The last time I did a cover for Rolling Stone (which also happened to be the first time) was towards the end of 2008, after the November elections that saw the end of the dismal George W. Bush years and the beginning of Barack Obama’s confrontation with D.C. reality. The headline of that issue, in retrospect, remains a lesson never to make definitive pronouncements no matter how much the current circumstances seem to confirm it. The GOP was not destroyed. Instead the one time party of Lincoln metastasized into an even more virulent party of culture and race rage, victimhood and vengeance. Even so the illustration was one of my best and most exaggerated Bush caricatures and a very noteworthy career milestone. I could actually say I was on the cover of a Rolling Stone.
Fast forward eight long, bitter years of corrosive partisan hostility and we have another president in the White House. A new kind of president; a reality TV star fiction made flesh; a creation perfectly suited for a modern American ADD challenged audience conditioned to a pop TV celebrity obsessed culture of low, feeling driven opining over facts, endless verbal and physical smack downs, back stabbing, crude simplistic thinking, outrage, drama, endless drama, hysterics and invective. It’s been generations in the making and should have come as no surprise. Since the election and even more so since the inauguration the nation has been held captive to a daily maelstrom of high drama mostly conducted on a 5th grader’s maturity level. Chaos is the new norm for conducting the affairs of state and lots of distracting theatrics the method to keep John and Jane Q. Public from noticing the actual important activity going on in Congress and the Oval Office. Tweets as smoke bombs.
Speaking for myself, it’s been a rare experience working with the art and editorial departments at Rolling Stone to have more than a week, from start to finish, to create images for their pages, and quite unprecedented to be contacted nearly a month and a half before estimated publication for a potential cover assignment. When Joe Hutchinson first touched base in early February the only thing certain was that it would be about Trump. The magazine’s brilliant Matt Taibbi didn’t even have an outline. How could anyone even begin an outline? From the very start of this chaotic presidency the plotlines, melodramas and cast of characters were shifting on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Every morning seemed like another firestorm swirling around unhinged tweets issued in the middle of the night from executive chambers. It would make for a riveting, entertaining Netflix series except it was all for real and in many respects not fun. All one could do under the circumstances was to follow as best as possible the upheavals and start jotting ideas and forward them in emails. By the end of the second week it was becoming apparent to me that I was running around in circles trying to keep pace with the news, that any attempt to address one particular topic usually wound up getting upended by the next morning’s headlines. Matt couldn’t even start filing raw copy until March 3rd. By the end of February we had a very rough outline from him about what he planned to focus on.
When I first started out as an illustrator it was very common, especially with publications like the New York Times, to meet with the art director, sit down and kick around ideas in the office. That method of working had pretty well disappeared by the mid to late eighties. The convenience of the fax machine, yes that ancient piece of hardware, eroded the experience of in person collaboration. It’s happened a few times over the past decade with RS that the old school approach has come in handy with tricky subjects. Sitting by yourself in the studio trying to square circles can potentially lead to unproductive circular thinking, oft times repeating a variation of an unsuccessful solution. You become trapped in your own sand pit of conceptualizing, and feel reluctant to be emailing 25 times a day new thoughts. There’s a particular effectiveness bouncing ideas back and forth in a face to face meeting. Qualifications can be raised immediately and directions rerouted. One notion shot down can trigger a quantum leap to another more successful idea. For that reason I offered to stop in the offices and brainstorm in person.
Inside illustrations for publications have the leeway to get complex and maybe even meandering provided there is some payoff in the overall image. Covers are a different challenge. Covers need to be clean, concise and attention grabbing. In this case ‘simple’ is not a pejorative as in simple minded. Instead, simple just means better. Solid. Wham. Jump off the newsstands. Pay attention. My meeting with Joe and art director Mark Maltais went on for hours. We considered concept directions sent from editors, Jason Fine and Sean Woods, as well as publisher, Jann Wenner. I scribbled in the conference room while we debated the merits of each approach. One suggestion had been to approach it as an invasion, maybe DJT, as a crazed General MacArthur type, coming out of the muddy, mucky, ‘swamp’ leading a charge. My qualification was that using MacArthur, even if parodying the iconic image of his return to the Philippines, could be misread as making DJT a heroic character. We played with magician imagery but kept returning to the argument that magicians are masters of distraction and control of the audience. With the way the news was spiraling even as we sat in the conference room there was no way we could say he was controlling the narrative by the time the cover went to press. One other negative consideration was that magicians are essentially good-natured performers. Mischievous maybe, but not malevolent.
