Thursday, April 28, 2016

True grit

The new issue of The Atlantic is out, and features this piece of mine, for an article asking if "dogged, single-minded persistence" is always a good thing.


The article is centered around a forthcoming book by psychologist Angela Duckworth, titled Grit, where she argues that experiencing setback after setback can be beneficial in education as well as the professional realm. Overcoming these setbacks helps to strengthen one's resolve. And Duckworth found that some of the most successful people have gotten where they are due to their handling of setbacks and obstacles. This may seem self-evident, but the article questions, with the precarious nature of work these days, and how some industries appear and vanish with the trends, is it always a good idea to keep your nose to the grindstone? Is it sometimes better to give up, and try something else?


Thank you to Paul, my AD on this. Grab a copy and check out the story, or find it online here.



Friday, April 8, 2016

But I'm gonna try for the kingdom, if I can

 After working on a book review illustration for Denis Johnson's novel The Laughing Monsters, I sought out more of his work. I came across Jesus' Son, a collection of his short stories about addiction, hopelessness, despair, and redemption. Although they are separate stories, published previously in places like The New Yorker and Esquire and The Paris Review, they seem to work as one cohesive story. They are all narrated by what seems to be the same person, though it's never explicitly explained who, in what may or may not be chronological order. In many of the stories, the narrator's nickname is Fuckhead. I've made a mock cover for Johnson's novella Train Dreams, and what could be thought of as mock covers for some of David Foster Wallace's short stories, but with these I was picturing them more in their original form, in the magazines that first published them. As full pages, like the ones that accompany fiction in The New Yorker. If you haven't read any of these stories, first off: go get Jesus' Son, and read them! The whole book is 133 pages, it won't take long, and I assure you, you'll be glad you did. Second: these descriptions may contain spoilers, but that won't matter if you've heeded my first suggestion.



The first story in the collection, "Car Crash While Hitchhiking" finds the narrator seemingly at one of his lowest points. In a blur of alcohol, pills and hashish, he (yep, you guessed it) hitchhikes up the Mid-West in a series of vehicles manned by the suppliers of his booze and drugs. Along the way, on a highway in Missouri with a family that picked him up, he's involved in a head-on collision during a rainstorm. Oddly enough, he has foreseen this crash:
      I knew a certain Oldsmobile would stop for me even before it slowed, and by the sweet voices of the family inside it I knew we'd have an accident in the storm. 
     I didn't care. They said they'd take me all the way.
Perhaps numb from the drugs, in shock from the crash, or both, the narrator wanders around the scene surveying the damage. It's this point, the aftermath of the action, that I wanted to focus on for the design. The title of the story already says "Car Crash" so I didn't want to reiterate that visually. Besides, his thoughts and reactions are much more interesting. As he passes the other car, where a man is "flung halfway out the passenger door," he describes both the vehicle and dying man with the same detached dispassion. "Moving toward the other car I began to hear rasping, metallic snores." And "He was snoring loudly and rudely. His blood bubbled out of his mouth with every breath." He relays the story of the man, eventually dying on the way to the hospital, very matter-of-factly. When a stopped truck driver asks if everyone is dead, he replies: "I can't tell who is and who isn't." I wanted to show the tire severed and disembodied, like a limb or body part strewn from the crash. I imagined the narrator looking down at a body, and seeing or feeling little more than he would looking down at a broken wheel. I wanted the garish background color to refer to his fried senses. To give the feeling of being so stoned, you can focus on little more than one object at a time. This story is the first thing I had ever read of Johnson's, and it immediately got me hooked. Within the first page, I knew I was going to love these stories.



