Sunday, December 21, 2008

Mea Culpa

I am a bad blogger. I realize the key to being a good blogger is fresh content. I know this because when the half dozen blogs I check daily do not have fresh content, I am disappointed. Of course, you are saying, "Greg, instead of reading other blogs, shouldn't you be writing your own? Wouldn't that help?" I hear you, imaginary reader of my blog. So here is an end-of-the-year wrapup of all new stuff:

An actual unretouched photo of what the recent Moon/Jupiter/Venus alignment looked like, in China. It was impressive here in Pleasantville, but it wasn't a smileyface. A friend of a friend took this photo, and said through the mutual friend I could post it, but didn't want his name used. So I figured I shouldn't name the mutual friend either, to throw the Chinese government off the trail or whatever it is we are trying to avoid, but thanks, mutual friend and anonymous photographer.

A sketch by one of my ten-year-old students. She did it as a joke, and was probably going to throw it away, but I think it is awesome in a Daniel Johnston kind of way.

A piece I did for a gallery show curated by my friends Jordin Isip and Rodger Stevens. It's called "Harold Grows Up." Every participant was given a lovely piece of wood and instructions to incorporate a horizontal line at a specific height, so that the overall effect was a continuous dividing line/horizon running through all the art, all of which were hung butted up against each other running the length of the gallery. I have done work for other shows created/curated by these guys, and never sold anything, so when this piece sold I was pleasantly surprised. My twelve-year-old predicted it would sell: "It's a character people know, and it's like, a gag." I gotta listen to him more often. See this and other recent art on my you-don't-have-to-be-a-member-of-facebook facebook page. The link is up there in the right column also.

The piece at the very top of this entry was done for Yale Alumni Magazine, and it is about the psychology of witch hunts, and it is probably my favorite thing I did this year.

New Years Resolution: Spread out this content (God how I hate that word) over weekly installments instead of doing it all at once.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How 'Bout Some Illustration?

Yes, I do illustrations. I just end up thinking about lots of other things and probably a part of me wonders who wants to see my artwork anyway. So here is one. This was used in Yale Alumni Magazine and accompanied an article that presented the theory that the great thinkers of the Enlightenment were not necessarily the originators of revolutionary ideas, and that many of their ideas came from so-called common people. The great thinkers synthesized and codified these grassroots ideas. I like this theory.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A New World?

The morning after my son Jacob was born, I was walking through the crowded streets of Manhattan, looking at everyone and realizing that they didn't know the world was a fundamentally different place. Of course, that was only true for the very few people affected by this particular brand new human being, but for me it was a seismic shift. (Years later I read an old Kurt Vonnegut story that expresses the exact same scenario and feelings.) Then on September 11, 2001, and for weeks after, I felt that once again that the world was fundamentally changed. And now I am happy to report I feel this for the third time in my life. Several neighbors have told me it was my Barack-o-lantern that put him over the top. I don't know about that—New York is traditionally a blue state, and it was a rush job—but here it is.

Monday, October 27, 2008

I Heart Halloween

Yes, it's my favorite holiday. It's not even a real holiday--there is still mail delivery and banking. But it does offer the dual pleasures of being creative and seeing how others are creative. This weekend was the Pleasantville Ragamuffin Parade, where all the kids and a few brave adults show off their Halloween finest, in a kind of dry run for Halloween. Each year I am inspired by the variety of costumes on display. And of course the homemade ones are my favorites. This year my daughter Olivia is part of a group costume. Since all the major Candyland characters (Queen Frostine, Gramma Nutt, Mr. Mint, etc.) had already been claimed, she was asked to be the game board. 

This thrilled me as I am a big fan of inanimate objects as Halloween costumes. In the past I have dressed as the Empire State Building, a #2 pencil, and a bottle of Elmer's glue. So for Olivia I painted an old choir robe from a rummage sale, and my wife made earrings and did hair and makeup. The colored path wraps around to the back and theoretically could be used for actual game play, although the order of squares is wildly inaccurate.

