PROJECT:OBJECTS Lost Objects: “Cologne”

CologneThe brilliant creative souls Rob Walker and Josh Glenn have a new ongoing PROJECT:OBJECT. Lost Objects is a 25-part series of nonfiction stories about… lost objects. It’s the fifth P:O series, which started with Significant Objects (featuring, among others, a great piece by our very own Sari Wilson), then Political Objects, followed by Talismanic Objects, and then Illicit Objects. (That last one also features a piece by Sari.) Other contributors include Paul Lukas, Jessamyn West, Douglas Rushkoff, William Gibson, Doug Dorst, Kate Bernheimer, Michael Tisserand, Randy Kennedy, Seth Mnookin, Luc Sante, and many, many more.

For Lost Objects, Josh G. & Rob W. asked 25 writers to tell them about a significant object they’d lost (or thrown away, or destroyed), then assigned these stories to 25 illustrators. Thusly, Dan Piepenbring of the Paris Review wrote a piece, about a bottle of cologne, and yours truly illustrated it. And here it is—as you read, you’ll should soon see why I was compelled to do it.

Enjoy—and then make sure to check out all the other great contributions to the PROJECT:OBJECT series.

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Early Work: comics and illos from my teens and early 20s

day-life-len-neufeld1-scan-1000pxMatthew Baker—or Mx. Baker, as he prefers to be called—is a rather mysterious fellow who writes for a living. He contributed a wonderful “seeder” piece to the “Brothers” triptych of FLASHed (responded to by Jon Lewis and then Julia Fierro), and he curates a blog called Early Work, which (as you might guess) highlights the immature work of established writers and artists. My take on the blog is that the stuff each creator chooses shows hints of the themes and styles of their later, mature work. (Or maybe it’s just amusing to see how far they’ve come!) Folks featured on Early Work include cartoonist Anders Nilsen, writer Kelly Luce, and poet Naomi Shihab Nye, to name a few. And now… me.

As you may know, I’m a bit of a hoarder and I have files full of old artwork, going back to my youngest days. (My mom and dad have their share of my childhood drawings as well.) So there was a lot of material to choose from. On the other hand, I was apprehensive about sharing my immature artwork with the world at large.

But with Matt’s help, I was able to whittle down all that material to some stuff from my teenage years and early twenties that I wasn’t too embarrassed about: a collection of one-page comics I did for my dad for his birthday each year, a series of illustrations of roommates from my freshman-year college dorm, and a series of trompe-l’oeil illustrations I did for loved ones.

One aspect of the Early Work site I really like is its “raw” quality—the drawings are presented on the wrinkled, yellowed paper they were done on. Stories are scrawled in a child’s hand. Nothing is cleaned up in PhotoShop. This is ephemera, often plucked from decades past. So I really tried to get into the spirit of that.

Another fun thing about Early Work is that each contribution features a statement by the creator about the “early work” and a photo of the them from that period. There’s something really poignant and charming about these photos of “anonymous” kids who later became  respected writers and artists. Who knew (besides me) that there was a photo of me posing with the late, beloved musician Prince? (Well, a poster of him, at least…) Read on to see for yourself…

So without further ado (what is “ado,” anyhow?), here are some links to my “early work”:

2015 Wacky U.S. News Wrap-up in Spirou’s GROOM

Deflategate-colorsThe folks at the venerable Franco-Belgian comics magazine Le Journal de Spirou approached me about contributing to their new publication, GROOM. Like Spirou, Groom is an all-ages publication, but in this case focusing specifically on current events. The inaugural issue of Groom contains stories about terrorism (including Charlie Hebdo), European politics, sports, and various dispatches from far-flung countries like China, Australia, Latin America, Russia, the Middle East, and the good ol’ U.S.A. (I remain continually amazed and impressed at the topics French-language comics touch on, especially in so-called all-ages publications.)

