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Killing The President*

JANUARY 18, 2013

*deliberatly provocative title designed to pique your interest. No actual presidents were harmed in the production of this illustration.

The Wacksman family is in the process of a major home renovation, one that's been ongoing for close to 6 months. So extensive is the scope of the work that we were forced to find alternate lodgings for the majority of it. One month in a mouse-infested (though fully furnished) rental in Bed Stuy was enough for us and we started looking for a more hospitable and vermin-free place to hang our collective hat. We found it a few short steps from our home - a lovely duplex in the upper floors of an enormous brownstone. And while it was preferable to the previous rental in almost every way, it was unfurnished. As all our furniture was wedged Tetris-style in a storage locker we were forced to improvise. Sawhorses and plywood made for a makeshift dining table and desk. It was far from ideal, but it was sufficient.

As luck would have it I found that under these less than ideal conditions I was suddenly swamped with commissions. In desperation I attempted to set my desk at a more comfortable height and found a task chair in the neighbor's refuse. After a thorough bedbug check it was determined to be suitable for temporary use. All in all I found my setup to be relatively comfortable. So situated I went to work on a cover for the venerable New Republic- my first cover for them.

AD Joseph Heroun contacted me via electronic mail with the following brief: " The idea is a counter-intuitive take on Obama's next term by forecasting why it will be a big success. The idea is to show a newly self-confident president strutting up the street, leaving a battered landscape (his first term) behind him. "

While this appealed to me from a visual standpoint I personally felt that the end result would be misinterpreted as Obama leaving a trail of destruction in his wake. I was fairly confident that the New Republic did not hold that view so I went to work on another concept, one that I felt fairly certain would project the idea more clearly. I envisioned the president climbing out of a hellish landscape. Charred thorny branches, mossy rocky outcroppings and spiky crystalline formations give way to a softer grassy trail amid rainclouds and eventually, at the top, a verdant field with bright flowers. See?

This concept however was rejected on the grounds that  "we want to inject more humor in the concept. It's important to avoid seeming triumphalist or earnest". And when viewed in that light I think they were  on the right track. We returned to the originally outlined concept. The fine mist on my brow was beginning to develop into a more conspicuous flop sweat as a quick check of my watch revealed that the deadline was approaching with the swiftness of a locomotive and as my first sketch was roundly nixed I was technically just entering the arena. I centered myself: envisioned my power animal (the pangolin), recited my mantra (' what doesn't kill me might still cripple me or render me otherwise incapacitated') and started pushing my pencil toward glory.

Alas, glory once again eluded me as it was decided that a more symmetrical 'head on' view was the preferable approach. It is suggested that the Capitol Building be visible at the end of the road as well. Sure, no problem I replied although at this point I'm sweating like a pregnant nun as visions of missed deadlines begin to dance in my head. I put on the headphones ( Jim Jones Revue "Burning Your House Down" ) and lower the pencil. I am a pangolin, I am a fierce and unyielding armored relative of the armadillo. But to be honest, this power-pangolin is starting to feel a touch defeated as this is a complex composition that requires attention to both perspective and detail with the added hurdle of containing a tiny likeness. All within my skill set to be sure, but as the ticking of the clock is becoming deafening it's a struggle to maintain composure and focus on the goal.

I manage, however, and turn in this admittedly rough sketch. And in no time I receive the directive: Let's return to the prior composition. With this decided I hit the lightbox and finalize the linework with such singularity of purpose that I find it complete in just over an hour. Scan, cleanup and color - again, as if some divine hand is guiding me. I love it when this happens although it happens far too infrequently. In any case I'm in the pocket and feeling quite pleased with myself. I mail it off and hit the shower then off to the air mattress where I sink almost immediately into a dreamless sleep.
Two days later I am met with the news that the cover is not to run. Such is the capricious nature of this business- one has to remember not to take it personally and move on with a bright eye trained on the horizon. Thanks to Drawger no piece shall ever go unseen (unless it's amongst the literal hundreds stored on my hard drive that I'm not showing you no matter what). Thanks to Joe Heroun for the opportunity. As for Mr Obama, I do hope your second term manages to become less calamitous although a power animal and a mantra I've found can work wonders in high-stakes situations.
© 2024 Steve Wacksman