of satire is tolerated and protected, if not necessarily appreciated by the objects of the lampooning. The idea that one’s religion is off limits to attack, even mean spirited attack, is not acceptable.A censoring of one topic leads to the censorship of others.Under those conditions anyone can express outrage and victimization and demand the dogs to be called off, or worse, invent a justification to react violently.Looking through the latest issue of HEBDO and using my Google translate, I found a range of quality in the cartooning.Some of the gags worked and were funny, others didn’t ring any bells. Until the massacre, the magazine’s circulation apparently was in the neighborhood of 30,000.The killings have given HEBDO a notoriety beyond the wildest expectations and raised the awareness of the publication.Still, it seems amazing and perverse that cartoons can stir up mass hysteria, riots and killing among large portions of populations who more than likely have never even seen the images.They are stirred up in this circumstance by religious leaders cynically exploiting the ignorance of the followers to their more malicious ends.
I was contacted by The New York Observer, along with several other illustrators- Steve Brodner being one- to create an image for an editorial response to the killings.I chose to stick to black and white, and pen and ink, in my illustration.It seemed fitting to employ Liberty from the French artist Delacroix’s iconic “Liberty Leading the People” and make some adjustments.The drawing flowed nicely, but my deficiency in la langue Francais, almost derailed my intentions when I misused a verb that I thought to mean fuck only to find out that it also meant kiss, and even if it did mean fuck, it meant it in a more affectionate manner.Talk about the uncomfortable scenario of explaining myself if the image appeared as it might have.I turned away from the Google translate and consulted living speakers and came up with something that even if sounding pretty wordy at least was more accurate.So a twelfth hour rewrite and patching was required.
Almost concurrently I received a request through channels to contribute something to a group tribute for LeMonde.I used that opportunity to draw something up more in the spirit of Charlie Hebdo (this time the French was correct) and sent that out along with the Observer drawing after making sure the folks at the NYO were cool with the potential re-use. Due to some miscommunication, apparently only 10 images were to be selected for the actual hard copy issue with the others part of the online publication.I was not in the select group.No matter.I had great fun drawing the image with my brush pens.
Tomi Ungerer visited the Society of Illustrators today for a lunch.Accompanying him were his wife, Yvonne, daughter Aria and her partner Herman (who has been archiving Tomi’s thousands of pieces of artwork).Also in attendance were illustrators extraordinaire Steve Brodner and Ellen Weinstein and the Society’s director, Anelle Miller.I shared a truly memorable lunch with Tomi a few years back and the opportunity to sit and break bread was not to be missed.I had already postponed a long planned knee surgery to attend Tomi’s opening reception a few days before at the Drawing Center (35 Wooster Street, NYC) which has on exhibit a marvelous and sizeable collection of Tomi’s work that will run till March.Tomi had been obviously worn down from the exhaustive schedule of signings, interviews and get togethers since arriving in town but was in wonderfully good spirits at the table, marveling at the artwork of the current annual exhibition on the walls and expressing such love and fond memories of the Society. His love and appreciation of illustration was all embracing and he expressed an unembarrassed fan boy awe of illustrators from Rockwell and Charles Dana Gibson to Ralph Steadman to the new generation sharing the wall space. Tomi did reveal a certain sadness at not being able to spend more quality time with old friends and acquaintances during his short stay. He was a deep well of stories and observations, good humor and word play.We touched on the murders at Charlie Hebdo and Tomi grimly observed the irreconciable nature of current tensions and that we are witnesses to the beginnings of a Third World War. Steve responded, "Yes, it seems that way." "No, not seems. It is." was Tomi's reply. It was one of the only moments where his mood turned dark and pessimistic.
It was inevitable but the sketching started while we lunched.First Steve and I drew portraits of Tomi on Society menus, which he later signed (before leaving, Tomi did a funny self portrait on one as well).Then I pulled out my sketch pad- always bring your sketch pad- and did a couple that turned out more satisfactory in the good lighting and close proximity and made up for the disappointing results in the standing room only poor lighting Drawing Center interview the previous Saturday with art director and author, Steve Heller.
These are peak moments in a person’s life. My ride back upstate was filled with reflections on the lunch and the conversation and the simple act of listening to one of the singular masters of the art of illustration and idea creation and the great richness of spirit and love. It was a pleasure as well to spend time talking with Yvonne, Aria, and Herman. It is often easy to forget that in the lives of great artists their opportunities to create are often greatly enhanced by core family support, especially when they get on in years.Tomi is blessed in such a way by the obvious love and commitment of his family.They act as bedrock and also as reality check. Whether you are an established professional or just graduating from art school you would do yourself a huge benefit viewing the documentary on Tomi’s life, FAR OUT ISN’T FAR ENOUGH.The exhibition at the Drawing Center is a must see for anyone interested in brilliant, and subversive, thinking combined with marvelous artistry.
