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Return of the Vampire Squid
For all the hostile response from the shills in business media and the business world itself to the writings of Matt Taibbi in ROLLING STONE, where he has been detailing the etiology of the financial crisis of the past 2 years, and in particular the ruinous misdeeds of Goldman Sachs, news keeps surfacing in dribs and drabs, from here and abroad, about this company or that country’s financial plight and, if you continue reading, you will find that Goldman had some sort of hand, or maybe tentacle, in the financial decisions and policies that have left said institutions in such a shitter.The ruinous misdeeds have extended far, and the recovery from the global financial meltdown will be, by most estimates, a long, hard, slog.Except for Goldman, it seems.They’ve managed to profit magnificently and have the self-justifying nerve to rub the noses of the rest of the world in their ill-gotten success.
Out on the stands now, with Jeff Beck and Eric Clapton gracing the cover, for your viewing and reading pleasure (Is it pleasure when it’s such bad news?Well, yes, when the writing is so good.) is the most recent piece of journalism from Matt for RS; a continuation of the saga of how Goldman has scammed the bailout.
Ironically, a week before starting on this most recent round of illustrations for a ‘National Affairs’ feature, I was standing at the lectern at the Society of Illustrators, accepting my silver medal for the ‘Hyenas’ illustration I had done for an earlier RS issue on the financial crisis.In my acceptance speech I made particular note of what a pleasure it has been working for editorial and art at the magazine and how things mesh so well even under the most pressing of deadlines.The irony was that a week later I was wondering if by speaking out loud the praises of a marvelous working relationship, I had set myself up for some cosmic kick in the ass (because I do believe in a mischievous God, if there is one at all), because it appeared that very little that I was producing in imagery was ringing a bell for the folks on the second floor of Wenner Media.The studio was a snowstorm of flying sketch paper, bond paper, a thousand false starts, pencils thrown, second guessing coming in tidal waves, whirling in a constant dread that I wasn’t nailing my visual solutions.And, it does happen.In an effort to outdo your last effort, (because you are only as good as your last effort) you can sometimes press so hard that you miss the forest for the trees.It was happening here.There were almost five days to work on the assignment and it wasn’t till day three and a half that it seemed like creative salvation was within reach.Even then, tweaking was recommended, slight adjustments in expression called for, communications were sometimes misunderstood- usually by me.However, when the brushes and pens were finally laid down at 5:30 AM on Friday morning and the files emailed, it was with the sense that mission was accomplished and it was a job well done.I was in such overdrive that a late request to do a caricature of Matt for the front credits was a smoking success on the first try.I got my three hours sleep, woke up and headed in my car for NYC three hours and change down the Thruway to prepare for a gallery reception of some recent work (almost all done for ROLLING STONE) at the Society of Illustrators.The coffee tightened up my “too old for overnighters” nausea.
Art direction, as usual, by the ever calm Steve Charny.
The opener for the article after all the adjustments were made.
Early sketch. Banker as W.C. Fields. Uncle Sam as sort of dim witted country bumpkin. No go.
Uncle Sam playing a rigged game with a bunch of Lloyd Blankfeins of Goldman Sachs, some of whom are advising him. Early sketch that morphed into something else later.
Pig in a poke. Traditionally it was a cat replaced for a pig but here I thought a skunk would have been funnier and more appropriate. Uncle Sam as pretty close to idiot as possible.
Variation off the W.C. Fields idea, involving more bankers running con, distracting Sam while also picking his pocket. Continued to morph.
Instead of Blankfeins we went with Sam surrounded by bankers. He's already pretty much lost everything and being "advised" on his cards by one of the banker players.
The sizes of the spots became verticals and the sketches reconfigured to fit the dimensions. Bankers here looking more like traditional banker types. Problem was to make the fact that they were all playing cards more obvious, and also not to make it look like Sam's already played his hand. We also got rid of the checkbook by Sam.
Fed Reserve as ATM for bankers. One idea.
Another idea for ATM theme. This was the one we went with.
I was mixing up the messages and portraying Sam as an idiot bumpkin in all my sketches when it was only with this idea of him buying a bridge from the banker that the editors wanted to portray him as such. FINALLY got it right.
I created a problem here for the editors by obscuring the card hand of the banker advising Sam on his moves. There was no good way for me to remedy this than start over.
The ATM finish.
A clearer interaction from the original sketch in the final.
The original opener finish. I had a shell game in process with motion lines and a Sam looking very absorbed but not perplexed as editorial was hoping to portray him in the scene. There was a concern that the shell game with the ghost hands wasn't making the image clear enough. It was proposed that I just have the shells in a row and one being lifted.
Sam still not perplexed enough. Shell game redrawn. The ink used and quality of the paper once dry mounted allows for a couple of revisions if necessary.
The desired expression. Bingo! Not a moment too soon. Went in with opaque gouaches.
A caricature of Matt Taibbi for the front credits page.
So what does a person, who hasn’t swung a golf club since he was nineteen, (I’ll be turning 56 on February 19th), do with that, no pun intended, handicap?Why, he illustrates one of the most popular columns about the game of golf for GOLF magazine- “Sidespin” by David Feherty for something like 14 years and counting.And what does that same, uncoordinated, idiot, who sucked, really sucked, at every imaginable sport growing up, do to further compound the absurdity of life?Why, of course, he illustrates the sports column for MEN’S JOURNAL, written by Matt Taibbi.
Here’s where it gets interesting.Matt also writes many of the brilliant and lacerating ‘National Affairs’ columns for ROLLING STONE magazine, and I’ve had the pleasure of creating images for a healthy percentage of those as well.As merciless as Matt has been on corrupt and stupid members of the political and business ‘elite’ for ROLLING STONE, he’s been even more savagely funny with the gods and demigods of sports, all sports, taking them down quite a few notches, showing many of them to be the hyper-inflated narcissists and goofs that regular sports media journalism only acknowledges when fate has finally taken a turn for the worse for the fallen god.Frankly, considering some of the opinions Matt has expressed about certain sports icons, I am amazed he doesn’t walk around with armed security like a provincial governor in Iraq.More remarkable is that he played baseball in Uzbekistan (WTF?) for their national team and basketball in the Mongolian Basketball League where, as the leading rebounder he earned the nickname the “Mongolian Rodman” (WTF 2x?).He did all this while dodging the KGB writing columns for an expat publication in Russia, “the eXile”.Anyway, he writes about sports as an insider, not as a geek, a la George Will, with a locker room bawdiness that goes for the jugular funny.He also shares a similarity with David Feherty, which I, as an illustrator greatly appreciate, in that he seriously knows the details and nuances of the games and the players while not taking them seriously, thereby doing the craft of writing sports columns a great service by making each one enjoyable through humor.Matt’s deflating observations and opining allows the reader to understand that it’s only sports and not the end of the world.His writing style is very visual, normally a plus for an illustrator, oftentimes so visual that it creates a real challenge to actually arrive at something to put down on paper that matches the level of slapstick commentary he’s established in the writing.But that’s okay.That just means the assignment is never boring.
Art direction from the start of this gig has been coming from the very relaxed Damian Wilkinson.
Barry Bonds as Nixon.
Scott Boras- super agent to the sports elite.
Isiah Thomas formerly president nd coach of the NY Knicks.