I think everyone likes Candyland because it is the first board game we all play. So like Crayola Crayons or Grover, it provokes a happy memory. Also, it is about candy. Come to think of it, that's why I like Halloween so much. Candy.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

A Museum in Paris with no "art"

We went to England and Paris in August. My kids had never been overseas, and Kat and I hadn't been in fifteen years at least. None of us had ever been to Paris. I won't burden you with all our vacation pictures, so here are just a few from a museum I had never heard of. It was one of my favorite places in Paris.

This is a manhole cover outside the Musee de Arts et Metiers in Paris. He is winking because he probably looks up women's skirts all day.

Me in a space helmet. But not really IN the space helmet.

My son Jacob at the museum's Metro stop. It was all copper, and felt like we were inside Captain Nemo's Nautilus. The whole museum had a Jules Verne-meets-Dumbledore's office feeling.

Most of the objects in the museum had English captions, but not this flying machine. So I have no idea if it was ever flown (the propellers are giant feathers) or even intended to be flown (did I mention the giant feathers?). I loved how the hard science and the fanciful ideas were all in the same museum.

A lion and a serpent made entirely from glass (fiberglass fur and scales). My daughter Olivia is flesh and blood.

Cool clock that I imagine can send you back or forwards in time.

Spy cameras disguised as a gun and a book. Was there a time when a gun was seen as a lesser threat than a camera? "Drop the camera! Oh, never mind, it's only a gun."

A pair of zoetropes.

A phenakistoscope. Yes, I had to look it up.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Another link to love

The key to a successful blog is specialization. Focus on one thing obsessively and the audience knows what to look for. There is a blog devoted to photographs of the contents of pickup truck glove compartments. (No, I don't have the link.) There is a blog devoted to the interpersonal relationships among the X-Wing pilots during the attack on the Death Star. (Again, sorry.) 

My blog is not successful because I am unable to specialize. My brain is either a pinball or silly putty, going in all directions. See, I can't even settle on a metaphor. I take no comfort in the Robert Heinlein quote, "Specialization is for insects." Because, let's face it, insects are pretty darn successful on this planet.

I do have a link to my favorite hyper-specialized blog in all of webdom. Now known as "The Comics Curmudgeon" but originally called "I Read the Comics so You Don't Have To," it is the dream destination for anyone who doesn't find the daily newspaper comics that funny or entertaining, but is compelled to read them anyway. Josh reads them and then ridicules the art, or the stories, or the perceived perverted personalities portrayed within. For example, Josh presents the above panel as evidence of Rex Morgan, M.D.'s repressed sexuality. As with everything in that comic strip, the truth is maddeningly more banal. 

Josh is wicked smart (he was just on "Jeopardy" for God's sake) and funny. His love for all these strips is apparent, even if it is the love one might have for a three-legged dog. Think of his blog as "Mystery Science Theater," but for Blondie and Mark Trail.

My own personal story of the comics: 

I was a paperboy for the Des Moines Register (Sunday mornings) and Tribune (daily afternoons, even Saturday) for my entire adolescence. I obsessively read every strip in the morning and afternoon papers, except for the "soap opera" strips. They just seemed so boring. But I did notice that in the strip Judge Parker, there was never a judge. So I started reading it and sure enough, the title character never made an appearance. As a thirteen-year-old I realized that reading Judge Parker was even less cool than the other things I did (watching all the Planet of the Apes sequels, playing Dungeons and Dragons) so I never spoke about it. But I made a secret deal with myself that I would stop reading Judge Parker when the judge showed up. By the time I went off to college, he had never appeared. (Perhaps the judge made quick appearances while I was in South Dakota visiting my grandparents, whose newspapers featured rare treats like Henry and Mary Worth.) I admit that I got excited when Sam Driver spoke to the judge on the telephone once in those five years. 