Some of my early sketches involved a number of White House characters or even making Trump a minor player in contrast to a gigantic Steve Bannon, but soon the direction was to limit the image to DJT by himself. If nothing else this approach would confirm the need for a simple themed image. A tornado sketch was quickly worked out at the table. It had been one of my earliest thoughts but I never put it to paper, my hesitation being that despite the directness of the image it had the potential danger of making DJT look powerful, especially if there was lots of Washington destruction in the background. There are many Trump supporters who might look at that as a positive since they came from the burn the house down point of view. I’m not sure whether it was Joe or Mark who considered the tornado idea out loud as an option, but it confirmed my original notion that it might have potential despite the qualifications. So it went on paper.
We felt that the brainstorming accomplished much by the time we called it quits for the day. I’d hear back regarding the responses. In the meantime the news continued to pile on. “Liar in Chief” was another cover headline to consider as the days went on. Ideas were drawn, ideas were rejected.
Somewhere along the line the possibility of having an illustration for the inside of the mag became a strong possibility. There was already much to choose from in terms of visuals. Some of the earliest notions that I had emailed were under consideration. Sketches that were deemed maybe too complicated for the cover had definite potential for the interior. An early favorite of mine, before falling into the pre meeting sand pit, was Trump wearing a suicide vest with some of his worst cabinet appointees and team members strapped like bombs around him. I thought it had great cover potential but Jann saw it as the perfect spread for Matt’s piece inside. Okay, one down and one cover to go.
We went through a number of variations of sketches that had potential but ultimately it came down to Jann going with one of the earliest scribbles and an idea I thought of as an outlier- the tornado. I fleshed out some more options trying to morph the head into the swirls of the twister. We toyed with more details, less details. Open mouth, closed mouth.
The hardest part of going to finish on the cover illustration was working loosely within a finalized space where the image would drop. Once I have parameters laid out, my instinctive response is to tighten up and control where the linework and gestures travel. In this circumstance, I had to keep the drawing lively and spontaneous in feel without getting sloppy, but also make sure that I didn’t let the liveliness mess with the headline/s that would appear on the cover as well as the area where mailing addresses would be printed (In actuality, I had all forgotten about the mailing address space.). I rejected pen and ink as the medium and went with the very dependable Prismacolor pencils, retaining an option to drop some watercolor/gouache if necessary. The colors and plasticity in the pencils were just what I needed but didn’t prevent numerous false starts before I felt something was happening. Even as this was going on there was a debate going on back at RS whether more or less of the face would work better. More swirls, less swirls? Darker lines or more orange area? Options were presented. We went with more definition and a very judicious inclusion of swirls. Considerations continued till the twelfth hour when it went to press but when it did we knew we had a winner.
Working with ROLLING STONE has been one of those relationships we illustrators dream of. All the art directors I've had the pleasure to work with have been first rate great people who have your back while offering cogent feedback when necessary. This also applies to the editors. Everyone there still "gets it" in a publishing world where control of content and a desire to print wallpaper rather than imagery that makes a statement is more the rule than the exception. It's particularly satisfying contributing visuals to the tradition of great journalism that has been a hallmark of the magazine. Many thanks to Joe Hutchinson, Mark Maltais, Jason Fine, Sean Woods, Matt Taibbi and Jann Wenner.
The notion of putting some reference to tweeting into an image was from the start, but wound up being used in neither illustration.
The magician and assistants taking a bow in spite of his failed stunt.
The ego that crowds out the presidential seal.
Honestly thought this had potential as a cover. The famous head shave that Trump performed on WWE maestro, Vince McMahon, only here it's on Uncle Sam.
Imagining Trump in a scene like this, even if a parody, felt like it had more pitfalls than positives.
Going for the simple image. The "Thinker".
A more appropriate variation.
Trump as a Godzilla. But Godzilla couldn't be stopped and in fact keeps coming back to appear in worse movies.