For the NEW YORK OBSERVER. Thanks to Lauren Draper and Ken Kurson.
LeMonde in the spirit of Charlie.
A drawing that didn't completely fail at the Drawing Center. I found myself trying to look through shadows to pick up features.
Front: Anelle Miller, Tomi, Ellen Weinstein In the back: Herman, an unfortunately obscured Yvonne, VJ, Brodner and Aria. A peak event.
On your stands now, in the current Rolling Stone (with John Oliver on the cover,), is an in-depth piece of journalism by Tim Dickinson on the Koch Brothers and their impressive (not in a positive sense) reach and grip on American politics and environmental policy.
I’ve done the Koch brothers before for various magazines. Interesting how just a few years ago, Google reference was quite limited. Not so, anymore. That said, the challenges facing a caricaturist remain the same. One brother, David, always had the more interesting horror movie mortician appearance, while the other, Charles, in actuality the real driving force behind the evil empire, facially bears an uncomfortable resemblance to the older Robert Redford. When RS art director Mark Maltais called me with the assignment it turned into another opportunity to study these mugs and, hopefully, create an image strong enough to complement the copy.
It’s funny, but these stories, like so many on politics and business, contain maze like plot lines and criss-crossing agendas. To try to cover all the elements of a complicated journalistic endeavor like this story sometimes requires less attention on the specifics in the article and more focus on a unifying theme in the image. Simpler sometimes is better, but simpler doesn’t necessarily mean less detail in the actual illustration, merely a solid core around which to work.
My sketches approached the article from several points of view. I thought of maybe creating a P.T. Barnum style circus poster with the brothers as ringmasters and all the various side shows revolving around them, including the contortionist politicians grabbing for money. I’ve always loved Caspar Friedrich’s “The Wanderer” and felt the figure standing on a mountaintop of money bags surveying not a magnificent landscape but an expanse of pollution would look cool except for the fact it is not a lone figure in the article but two. Portraying them as vultures seemed a possibility as well and no one portrayed corrupt individuals as vultures better than Thomas Nast. I had fun with those. Then there was a simple straight ahead option, involving caricatures of the brothers holding a diseased globe but smiling/laughing very contentedly. It certainly allowed for focus on caricaturing self satisfaction. When people are this rich you can criticize them till the cows come home and it won’t matter. They are well protected. Putin in Russia enjoys a similarly brazen, contemptuous attitude, being probably the richest man in that kleptocracy. Still we press on and keep firing them arrows.
The gang at RS went with the straight ahead approach. The faces are predominant as are the expressions. Exaggeration for exaggeration’s sake has become far less interesting to me over the years as much as trying to capture something in the character via that right expression. So these are less wild attacks of bravura distortion and more studied visual statements. As their business empire runs well past the borders of America to Russia (not surprising) and even Iran (Axis of Evil, anyone?) it felt perfectly right to spread the diseased skies and landscape all over the globe. Healthy blue was not a consideration; better the corrosive browns and umbers of shit in the air.
Less a direct lift from the original Nast and more an inspiration with the twist of forcing the Bald Eagle out of the nest.
Four For The Air Force- and then some
Once again, the Society of Illustrators will have its biannual exhibition in conjunction with the USAF Art Program beginning this September. The missions were very few these past two years a result of the sequester and government budget cuts. This year the Society will focus on exhibiting selected pieces from the USAF permanent collection. There will be some seriously stunning work highlighting the more than 60 years of working with the Air Force. There will also be a small showing of work from the one mission last summer at McGuire AFB/Fort Dix in New Jersey where Operation Eagle Flag training exercises were being held. A small group of Society illustrators were there documenting the event, and I'm happy to say I was part of that group. My sketchbooks were filled with plenty of false starts but enough visual information to create four finished pieces. All the drawings were dry-mounted to firmer board and then worked on with acrylics. Please check the Society's website for the dates of the exhibition. www.societyillustrators.org
A case in point. This drawing was nearly 80% of what is seen here when everything abruptly changed over and had I not taken some video and photos, would have remained in a sort of limbo. Carefully extracting the pages from the moleskine large sized pad (11x17") I hot press mounted it to 4 ply Strathmore paper to protect against buckling and proceeded with a careful application of acrylics. Watercolor rarely responds well to moleskine paper on initial application but acrylics so far have not met that resistance.
The hardest thing for me when working with color and paints is knowing when to stop. When enough has been said and anything else just turns the image into feeling like a rendering of a photo (as my mentor Bernie D'Andrea would caution me about). I stopped here. The focus was where I wanted it.
Nothing remained still. Even the soldier actually suffering from dehydration. This procedure surprisingly lasted longer than I had anticipated.