"Emergency" is a few stories later, and by now the narrator is working in an ER. Possibly in slightly better shape than "Car Crash," he's still strung out on pills, which he gets from his orderly friend Georgie. One night, a man named Terence Weber comes in with a large hunting knife sticking out of his eye. While the ER staff deliberates, Georgie, stoned and guileless, shows up to the parlay after prepping the man, with the knife in his hand. He had apparently removed it himself, without incident. The narrator then begins recounting when he and Georgie (after working two doubles with only eight hours in between) drove to the state fair, got lost, ran over and killed a pregnant mother jack rabbit but saved her babies, and got stranded in a sudden blizzard. I noticed throughout this whole story, how prominent the idea of sight is. Terrence Weber can still see out of the eye that's been stabbed, but his other eye is artificial, and obviously sightless. During the snow storm, the narrator calls out "Georgie, can you see?" To which he replies, "See what? See What?" They happen upon a drive-in theater, mistaking it for a cemetery because the speakers the narrator sees look like crosses at first. "I'm starting to get my eyes back," Georgie says, as the snow dies down. Getting back to Georgie's truck, he suggests they wait to drive home until it's late. With the headlights not working, under cover of darkness "We'll be invisible." After sleeping in the truck, and waking in the morning, the narrator seems to describe what could be a moment of clarity. "I felt the beauty of the morning. I could understand how a drowning man might suddenly feel a deep thirst being quenched." When designing this one, it worked out perfectly to show one of the rabbit's ears as an open eye. But the left ear is an eye too, albeit closed. It refers to one eye having sight, and one eye sightless (Terrence Weber). It can be two different people, one person sightless, and one having suddenly found sight (the narrator's epiphany). And it can represent one person, eyes closed and sightless at first, and then suddenly opening their eyes to something (again, the epiphany, or both characters, during and then after the blizzard).



"Dirty Wedding" immediately follows "Emergency." There is never any explicit note to suggest that these stories are supposed to be in chronological order. But if this story happened after the period described in "Emergency," with it's ambiguous, but seemingly hopeful end, the narrator seems to be back in a dark place, as often happens with addiction. He describes a time in his life when he was around twenty-five or twenty-six, and enjoyed riding the El train around town in Chicago. He has accompanied his girlfriend Michelle to an abortion clinic, but is asked to leave when, after the procedure, he callously asks her "What did they stick up you?" Retreating back to his solace in the train, he happens upon a girl nodding off, and follows her to a hotel where he can score some dope. I wanted to show the narrator as a moody, brooding young man. The shapes in the composition make up the windows, and lights of an El Train, and I wanted to use the destination sign for the title. The train, aside from being the setting for much of the story, is the sanctuary the narrator uses to avoid his responsibilities. He rides it away from the clinic, and the girlfriend he's upset and abandoned, but he admits: "I felt the cancelled life dreaming after me." It also transports him to his latest chance for oblivion, the Savoy Hotel, another sanctuary, and "a bad place" where he can get high, and escape even more. But the way he describes it, it sounds more like hell than a sanctuary. "Monsters were  dragging themselves up the stairs...There was a man with a tall black hat, a helmet of thick blond hair, and a sharp blond beard...Everything down there but the curtain was red." I liked the way the image ended up, with the narrator staring at the black space next to him, an emptiness that he's trying to get away from, but still follows him wherever he goes.



"Steady Hands at Seattle General" is the second-to-last story in Jesus' Son. Keeping with the pattern that I noticed, of the first stories exhibiting a dark bleakness, and the last stories (this one, and to a greater extent, the last story, "Beverly Home") showing more signs of hope and redemption, it differs markedly from "Car Crash" and even "Dirty Wedding." The narrator is now checked into a detox/rehab center. The drugs he's given to combat the withdrawal have him feeling well enough to shave himself, and his roommate, Bill, an older man who's been shot in the face two different times, by two different wives, and still bears the scars. This story is probably the funniest, alongside "Emergency." The narrator asks Bill to describe himself, as he is apparently feeling hopeful enough in his future that he plans to write about this episode.
     "Oh I don't know. I'm a fat piece of shit, I guess."
It's obvious that Bill doesn't share the narrator's more positive outlook. He finishes shaving Bill, and hands him a mirror.
     "What do you see?"
     "How did I get so fat, when I never eat?"
     "Is that all?"
     "Well, I don't know. I just got here."
     "What about your life."
     "Hah! That's a good one."
     "What about your past?"
     "What about it?"
     "When you look back, what do you see?"
     "Wrecked cars."
     "Any people in them?"
     "Yes."
     "Who?"
     "People who are just meat now, man."
The narrator holds up the mirror for Bill to assess his mustache, but it's also for him to evaluate himself on a deeper level. And Bill's cynical reply shows the stark contrast between their outlooks. His life, all his experiences, hopes, and dreams, boil down to nothing more than a series of wrecked cars. And the people he's known? They're nothing more than "meat" now. He's referring to others, but it's clear that's how he sees himself as well. Just a piece of meat, with nothing more to hope for or look forward to than the moment he's thrown into the grinder. The narrator tries to convince him otherwise.
     "Hey. You're doing fine."
     "Talk into here."
     "Talk into your bullet hole?"
     "Talk into my bullet hole. Tell me I'm fine."

