Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Christmasy Illos of 2009 (Part Two): The Boston Phoenix Meets "Mad Men"

I'm hopelessly addicted to Matthew Weiner's wonderful AMC series Mad Men, so when Boston Phoenix Art Director Kristen Goodfriend asked in early November if I'd like to draw a Mad Men-themed cover, I felt the familiar rush of nervous excitement that accompanies every dream assignment. I can't speak for other illustrators, but when I'm asked to draw something that I love, the stakes are somehow higher. I suppose that's because in these rare instances, I'm working not just to please the art director, but also myself as a fan.

At first, Kristen said that the Mad Men cover would be part of the Phoenix's Ski Guide, although neither of us knew how they'd manage to connect the show to skiing. Fortunately, the editors soon decided that their Christmas Gift Guide cover would be more appropriate for the Mad Men treatment, and I agreed that this was a much better fit.

The series' third season finale, ("Shut The Door, Have a Seat") had just aired, bringing big changes to the show's storyline. I suggested that an impromptu Christmas party scene in the newly-reformed ad agency's hotel suite office might make a nice Gift Guide cover illo. Here's Sketch #1, (drawn in the midst of feverish coughs and sneezes, owing to a nasty flu):

Upon seeing the first sketch, Kristen's suggestions were (thankfully) both sensible and few in number. She felt the mood needed to be somewhat cheerier, (it's a Christmas party, after all). She also asked that Christina Hendricks, ("Joan Holloway") get central placement in the composition. With these changes in mind, and in a somewhat improved position in my battle with the flu bug, I drew Sketch #2, (which I think is noticeably better than Sketch #1):

Sketch #2 got the thumbs-up, and here's how the final art turned out:

And there was more.

While the group illo would run on the cover of the Gift Guide insert, Kristen also wanted some Mad Men art to run on the paper's front cover. Specifically, she asked for two standing figures that she could use to frame her cover lines. We quickly decided that Jon Hamm, ("Don Draper") and Christina Hendricks, ("Joan Holloway") were the show's most cover-worthy cast members, and here are the results:

But wait, there's still more!

Just when I thought I'd finished this job, Kristen asked if I could squeeze out one more quick illo for a short prose piece that would serve as the Gift Guide's intro. The story featured Sterling Cooper's creatives banging heads in Don Draper's office, deliberating over the best way to conjure the holiday spirit in a campaign. By this point, we had just a couple of days before this issue went to press, and I needed to keep this illo fairly simple in order to turn it around by deadline. Here's Sketch #1:

Kristen's response was: "If you can work in Peggy, (maybe on the right side?), it's a go!" I drew up a quick Peggy and pasted her in on the right, (don't let anyone tell you that I can't follow direction). Sketch #2:

And here's the final art for the intro illo:

Caricature-heavy assignments like this one usually leave me dazed and full of self-doubt. I found Jon Hamm particularly tough to draw, mainly because the guy is so god-damned handsome! Only in the last of the three illos did I arrive at a Don Draper likeness with which I was fully satisfied. I'll leave it to you folks to tell me how well I nailed down these likenesses, (please be gentle but firm).

Happy holidays!

Monday, December 07, 2009

Christmasy Illos of 2009 (Part One): Village Voice Gift Guide Cover

Santa came across with some tasty illustration assignments this season, and here's the first of them.

The Village Voice's Justin Reynolds got in touch with me in early October about cover art for their yearly gift guide. He had a charming concept in mind: a sequence of four illos following the journey of a cheesy holiday sweater as it is gifted and re-gifted, finally landing right back where it started.

For me, the fun part of this assignment was coming up with the four re-gifters, all disparate urban types, none of whom would be caught dead wearing the sad snowman sweater.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Illustrations for The Onion AV Club's new book INVENTORY

In early Summer of 2008, I got an email from Keith Phipps, (editor at The Onion's AV Club) describing a book project they had in the works. It would be a book of lists, titled "INVENTORY: Sixteen Films Featuring Manic Pixie Dream Girls, Ten Great Songs Ruined By Saxophone, And One Hundred More Obsessively Specific Pop Culture Lists." Undaunted's Jon Resh was designing the book, and they were hoping I could add ten spot illos to the mix. Always eager to get some more book work under my belt, I enthusiastically signed on.