Groom editor Damien Perez asked me to focus on four or five news stories coming out of the U.S. last year that would be particularly shocking for a Francophone audience. So many to choose from! The stories that made the cut were the decision by the State of Utah to bring back executions by firing squadDeflategate; the Rachel Dolezal/NAACP debacle; the Ahmed Mohammed clock incident; and last but definitely not least, the Donald Trump presidency campaign!

Trump-color-nobgIt was funny: when I was pitching the stories to editor Perez, the one he had the most trouble believing was the details of Trump’s vitriol-fueled campaign. As he said, “In the media we often see him as a ‘larger than life man,’ but not dangerous.” To which I responded that Marion Maréchal-Le Pen seems unobjectionable on the surface—it’s her ideas which are dangerous. Touché!

Anyway, this is silly, fun stuff. I hope you enjoy the illos. (For more information on Groom—in English—check out this website, which has also gone to the trouble of translating the Groom editorial page.)

Dolezal-colors Ahmed-colors Utah-colors

Illustrating the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue

Oberlin-ant-slavery-activism-comic-verticalTwo of my biggest heroes when I was a kid were Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman. I had posters of them on my wall! I read Douglass’s autobiography a number of times, and I thrilled to the daring exploits of Tubman and the Underground Railroad.

Many of the residents of Oberlin, Ohio, home of my alma mater, Oberlin College, were active in the Underground Railroad in the years before the Civil War. (Ohio borders Kentucky, which, during that period, was a slaveholding state.)

Recently, Oberlin Alumni Magazine commissioned me to illustrate an article about Oberlin’s role in anti-slavery activism. In reading the piece, by J. Brent Morris, and researching the era for my illustrations, I was fascinated to learn that many escaped slaves stayed openly in Oberlin—despite the fugitive slave laws—and became active abolitionists. Here’s a great quote from the article illustrating the fierceness of Oberlinians’ defiance of the “peculiar institution”:

Even though federal marshals and Southern slave catchers seemed a ubiquitous presence in Oberlin, it was nearly impossible to reclaim a free Oberlinite or “fugitive slave” from the town’s protective grasp. . . . Brooklyn abolitionist William Watkins could tell that Oberlin African Americans were “not afraid of the white man.” He noted “a sort of you-touch-me-if-you-dare” attitude about them and would not have been surprised by the security plans of a man like Gus Chambers, who declared that “If any one of those men darkens my door, he is a dead man.” In his blacksmith shop, Chambers always had a hammer and iron bar at the ready for protection, and most often also had a red-hot poker in the fire. Above his door was a loaded double-barrel shotgun, and beside his bed were razor-sharp knives and a pistol. He would never kill a man, he conceded, but clarified that a “man-stealer”
was not fully human. “The man who tries to take my life,” Chambers declared, “loses his own.”

A number of brave former slaves even journeyed back across state lines into Kentucky to recruit slaves to escape back north with them! In a four-panel comic I did for the piece, I show what one hapless U.S. Marshall based in Oberlin was confronted with when he tried to enforce the Fugitive Slave Law, from being run off with a shotgun to being beaten with a walking stick, to finally being run out of town by a group of Oberlin citizens. Ha!

I was given my choice of what to draw for a full-page illustration, and there were many amazing anecdotes of Oberlin’s place in abolitionism and the Underground Railroad. But the story I ultimately chose was a key moment in the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue. In 1858, an escaped slave named John Price was abducted by Southern slave catchers, who intended to bring him back to Kentucky. A large group of Oberlin residents, including many African-Americans, rushed to the nearby town of Wellington, where the slave catchers had holed up in a hotel for the night. In blatant defiance of the “law,” the Oberlin residents forced their way into the hotel and rescued Price.

My illustration shows the aftermath of the rescue, as the joyous crowd of rescuers carry Price out of the hotel on their shoulders. Photos from the era showed many of the Obies who took part, as well as the Wellington hotel itself, all of which I incorporated as best I could into the illustration. I even portray the slave catchers, cowering up in the attic, peeking out the windows as their “prize” is taken away.

