First the good news. For those of us who do political satirical illustration, caricature, and commentary, Donald Trump will bless us with continued employment through the Fall. The bad news is that Donald Trump, capitalizing on a massive (and very justified) anger at the current ineffectiveness of Washington politics, just may become our first version of Bill Starbuck as president. Should the American public elect this con artist extraordinaire it’ll never know what hit it until it’s too late. Frankly, it’s too late now. As it stands, no matter what happens, a certain percentage of the American public, seeking to totally burn down the house and return to a blueprint dependent on self deceptive memories of the good old days, will either continue to try and burn the house down any which way it can should Trump lose, or work with a furious and non discriminatory vengeance to destroy any genuine social and political progress of the past 50-75 years if he wins. Anyway, Trump will be good for assignments.
Apologies to Ingmar Bergman.
The iconic image from Bergman’s masterpiece, “The Seventh Seal”, of Death playing chess against Max von Sydow’s knight has been the inspiration for countless parodies, and I am one of those who has taken occasional advantage of that visual. When I first got the email from Rolling Stone’s art director, Mark Maltais, alerting me to a piece from buddy, Matt Taibbi, regarding Trump post Indiana primary which was a make or break showdown for Ted Cruz and to a lesser effect John Kasich, I had no thoughts as to imagery. The primary proved even more embarrassing to Trump’s opponents than imaginable. Cruz and Kasich folded fast and Trump was left triumphant. Matt was only able to forward an outline of his theme, which was to be an obit of sorts for the GOP as we’ve known it since the days of Nixon. My first thoughts were to play up a funeral service scenario and I offered some options. The size specs for the image changed some and it was to get more squarish than the usual horizontal or vertical. Suddenly wrapping the gag around a casket became a problem from a compositional standpoint and compromised the impact of the ideas. Still there was something funny about Trump as a minister at the funeral violating and upstaging the corpse of the elephant. The thought then turned to Trump not as someone delivering the eulogy- a very, very, very, big, the biggest, great, eulogy, just ask anyone- but as the Grim Reaper himself. The Bergman image came to mind almost immediately. I’ve used it in the past, not just for publication pieces but once even for my 40th birthday party invite. The iconic image isn’t replicated faithfully; I tend to add some more of the outer apparatus normally associated with Death not seen in the movie, like the scythe, and favor a skeleton head instead of actor, Bengt Ekerot’s face. It also looks funnier that way, more like the set up for a gag. The chess game was enthusiastically approved and the finish eventually became a pleasure to do, but not before chalking up several failed versions that wasted valuable time attempting to replicate the looseness and fun that existed in the sketch. It’s a very familiar issue that brings up the impracticality of forcing a drawing to look fresh when the approach is one of duplication. The solution almost always ends with putting reference and accumulated failed drawings out of sight and approaching the clean sheet of paper like it’s the first time. Only, it’s really not, because you’ve been learning from the fails and editing internally what you want to do. The drawing that then finally works is the one that is liberated from the expectations of the ‘finish’ and instead focuses on the searching, the discoveries, the pleasant accidents, and ultimately the sense of play. Replication is not play. Replication is rendering.
The Spring of Our Discontent
Always a pleasure to hear from Mary Parsons from The American Prospect, and her assignment for a cover piece addressing the increasing hostility, sometimes physical, in the primary campaign allowed me to play not just with caricatures but creating a convulsion of angry combative candidate supporters swirling around the candidates. Remarkable how quickly the GOP primaries flamed out leaving Trump the survivor of the carnage, even as Hillary still can't shake Sanders off her back. Illustrated commentary in the 24/7 cyber news world has a major challenge keeping up with, let alone staying ahead of, the lightning fast change in events and our images almost feel outdated before they even seen publication. The 12th hour spot of Trump as Major Kong riding the GOP elephant like an A-bomb seems to be the one constant right now. Stay tuned.
It Takes A Village (Voice)
In all my decades as an illustrator and someone residing in the New York metropolitan area for much of that time, I’ve never done work for The Village Voice. The paper was a mainstay for anyone trying to keep up with what was happening in the Big Apple, socially, culturally, politically, not to mention the very eyebrow raising personal ads in the back pages. A number of my favorite illustrators and cartoonists were featured regularly and that alone made it required reading. Then the paper went through some very difficult times and a kind of limbo. Now it has received a new lease on life from a new owner willing to invest a lot of treasure to make it once again an invaluable point of reference in the city. I wish him and the paper luck and hope it pays off in multiples. That said, it was a very pleasant surprise to receive an email from art directors Andrew Horton and Jesus Diaz for an assignment addressing the slim and somewhat repugnant options for voters looking to replace the once powerful but currently incarcerated Democratic leader of the state assembly in Albany, Sheldon Silver, in a special election. Suggestions were tossed around with zombies and Game of Thrones as possible themes. My intuition said that zombies require decaying features and as these politicians were not household names and therefore not easily recognizable, decomposing their features would lead to unintended problems. I’ve never watched an episode of Game of Thrones but I was very aware of the posters advertising the new season and that visual seemed ripe for a parody. In this case in order to parody the original, especially something so current, successfully, it would be best to stay as true to the original as possible. The faces obviously would need to be different, but the mood, colors, and composition were to remain as true as possible. Replace some medieval architecture for some allusion to apartment facades and we’d be in good shape. The image worked and everyone, including myself, was pleased.