As you can hopefully tell from these, I loved the stories in Jesus' Son, and enjoyed working on these immensely. These tales give a glimpse into lives that most of us will never know, without romanticizing. I've read a lot from Denis Johnson since first working on that review piece for The Laughing Monsters. He's one of my favorite authors, and Jesus' Son remains one of my favorite books.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

You can take the boy out of Montana...

I've been meaning to post this for a few days. A recent illustration for the NY Times Book Review, for Boris Fishman's new novel Don't Let My Baby Do Rodeo. The book centers on married couple Maya and Alex, immigrants from Ukraine and Belarus, respectively. Their son Max, who was adopted by the couple as a baby, begins to show strange, animal-like behavior. The three end up on a journey to Montana, Max's birthplace, to seek out the reason for his feral affectations.



Max isn't the only one with persistent bonds to his birthplace. As Cathleen Schine's review explains: "The Russian-speaking Jewish refugees (Maya and Alex, as well as Alex's parents)... have lost the Old Country twice, yet they are never quite free of it." I wanted to highlight the way that people remain connected to their origins. No matter where they end up, there often remains something to tether them to their beginnings. Read the review here, or better yet, get a copy of the book. Thank you to Matt Dorfman, my AD on this one!


Monday, March 21, 2016

Fresh 'n Green!

This half page I did for The Atlantic is out now. It concerns the potential for a deluge of marijuana ads on the scale of beer ads we experience currently, now that many states have legalized it, with many more possibly to follow. The article explains that due to farming advancements, growing the product has become cheaper, and it may soon become a commodity, complete with the marketing schemes of any other commodity.

Living in a state where recreational use is perfectly legal for adults 21 and up, I've already seen some of the products out there. From cheeba chews to sativa sarsaparilla, you can find just about any edible to suit your needs (or the oils and butters to make your own). Just waiting for the Super Bowl commercials to start hocking them...
Here's my issue:


You can read the article here. Thank you to Paul!

Friday, February 19, 2016

Food for thought

I just realized this is my first post of 2016. I've really been slacking at the blogging. Happy, uh, New... eh forget it. This one was for World Wildlife Magazine not too long ago. I just got the issues in the mail, so I figured I'd post while I have a minute. I worked with Pentagram, who art directs/designs the magazine. My piece accompanied an article about a recent simulation game on the future of food (in)security.


The game, called Food Chain Reaction: A Global Security Game, was hosted by WWF, the Center for American Progress, Cargill, and Mars, Inc. Based on the results of the game (which is constructed with real life events around the globe in mind, particularly climate events such as floods, droughts, etc.), future food crises are a very real threat unless people act now to mitigate them. As the article points out: "By 2050, the world's population will approach 10 billion people and the demand for food will double." A scary, scary thought. Whenever I hear about simulation games like this I think of the Eschaton in Infinite Jest. I don't think this game ended with participants beating each other senseless, or anyone's head stuck in a computer monitor, but it did show how dire the situation is.
And here's my issue:


Thank you so much to Carla, DJ, and Sarah!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

This is your brain on bugs

Slugbugs at least. Here's a new piece for the current issue of The Atlantic. It's for an article explaining the thought process behind the stupid (and sometimes evil) decisions companies make. Case in point: the Volkswagen emissions scandal.


