Archive for the 'News' Category

2014, Condensed.

I tried to post more frequently this year. I failed. Pretty quickly.

It isn’t that I don’t love the internet, I just cultivate a suspicion that any reason to devote time and attention anywhere else is probably healthier. Consequently, nearly 8 months slingshotted past and in considering the average lifespan of an editorial piece or a book cover, half of the “new” work I have is already approaching its teens. Contrarily, I don’t feel great about that; So to honor a stolen moment at the end of 2014, here are some (non birth-related) things that I was grateful to have happen this year:

The SAT is Fair - ADs: Gail Bichler / Kim Sutherland, Photo by Jens Mortensen

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From early March: A cover collaboration between myself, Gail Bichler, Kim Sutherland and photographer Jens Mortensen on the re-writing of the SATs. Occasionally when taking a photographic approach to an illustration on my own, I’ll shoot something and if it’s focused and clear and the white balance is on point, I’ll allow myself to be pleased with the quality of the image for two or three minutes. I was on hand at Jens’ studio with Kim and Gail on the day he shot this and had the pleasure of watching him work. I am not a photographer. Jens is.

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Consciousness and the Brain — AD: Roseanne Serra

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A neuroscience cover for Penguin in which I ripped myself off by repurposing a NYT Science illustration I had done the year before. I gave a few talks this year and at each one I showed this cover next to my original image and asked the audience if they thought that counted as cheating. The responses were mostly mumbles.
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Pinkerton’s Great Detective - AD: Paul Buckley

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A book about the early national detective agency and their foremost badass detective who infiltrated the Molly Maguires, chased Butch Cassidy and tore after the Wild Bunch. It is difficult to argue with history—particularly when it’s as exhaustively researched and accounted for as it is here—but Sam Peckinpah’s glorious and perfect Wild Bunch film is so etched into my pleasure center that as a human I found it very, very, very difficult to root for anyone other than the Wild Bunch in this scenario, true-life barbarism and historical certainties notwithstanding.

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NPR: Serial

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I am not the first, third or hundredth person commonly considered for logo projects so it was no small honor to be commissioned to produce this one for WBEZ Chicago and the This American Life crew on the occasion of their freakishly addictive new podcast. The rabid enthusiasm that the podcast rightfully earned upon its release has been amazing. And pretty damn deserved.

My process in working with the Serial team played out in an eerily similar way as one of the show’s episodes. We talked, we kicked some questions around, we extrapolated some ideas based upon those questions and chased down a mark without any preconceived impression of where it should land. These producers are comfortable in all respects with letting the territory draw the map, which bodes well for the show’s future.

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No Stopping Train

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For Soft Skull Press—a cover for the posthumous final novel of the underground Hungarian author Les Plesko. Just below it was an alternate that I swore at the time was a lock to be chosen. I’m rarely right about anything.

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Your Band Sucks — AD: Paul Buckley

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Jon Fine played in Bitch Magnet—a band I discovered far too late—in the mid ’90s. Sooyoung Park, one of his bandmates in Bitch Magnet, later went on to form Seam, a band I had on regular rotation through college. Generally, I bristle at the suspicion that I get pigeonholed for certain kinds of projects but if I have to be the guy to work on punk and hardcore chronicles from the ’70s through the mid-90′s, I’m relatively confident that I’ll find a way to live with it.

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The Professor in the Cage — AD: Darren Haggar

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In which the author—a bookish, self-professed academic professorial type—decides to submit full tilt to the culture and unforgiving training regimen of MMA and documents the whole thing. You wake each day and practice your trade in the interest of finding a higher grace until the fates task you with producing a skull getting punched by an invisible, theoretical fist. Thus continuing my year of black book covers.

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The Atlantic: Ukraine — AD: Elisa Glass

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An illustration for The Atlantic done in the early days of Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine which argued the perceived threat was bigger than it actually is. Dissent is encouraged.

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Esquire — Stephen Marche on Government

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A quick one for Esquire done over the summer for Stephen Marche’s column about the US government’s ongoing downward functionality.

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The Atlantic: Law School Scamming — AD: Darhil Crooks

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A suite of images for a feature in the Atlantic exploring how a for-profit law school in Florida scammed its students with a sub-par curriculum which left them ill-prepared to take the bar exam and then shafted them with outsized debts. Further supporting an unscientific, unfounded hypothesis that theft is the only remaining pathway to wealth in the US.