Keith sent me a heap of text in the Fall, I quickly realized that I was being handed a dream job. INVENTORY's lists covered horror films, punk rock bands, comic books, cheezy films, and pretty much every other subject that gets me drooling. The Onion folks and I haggled a bit over which ten of their 100-plus lists would get illustrated, (I still get misty eyed, remembering how my bid to draw Kirk & Spock in their "Patterns of Force" Nazi drag got nixed), but ultimately, it didn't matter. There were no duds in the bunch, and however the final picks settled out, it was all good.

Having made our choices, I got started on the roughs, and I'm pleased to say that working with Keith & Jon was smooth sailing all the way. I turned in what I thought was final art on the ten B&W illos in December 2008, only to be asked for a surprise eleventh illo. The subject of this one was the Ramones and their love of recreational drugs, (again, illustration doesn't get better than this). Another last minute surprise was the revelation that the book would be printed in Cyan as well as Black. As a longtime fan of the duotone palette, I jumped at the chance to add a second color to the illos. After a day or two of Photoshop tweaks, I turned in the final (two color) art in February of 2009, and since then, I've been perched on the edge of my seat in anticipation of seeing the finished book.

It's now October of 2009. I've finally seen a freshly-printed copy of INVENTORY, and I think everyone involved with the book should be proud. My illos printed beautifully, Jon Resh's design job is spectacular, and above all, it's just a fun, FUN book! After tearing open the package and hurriedly flipping the pages to check out my illos, I found myself immediately sucked into the book's compelling contents. After spending an hour or so just enjoying the Hell out of INVENTORY, it dawned on me that this is the first book I've been involved with that I've actually wanted to read! If you're a pop culture junkie, I'm confident you'll get a kick out of it as well.

Here are four of the eleven illos I drew for INVENTORY:

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

My Take On Captain America #2 (for Robert Goodin's COVERED Blog)

In January 2009, talented cartoonist, (and TYPHON contributor) Robert Goodin invited me via email to take part in his Covered project. As he put it, "I've just launched a blog called Covered that will feature artists redrawing comic covers in their own style. Participating artists will come from the fields of comics, animation, graphic design, and galleries from all over the world. Some will be well known, and some not so well known."

Needless to say, many months have passed since that invite went out, and the Covered Blog is now loaded with fun stuff. Comics fans owe it to themselves to check it out.

The Summer of 2009 brought the usual Summertime lull in illo assignments. I took advantage of the downtime by tackling a pile of fun freebie projects, including this one. It's my take on a classic wartime Captain America comic book cover, which shows the star-spangled super soldier busting in on Onkel Dolf, seconds before the fiend takes a dagger to Cap's trusty sidekick Bucky.

Here's what my Covered contribution looks like. Click on this link if you want to compare it to Joe Simon's original 1941 version.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Here's a fun cover illo I just drew for the San Francisco Bay Guardian, (one that's not too far off from the Hartford Advocate cover I posted last week).

It seems that scenic San Francisco is the latest stop for bedbugs on their nationwide comeback tour. SFBG art director Ben Hopfer wanted to give this cover feature illo the full horror movie treatment, and I was more than happy to oblige.

My first sketch shows a pair of oversized, overstuffed crawlies creeping towards a wide-eyed, screaming gal:

After seeing the first sketch, Ben asked that we see our victim asleep, since the bloodsuckers typically strike while we're snoozing. I think it's a good call, since it makes the illo even creepier. Ben also asked to see more bedbugs, so I generously piled on one additional critter, for a whopping total of three. By now, the editors had supplied their headline, so I broke out one of my trusty horror poster books for lettering reference.

Ben approved the second sketch with one last request, (more blood!), and it was time to go to final art:

Dear readers, will the next stop on the bedbugs' nationwide tour be our very own bedrooms? Let's hope not! As a bonus, here's a G-rated bedbug illo I drew for Michael Gentile at Habitat back in November of 2006:

Friday, September 11, 2009

Weasels Ripped My Flesh: Cover Art for Hartford Advocate

Hartford Advocate managing editor John Adamian emailed me in early August with a fun cover assignment. They were doing a feature on Fishers, (a kind of large weasel that's native to Connecticut). Apparently, some folks are concerned about these Fishers, and John thought a take-off on Neon Park's classic cover art for "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" would be appropriate.