Buddy, Tim O'Brien's TIME cover hit the stands even as the Godzilla was being considered. I forwarded it to Joe and suggested we move to some other visual that doesn't include the Washington Monument crumbling.
An idea that seemed to grab some serious attention and looked like a possibility.
The Prodigal Son Returns- Part 2- On the Bataan with the 24MEU
Fast forward a couple years. Colonel Streeter has maintained contact with us even as his assignments and responsibilities have changed. He’s still intent on adding artwork to the current historical record and an integral part of the Marine Corps once again. In the summer of 2016 I receive an email asking if I would like to do a short embed with the 24th MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) based in Camp Lejeune and draw training exercises aboard the LHD-5 USS Bataan. He had been in contact with his friend and fellow colonel, Ryan “Chick” Rideout, commanding officer of the 24th, who expressed great interest in bringing some artists along. Captain Eric Pfister, commanding officer of the Bataan also gave an enthusiastic thumbs up.
It’s been a long time since civilians have been invited. For decades the only artists were official Marine combat artists. There is some logic behind this. A Marine combat artist is expected to not only draw but pick up a weapon if necessary. The Marines are the shock and awe force in the military. (Some clarification is worth noting here. Combat artist is a title designated to someone in uniform also performing duty as an artist in the field. War artist identifies a civilian.) Once again, Richard Johnson and I- the civilians- along with Colonel Streeter and former Marine combat artists Mike Fay and Kristopher Battles, were going to do some drawing on the high seas.
Because of our different schedules Kris, Mike and Richard managed to board the Bataan a couple days ahead of Colonel Streeter and myself. Colonel Streeter and I accompanied Colonel Rideout and team via air transport on the V-22 Osprey, that crazy helicopter that can convert to a plane. It’s a beast. Our crew were members of the Blue Knights. Once again I made a fool of myself trying to successfully strap in among the Marines. I’ve been there before. I’ll master all the clipping and buckling while mashed in between soldiers or Marines only to forget the procedure by the next time an opportunity pops up to fly. Rucksacks, weaponry, art supplies, backpacks piled high with jigsaw puzzle precision. Luckily I held onto one sketchbook and some pencils packed in vest pockets that weren’t snapping from all the compression and did a couple drawings during the bumpy ride in the sky. We were originally supposed to land on the Bataan somewhere in the Atlantic but mechanical problems kept the LHD in port. We landed and were driven to the boat which we then boarded. By the next day the mechanical issues were resolved and we left port.
If there is one thing I’ve learned, at least from what I’ve observed in the Corps, is that Colonels rule. They seem to be the most proactive rank, who get the respect and whose directives are not questioned. Apparently, the fact that we received the blessings of the Colonels, along with the Captain and his team, allowed us artists generous access to all but the most sensitive locations on the ship. That in turn allowed us to concentrate on what we were doing without concern that we’d be getting shuttled to another situation. It also allowed us to pursue our own objectives. We were spread out across the ship. Occasionally, we’d share a drawing experience. It made for interesting perspectives on the same subjects.
The teams, from the flight deck room and the flight deck to the Captain’s tower couldn’t have been more accommodating, and considering the crowded or hectic circumstances at any number of times, that’s saying a lot. All we had to do was follow the protocols about wearing proper protective gear, especially if on the flight deck during operations, and make sure that we didn’t drop anything on the flight deck. It’s quite a remarkable fact that the tiniest bit of debris on the flight deck can get sucked into a jet engine and destroy at multimillion dollar machine. Every day Marines and sailors, shoulder to shoulder, from one end of the flight deck to the other, conducted the ‘walk-down’ searching for FOD, potential foreign object damage, prior to landings or take-off operations.
We found ourselves invited by various teams to observe and draw their work. The personnel managing the engines were particularly pleased to have us there. It’s a brutal and unsexy existence in that punishing heat but someone has to keep the ship operating. Uniforms hung limply on bodies that appeared to have burned off any excess weight. Those of us attempting to sketch down in the bowels soon found that our uncontrollable sweat, pouring in almost cartoonish amounts, was soaking the paper and making it nearly impossible to draw. I made a note to myself to take another stab at it should I get a chance to return.