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NYT Mag: Major Threat — ADs: Gail Bichler, Kim Sutherland

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In which it became clear (very quickly) that pissing off a punk rock purist is a thousand times easier than pissing off a democrat or a Republican or even a Libertarian like Rand Paul would ever be. This took over our lives for 72 hours and was initiated and completed in whatever stray seconds and minutes I could spare when I wasn’t strapped to the op/ed page that week. And even after being given copies for posterity, I still can’t believe this actually exists. A fair amount of coverage was given to this at the time of its release over the summer and most of the practical questions regarding how it was made are addressed here and here.

Some remnants from the construction:

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…and here’s the other something I’ll only ever be able to get away with once.

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The New Yorker: Friends of Israel — ADs: Chris Curry & Chris Mueller

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A feature illustration for the New Yorker for a monster piece about AIPAC’s overly aggressive lobbying in Washington.

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Wired: I Can’t Let You Do That, Dave — AD: Victor Krummenacher

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Two spots for a WIRED piece by Cory Doctorow about the legal and humanistic slippery slope that comes along with self-aware computers. Or to a more tangible extent: a company which can surreptitiously drop a U2 album into millions and millions of iPhones without consent of the owner.

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NYT Book Review: Man Down — AD: Nicholas Blechman

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Pure tragedy. A young pot dealer who worked his way out of poverty by sheer force of will and some lucky breaks is accepted at Yale, majors in molecular biophysics and biochemistry, graduates, resumes dealing and is ultimately shot in a basement over either drugs or money or probably both. There is a bitter argument in play that all the money and social programs and institutional assistance in the world can’t divorce a person from the perspectives, practices and codes of their youth.

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So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed — AD: Helen Yentus

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For Jon Ronson’s new book, a mountain disguised as a question: What does public shame look like without finger pointing?

The book needed a cover which bore connective DNA to his previous two jackets, and as both Ronson’s queries and his conclusions never reveal themselves at the end of a linear path, the logical considerations of what public shaming looks like (finger pointing, dunce caps, stockades, etc.), were gratefully set aside. This was the proven victor—the actual, tangible version of which will clash as loudly as possible with silver and fluorescent pink.

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Black Hole

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My kingdom for some strange. More than the movies or music or an honest-to-goodness vacation, fiction was the great personal palliative of 2014. Regardless of whatever level of realism anything I read on the subway this year may have been, having the comfort in knowing that it was all made up gave my brain a license to puke back up some of the true life op/ed horrors I worked on during the day. It helped.

Anyway, I made this cover for this book about a Bay area local who does a lot of drugs on the regular and what happens to him when he samples the everlasting gobstopper of hallucinogens. For my eternal gratitude, things get dark, weird and physically impossible.

This was an alternate:

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We continue toward whatever is next. Happy new year.

Waiting Game

Oona was due to be born on November 10th. She didn’t settle on an exit strategy until the evening of November 17th. This left an idle waiting window.

In order to quell an already innate tendency to fidget in anticipation of a great big epic thing, I grabbed a sharp object and a stack of magazines and spent my personal limbo collaging. Some dudes lift weights. Anyway, these weren’t baby-centric insofar as I meant for any of these to reveal any subconscious feelings about impending fatherhood. I just wanted an active, physical distraction away from a computer that I could complete quickly without overthinking them or, conversely, reminding me that a very small person was going to manifest him/herself in our lives sometime either in the next few hours or the next few days. When I say “this mostly worked”, I mean that when I have an X-Acto in my hand and my wrist is sturdy and turning slowly, it’s only slightly easier to quiet the enormity of knowing that I’m having a kid than it would have been with a more passive activity. But the kid still trumped this. Substantially.

Now that she’s here, I look at these things the way someone looks back at something that they drew the night before when they were stoned.

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Here’s Oona.

Oona Jay Dorfman crossed over to the other side of the wall on Monday evening, November 17th in NYC around 8:02 PM.

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The expletives required to properly accent the tenor of Jill’s performance in delivering Oona have not been invented yet. They will occur to one of us in the middle of the night sometime in the next 6 years. At the moment words are few as the three of us have been opting instead to spend most of our collective waking hours staring at each other in anticipation of all the fireworks headed our way once we leave the hospital tomorrow.

Good night.