As many of you already know, the title for The Mothers of Invention's 1970 album "Weasels Ripped My Flesh" is lifted from the September 1956 issue of Man's Life. Supposedly, Frank Zappa handed the issue of Man's Life to artist Neon Park and asked him, "what can you do that's worse than this?" (Isn't that a great quote? I'm considering having it chiseled on my headstone).

So, here's my take on Neon Park's classic "Weasels" album art, with blood-crazed Fishers standing in for the electric shaving weasel:

And here's a JPEG juxtaposing the Neon Park cover with the Man's Life cover. As great as the Neon Park cover is, I feel chastened to stand in the presence of Will Hulsey, the illustrator who painted the Man's Life cover, (what phenomenal chops those guys had).

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Maxim: How Grapes Become Wine

MAXIM art director Billy Sorrentino emailed me on August 3rd with an interesting job: they needed six spots illustrating the winemaking process, and they wanted them drawn in the style of the Schoolhouse Rocks educational cartoon shorts. This assignment came my way thanks to cartoondom's preeminent style mimic, the singularly gifted R. Sikoryak, (who was too busy to take the assignment himself, and was kind enough to recommend me).

After accepting the job, I poked around on the web a little bit for some Schoolhouse Rock pix and background info. As a child of the Seventies who'd spent way too much time planted in front of the tube, I was entirely familiar with the cartoons, yet I had no clue who'd made them. I was fascinated to learn that veteran cartoon talents like Arnold Roth and Rowland Wilson did design work on Schoolhouse Rock, while the series' core style was established by the phenomenally talented advertising artist Tom Yohe, Sr., (his son, Tom Yohe Jr. would lend his talents to some of the later cartoons). Yohe, Sr. originated the long-running series in 1973 with fellow ad guys George Newell & David McCall, (along with an assist from Michael Eisner, in his capacity as VP of Childrens' Programming at ABC).

I'm sure I speak for many Americans in my demographic when I confess that whatever meager math skills I have owe directly to those delightful cartoons, (whose catchy jingles are still bouncing around inside of my skull thirty years later). I'm presently showing Schoolhouse Rocks to our three year old daughter who, in spite of being a bit young for multiplication and American history, is enjoying the cartoons thoroughly.

I've never been much good as a style mimic, so any resemblance between these illos and the source material is largely luck. I shudder to think how much closer to Tom Yohe, Sr.'s style these illos would be if R. Sikoryak had taken the assignment, but I'm sure that my shuddering will cease a few seconds after I deposit MAXIM's check.

(Masterpiece Comics, the long-overdue collection of R. Sikoryak's spectacular cartoon revisions of literary classics, is now available at Amazon ).

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

R.I.P. Ted Kennedy: Two Moldy Oldies from New York Press

At the risk of seeing this blog lurch even further in the direction of "Which Dead Celebrity Caricature Can I Post This Week?", here's a couple of old Ted Kennedy illos from the heyday of New York Press.

I was a regular contributor to NYPress from the early 1990's through the mid-2000's. My drawings often accompanied columns by Alexander Cockburn, John Strausbaugh and J.R. Taylor, but for the entirety of 1999, I provided the art for NYPress Publisher Russ Smith's notoriously Right-leaning MUGGER column.

Typically, these MUGGER illos started off with Smith phoning me on a Friday to describe whatever concept he had in mind. In one or two instances, I may have massaged Smith's concepts slightly, but generally I drew exactly what he asked for. There were dozens of illos slagging the Clintons, Al Gore, & other Democrats, while others were aimed at NYC media figures like Tina Brown, Kurt Andersen, etc.

Here's a MUGGER illo from May 1999, showing a tuxedo-clad Ted Kennedy handing the "Profiles In Courage" award to John McCain, (dressed as an extra from one of the "Rambo" films). Revisiting this one, I cringe just a bit at my McCain likeness, (my McCains would improve over the subsequent decade), but I like to think the Ted Kennedy likeness still holds up.

