Design Observer podcast

For those of you who have been following along with my alternate career as a graphic-arts prankster, this morning brought me the surprise of being featured on an actual very-serious design podcast run by actual design professionals. They spend most of the time talking about actual design things, but then they talk about me and my work for the last five minutes or so. It’s a kick to have actual design people recognize what I’m doing.

And then of course there’s the actual site where I sell these things, which is here.

My graphics business

















In one of the stranger twists of my career, I suddenly find myself in the graphics business.

It started out with me doing funny, cool little birthday greetings and things for friends on Facebook, and then expanded to me making funny, cool little things for the They Might Be Giants tumblr. I did that for a year or two, just to relax while writing things, mind you, and then, oddly enough, a handful of people started asking me to do posters and graphics for them, but, like, for money. And then people started asking me for prints of the funny, cool little things I did. And then just the other day John Flansburgh of They Might Be Giants just went ahead and called me up and asked me if I wanted to do their tour posters. But, like, sixty of them, including one for each venue and several general-interest posters. Which, well, I said yes, I would like to do that.

Long story short, I do these weird little Photoshop art print mashup things, you can see them at my store, see if there’s anything you like!

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Memory Lane, part 2

Yesterday I posted a bunch of flyers I made for my monologue shows back in the late 80s – early 90s.  Today I’m posting a bunch of flyers I made for various play productions during the same time.  Don’t forget to click to enlarge.hits counter

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Memory Lane, part 1

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I came up in show business as a playwright and monologuist in the late 1980s.  My beat was the East Village of New York City.  I didn’t have a computer back then — my plays and monologues were written on a clackety old Royal Portable that dated from the Koren War.  And my flyers were all assembled by hand.  I had no layout tools at my disposal, so I leaned into the crude aesthetics of the punk rock I loved — I slapped together things I found on the street, I doodled in the margins, I made all the scotch tape visible.  Instead of trying to make my flyers look slick, I emphasized their shabbiness.  If you weren’t there, they probably won’t make much graphic sense.

It’s also worth pointing out that all these images were meant to be reproduced in black and white, at Xerox machines at Kinko’s. Sometimes they looked better that way, sometimes much was lost.

Do remember to click on any of the images to see them bigger.

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Bruce Conner

I gasped aloud this evening when I found out, several days late, that one of my favorite artists, Bruce Conner, died Monday.hitcounter

I had never heard of Conner before I wandered into the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, one day in 2000. They were having a retrospective of his work, and I thought that it might be perhaps a cute little show of an artist of marginal importance. What a shock — the museum was jam-packed with room after room of staggering masterpieces in all manner of media — collages, assemblages, drawings, photographs, films and other, more conceptual works, less easily categorized.  My head felt like, well, like the guy in the collage above. 

Around every corner, it seemed, there was another aspect to his art, utterly unexpected, utterly unusual, utterly triumphant, waiting to jump out and kick my brain around. For years I would bug anyone who would listen about Conner and his phenomenal talent. Why hadn’t I heard of him before that fateful day at MoCA? Well, for the simple reason that I was a New Yorker, and Conner was a California artist, and the New York art work, in their hateful parochialism, had chosen to ignore Conner for the entirety of his gigantic, prodigious career.

The first thing I saw coming into the MoCA show was a room or two of these curious assemblages. So at first I thought “Aha, he’s a Rauschenberg also-ran”, except that, upon looking them over, I found his assemblages more interesting, more evocative and more haunting than Rauschenberg’s.

But then he also did these rather striking felt-tip marker drawings. Each drawing is a single line, wandering, snaking across the paper, never breaking, in bothdeliberate and abstract shapes, the variations of tone coming from the marker drying out before being replaced with a new one.

One of his more amazing series of drawings were a large number of “inkblots”, these intricately-detailed, symmetrical drawings. He made dozens upon dozens of these cunning works, in all different levels of complexity. At the MoCA show, drawings like this filled up an entire wall, in row upon row, a thrilling cornucopia of ideas. Presented with them, I said, well, either I have to stop looking at these right now, or else look at them for the rest of my life. As it happened, I split the difference, looking at them for an hour or so and then buying the show’s catalogue so I could peruse them at my leisure later.

He is perhaps best known for these detailed, wry collages — and if they were all he’d done, he’d still be a great artist.