That piece was soon followed with a request to come up with an image for a feature on New York City mayor, Bill DeBlasio, and his current troubles regarding scandals and negative press. Apparently the VOICE feels like he can’t get a break and has comported himself like a babe in the woods. The first ideas were to portray DeBlasio as a kid in a dangerous city setting with shadowy figures lurking behind every corner (an irony of sorts because the mayor is quite tall in reality). Finding the right photos of DeBlasio presents a challenge as he doesn’t seem to vary expression much; the trick therefore is finding the reference that most applies and then using the 10,000 hours of practice to draw the desired expression. There was also a side thought of him as Red Riding Hood. In Red Riding Bill’s situation he’s lost in a forest of tall buildings surrounded by wolves (who with each successive re-sketching wound up looking more like creations from the world of Tex Avery, Bob Clampett, and Friz Freleng, than from some horror flick) ready to take advantage. Andrew went unequivocally with the Red Riding Hood. With the idea approved the illustration’s main challenge became technical- slowly, methodical, layering watercolor over the finished drawing to build up the darkness of the dense forest of buildings against a bilious yellowish sky. My preference for drawing finishes with pencils, pen and ink or those terrific Uniball pens is on bond paper that is then dry mounted to firmer paper or board before color application. But bond can behave inconsistently when watercolor is applied sometimes sucking up the richness of the colors, hence the repetitious layering. Patience is the key and hurrying the applications only winds up turning the colors to mud. I was on schedule so there was no sense of urgency to finish. All in all, a nice piece, with a good mood. Brahms’ Hungarian Dances played off and on especially while working on the wolves. Many thanks to Andrew and Jesus for bringing me into the VOICE fold.
Trapped In the Swamp and a Bomb Thrower
Prior to the Trump as Grim Reaper illustration, there were two other illustrations done in quick succession for Rolling Stone. First, they had sent me an outline for a piece reporting on the War on Drugs as it stands today. A trillion and a half taxpayer dollars wasted, a massive increase in incarceration that’s benefited only the prison industrial complex, at the expense of whatever family structures are left in the lower income levels of society. A vast subset of individuals, excluding the truly dangerous, incarcerated, many for long sentences, for trivial drug possession offenses, now classified as felons their right to voted now denied even after repaying their debt to Society (how convenient) and forever stigmatized with a criminal record that must forever be listed on job applications. And we know how good a prison sentence looks on a job application. Anyway, it’s been a long slog for Uncle Sam through the dark swamp and he’s looking beaten and just wants a way out. Googling images of mudder events and ‘stuck in mud’ helped during the sketch/idea process. Art director- Mark Maltais.
The following assignment was for an interview with a former Trump advisor, currently his close but unofficial consultant, the apparently well loathed Roger Stone, one of the legendary dirty tricksters and political operatives who possesses what seems to be a serious Nixon obsession, a very interesting view on ethics and morals and an overwhelming desire to beat opponents by any means necessary. A bomb thrower. This time his bomb is Trump and his targets, besides the obvious Hillary, turn out to be many of the same people he’s worked for in the past. Can we say mercenaries have no loyalty to anyone but whom they work for at the moment? The ever shifting moment. AD: Mark Maltais
Since this seemingly endless presidential campaign has begun, Trump's hairline in my representations has been dropping lower and lower. Probably subliminal but I may have been thinking of the character Baldie from the old DONDI cartoon strip.
A scribble for another idea that turned into a character study. Looking for the right attitude.
The earlier version toyed with the idea of obscuring most of the face and just having that hair pop out front of the hood. Another reconsideration was with the chess piece on the elephant's head. It seemed appropriate to top it with a T.
The folks at RS requested more of the face be seen. Still hadn't replaced the chess piece with the T.
I've used the chess scene a handful of times over my career. I even used it for my 40th birthday party announcement.
One of the early comps.
A solid red background was added in Photoshop to fill in the cover color. I saw no point in painting all that red.
This was an early composition that I liked very much.
Why is Nixon in these sketches? "The Nixon campaign in 1968, and the Nixon White House after that, had two enemies: the antiwar left and black people," former Nixon domestic policy chief John Ehrlichman told Harper's writer Dan Baum for the April cover story published Tuesday.