Next we have a cover illo for New York Press from April 2001. This was an especially fun one for me, because I got to switch into horror movie mode, (always a happy place for me). Here we see mad scientist Ted Kennedy unleashing a new generation of toothy Kennedy offspring upon the political scene, while the ghostly head of JFK looks on approvingly. Art direction by my pal, longtime NYPress art baron Michael Gentile, of course.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

R.I.P. Jacko: I'll Definitely Miss Drawing This Guy.

I'm not a Michael Jackson fan. He was undeniably talented, and I enjoyed the Jackson Five's tunes as much as any other child of the 70s. However, that does little to mitigate the allegations of child molestation and the baby-dangling episode. Toss in the hyperbaric sleep chamber, the Elephant Man's skeleton, the Mystery of the Melting Nose, the monkey, and you've got a tragic freak show that provided me with a number of fun illo opportunities before it came to a sudden stop.

Some of you may have seen this first one before, since it served as a placeholder on my old website for many months while I was pounding away on the updated site. If you HAVE seen it before, all I can say is: well, here it is again. I drew "Ecce Jacko" for publishing magnate Josh Bernstein's excellent mag ROYAL FLUSH in April, 2008. It appears in Issue #5, and I strongly urge you to buy it here.

Next we have four unlettered panels from a strip I drew for DC Comics' The BIG BOOK OF SCANDAL, which was edited by Andy Helfer, and published in 1998. The three page B&W strip, (written by Jonathan Vankin & titled "Wacko Jacko") illuminated some of the weirder episodes in Michael Jackson's career, (episodes prior to 1998, of course). I drew a heap of strips for the BIG BOOKS series, and "Wacko Jacko" has to be my personal favorite, (it's a toss-up between this one and "Other Oswalds," a strip I drew in 1995 for The BIG BOOK OF CONSPIRACIES). The BIG BOOK OF SCANDAL is available here.

I drew this next one for FHM in August of 2003, most likely for FHM Art Director Matt Warner. I'm at a loss to tell you what this illo is about, other than to look at it and say "it's a drawing of Michael Jackson sleeping with the aid of an oxygen tank, having a happy dream about Bubbles the Chimp and Liz Taylor riding the roller coaster at Neverland Ranch."

Finally, we have an illo I drew for The Wall Street Journal in August of 2001. August 28th, 2001 to be exact, two weeks before September 11th! Commissioned by WSJ Art Director Sue Foster, this illo shows Michael Jackson cavorting onstage with's CEO Jeff Bezos. Again, I have little to offer in way of explanation except to mutter the horrendously-overused cliche "it is what it is." Maybe I'd remember what the illo was about if TWO HUGE FUCKING JETLINERS hadn't---oh, never mind. So long, Jacko.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Cover Art for Village Voice Summer Guide 2009

On Monday, May 4th, I was delighted to receive an email from Village Voice Art Director Ivylise Simones, asking if I'd like to draw cover art for the Voice and the Voice's Summer Guide section for the week of May 11, 2009. I've drawn covers for pretty much every alt weekly paper in the US, and I've drawn a heap of spot illos for the Voice since the mid 1990s, (in fact, I think my first professional illo assignments outside of SCREW Magazine came from Florian Bachleda at the Voice in the very late 1980s). However, this would be my first Voice cover, and I must admit that this assignment got my pulse quickening just a tiny bit.

The folks at the Voice were looking for a single drawing that could function both as the front cover, and as the cover of their pullout Summer Guide section. In addition to the Summer Guide, this issue would feature a story about NYC's mayor Mike Bloomberg butting heads with the United Federation of Teachers, and their idea was to work Bloomberg into a idyllic Central Park scene as an ice cream vendor. Their plan was to run the full illo on the Summer Guide cover, and to isolate and enlarge vendor Bloomberg for the paper's front cover. My first sketch shows Bloomberg in the vicinity of Central Park's Naumburg Bandshell, surrounded by a small handful of colorful summertime frolickers. To work in the UFT angle, our kindly Mayor dispenses popsicles to school kids while a grumpy teacher scowls nearby.