Twenty years later I rediscover Judge Parker thanks to Josh. (It appears that about six months have transpired in the characters' lives since I stopped reading.) And the judge himself has appeared, several times! Apparently he was holed up writing pulp fiction:

One of Josh's readers wrote in responding to the term "Crime-Fighting Judge," and suggested a few other outrageous character ideas, like a disease-fighting nurse or a fire-fighting fireman. And the ridicule goes on.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Away From Home: for your viewing pleasure

Lots going on since my last entry. The Illustration Conference happened and it was a good time. Our movie was greeted with all we hoped it would be greeted with: laughter at the right moments, applause, and nobody got bored or antsy. Now from the comfort of your own laptop you can share the magic. Thanks to James Yang, the movie's producer and on-camera guide, for getting this movie posted. It is twenty-three minutes long and features seven illustrators talking about life abroad/in transit.

If you go to James's blog, keep in mind that he insists on calling the movie by the wrong title. He named it "Away from Home" even though I preferred a different title, and now he is calling it "Home and Away." It's like if I wanted to name my child Hector, but my wife wanted to name him Gerald, so I agreed, and then she couldn't stop calling him Bert.

James and other familiar faces showed up at my book-signing in Park Slope, so thanks to all who were there. My co-author got sole billing, but these things happen when you have a PhD. Doors are held open, people are nicer. It's probably a lot like being really good-looking.

The other big event that has happened is the death of my hard drive. It is still in the hospital having data rescued. Then I need to get a new hard drive. So I am a bit cranky.

The image that opens this post is one I did years ago for the NYTimes Book Review. It was never published, but not because it was rejected. I emailed it, and then went on vacation without confirming it got there. So I returned from vacation to several "where the hell is it?" messages. Someone else was hired to do a piece of art since I was out of contact. I felt terrible of course, and sent the art anyway with an explanation/apology. In typical terse Steven Heller style, I got an email in return:

No problem. Nice piece.

Now with remote access to email and cell phones and everything, this kind of thing doesn't happen. Well, almost never.

Monday, June 2, 2008

ICON is coming!

And Greg Nemec is feverishly finishing editing a video he is creating with James Yang. It is all about illustrators living in unexpected places, or somewhere far from either where they are from or where their clients are. The short film will be part of a long weekend of discussions, studio tours, and lots of other things. Illustrators or anyone into illustration can learn more about the conference and sign up here. Here is a still from our film's fantasy sequence. Oh yes, it has a fantasy sequence.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I don't know where they come from

People sometimes ask me how I get my ideas. I guess that is the most frequent question for most writers and visual artists. The answer seems evasive ("It depends.") but it is honest. You might as well ask how the human mind works. But I can tell you what I do with the idea once it is in my head. I refine it. And if I have time, I refine the refinement. Here is a piece I did recently for a magazine article about the mortgage mess. There are now lawsuits springing up against the "predatory" mortgage lenders who may have misled their customers. In this case, the idea came pretty much instantly from the word "predatory."

Here is the series of drawings that show the process the idea went through from "aha" to final artwork. This first one shows the idea being put on paper just to have a record of it.
The problem with this drawing is that it could be a housecat just passing by. I thought it would look better to have the predator really stalking its prey, and also changed to a higher point of view.
This sketch was good enough to add some quick color and submit to the client for approval. But I still wanted to make the predator more graceful and low to the ground. So I did a third sketch just for me.
I based the final art on this sketch. I still changed some things, like making the leading paw more enlarged, when I drew the final art. 

All the lines you see in the final art were done by scratching black and white lines on scratchboard. I then used Photosphop to turn them other colors. But that can be discussed another time.

Monday, April 28, 2008

shameless self promotion

Sorry it has been a while, but life has a way of taking over when one should really be blogging. 

I would like to take this opportunity to let everyone know that the website is live for the book I illustrated and cowrote, "The Official Guide to Dysfunctional Parenting."

The premise: a parenting advice book full of terrible advice. 