Similar situation. A fair amount of information sketched real fast trying to record an event moving quite fast. Probably the only people remaining relatively stationary during these few minutes were the members of the USAF unit who were training with the role players. Many of the role players are immigrants and bring a level of cultural authenticity to the exercises that hiring local actors could never match. Here, Lebanese actor/entrepreneur "Jimmy Smooth", as he was known to the troops, announces to the villagers that an agreement has been reach with the US forces.
One of the many sketches that went nowhere and was over before the camera could even be called into play to record the specifics. Another view of "Jimmy Smooth" who sounded like the Lebanese version of Rodney Dangerfield. He rarely broke character except when the exercise was specifically called into recess. Otherwise, he, as well as the others, kept their interactions with the troops as real villagers which allowed them to create challenges that required the military personnel to figure out the proper response. All this would be observed by trainers who kept score and graded how our forces carried themselves. The critiques would come later.
SoI member Stephen Gardner draws and takes notes on how to properly smoke a hookah. SoI Government Services chairman, John Witt works the camera. There were overlaps with British forces also in training.
Unfinished but I think I caught her Pip Pip sort of character. Never found out her name but Millicent or Penelope would not have surprised me.
The guy with the cigar was Air Force role playing as town constable. The rest were actors. I found myself wondering at times about what was going through these immigrants' minds, lives disrupted, separated from their homelands. I had the strong impression from some that they thought we had Hollywood level connections and could get them discovered. It was almost like they were auditioning for us at certain points.
A number of the actors were African. This gentleman who played the town religious leader apparently was in actuality a Muslim cleric. Very soft spoken and gentle of spirit.
Henry Bith. A break in the exercises and time to sit in a wooden shack away from the aggressive sun. I was into the drawing for a few minutes as Henry continued speaking to me when I realized he was talking about having been one of the "Lost Boys of the Sudan". His story was one of great suffering and loss- having witnessed the annihilation of his family- and I found myself lost at times trying to understand how he got to America. But he got here, and with his wife, is trying to make a new life in the States. Another reminder of what we take for granted and what so many in this world must struggle through on a day to day basis. http://www.unicef.org/sowc96/closboys.htm
Henry Bith's wife. I never was entirely sure how she was reacting to my drawing her. Sometimes seeming embarrassed, other times annoyed.
The crew. Stephen Gardner, Jim Consor, John Witt, Cpl. Agarn, and Dennis Dittrich.
Never looks good. No matter how practical it may feel steadying a drawing pad (in this case a hard cover Moleskine) on crossed legs while drawing, it always winds up looking effete.
A couple of drawings still needing a few tweaks that were offered as incentives for a recent Foundation Rwanda fundraiser. Prints are to be sent to donors who contributed a certain amount. Apparently the response was very good. I'll be busy this September printing and mailing and grateful for the Epson 4880 in the studio. The drawings are based on photos by FR co-founder and photographer extraordinaire Jonanthan Torgovnik.
A painting of my own based on sketches at the clinic last year in Rwanda.
Ending this with a drawing found while rearranging files int he barn/studio. Current SSGT Ben as he was at 2 1/2 years old.
It’s been too long since my last posting. Very easy to convince oneself that putting together something for Drawger, both images and text, can be put off till the next day. Before you know it, you have a long stretch of time and a lot of ground to cover.
A huge project, started in January and recently completed, for TED via the terrific team at Alexander Isley’s, occupied much of my thoughts and time. It marked the first time, finally, at 60, that this Luddite was able to comprehend, via very patient hands-on instruction, the mechanics of layering in Photoshop. Desperation is indeed a great motivator to learn when faced with a workload that would have been overwhelming. The event happens in September and I hope to post more detail and visuals then. It was a valuable learning experience and a quantum jump for me in many ways.
Running parallel with this project were other assignments. A good percentage of them fell into the classification of pro bono- the object being to raise money for good, no- great, causes. The payback is to the soul. The remainder have been classic old fashioned illustration. Get the copy, read it, come up with an idea, get it approved, get it done. And have some fun in the process.
When Robert Best, the art director for The Nation, called me to do a cover piece on California governor Jerry Brown, the challenge would be how to balance the feature story image; whether Brown or the state of California would be the focus. A stage show, some sort of hat trick (I think that was one of the proposed headlines), focusing on his-and the state’s- comeback was to factor into the image. I played with a number of magician ideas. All were humorous, but the vignettes had to conform to the layout of copy and headlines on the cover. What was finally selected was a good choice considering the restrictions, struck the right balance between focusing on Brown and the state, and turned out to be great fun taking to finish. I probably drew Brown many many years ago when he was first governor and running for president. I’d say most conservative friends still have him wrapped in the “Governor Moonbeam” phase, but it seems, considering the legislature he has to deal with (and I thought New York’s is a horror) he’s demonstrated the ability to be a pragmatist and not some freak. That he angers both conservatives and liberals makes me think he’s doing what he sees as best and not caring about ideologies. Brown is great fun to draw. He has sharp, almost raptor like features at this stage of his life, not a kid anymore, and what look like buck-ish teeth when he smiles- ever so slyly.