I was on the Bataan for 8 days. I didn’t even begin to get myself oriented to the maze of winding passageways and steps intersecting with the various levels till maybe day 6. It would almost be comical except for the man overboard drills that periodically took place which required us to return to our team assembly spaces from wherever we were on this enormous ship in just a few minutes. Not fun, especially if you were on deck with ear guards and unaware that the alarm was being issued over the loudspeakers. I made another mental note to bring a Go-Pro cam on the next such mission and record the various journeys.
Our berths were in the officer’s section which meant we slept in slightly less crowded quarters- four to a room- than the grunts in the lower levels who were managing like sardines. Colonel Streeter has his own room, naturally. Eating times were relatively short, considering the number of personnel on board, and strictly enforced. If you arrived late and without a really good reason you just skipped your meal. That said, the wardroom- the dining room-always had some fruit or power bar to grab if necessary.
One thing that caught my attention was the enormous amount of time the Marine officers spent huddled together going over instructions, details, procedures and protocols when not with their grunts. If I was making a late night visit to the wardroom they would be in there comparing notes and prepping for the next day’s drills. If I was passing through the hanger there would be a group. I didn’t sleep all that much on the mission and wondered when, if ever, they found a couple hours. Ah, youth.
There was a hurricane brewing while we were at sea and the amphibious assault and embassy rescue drills had to be scrapped, so we didn’t have a chance to draw those. But, truth be told, we were never without material to draw. I returned several times to the flight control room desirous to capture the non-stop bustle of activity with some success. It’s not a big space and the cast of characters never stays still for more than five seconds. Doors were always opening and closing with personnel rushing in and out. It was a dodge, duck and draw environment that left me flustered but insistent on not heading elsewhere till I had material sufficient enough to bring back to the studio and develop.
Colonel Streeter got me on board a helicopter exercise, strapped to the side seat looking out a wide open door over the vast ocean. The wind and vibration was intense and it was pointless to draw as the paper would have shredded so I settled for photos and video.
I was invited by the captain to witness a Captain’s Mast which is a non-judicial disciplinary hearing where sailors are brought before the captain to face charges and receive a judgement. It was one occasion that I regretfully forgot to use the camera as the various hearings moved briskly and my attentions were focused on capturing, in best courtroom artist fashion, the scene. I had no desire to identify the accused and instead sought to capture the gravitas of the captain and court officers.
I want to express great thanks to Captain Pfister and crew of the Bataan, the Marines of the 24thMEU, Colonels Streeter and Rideout, and to my fellow artists for the experience. A presentation of the collective artwork was made in early February at Colonel Streeter’s house to Colonel Rideout. Along with the original artwork I provided a number of flash drives containing high resolution files of all the best work and many of the sketches for the 24MEU and Bataan as well as one to Charles Grow of the Marine Corps Museum. The Colonel would divvy up the original artwork between the Marines and the Bataan. The response to the artwork presented by the artists, including Colonel Streeter’s, has been extremely positive. I hope it contributes to a momentum for more of these missions.
Richard Johnson capturing a unique perspective. Colonel Streeter checking his Instagram stats.
The one frightening experience was the first time on the flight deck to observe and draw Osprey landings. Right prior to it touching down I had glibly assumed I'd be standing close drawing away. All the required gear was on. The helmet, goggles, ear guards and life vest. Before I had a chance to fully appreciate what was happening I felt myself losing my footing and being pushed backwards from the force of the rotors. Turning away from the blast I noticed for the first time there were nets off the side of the deck. "To catch me if I get blown off?" I deepened my crouch even further and kept my head down. Paper was tearing and it seemed for sure that no matter how desperately I held on the pad would be torn from my grip. Lesson learned.
The lean. What I didn't do the first time.
Hearing protection was critical to many of the operations above or below. It was required. No excuses.
Opportunities to keep fine tuning a drawing were never wasted. Colonel Streeter.
Facing sideways and out over the ocean. Grateful for straps.