Another example from the article is Ford, and the exploding Pintos fiasco of the 1970s. Despite evidence that the models were shown to have exploded when hit from behind (and burning the passengers alive), Ford refused to recall them. My original sketch had the phrenology regions resembling more of a Pinto shape, and flames instead of exhaust, but since the headline references VW, we went with the Beetle instead.


Check out the issue. Thank you to my AD for this, Paul!

Monday, December 21, 2015

He's seen the needle and the damage done.

This piece of mine ran in last Friday's Boston Globe. It accompanied an Op-Ed by Steve Tompkins, the Sheriff of Suffolk County (which includes Boston, Chelsea, Winthrop and Revere). He advocates for more and better drug addiction treatment and recovery programs, recognizing that the county jails are often the only means of obtaining any sort of treatment for individuals that cannot afford treatment programs outside of law enforcement.  As he states in the op-ed: "...our fellow citizens should not have to go to jail in order to receive treatment."


He and the Sheriff's Department propose things like expanding detox centers, giving medically-assisted substance abuse treatment to inmates in county jails, and more. Read his op-ed here.
Here's a close-up of the piece:


Thank you to Nathan, my AD!

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Friends, Romans, Countrymen

I've been meaning to post this for a little while- it's a piece for the December issue of The Atlantic. The article is a review of the Mary Beard book SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome. As the review explains, the book details just how important the idea of citizenship was to the empire. As opposed to the way many nations today make becoming a citizen a daunting process, the Romans expanded citizenship across the empire, to the peoples not only not living in Rome, but who might not even speak Latin.



Absorbing the villages and tribes they conquered, instead of completely razing and destroying them, strengthened the empire. By making these conquered peoples Roman citizens, they expanded their territory, their tax base, and the pool from which they could draw more soldiers.
The full page:


Pick up a copy of The Atlantic, and check out the article. And then pick up Beard's book, SPQR, if you're a history buff. Thank you to Kara, my AD on this!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Priests on film

This full-pager ran in the L.A. Times Envelope section about a week or so back. It focuses on how priests and the catholic church are depicted in movies, and how the portrayals have shifted over time. From the positive and complimentary films of the 40s and 50s (think The Bells of St. Mary's), to the more scathing critiques of today (like Spotlight).


Thank you to my AD, the awesome Wes Bausmith! Read the article here.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Tangled up in Blue Cross

This piece I just finished for The New Yorker site is up now. It's for a three-part story on the confusion, complexities and problems in the health care industry, and maybe a few solutions, as millions of Americans prepare to choose insurance plans next month:


Thinking about trying to find another health insurance policy, or even dealing with any insurance company in any capacity, makes my eyes go crossed, and my brain go numb. But this piece was fun to work on! My first one for The New Yorker! Thank you to Chris!

Also check out part two and three of the article.


Thursday, October 15, 2015

C is for Conglomerate

This was a quick piece for the November issue of The Atlantic that accompanies an article on the new parent company of Google: Alphabet. The piece explains how Alphabet is striving to be a modern-day conglomerate- that hodgepodge of varying operations that were so popular in the sixties, but aside from GE, are hard to find nowadays. Will it work out? Only time will tell.



Being that it's Google's new parent company, I thought it made sense to use a bunch of web windows forming a "conglomeration," if you will, that makes the "A" in Alphabet's logo. And here's the page:


Thank you to Kara, my AD! I'll have another piece I just finished up in the December issue of The Atlantic that I'll post when it's out. Same bat time...same bat channel.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Compliments of PRINT

I just received my copy of the Fall issue of PRINT, where I have an illustration for the Rick Poyner article. It's about how internet culture has affected our language, how we read and write, and design in general. People have grown accustomed to having information broken into tiny little pieces for them by the internet. It's much quicker and easier to click a thumb or text an LOL than articulate an actual thought. Sound bites and catchphrases reign supreme, while more lengthy, nuanced views are deemed too long and time-consuming. This has implications far beyond design, but it affects our industry in particular when designers don't read about design. Poyner argues that this prevents deeper understanding of, and critical thinking about design.