It turned out that the Oberlin-Wellingto Rescue was a key moment in the lead-up to the Civil War. Ohio state officials defended the rescuers, despite their flouting federal law (the Fugitive Slave Law), and even tried to repeal the law at the 1859 Republican convention. (Remember, the Republicans were the “good guys” back then!) The resulting attention kept the issue of slavery very much in the public eye right up until secession and the shots fired at Fort Sumter.

Seeing as how it’s Black History Month, I’m proud to share this story, and my visual representation of the Oberlin-Wellington Rescue, which has rarely been portrayed.

(Thanks to Emily Crawford, the OAM art director, who was so accommodating to work with, and so supportive all along the way. I also want to draw attention to cartoonist Bentley Boyd‘s Oberlin: Origins and Onward!, a comic book history of Oberlin from 1833 to the present.)

Oberlin-Wellington Rescue

Evolution of a book cover: Piracy Crusade

PC-cover-final-150pxI illustrated the cover of Aram’s Sinnrich‘s new book, Piracy Crusade: How the Music Industry’s War on Sharing Destroys Markets and Erodes Civil Liberties (University of Massachusetts Press), and I thought I’d take you through the process.

As the title indicates, Sinnreich’s argument is that so-called “piracy” is really the battle between those who believe information (e.g., music) should be shared and the media cartels who want to control that flow. In the spirit of openness, Aram even made a draft of the book available online under a Creative Commons license.

Before I got to work, Aram and I talked a little bit about the cover. (Unlike with my previous book cover, for Alissa Quart’s Republic of Outsiders, Aram was acting as his own “art director” on the project, so I dealt directly with him.) One thing he was keen to include was traditional pirate ship/pirate flag imagery, as well as the symbols for copyright and “copyleft” (essentially, the same concept as the Creative Commons movement). He even drew up a sketch, which featured two tall-masted ships firing on each other, with the cannon balls, smoke, and water splashes forming a “Jolly Roger” death’s head between the ships. His drawing looked like this: Read more of this post

Evolution of a book cover: Republic of Outsiders

I illustrated the cover of Alissa Quart’s new book, Republic of Outsiders: The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers and Rebels (The New Press), and I thought I’d take you through the whole process.

The book is about how a diverse group of outsiders who seek to redefine a wide variety of fields—from film and mental health to diplomacy and music, from how we see gender to what we eat—are succeeding in various ways in changing the status quo. So from the get-go the initial concept was to show a large crowd of people on the cover, something to convey the idea of “here comes everybody.” The book’s particular subjects—including  an Occupy Wall Street “alternative banker,” a transgender activist, an autistic artist, and indie musician Amanda Palmer—would be prominently featured at the front of the crowd.  I wanted the art to “bleed,” to extend past the edge of the cover, to help convey the “infinite” size of the crowd of amateurs, dreamers, and outcasts (at that point the book was subtitled “The Power of Rebels, Amateurs, and Outcasts”).

My initial sketch looked like this:

RoO-sketch-lorez

The client was pretty happy with the sketch, with their only major comment regarding the Amanda Palmer figure. Because of some recent negative press, they asked me to downplay her somehow—suggesting I “anonymize her, so she could be a more generic glam genderbending figure.” I pointed out that with my cartoony style I doubted many people who would recognize the character as Amanda Palmer, but I was happy to do as they asked.

We also agreed that I would hand-letter the title and other cover lettering. Given that, the client felt the subtitle needed a little more air. At that point, I came up with the idea of the crowd holding signs making up the words of the subtitle. I thought it further sold the concept of this group being paet of a movement effecting change on society.

This was my first attempt at the pencils (the blue outline shows the bleed and the crop marks of the actual book dimensions):

RoO-pencils-lorez

Although generally happy with the pencils, the client asked for some changes. There was some concern that the central figure (based on a real-life autistic artist was “too prominent and particular.” One way they suggested to do that was to eliminate the plastic iguana she was holding and make her expression less vacant; the second adjustment took care of another unresolved issue, which was how to display the author’s name. They came up with the idea of setting in a foreground sign which also would partly cover the autistic character. In addition, feeling that the “Amanda Palmer” avatar was too aggressive, they asked me to tone down her expression a bit as well.