Richard Johnson, Yours Truly, Colonel Streeter, Colonel Rideout, Mike Fay, Kris Battles
The Prodigal Son Returns- In the Company of Marines- Part 1
When I first became a member of Drawger it seemed every illustration assignment created another opportunity to write about process and maybe even throw in some personal observations. The postings were labors of love, with writing that was edited and reedited till the last second before hitting that ‘publish’ prompt, and even so I’d return a dozen times to continue tweaking the sentences. These were the days before I fell under the evil spell of Facebook, where everything was in real time and your work posted and disappeared before it could even receive a decent digestion. Everything in real time and with the retention factor of a passing thought. Lots of shiny objects and less reflection. Friends would post my latest assignments on my page before I’d even have a chance to write some commentary and everything turned into a weird game of never catch up with the following day making sure that everything in the last 24 hours had become old news. Most of the time you’d find yourself simply throwing something new on the timeline because, well, you just had to.Out of sight…
Drawger wound up becoming a distant second concern as all concentration focused on keeping up with the instant and maybe even staying a step or two ahead of it. My 2016 Drawger entries dwindled to nothing even as pointless Fb political debates increased exponentially.
So, having gotten that off my chest, here’s a post about work special to me. I hope to return to a more active roll in posting process pieces here.
Back in 2014, Col. Craig Streeter, a Marine combat artist, invited a small group of war artists, to accompany him on a drawing mission to Quantico, Virginia, to draw officer training under live fire conditions. Colonel Streeter was very fired up about the art program and had serious plans of invigorating the visual documentation that has been such a core part of the Marines’ heritage. We were there for a couple days and the experience produced some fine drawings and even a painting from me. More importantly, it laid the groundwork for a friendship and mutual support that has continued to this day. His enthusiasm was palpable and we would compare notes on our drawings over the course of those days and he genuinely appreciated whatever feedback I gave him on his work. For me it was another prime opportunity to practice being fast under constantly fluid circumstances. While it was live fire training, it was not actual combat live fire, which allowed me the luxury of not having to worry about getting killed (provided I stay out of the way of the bullets) and instead focus on the number of opportunities to find the right place to be as the lieutenants repeated their exercises. Classic trial and error, and adaptation. These were not portraits. The emphasis was on action and narrative and since the teams were all taking turns performing the same exercises it was not essential to finish a drawing of one specific group but patiently and methodically add new figures to the drawing already in progress. The camera was always handy and plenty of photos and videos were shot for reference backup. As usual, there were many false starts and plenty of unfinished drawings; my sense of security in my marks ebbed and flowed, happily favoring the flowing for much of those two days. There were times I speculated how effectively I would capture a scene in an actual combat situation keeping up with the constant movement. What would I do different? It was one thing to be sitting in the back of a Black Hawk helicopter drawing action in its confined space. But racing over a field presents starkly different challenges.
Accompanying Colonel Streeter, the small group of artists consisted of myself, former Marine combat artist Mike Fay, and the very experienced war artist Richard Johnson, a veteran of many long term embeds. We all had our ways of approaching the visuals and what we concentrated on. The Colonel was trying to loosen up and I offered, when asked, some observations on letting the marks fly and not concerning oneself with exact proportions. It wasn’t about being right, but about telling the story.
There were a handful of times when the Marines were assembled in between exercises and these presented opportunities to draw the groupings taking a knee, telling stories and finally sitting down. At other points, the groups would be off with their leaders receiving instructions during the briefs while studying the next maneuvers scratched and constructed with careful detail in the ground.
Initially, on the first morning, we artists were observed with a kind of bemused and maybe even confused suspicion. People showing up with cameras or video gear is common; people arriving with pads, pens and pencils is off the beaten track. It’s a reaction I’ve noted often. There’s a curiosity that gets triggered watching someone draw, and in the case of these lieutenants in training the drawings were of them. By the time we returned from our lunch break the word was out and the conversations were audible enough. We were the artists doing these cool drawings. Marines would collect around and ask to look. Then the questions would start with the familiar openers, “Why you doing this?”, “Who are these drawings for?”.Young warriors handling the most sophisticated weaponry dazzled by lines on paper.
Many of my drawings and a painting done in studio from the Quantico experience, as well as a book of portraits done on location at Brooks Medical Center in San Antonio, in 2013, of wounded Marines, were presented to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in early February this year. They’ll go through a formal vetting process. It’s an honor to contribute to the history of visual documentation of the Corps.
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.