MARCH 29, 2009
More than likely it was the glorious, controlled expressionism of Ralph Steadman’s artwork, accompanying the uproarious writings of Dr. Thompson, that planted in my art student mind the hopes to one day illustrate for ROLLING STONE magazine.  It seemed like one of those publications you’d want to work for rather than just work for to pay the bills.  In the 30 some odd years after graduation in ’75, the opportunities came few and far between.  The fact that I was busy enough, often working for publications that fell into the category of “paying the bills” jobs, and raising a family, that time was unavailable to mull over the why’s.  Then something happened in 2006, a call from Amid Capeci, now currently running the shop at NEWSWEEK, for an illustration accompanying an article on domestic spying.  I was very excited and planned on doing an extraordinary piece to embed myself in the consciousness of the art department there.   In retrospect, I over-thought it, got uptight, eventually handing in a good illustration but not the bunkerbuster I had hoped for, and resigned myself to the notion of the next assignment coming with Haley’s Comet.  I was aware of whose work appeared in the mag and saw no reason for that status quo to change. 

I’m very happy to say that I was wrong and the uniquely gratifying working relationship with RS since August of ’06 has been a blessing I haven’t taken for granted.  The degree of creative collaboration that I experience with the art directors (they have changed over the years but all were and are princes) and editors (unusual in the trust they exhibit to their art department and illustrators) is of a uniqueness that brings but a few other publications to mind in my career.  I can get along and work with most anyone.  It takes a truly unpleasant working experience to make me catalogue a publication as “never again”.  But the high percentage of times that assignments feel like fun and have me catching myself smiling while working is noteworthy when thinking about ROLLING STONE.  Assignments that feel like fun even under the craziest of deadlines and 12th hour reconsiderations of copy. 

Such was the case with the assignment for the current issue on the newsstands, the one with two cute “Gossip Girls” on the cover in a soft-core pose with an ice cream cone.  Titled, “The Big Takeover” it is a masterful account of the financial crisis we are currently in the middle of and how we got to this point.  Written by Matt Taibbi, whose sports columns for MEN’S JOURNAL I also have the pleasure of illustrating, it is probably the most accessible, understandable, who-done-it about the very scummy world of what can only be described as white collar greed and criminality, that I have come across.  If your head spins whenever you try to tackle a business article on the credit and banking collapse, layered with gobs of financial acronyms and mumbo jumbo, this article is the antidote.  I read through enough edits to appreciate how challenging the task was to distill this unfathomable maze to real language.  It started off with a relatively modest goal.  An opener and maybe three spots.  No problem, as we were actually beginning this project with a near two week lead time.  An opener with three spots quickly expanded to an opener with six spot caricatures in situations.  Copy hadn’t arrived yet.  I had the names though and proceeded.  Sketches were approved, and things got rolling, at least where the spots were concerned.  I put coming up with a solution for the opener on the back burner to concentrate on the caricatures.  Come Monday the next week, with a Thursday deadline still the goal, the article had taken on a life of its own and Jann Wenner also stepped in.  By late afternoon the mission objective took a major leap, and the question was posed to me whether I could swing an opener with 12 spots, by Thursday evening, altering, eliminating, and re-doing several of the images already finished to fit the new layout design.  For some reason I got confused about my age, and thought that I was 25, or maybe 35, instead of 55, and replied in an insane expression of bravado, “Of course, no problem.  We’ll make it work.”    Sleep of any real benefit was out of the question for the remainder of the week.   The absolute deadline was extended till Friday morning to complete all the work.   A sense of panic and second-guessing sat on my shoulders repeating loudly as a Greek chorus- “What did you just agree to?  What were you thinking?”  I knew in my heart that just because something is classified as a ‘spot’ doesn’t mean that it takes any less time to finish.  The ideas had to be sound and concise, the execution consistent in quality and involvement.  I seem to be congenitally incapable of creating a clean simple spot illustration.  That crucial editing process is missing in my method of approach. They all eventually wind up feeling like full pagers. 

Ultimately, in spite of it all, we did make it work.  Once again, feedback from Steve Charny and Joe Hutchinson and Will Dana and Eric Bates was fast and positive, and the results were impressive, even by my self-critical standards.  The work printed beautifully on the pages, the spots looked crisp and detail rich.  I feel that RS is using better paper quality now that they’ve downsized to regular magazine dimensions, and it shows in the printing. 

A couple things I did learn, or at least was reminded of.  One was that the sleep deprivation that was tolerable for a 25, 35 or maybe even a 45 year old illustrator doesn’t carry over all that well to 55.  The physical collapse that happened upon receiving the final ‘approved’ email from Steve Charny Friday morning was total.  The emotional/mental meltdown was also pretty swift, which brings me to lesson learned number 2.  I do not recommend listening to an unabridged audio book reading of Dostoevsky’s “Crime and Punishment” when working in an extreme pressure situation.  Following someone else’s mental unraveling, no matter how well written, is best saved for other circumstances.

I was thinking George Grosz and Otto Dix once the opening visual popped in my head. They are two of my favorites. Grosz never had a problem portraying bankers as swine. The concept for the opener was floating around in the back of my head while I was proceeding with the initial spot studies, and I let it sit on the back burner till I felt secure with the smaller images to draw the main idea up. As the story was so complicated and wide spreading, it seemed imperative to make sure the opener was simple, direct and visually arresting. A labyrinthian visual was so unappealing and, besides, that's not my strong suit.
Tim Geithner was originally in, then out. I had been hearing and reading a lot about how he just didn't seem up to the task. Visually he often seems a fragile character.
Thank God Greenspan and Hank Paulson were not dropped.
Phil Gramm and Christopher Cox were finishes that needed to conform to the new layout sizings. I was very happy with the caricatures and faced a problem within the time constraints of trying to repeat a successful portrait. I could have saved myself time and headaches by editing the faces and printing them on a new sheet of watercolor paper BUT I remain woefully inadequate in my skills in Photoshop, so my solution to the problem was to print out images, Exacto blade the faces, paste and work on a new sheet. My luck is that my Epson prints real nice images.
Joe Cassano, the loathsome chief of AIG Financial products who gambled $500 billion in credit default swaps, was originally in, then out, then in again.
Jimmy Cayne- Bear Stearns
John Thain- Merrill Lynch. Famous for his million dollar plus bathroom in his office.
Dick Fuld- Lehman Bros. CEO
Angelo Mozillo- Countrywide Financial. Ironically, Mozillo owns a caricature I had done of him for THE WALL STREET JOURNAL back in Countrywide's glory days. I won't tell you what he paid for it- only Uncle Sam knows on my 1040- but he matched what I told him another CEO had paid for a caricature ( a completely unflattering image to boot!) without blinking an eye.
Sandy Weill- CITIGROUP. Even though the umbrella is more closely tied to Travelers Insurance, it was a company that Sandy had brought to prominence and seemed like an appropriate solution to the image. It seems the CITIGROUP symbol has morphed to a curved red dash.
Ken Lewis- Bank of America. My brother, who lost a lot of money in the market holding onto BofA shares, says he's convinced with each new interview that Lewis has lost his mind.
Robert Rubin. Very difficult to do Rubin because he so reminds me of my nose and throat doctor when I was a kid, a terrific, empathic and very cultured individual named Dr. Chodosh. About the only doctor who didn't scare the shit out of me. Wonder where he is, or even if he still "is".