At this point, I was a bit concerned about the changes being requested because frankly I thought they weakened the impact of the image. My understanding of the project was that the people on the cover were outsiders dancing to the beat of their own drums—and succeeding by doing that. And my feeling was the client’s suggestions were making the cover blander and less memorable. But… in the end, they were the client (who is always right ;->). I expressed my reservations and made the changes they asked for. (I also found out later that there were some legal concerns regarding the autistic artist character, who is only referred to by her first name, Katie, in the book…)

Finally, they asked me to replace the chunky “Outsider” title lettering with a simpler “font.”

This is what the second round of pencils looked like:

RoO-pencils2a-450px

By this point, the client and I were pretty much on the same page, and they gave me the go-ahead to proceed to inks. Wait! There was one more last-minute change: the subtitle of the book was changed from “The Power of Rebels, Amateurs, and Outcasts” to “The Power of Amateurs, Dreamers and Rebels”. So, here are the inks:

RoO-inks2-lorez

After a little more back-and-forth (thankfully, nothing too onerous), they gave me permission to color the piece, which I did in PhotoShop. As is my wont, I went with a reduced color palette, focusing mostly on greens and yellows, with a optimistic blue sky and red lettering to really pop. Here’s how it looked:

RoO-colors-lorez

The first color treatment made it all the way up the line to publisher, but she felt the palette was “too retro.” The client’s direction was to “maybe lighten the skin tones and add a bit more cyan to the clothes, so they’re not so contrasty with the sky.” Given how “unrealistic” the original color treatment was, I  was prepared for some pushback, and thought their comments made sense. So I warmed up the skin tones and made a few other adjustments (including making the “Katie ” painting a bit more distinctive from the rest of the scene). I thought the changes relieved the “monotony” of the original color treatment while staying true to my original concept:

RoO-colors2-lorez

Success! Everyone liked the new color treatment. So I was done, right?

Wrong! When it came to mocking up the book, the artwork on the right-hand side didn’t extend far enough to cover the bleed on to the dust cover flap. Left as-is it would show the art “fading away”—which I thought undermined the “infinite” feeling of the crowd. They also wanted the line “author of Branded and Hothouse Kids” added underneath the author’s name. So… I went back to the drawing board (literally) and extended the artwork to the right (as well as adding the “author of” line in PhotoShop, using a font of my lettering). And, voila:

RoO-revise-lorez

We were finally done! This is how the “mechanical” (front, back, flaps, and crop marks) looked on publication:

Republic-of-Outsiders_1st-mech-lorez

The book came out last month, and it’s been cool seeing my work on the cover—a first for a book I did not myself draw.

After all the back and forth, I obviously felt very connected to the process, and to all the individual decisions that led to the distinctive final product. So I was a bit chagrined when this image was brought to my attention: the cover of Eric Alterman’s 2008 book, Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America (Viking), illustrated by the very brilliant Tom Tomorrow

Alterman-WhyWe'reLiberals-cover-lorez

Oops! I don’t remember ever seeing that book cover before, I swear!

I’ll be on WBAI tonight discussing the Rubin Museum’s Wheel of Life comics project

Tonight, starring at about 9:40 pm, I will be on WBAI 99.5 FM here in NYC discussing the Rubin Museum’s Karma-Con series. Along with fellow cartoonists Katie Skelly and Rubin Museum curator Beth Citron, we’ll be guests on WBAI’s Asia Pacific Forum. We’ll talk about the cartoonists’ Wheel of Life project and the ongoing exhibition “Hero, Villain, Yeti: Tibet in Comics.”

