Archive for March, 2009

The ‘L’ Word

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This piece for the Book Review concerns two books that argue that liberalism extends beyond supporting exclusively leftist policies and reminds the reader of its broader objectives. Says author Alan Wolfe: “As many people as possible should have as much say as is feasible over the direction their lives will take”.

Not wanting to include any of my own politics in the illustration for fear of making it look like a big chest-beating drum circle, I went for a straight-ahead literal (not liberal) approach to the material. I twisted the U.S. flag 90˚ on its side to reveal its inherent ‘L’ shape in the stripes and then I ‘liberated’ the stars. Nicholas Blechman, who from past experience has demonstrated that he is not shy about letting the image physically inhabit the text, took it even further and allowed the stars to float freely into the article. Liberals and conservatives alike who would appreciate the merits of a good visual pun might both regard such a layout as “totally badass” and they’d both be right.

Money vs. Money vs. Money

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Putting aside my talent for stating the obvious, people from all corners of the country have quite a bit to weigh in on within the arena of money these days. Between the bailouts, the deficits, the stimulus packages, the unwarranted bonuses and the collective wallets from which all of those funds will ultimately be lifted from, finding an opinion or a suggestion as to how all of this money is being delegated is easy to stumble upon even if you’re lazy.

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A slightly greater challenge of late has been coming up with increasingly different ways to represent this socioeconomic dungheap visually. Above are two pieces I just completed for Report on Business, a magazine released in conjunction with The Globe and Mail in Canada. The articles that they were paired with denote that free-market economic theorists, while currently playing defense to the charge that their policies are in part responsible for capsizing the U.S. economy, still have ample evidence to suggest that the brontosaurus-sized stimulus package that’s currently getting wedged through Congress could turn out to be the biggest waste of money since…well…the dawn of currency.

The piece below was done simultaneously for Business Week‘s current Management issue, concerning the fact that the government will be a much closer, much more present business partner in everyday dealings now than its ever been before.

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Factoring in that each of these pieces required multiple comps in order to decide on a specific direction, I remember thinking at the time how difficult it was to keep coming up with different ways of illustrating problems with money. Now, having seen other illustrators’ work in that same issue, I feel as though I’ve been suitably taken to school. During a time in which the future of actual printed magazines is uncertain, Business Week’s art directors seem to have pulled out all their stops in assembling a roster of true artistic heavyweights to take a relatively dry subject and make it sing page for page. Alex Williamson, George Bates, Christoph Neimann, Dan Page, Harry Campbell, Kate Banazi, David Plunkert, Oliver Munday, Thomas Fuchs, Brian Stauffer, Edel Rodriguez, Jonny Hannah and James Steinberg all have pieces in this issue. All are different, all are inventive and all have in as many instances announced to me loudly that drawing ideas forth long after you’re certain that you’ve exhausted the possibilities is central to bringing one’s A-Game to such an assignment. The Business Week site for whatever reason isn’t featuring each and every one of these pieces, so I would strongly recommend a brief abandonment of the laptop, going outside and picking up an actual physical copy to see all that work showcased in one place. It’s a nice, gentle reminder of how printed materials can and should exist alongside the web. Exit soapbox.

In Afghanistan, Less Can Be More

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The bit I did for today’s Op/Ed page in the Times proposes that having a less overtly American presence in Afghanistan and spending greater energy and focus in training their local soldiers can help to avoid many of the combat-based and diplomacy-based problems that U.S. forces incurred in Vietnam. Arthur Keller, a former C.I.A. operative who was based in Pakistan, is speaking more or less first hand.

Leanne Shapton was a big help in getting this one done. Without any overbearing art direction of any kind, she suggested very simply that I search for a historical link between both conflicts. When Keller (the author) writes about “leaving a smaller footprint” in Afghanistan than we left in Vietnam, it became the second and final cue I needed to blaze through comps that night and have art ready the next morning. Given the absurd turnaround times required for art on that page, hindsight is a true albatross when looking back at those things, thinking about how you might have approached the idea differently had you not been under such a tight time constraint. Below is another comp that ALMOST made the grade.

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Can They Do That? – K.I.A!

(All of the following covers were killed in the editorial rounds).

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Lewis Maltby is the founder and head of the National Workrights Institute and was also previously the head of the ACLU’s National Workplace Rights project. His new book, Can They Do That, coming out later this year, provides an in-depth examination of how the country’s labor laws are grossly outdated and as such, permit privately owned corporations to legally trounce their employees’ basic civil rights without being challenged. In recession times, those who are grateful to be clinging on to the jobs that they have may interpret this book as a feel-good read for the summer.

Joe Perez at Penguin graciously gave me a shot at working on some cover treatments and, once again, I choked! The above one as well as the following three were all ultimately unused. My present inability to close the deal on various book covers is suggesting (loudly) that authoring any one of the beautiful jackets that you see in B&N, Borders, St. Marks, et. al is SIMPLY NOT AS EASY AS IT LOOKS. Regardless, this book is fascinating and freaky and was a genuinely terrific project to get an opportunity to work on. Moreover, like all projects that bear social relevance of some significance, I’m always grateful to be asked to the table. Thanks for letting me take a crack at this one, Joe.

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The Book of Night Women

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The above illustration accompanied a review for Marlon James’ new novel, The Book of Night Women in the Times’ Book Review. The book is a closer-than-one-may-prefer portrait of slavery on a Jamaican sugar plantation. Says Kaiama L. Glover, (the professor who wrote the review), “James has conducted an experiment in how to write the unspeakable — even the unthinkable. And the results of that experiment are an undeniable success.” Art direction by Nicholas Blechman.