But then there are his movies, which took all kinds of different forms, from oddball collages of discarded film clips to music videos of Toni Basil (from, like, 1969, when Toni Basil was an avant-garde artist instead of an MTV star).

In any case, do yourself a favor and check him out.

More of Sam’s heroes

Following up on last week’s group of Sam Superheroes:

Dad’s versions within

More dinosaurs

From my son’s dinosaur collection.

Sam, cartoonist

Sam (6) came home from school the other day with a number of pages of made-up superheroes. This group of six I found especially intriguing and sat down to ask him about them. He told me about them (he was making them up as he went along) and I asked if I could draw my own versions of them. He gave me the okay, so I now present them to you: the superheroes of tomorrow. None of them have names yet, hence the rather generic descriptors they currently possess.

Fire guy — not to be confused with the Human Torch, this is a person made entirely out of fire. I’m not sure if this has ever been done before — usually a fire guy is a person who can become fiery but is not actually made of fire himself. Where Fire Guy came from is another story.

This guy seems like the leader to me, a kind of mad-genius Inventor Guy. I’d like to think that he’s a Reed Richards-level intellect that was horribly disfigured in a terrible accident but then learned to build himself a new body. As you can see, his torso is a metal cylinder and his “arms” are bolts of electro-magnetic power that enable him to reach out and pick up large metal objects. I asked Sam if the big square things at the ends of his legs were his feet or something he was stepping on, and Sam said “no, those are his feet,” and if I’m not mistaken this is the first superhero with gigantic blocks for feet. I’m not sure how it would benefit a superhero to have enormous blocks for feet, but who am I to argue with the choices made by a genius inventor? The ever-writhing cables circling his torso, I’d like to think, are held there by electromagnetism and can also lash out to grab things or hit bad guys.

I’m calling this guy Armless Guy for now. I asked Sam what all the different little appliances were coming out of his body and he was clear on some of them and not clear on others (imagine! a cartoonist who thinks more about how something looks than whether or not it makes any sense!). A couple of things were clear: he carries an axe and a circular saw and a drill — he’s kind of like the Swiss Army Knife of superheroes. I asked him what the top-left appliance was and he said “Oh, you know, an extra eye,” which led me to consider that Armless Guy might also be technically blind. Lacking a clear idea on his two other limbs, I gave him a launchable rocket and some kind of energy-burst weapon. When my wife saw this drawing she said “Why is he smiling?” and I said “Well, he doesn’t have any arms, I wanted him to at least be cheerful about it.” And now that I’m looking at him, it wouldn’t surprise me if he wasn’t actually some kind of cyborg.

Plant Guy is my favorite so far (Sam has many more spreads like this). At first I thought a Plant Guy would be boring to look at, but this guy took me by surprise. Although I can’t for the life of me figure out what his super-powers are, the idea of a super-hero with flowers growing out of his ears and forehead seems like a winner to me.

This is Electricity Guy, or Lightning Guy. Electricity Guy is closely related to Fire Guy, insofar as he is an entity made entirely of electricity, unlike the Superman villain Live Wire, who is a human being who can become electricity under certain circumstances. Where did he come from? What’s his story? I want to know.

And finally, Cable Guy, a disembodied head connected to a large cable, with various electronic components sprouting from his head and limbs. When I first saw Sam’s drawing, I asked if Cable Guy’s left hand was an electrical plug. He said “Well, it’s supposed to be a video camera or something, but sure, it could be a plug.” Then I asked him what his other hand was, and he said “Well, I think that’s a different kind of video camera, but really it could be anything.” Then I “got” the character — he’s like a sentient surge-protector and you could, conceivably, attach any number of electronic devices to his cables. The satellite dish sprouting from his forehead seemed obvious enough, but I made the wrong guess about his other device, saying that it was a flat-screen monitor. Sam informed me that I was incorrect, and when I asked him what it was then he merely offered “Well, you know, extra face.” So there it is — Cable Guy’s extra face.

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Live Nude Plastic Dinosaurs

Successful artists know that regular life-drawing sessions are essential for keeping the eye sharp and accurate.

As an unsuccessful artist, I can’t afford to have naked models come over to my house merely for the sake of honing my drafting skills, so I have to make do with my son’s dinosaur toys.

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New drawings up at DeviantArt

Last year I took some photos of my son’s Justice League 4.5″ action figures to test out the close-up feature on my digital camera. Then later I did some drawings based on the photos to test out my Wacom tablet. The results of this screwing around may be found here.

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