On April 18, myself and a group of other local cartoonists/illustrators will unveil our reinterpretations of segments of the Tibetan Wheel of Life (also known as the Wheel of Becoming, a representation of Buddhist beliefs about life, death, and rebirth). I was given my section last week (at the very enjoyable “Studio Salon“), and I’m in the middle of completing it. My section is the world of Humans, and I’m having fun trying to depict the various suffering we go through in our attempt to reach enlightenment. Here’s a sneak peak of how it’s looking so far…

Wheel of Life: Humans

Nick Flynn’s BEING FLYNN… the back story

I first met Nick Flynn back in the fall of 1999, in Provincetown, Massachusetts. I had accompanied Sari there for her Fine Arts Work Center fellowship, a residency which would keep us in P-town through the winter and into the following spring. Nick was a second-year fellow, and Sari and I were immediately drawn to his charm, intelligence, and good humor.

Nick was a natural storyteller, and had some amazing stories to tell, about a life filled with drama, heartbreak, debauchery—all that good stuff. By trade, he was a poet—a good one—and over the years he and I did some collaborations, basically me adapting his poems into comics. One of the pieces, “Father Outside,” had to do with the time Nick was working in a homeless shelter and his long-estranged father arrived as a new client. Another piece, “Bag of Mice,” dealt with Nick’s mother’s suicide. In all, we did three collaborations, all of which were published in literary journals (and later published my me in The Vagabonds #2). The original art from our first piece, “Cartoon Physics, Part One,” even traveled as part of a multi-city comics art exhibition.

In 2004, Nick published a memoir, memorably titled Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. (That was a favorite phrase of his father’s.) Nick hoped to collaborate again with me on the cover of the book (which was being published by W.W. Norton, much later to be my publisher for The Influencing Machine.) So we worked together on some sketches. Long story short, Norton declined to use my art for the cover (though it was eventually published as a frontspiece in the British Faber & Faber edition). And I have to admit that the art they used instead, by Hon-Sum Cheng, is far superior.

So, fast forward eight years, and Nick’s book has been made into a feature film. Now called Being Flynn (you can see why they didn’t use the other title), it stars Paul Dano as Nick and the legendary Robert DeNiro as Nick’s father. Julianne Moore makes an appearance as Nick’s mom—not a bad cast! The film opened last week, so to commemorate it, I’m sharing the book’s rejected cover art.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City

Pull Up Those PIIGS!

My mother, Martha Rosler, and I have just collaborated on a public art piece in central Berlin. It’s on the topic of the ongoing European debt crisis, and it’ll be on display on the building (at Auguststraße 10, 10117 Berlin, Germany) until the end of November. (I wasn’t aware of this beforehand, but “PIIGS” is an acronym used by international bond analysts, academics, and the economic press to refer to the economies of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain in regard to the ongoing sovereign debt crisis.)

My mom came up with the concept and text, and I did the illustration. The project was commissioned by DAAD (in English, the German Academic Exchange Service). My mother is in Berlin for a year on a residency sponsored by DAAD. This is the second large public art collaboration I’ve done with her, the first being part of the MAK Center’s “How Many Billboards?” project from last year.

The piece is quite massive, approximately 35′ x 42.’ Here’s a photo:

Pull Up Those PIIGS

Pull Up Those PIIGS!

This is how the building normally looks (without the palm trees), sorry about the weird cropping:

Auguststraße 10 10117 Berlin, Germany

And here’s a link to a larger version of the original illo, complete with the groovy yellow-green background which they had to cut out for print-compatibility reasons…

STATE OF EMERGENCY: Evolution of a Cover

I’ve written previously about State of Emergency, Sari’s adaptation of both my A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge and Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun. Part of Scholastic’s On the Record series, the book is aimed at high-school “reluctant readers” (thus the appeal of the graphic novel format). I think Sari did a really great job of adapting and abridging the two books.

For me, it’s a thrill to be paired with Eggers. I really admire Zeitoun, and of course I’m grateful to Dave for his blurbing of A.D. And what makes this project even sweeter for the whole Josh & Sari family is that Scholastic asked me to draw the cover for State of Emergency. I was happy to oblige, and thought you might enjoy seeing how the illustration developed.

We quickly determined that they were looking for images of post-flooding New Orleans and "people helping people." So the first thing I did was come up with a few sketches:

State of Emergency sketches

Read more of this post