I wanted to show how content is reduced down to trivial little bits. How something detailed and weighty, like an opinion or review of something, can be turned into an almost meaningless shorthand like a thumbs up, or ; ) . This web tab shredding what looks to be a (design?) magazine, and translating it into the common digital glyphs that stand in for what sometimes ought to be a much more complex expression, worked out well. And yep, that's first grader Justin Renteria's Yale Elementary yearbook picture in that article (I modified an existing magazine spread for this fictional one- from the article headline to the images- so as not to infringe on anything).


Here's a crappy pic of my issue that came in the mail the other day:


Thanks very much to my AD, Adam!

A papal piece post

Trying to catch up on posting a few things. Here's a somewhat recent piece I did for the Boston Globe Op-Ed section. This was about Pope Francis' upcoming (at the time it was published) visit, and how he differs from Popes of the recent past:


My immediate, and ultimately most successful idea was to show the three previous Popes' hand blessing someone/making the sign of the cross. But Francis' would be making a heart shape. It came from focusing on the following passage from Mary Gordon's piece: "The most important thing about him is that he is a man of compassion. He wants people to understand that God is a God of love and not judgment..."

Thank you to Nathan Estep, AD!

Friday, August 21, 2015

Covering Oblivion

Yes, it's that time again, folks. More mock covers! This time I did something a little different. I made covers for short stories, choosing from the ones collected in the late, great David Foster Wallace's Oblivion. His earlier work Infinite Jest is one of my all-time favorite books, but I wasn't about to take that cover on just yet, so I decided that doing covers for his stories would be fun, and there are plenty to choose from. I've done something like this before with Vonnegut's short stories, namely "Fortitude." Making covers for my favorite stories and novels is my favorite personal work to do. With these, I wanted the covers to all have their own distinct feel, albeit with common stylistic veins running through.



For all four of these, I'll go through the plot/s of the stories, and my reasons for doing what I did in the covers. Explaining things sort of takes the magic out of everything. It's more fun to read the stories, and hopefully make those connections, and say to yourself "ah, I get it!" But for those who want to know right now, here it goes. If you haven't read any of them, and want to, I'll try to avoid spoilers, but I definitely can't promise anything, so be forewarned.


"Oblivion"
Not just the title of the collection, but also a story inside, "Oblivion" unfolds as a tale of a marriage under tremendous strain, after Randall Napier's step-daughter Audrey has moved away for college. Randall explains the cause of the problems: His wife Hope has been accusing him of loudly snoring and keeping her awake, despite Randall's insistence that he is still awake when Hope sits up in bed to scream at him about the supposed snoring. This sort of back and forth bickering might make for an amusing narrative of a middle-aged couple dealing with the absence of their daughter, until Randall starts relaying the hallucinations he's experiencing. Soon the picture becomes a little clearer why Hope insisted that her daughter Audrey attend college out of state. If there are going to be any spoilers in this description, they'll come in at this point. We soon get a sense of something disturbing going on underneath Randall's story, as the allusions to some kind of sexual predation build up.

As far as my reasoning for the cover illustration, at one point Randall describes a hallucination: he imagines Audrey's breasts moving up and down like pistons, and her head 'surrounded by a halo or, as it were, "nimbus" of animated Disney characters.' In the illustration the characters are morphed into some hideous amalgamation, doing exactly what isn't completely clear, but certainly sinister. I felt it would be a good way to depict the monstrous undertones of Randall's seemingly innocent story.


"Mister Squishy"
This story was one of my favorites in Oblivion. It takes place during a focus group for a sinfully chocolatey new product from the Mister Squishy brand of snack foods. Reading with the dry, mathematical precision of market research, the story details how Terry Schmidt, the facilitator of the focus group for the Reese Shannon Belt Advertising Agency, conducts the group with the ease of a seasoned pro, fantasizes about a married co-worker, and imagines his own face physically transforming into the crudely drawn, but loveable, smiling icon of the Mister Squishy brand (now one of the most recognizable corporate mascots in the country). He also spends his time at home cultivating botulism, and synthesizing ricin, which he plans to inject- or possibly already has?- into the new snack cakes his company is performing market research on. I think this one is a little more self-explanatory. The theme of hiding behind some sort of mask or veneer is repeated throughout the story. The employees at the ad agency all seem to be two-faced careerists. Companies' use of marketing and packaging hides what is essentially nutritionless junk food, along with the added fact that these particular sweet snacks may now be hiding deadly poison. Then there's also the man climbing up the outside of the building, wearing some sort of inflatable mask, and carrying what may or may not be a high-powered rifle.