I’ve done a number of Will Shortz crossword and Sudoku book covers for Robert Grom at St. Martin’s Press. They have always involved a caricature of Shortz and a situation illustrating the book theme. Since the theme this time was about ‘mind melting’ Sudoku, it seemed only right to emphasize in a humorous way trying to keep the brain cool under the circumstances. Robert has a very relaxed attitude to art directing and once the idea and sketch was discussed- the only wait centering around waiting for the feedback from the editors- I was home free. The year before the theme was crossword puzzles for the whole year- hats representing the seasons was a perfect solution and worked real well with the cover type.
A nice fistful of illustrations for the ‘National Affairs’ section, my regular haunt. For a story on Obama trying to keep from getting embroiled in the nightmare that is Syria, I was reminded of rueful warning from General Colin Powell before Iraqi Freedom commenced, “You break it, you own it.” The cast of characters fighting in Syria is so confused and fraught with the danger of assisting your next Osama bin Laden. An early idea had Obama lighting a match to see himself surrounded by scorpions as various Moslem insurgents with no real good way out. But it did not address the issue that there were strong voices calling for US military involvement. Breaking and owning made me think of the bull in the china shop, very dangerous with serious potential to cause much damage. It seemed perfectly appropriate to portray Obama attempting to restrain the red, white, and blue bull with the horns shaped as gun barrels- a nod to an old Warner Brothers cartoon. As a matter of fact, the bull owes much to Looney Tunes. Art Director: Mark Maltais.
Big Carbon Beats Up on Kid Solar
The solar industry still comprises a small portion of America’s power supply. There are a number of reasons but one of them certainly is a result of the efforts of energy industries that rely on oil and coal to suppress the spread of the solar industry. There’s serious money here and competition for market dominance is rough. Not a story where much humor is to be found, and I definitely didn’t want to go all dark and symbolic in imagery. Ironically, that old Warner Brothers muse directed me to making the gesture the focus. The big polluting farmer, armed with weed killer, hulking over a couple of solar weeds. The idea was quickly approved by AD Mark Maltais.
Obama’s Last Chance at Any Climate Change Reform
Jeff Goodell writes much on the environment for RS and put together a piece on this year being Obama’s last opportunity to make some impact and bully pulpit legislation before he crosses into lame duck status. There wasn’t much positive news in the article, but in a series of mental quantum leaps, I saw this as a final take- Take 2014- in a Perils of Pauline style movie. Obama attempting to rescue Planet Earth tied to the tracks as a train approaches roaring from behind. Again, idea quickly approved and onto finish.
For years I’ve seen the work in the annual Frogfolio calendar, art directed by Jim Burke, featuring some of my favorite illustrators, and wondered if there was some special selection process. Then I got the call from Jim a few months ago. My first question was,
“Has anyone portrayed a frog as “The Frog”?”, referring to tenor sax great Ben Webster, who was also known as “The Brute”. Jim answered in the affirmative telling me that Joe Ciardiello had done a portrait of Ben. That was fine by me. I wasn’t looking to do a portrait of Webster as much as I wanted to anthropomorphize a frog as Webster. One of the great faces in Jazz; huge, dark, and puffy bug eyes, rotund of physique in his later years, the trademark hat looking a size or two too small, resting on his balding head. The real challenge was transferring the spontaneity in my sketch to the finish. When I’m excited about a project like this there’s always the danger that I will try to shoot for the moon and lose sight of what is already happening on the paper. Going for that gold medal image instead of enjoying the process of drawing and coloring. I nipped that counter productive attitude pretty early on. That said, there were still many fails until the right line quality, gesture, and attitude all fell into satisfying place. I was happy with the result and so was Jim.
I so wanted to have the California bear assistant in the image but space wouldn't permit it.
This was my second runner up. I liked the attitude and gag.
Too much about Jerry and not enough about California. What to do? What to do?
Take one from column A and add one from column B.
I can never be grateful enough to Bob Clampett, Tex Avery, McKimson and all the other brilliant minds behind Looney Tunes for all the joy and inspiration they've brought to my life from childhood to present.
Even as I worked this idea up the thought of repeating all those factories and oil drills had me wincing.
Interesting to think what this might have looked like as an old time B/W silent movie image.
Hmmm. Since 2008, my portrayals of Obama have gradually shifted from a confident, in control type of president, to someone expressing more hesitancy, lack of control, and even helplessness.