After checking out the first sketch, Voice Production Designer Justin Reynolds emailed to say that they liked the first sketch, and asked if I could widen the panorama, make Bloomberg less prominent, and give the viewer more than just a small handful of colorful summertime frolickers. My concern was that if Bloomberg was to become a smaller element in the illo, he might end up looking fairly shitty when enlarged for the paper's front cover. I suggested that instead of one illo being used for both covers, I would draw the "cast of thousands" illo for the Summer Guide cover, and draw a separate illo for the front cover focusing on Bloomberg and the kids. While I was making more work for myself at the same rate of pay, I felt that this was the best way to avoid having the front cover end up looking like shit. This was Wednesday, May 6th, and the deadline was Monday the 11th at 11 AM. The timing was a bit tight, but there was sufficient time left to get both drawings done.

The new sketch for the Summer Guide cover, (now with two heaping scoops of colorful summertime frolickers) was immediately approved.

The sketch for the front cover, (focusing on ice cream vendor Bloomberg) went through a couple of revisions, the most crucial of which featured Ivy's idea that Bloomberg should face the reader. I thought this was a fine idea, since it places the viewer in the role of one of the kids clamoring for a popsicle. This sketch was approved on Thursday, May 7th, and I got started on the final art, which would be finished at 7 AM on Monday the 11th, after four days of round-the-clock drawing.

There were a couple of minor revisions to the final art for the Voice's front cover: my original final version featured a deep red background, which Ivy felt would not print well. She suggested a light blue or yellow background, and I thought the light blue worked quite well, perhaps better than the deep red. The Bloomberg logo was deleted from the ice cream cart to make room for cover lines, and we were done!

What a thrill it was to finally draw a Voice cover! Many thanks to Ivy and Justin.

Friday, May 01, 2009

So Long, Souter!

Justice David Souter has announced his plans to retire from the US Supreme Court, so it seems like a good time for me to dust off two illos I drew of Souter.

The first one was for the cover of SCREW Magazine issue #1,121, in the Summer of 1990, (when Bush Sr. appointed Souter). This was one of many bizarre cover concepts that leaked out of the brain of SCREW publisher Al Goldstein, to be passed along to me with a shrug by the mag's long-suffering art director Kevin Hein. Goldstein's cover concepts generally made sense to Goldstein alone, and I'm at a loss to explain what this one is about. All I can offer is that Goldstein envisioned himself and Souter as a "Laurel & Hardy" style duo, with Souter bopping Goldstein with his gavel.

Yes, I know this illo is a little shaggy, but please bear this in mind: topical SCREW covers like this one tended to have a very short turnaround. Never mind that, the goddamned thing's twenty years old, so cut me some effin' slack.

My second Souter illo is a little easier to explain. In September of 2002, JUNGLE LAW art director Marcus Villaca, (for whom I drew nearly as many illos as I drew for SCREW's Kevin Hein) tossed me a particularly fun assignment: I was to draw all twelve Supreme Court justices as superheroes, each with a unique super power. JUNGLE LAW's editors assigned Souter the title "The Galaxy's Most Boring Man," and here is the result. (if you're interested, you can check out a handful of the other illos from this job in the "LAW & CRIME" section on my website.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gay Romance Novel Cover for The Hartford Advocate

John Adamian of the Hartford Advocate emailed me last week with a cover concept. They were doing a story about the "#amazonfail" controversy, and they wanted a cover illo parodying the cliche romance novel cover, but with a twist.

Instead of a strapping, Fabio-esque dude embracing a damsel while waves crashed nearby, our Fabio would be clutching another Fabio in his bulging arms. After a bit of thought, I suggested that, rather than twin Fabios, why not make one of them a guy in drag? The result: Sketch #1.

But there was one problem: the art would be running on the cover of three sister papers, one of which runs a big ol' strip ad along the bottom. This would require a horizontal composition with a fair amount of wiggle room, and my initial sketch, (featuring an actual paperback) was vertical. It had plenty of dead space to the left and right, but it wouldn't forgive any trimming at the bottom to accommodate the ad.

The Advocate's production manager Peter Morlock cobbled together his vision of how things could be repositioned into a horizontal shape, (see below). I wept briefly at the thought of losing the "book object" from Sketch #1, but I couldn't argue that the new version worked 100% better in the shape. I drew Sketch #2 based on Morlock's cut-n-paste number, and the final art was pretty much a traced-up, cleaned-up, full color version of the second sketch.