"You understand what I'm saying? We knew we couldn't make it illegal to be either against the war or black, but by getting the public to associate the hippies with marijuana and blacks with heroin. And then criminalizing both heavily, we could disrupt those communities," Ehrlichman said. "We could arrest their leaders. raid their homes, break up their meetings, and vilify them night after night on the evening news. Did we know we were lying about the drugs? Of course we did."
Ehrlichman's comment is the first time the war on drugs has been plainly characterized as a political assault designed to help Nixon win, and keep, the White House.
All illustrators steal (relax- it’s not a pejorative term as used here), and good illustrators steal from the best sources. I’m not saying I’m a good illustrator but I do like to steal from the best sources, those iconic images created by great artists and illustrators- mostly of the past, a few from the present- especially when serving the purpose of satire. You can tweak them, play, and spoof them to make a point. Most people- well, most till recent times it seems- recognize the image and consequently can make the connection, understand the reference and whatever punchline you’ve applied to the image. Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam”, Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”, Leonardo’s “Last Supper”, Rembrandt’s “Aristotle Contemplating the Head of Plato”, Daumier’s Don Quixote, Rodin’s “The Thinker”, Thomas Nast’s innumerable editorial cartoons, J.M. Flagg’s Uncle Sam ‘I Want You’. Ed Sorel is a master of brilliant take offs of vintage movie posters to hammer home funny and satirical observations and opinions.
I’ve had great fun in my career playing with images from the archives of Norman Rockwell, finding his Stephen Spielberg-ish vision of America rich material to upend, respectfully, with some bite. Gustave Dore influenced me even before I was aware of him specifically, as many a weekend I went to the library in my little blue collar town of Roselle to look through David Levine’s caricatures for The New York Review of Books. Levine’s drawings were steeped in the tradition of Dore, Grandville, and that period of satirical art.
This is a long way round intro getting to the illustration for the current ROLLING STONE, “Marco Rubio- What Went Wrong?”. Art director Mark Maltais emailed me with little copy but a general theme addressing Rubio’s collapse as a great GOP hope and antidote to Trump’s ascendancy in the Republican primaries. Normally I can wait for more copy to come in before getting started but I was heading out to Wyoming for a week of receptions and presentations at the Brinton Museum the day after deadline, and felt that some proactive sketching of ideas would assist my mission not to be working up to the 12th hour before heading to the airport. Well, it didn’t work out quite as hoped for; there were many rethinks and adjustments as more copy from the writer, Janet Reitman, started drifting in. He was less a GOP Don Quixote and more a Moses carrying the establishment tablets down from the mountain rejected by the folks below worshiping their golden calf. I drew Marco so many times had there been time I might have tried doing the finish with my eyes closed. Thankfully, in retrospect, that option was out of the question and, as he seems to be political toast- an empty suit containing little substance but a tired sales pitch story- may never be put to the test. Frequent redraws can sometimes create a visual exhaustion with the subject. In this circumstance that was not the case; the caricature just had more time to marinate and get better (IMHO). The approved sketch, based on a classic Dore engraving from his illustrations for the Bible, of Moses coming down the mountain, was a very satisfying solution. I’ve always loved the illustration and have spoofed it many times- it can address any number of topics because it is such a solid image with gravity that can be satirized to whatever degree necessary. This was probably the first time, however, that I portrayed the Moses character delivering an unwanted message.
It seemed at first, without the copy, that I could approach Marco as a match that burned out before the GOP elite could light up.
Or maybe a Don Quixote getting his head lopped off by a Trump windmill.
The great disappointment. Exhausted, confused, defeated, abandoned hard by the establishment.
Thank you, Norman Rockwell, for a great comedic image.
Maybe Marco was the frog that didn't turn into the prince. I scribbled him a second time in the sketch as he looked too much like a creepy dog in the palms of the GOP princess instead of the amphibian of fairy tales.
Marco as the FOX promoted main attraction. Unfortunately, there's no one in the audience. Another one I thought would make a good image. Ummm, nope.
Another sketch to clarify what I hoped to put around the juggling.
While we're exploring fairy tales, it was suggested why not try the knight who doesn't quite succeed in his rescue. I thought this was funny and imagined a Warner Brothers style tail pounding as I scribbled. But once seen and with more details of the story we were heading to more religious metaphors.
Saviors- in this case a Republican establishment Pilate looking to present the savior to the crowd, but they'd be asking for Bar-Trumpus.
Or the elite looking to Heaven for the savior to appear. Looney Tunes solution- drop the Marco a la Wiley Coyote.
Finally. Marco as Moses carrying the message. The crowd below has found their golden calf, thank you, now get lost.
The finish. I added the limp lightning bolt in the hand of god as a nice touch.
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.