The Atlantic x 2

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Somewhere in the white haze of late summer, I worked on two illustrations for the opening Dispatches segment of The Atlantic. The one above, about the ways in which anti-gay sermonizing courtesy of Anita Bryant, Jerry Falwell, Orson Scott Card and the like have contrarily done wonders toward advancing the causes of gay rights, required a delicate sell to the EIC and publisher courtesy of my art director, Elisa Glass. Understandably, dropping a giant F-Bomb in a piece of art—even if only by suggestion—requires a caucus. Given the topic and tenor, the magazine ultimately supported it to my gratitude and surprise.

In theory, it shouldn’t require such substantial nerve to run an illustration with a well-recognized, (and implied) expletive only slightly younger than the sands of time, but given the puritanism that still often dictates the content of editorial pictures and movies in the USA, advocating for this, making a convincing argument and mass producing it for public consumption took some stones. Thank you, Atlantic. Read here.

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This one, more directly, spoke to the hows and means of lying in the internet age. Apparently still as popular as ever.

Art direction on both: Elisa Glass

The Elusive President

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Art direction: Nicholas Blechman

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Here is an anti-portrait of a man who my boss argues is knowable to no one.

And Then Steve Said, ‘Let There Be an iPhone’

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Art direction: Arem Duplessis

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Here is a story with an ending which is already well known, worshipped technological lore and still no less hypnotic: An account for the mad scramble which lead to the first-ever iPhone keynote. The unedited draft of the text for this story was beyond long and before I started thinking about visuals for this, I told myself I’d probably just skim through it to catch the key points. Except once I started, I couldn’t stop and I nearly missed my stop to get off the train. This was hypnotic and ballsy. And I even knew how it was going to end!

To put it gently and free of spoiling particulars, the device was not entirely sea worthy at the time of its announcement on the day of its big reveal. That it performed as well as it did during the live test drive is a testament to the Herculean ingenuity, quick thinking, and work hours that Steve Jobs’ team brought to measure across all facets of the phone’s development. The way grown adults (including myself) crane their necks while waiting in line for anything would never be the same again.

There’s also something to be said for one man’s sheer force of will pushing forward despite cries of reconsideration from all sides. Historically, this approach breaks roughly 50/50, so highly suspect manufacturing processes notwithstanding, it’s a good thing to recount one time that all of that elbow grease, impossible standards and general lack of compromise broke on the side of something genuinely transformational.

Intro to Lovebots

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Here is another for the NYT Magazine’s Eureka feature about how robots are slowly, steadily and perhaps deliberately, laying claim to our emotions. The most challenging aspect of this piece proved surprisingly to be landing on the sentiment spooling out of the robot’s ‘mouth.’ I had pitched it originally with “There, there now.’ in order to suggest an agent of comfort, but after some extended fielding revealed that it could be viewed just as easily as a threat. “Of course you’re pretty,” “Let me know when you’ll be home,” and “I feel you , man” were also offered up at various points when Rem, perhaps sensing struggle, late-week exhaustion or a combination therein, plainly suggested the homage to Jerry Maguire and the decision became easy. This was a demonstration of an art director who is directly tapped in to the mission.

Art direction: Raul Aguila / Arem Duplessis

The Return

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This is a recent illustration I did for the New Yorker. Subject-wise, this is about as self-explanatory as a thing could be, but as is typical of so much of the New Yorker’s reportage, reading the whole thing offers up a panorama absent of sanctimony of a recurring human condition in the U.S. which serves to remind hopefully anyone of the human cost of conflict. Working on this made me feel both fortunate and impossibly sheltered to not have a first-hand window into these kinds of experiences. Seriously, war is horrific and crippling and absurd.

Art direction: Chris Curry

Backlog #3: Bored In Space

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This is not the kind of sketch intended to instill confidence in an art director on deadline. It is the kind of sketch which is best utilized when a well-traveled route requires a detour.

This sketch was my final hail mary proposal for an illustration for the NY Times magazine’s Eureka feature back in July about the perils of boredom in space—particularly as they might relate to a manned mission to Mars. Astronauts have to prepare both mentally and physically while on Earth to contend with the kind of crushing routine required of space travel which, in the event of a lesser constitution, can lead to behavior one might later regret, be it in the dark endless void of blackness or up river.

Working one floor above the magazine has led what have now been four very fast adventures in the past year which have begun the same way each time: In the middle of the day amidst the daily op/ed scramble, one of the magazine ADs will get in touch to talk about attacking an illustration for whatever issue they’re working on. I shoot downstairs at an available moment to talk about the piece and the schedule, (this one had a three day window). That evening while on the subway going home, I’ll read through the draft and any additional notes they gave me. I’ll chip away at concepts for possible visuals that night until I run out of steam sometime in the witching hour and send over what I have the following morning before my day starts up and hope that something lands. In the event that one of the ideas works and gets the green light sometime that afternoon, I begin the final that evening and spend the final day finessing the details with the AD in between whatever pausing points I’m able to scrounge up in the afternoon.

In what I’ve begrudgingly come to accept as a comfort zone, we had been pursuing photographic directions which were coming along fine. Here are some of them:

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The decision to ditch these in favor of the drawn approach as rendered in my chicken scratch up at the top was an impulsive one and one that was subliminally rooted in a selfish desire to make something that felt unfamiliar to me and—if I’m being honest—most likely an adverse reaction to the idea of doing what felt like a familiar process for the subject of boredom.

The further we talked about the sketch featuring the ‘yawn’ text, the more truthful it felt to find a way to somehow embody the condition of boredom instead of spelling it out. Spelling it out was actually boring. We were short on time that afternoon with the deadline approaching the following day and I was in the middle of contending with the op/ed simultaneously, so I spent a whole three minutes drawing what I had envisioned as a listless astronaut dulled even by the disruption of the red planet crashing into his helmet. Then I went back downstairs and explained it. I attribute this idea getting the go ahead to having the oft-discounted luxury of being able to talk to my co-conspirator and earning his trust while circling a problem in the same room.

Since the sketch was admittedly slack, I drew these three below as an intermediary step:

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That helped. We both felt considerably more confident that this would work. We narrowed the preferred pose down from there and I decided on a diagrammatic, unblemished vector line to provide a kind of sterility I thought would be appropriate to boredom. I then spent a rare uninterrupted 4+ hours drawing with my headphones on after hours, listening to the Flying Burrito Brothers.

This is the final below.

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Art direction: Caleb Bennett

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