"The Suffering Channel"
This one begins with Skip Atwater, editor at Style Magazine, chasing a story about a man who makes exquisite sculptures of his shit. He doesn’t carve or mold them- these “miraculous poos” come out fully formed. But how to publish a story like this in a magazine like Style? The solution comes with the involvement of the subject of a previous story of Skip’s: a reclusive media mogul whose secret dream is starting a cable channel that broadcasts celebrities’ bowel movements. With this cover, I wanted to reference the themes on celebrity culture, fame, and art. Is it worth exposing our most private, intimate selves for a little exposure and fame? Turning your bowel movements into entertainment is something we may not be that far off from, as Wallace makes clear when the story lists some other examples of reality t.v. Another point in the story stuck out to me when making this. Two interns at Style discussing how saliva and excrement is not really gross until it comes out of us. 

"'It's maybe the same way we don't think about our organs, our livers and intestines. They're inside all of us-'
'They are us. Who can live without intestines?'
'But we still don't want to see them. If we see them, they're automatically disgusting.'"

The repeated image at the bottom of the cover was my way of paying homage to the way I used to watch t.v. With bad reception, floating screens, and bad static when an appliance like the vacuum was plugged in, before the ubiquity of cable, and the increasing importance of entertainment along with better technology made that experience a thing of the past.


"The Soul Is Not A Smithy"
The entirety of this story is the narrator's explanation of how his fourth grade civics classroom, complete with a chronological series of U.S. Presidents, copies of From Sea to Shining Sea, and handheld flags, was transformed into the scene of a traumatizing hostage situation. While substitute teacher Richard A. Johnson is lecturing at the front of the class, the narrator daydreams of a complex storyline involving a blind girl named Ruth Simmons, and her little dog Cuffie. However, while the narrator’s imagination runs wild, the substitute, who has apparently had a sudden psychotic break, begins scrawling the words “KILL THEM ALL” on the chalkboard, and emitting a terrifying, high-pitched moan. Although unbeknownst to the narrator, these events seem to subconsciously affect him, as his daydream is horribly deformed, and events take a gruesome turn in Ruth and Cuffie’s narrative as well. I think this cover is fairly straightforward too. Since the story takes place in civics class, I thought it would be fun to make that connection with George's visage. I imagined the narrator as a young boy, sitting in class trying to pay attention, but the topic at hand is slowly transforming into something else as he daydreams. And due to the frightening events going on around him, it's something disturbing, and potentially dangerous.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Head over heels for The Atlantic

I've been looking forward to posting about this for a while now, but have been pretty busy. I have a piece in the current issue of The Atlantic (the September issue), for Caleb Crain's book review of Jonathan Franzen's new novel, Purity. I always love doing book review illustrations, and the fact that it was for the work of such a talented writer was the cherry on top.




 I'm not going to go into a long description of the plot- you can pick up a copy and read the review, or better yet, the actual book- but suffice to say it revolves around a 23 year-old woman named Purity, or Pip for short. Pip doesn't know much about where she comes from: who her father is, or even her mother's real name. In order to find out who she is, she gets involved with a clearinghouse for internet leaks, thinking that the web must surely have some answers. It's on this journey of self-discovery that she apparently runs into trouble. As Crain explains, "Franzen has always been fond of putting his characters into a psychic distress so disorienting that they make decisions that topple them into even greater psychic distress." There are multiple mentions in the review of characters seeming to "fall" or "topple" into these situations, and continuing to plunge, "like Wile E. Coyote ricocheting down the sides of a canyon..." I felt that showing the character in some phase of tumbling was the way to go, and the AD agreed.

I also made a wider version for the website, which is also how it's displayed on my site:


This was a lot of fun to work on. Thanks so much to Lauren!