Secret 7″, Record Store Day & Roxy Music

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Here was a perfect reason to work for free.

I was invited to participate in the epic Secret 7″ project this year. The organization solicits wordless art to pair with 7″ sleeves which are then auctioned off as mystery singles on Record Store Day with all of the proceeds going toward a charity chosen annually. The charity benefitting from the sales of this year’s auction will be going to War Child Syria—which is fantastic for existing and also abominable that it still needs to.

The only ground rules the contributors were issued going in was to choose one song from seven possible titles and produce an image that could allude to the track on the vinyl in question without giving it away. No band names or track titles were permitted on the sleeves. Every 7″ was auctioned off anonymously and bid upon solely by the merits of the art on the sleeve. The recipients had no idea what music they bought until they opened the package.

I was given the option of choosing between seven different songs to design for and I opted to take a crack at Roxy Music’s Virginia Plain—which, in addition to being a perfect piece of music, can also stand alongside the best of the absurdist pop greats with lyrics that manage to be inscrutable without sounding off-putting or phoned in. In that spirit, for the imagery I wantonly and aggressively ripped off the stylings of Tadanori Yokoo and Keiichi Tanaami. From an art-making perspective, it was one of the most selfish exercises I’d tried out in years and I’m only mildly ashamed to say that I loved the process of trying to wrangle my way into another artist’s skin. Such catharsis.

Here is a complete list of this year’s contributors and their monster gallery of everything they commissioned this year. It’s worth digging through if you have the time as there’s some legitimate invention on display (which is more than I can say for my thievery).

Books, Talking, Agony & Occasional Fun

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I’ll be speaking at the Type Director’s Club on Thursday, 3/13 as part of their annual Book Night with cover design heavyweights Megan Wilson and Jim Tierney. At which time I will likely be wondering aloud why something as difficult and demanding and heartbreaking as designing book covers remains fun and somehow inspiring. As far as I know, this is not intended as a roast. Though I can’t be surprised if it ends up that way. Details and registration are here.

I’ll be sharing horror stories, victories and how art direction and illustration inform my approach to designing covers and vice versa. Among them, some background behind a few recent projects which are coming out soon if not already:

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For Soft Skull Press.
A collection of black comedic short stories about death. Or at least they’re told to ease the creeping certainty of death’s persistent advance. Any laughter is commensurate with your personal abilities of disassociation.

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For Pantheon. Art direction: Peter Mendelsund.
Alain de Botton argues that the artless monotony of news delivery misses the chance to engage people the way true storytelling can. Working at a newspaper myself, I have complicated feelings about this.

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For Viking. Art direction: Paul Buckley. Photo: Godlis.
If I ever score another book project as close to my heart as this it will likely involve bribery or something worse. Alex Chilton’s & Big Star’s music has been lining the inner wall of my ribcage ever since The Replacements tipped me off to them in high school. As a matter of course I try to keep personal attachments off the table when designing, but it gives me no secret selfish happiness to have my handwriting on the jacket for a book about one of the guys who’s music helped get me through high school, college, my post-college 20′s, half of my post-college 30′s and last night.

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For Verso. Art direction: Andy Pressman
A new account of the oil industry’s backdoor movers & shakers and how they are, in their singular way, vampires of the land raping the soil for what remaining natural resources we have—and why those businessmen and this business have made us all dependent and complicit. A comedy.

See you next week.

Inequality and Sex

The title of this post is only just misleading enough to leave it be and go with it. I do have images to show concerning inequality and sex, but not together.

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Art direction: Nicholas Blechman

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The picture above was done for the Book Review a few weeks back for a review that David Leonhardt wrote about Angus Deaton’s new book, The Great Escape, which by Leonhardt’s account is an optimistic-while-sober account of how the inequality gap has narrowed over centuries and how that history should be mined for reconciling inequality’s present condition. This illustration found life on account of having the dumbest of dumb luck to discover separate engravings well over a century old of one very rich man and one very poor man sitting in my overstuffed files at home. Like the header promised: sexy, right?

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This one—about whether or not sex can really, truly be counted as exercise—was done for the magazine in early December. Whether omitted for space constraints or for a good, old-fashioned benefit of the doubt, the writer gratefully declined to entertain any remote notion that just lying there during such a congress merited any such measurement. Personal trainers and one night stands all over the world can rejoice in a glad-hearted, communal high five.

Art direction: Jason Sfetko

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