My co-author Fred is my wife's brother, who I have known since he was in high school. At the time I was an art school nerd from Des Moines and he was a skate punk from Queens. This is a book that Fred and I have been chewing on for over a decade. Since we started the idea, he has become a doctor in clinical psychology, gotten married, and had two kids. In that time my wife and I also have had two kids. Fred is no longer (at least visibly) a skate punk but I will always be a nerd from Des Moines. So anyway, we started as smartass twenty-somethings but did the bulk of the writing as older, wiser, hopefully funnier thirty- and forty-somethings. So far the response has been favorable from friends and friends of friends. Here is an illustration from inside. It is one of several "books" within the real book. The book cover designs were a satisfying part of writing the book as they are a truly collaborative melding of our ideas.

Saturday, March 1, 2008


The cashier at the supermarket today was a grandmotherly type with a "Jennifer" nametag. Now, if there is one name associated with my generation, it is Jennifer. Only a gen-Xer would write a song that begins "I went to school with 27 Jennifers." Ben Affleck has been involved with two Jennifers (that we know of). So I asked this white-haired woman if she was the only Jennifer she knew growing up. She said she was, having been born in 1945, until "Love Story" was published and there was an explosion of Jennifers. This led me to wonder: where do modern names originate? There were no Brandons or Madisons a hundred years ago, right? Well, a little research told me a few facts about Jennifer.

1. It was a rare name, then George Bernard Shaw named a character Jennifer in a 1906 play, which started its ascent in popularity.
2. It was already the number three name by the time the book and film "Love Story" appeared in 1969 and 1970. (That makes sense, since I was three at the time and was already surrounded by Jennifers.) "Love Story" is possibly the reason it shot to number one and stayed there until 1984.
3. Where did it originate? It's a variation on Guinevere. So like many things, it goes back to mythology or the Bible. And to all you Jennifers who think you have a common name: cheer up, it's royal!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

a guy making cool things

My friend John Bergin had a story to tell. It's called "From Inside" and it has had a few incarnations over more than a decade. It first appeared as a story in black and white in a 'zine (kids, ask your grandparents about 'zines). Then it was expanded into a big full color graphic novel. John is the kind of guy who wants to tell the story his own way, so when a producer offered to make it into an animated movie, John sat down and taught himself how to make an animated movie. And he and his computer basically didn't stop for two and a half years. Now he is in the final stages of the movie. He had some help from a few crucial people, but mostly it was a one-man operation. It is based on his artwork so closely (way more than Sin City or Beowulf or 300) that he rightly calls it an "illustrated movie."

Why tell you this? Mainly because it is so cool that he did it. But also because of my tangental connection. I am sure I wasn't the only one, but when I first saw the story in its embryonic 'zine form, I urged him to keep going with it. Make it bigger or longer or something. It was too good and too strong to just exist in a form that so few people would ever see. And I wanted to go deeper into the story too. Also, I kind of got to be in the graphic novel, and it looks like I made it into the movie too. Here is a still John posted on his movie-making blog:

This image is based on a photo of me from a long time ago, which John aged to make me look like a decrepit old religious nut. I am quite disturbed to see how much it actually looks like me now. It's like I am the Gertrude Stein to his Picasso.

Want to see more? Go here to see stills and the first three minutes of the movie. Remember, one guy did this.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Pardon me?

Here are two sketches I did last week for the NYTimes op ed page. The piece was about the number of requests for presidential pardons and the current administration's minimal effort when it comes to dealing with them. Art director Brian Rea provided the layout with the "hole" and I worked my sketches to fit.

Here is a detail of the final art, which appeared on Monday, Feb. 4. Click on the image to, like, WAY enlarge.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Stop the commotion with stop motion

Here's a movie we made when a few college friends got together recently. Shot in istopmotion, a really easy animation program to use, and edited in imovie. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Love that Filmspotting

Here are some icons I did (click to enlarge) for movie "awards" given out by my favorite podcast, Filmspotting. Two guys in Chicago reviewing new films, catching up on old films (hence the awards), and re-enacting (in their words, destroying) scenes from beloved screenplays in "Massacre Theater." Available for free on iTunes.

Who what the?

First post, just figuring it out like I'm Abraham Simpson.