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!
 

Monday, July 27, 2015

Eraserhead

In heaven, everything is fine. This here piece was out in the Sunday Boston Globe a couple weeks back. It's for the review of the new Jesse Ball book, "A Cure For Suicide." Not quite a dystopian novel, but the story features a society that is definitely alien to us. War and prisons have been eradicated, but suicide still persists. The society's answer is a process that completely erases the suicidal's memory. Not just the memories that involve the reasons for the individual wanting to take his/her life, but clears the whole slate. Much like a baby, the individual must then re-learn how to talk, eat, and function as a person.



And here's the page from the Sunday Globe:


 
Thank you to Greg, my AD on this!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Spread 'em!

I finished this multi-page project for USC Dornsife Magazine a few weeks back, for a story on Hollywood breaking into the Chinese movie market:


The image above was the opening spread for the article. In case you can't quite make out the copy, the deck reads:
As domestic box office returns plateau, Hollywood is setting its sights on China- the second largest film market in the world. USC Dornsife professors Stanley Rosen and Brian Bernards explain what it will take for the U.S. film industry to break into China's notoriously complicated movie market.

The assignment also called for a second, full-page illustration for the following spread:


Although there were only two illustrations needed, another one of my sketches was so well received, they decided to feature it as well. Ultimately there wasn't enough room to include the third image in the magazine, however, it is featured on the website. Here's that illustration:


One of the stipulations the Chinese government requires for importing American movies, is that a certain percentage have to be 3D movies. It's one of the reasons the 3D glasses worked so well in the illustrations. Check out the article, it's very interesting. You can download and read a PDF of the whole magazine on the website here. Thank you so much to Dan Knapp, art director on this one!


Wednesday, June 17, 2015

In the joint for a joint

When I was in art school, during my senior year, I would always use articles from Mother Jones magazine for my editorial illustration assignments. From essays on the Crips/Bloods truce in L.A. to Zimbabwean migrants, to child exploitation in Cambodia, I always found great reporting on hard-hitting topics in this publication. Exactly the kind of assignments I was hoping to get once I graduated. I'd been looking forward to a chance to work with Mother Jones since then, and a few weeks ago it finally happened.


 I got the email from Ivy Simones, the AD, while in a pet store looking for a replacement fish, after our daughter's beta, Fang, had passed. The story was on people serving life sentences for marijuana, despite the fact that states around the U.S. are decriminalizing and legalizing it (being in CO, I could even drive over to a nearby shop and buy fresh buds, canabis-candies, wax, and even fruit drinks, all legally, and in quantities far exceeding what many people are serving decades in prison for). I was supremely excited to get the assignment.

At first, one of my sketches using joints in a baggy to begin a lengthy procession of tally marks, signifying years spent in a cell, was chosen for the final illustration. However, it was decided that my sketch with a pot leaf cobweb (or "cobweed," as Ivy termed it) would work even better.

 The final:


Thank you so much to Ivy, a very talented AD I've worked with since soon after graduating, when she was at Miami New Times, and continued to have the pleasure of working with through her subsequent posts at the Village Voice, and New York Observer. Go pick up a copy and check out all the great stories. Coming soon: a multi-page project for USC Dornsife Magazine.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

What's in the box?!

This piece I did for our local monthly mag 5280 is out now. The article provides a list of six local companies that deliver goods by box, right to your door: from organic produce, to recipes and necessary ingredients, to healthy snacks for active lifestyles. There's even one that caters to the nerd in you, that delivers boxes filled with t-shirts, figurines, and even Pez dispensers, all based on comics, Star Wars, video games and various other geeky subjects. They basically just wanted a collage of an artisanal type box, with the featured product offerings inside:




Here's my copy, above. Thank you so much to Sean, who art directed this one!

Monday, April 6, 2015

Selected for your pleasure: AI 34

I found out last Friday that a piece I had submitted to the American Illustration show was selected for publication in the book! My mock book cover for Chuck Palahniuk's Choke will be published in the 34th American Illustration annual.


 The last time I submitted, two pieces from my Loteria series were accepted into the permanent online collection, but this will be my first time appearing in the book. I feel extremely lucky and honored to be recognized by American illustration. There were only 376 images selected to be published in the book, out of 9,175 pieces submitted to the competition. Can't wait to see all the great work that made it in!

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Society for News Design 2015

I'm pleased to report that I received an Award of Excellence from the Society for News Design, for a recent piece for the Los Angeles Times. My AD Wes notified me last week that my illustration for the article "The NFL's willful ignorance" was given the award:


I'm very honored to be given this recognition by SND. And a big thank you to Wes, who was an immense help while working on this assignment!

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Ctrl+Alt+Duck and Cover

I was super excited to hear from Scientific American recently, I client I hadn't yet worked for. I've always been really into science, especially biology, anatomy, and paleontology, and enjoy reading periodicals such as Scientific American, and so was thrilled for a chance to contribute to the magazine. The story, titled "How to Survive Cyberwar," was on the ever-present threat of attack in cyberspace. From credit cards and personal info, to government infrastructure, nearly everything is connected to the internet in some way, and therefore at risk, according to the article. While reading the brief, I was reminded of the "ever-present threat of attack" during the Cold War. I decided to gear a few of my sketches toward the idea of paying homage/parodying the old "duck and cover" campaigns from the 50s. The AD liked the idea, and I ended up with this:




Check out the issue, which also includes a cool article on "Extreme Evolution" of cichlid fishes, illustrated by the great Jack Unruh. A big thank you to my AD, Jason!

Monday, February 23, 2015

(Censored) up beyond all recognition

This illustration for The Chronicle of Higher Education is running in the current issue. It accompanies an essay by an associate professor from Virginia Commonwealth University relaying his experience attempting to teach some journalism classes at Northeast Normal University in China. As the professor soon came to realize, it's fairly difficult to teach about press freedom in a country that doesn't have much. Along with the concept of "press freedom," there were several other taboo subjects that he was warned to shy away from: one of them being the Tiananmen Square Massacre.


Many of his students were unaware of the demonstration/massacre, even as they were approaching its 25th anniversary, due to the fact that the Chinese government has made sure to stifle public discussion of the event. I decided to use a heavily redacted text in the shape of a tank, along with an image of the famous "Tank Man" in front of it. It also helped to signify the fact that the professor was standing up to government censorship. He was able to use leaked diplomatic cables made public by Chelsea Manning and Wikileaks to have his students learn about Tiananmen, from U.S. State Dept cables that discuss the issue (apparently using a source that the U.S. government opposes, made it tolerable to Chinese authorities?). I was struck by the irony of a story criticizing China for quashing press freedom, discussing the use of leaked cables provided by Manning, who is now in prison in the U.S. for something that the press in this country has benefited so much from.
Thank you to Janeen, my AD on this one!

Monday, February 2, 2015

In Putin's Russia, stock market crashes YOU

Here's another book review illustration, this time on Bill Browder's Red Notice. It ran in this past weekend's Sunday Globe.


The book is the true story of Browder's experiences in Russia, after renouncing his American citizenship and traveling to Eastern Europe and Russia after the Berlin Wall fell, and once public (state-owned) services, infrastructure, and resources were being gobbled up by oligarchs, creating a huge windfall of moolah for a select few. Luckily for Browder, he was able to take advantage of some of this free-market frenzy, and after starting Hermitage Capital, rode the tumultuous wave of the stock market in Moscow, starting with $25 million, climbing to $1 billion, crashing a couple times, and ending back on top with $4.5 billion. But so this is where the story gets interesting, as Browder is detained, expelled from Russia, and basically stripped of his own company, apparently at the behest of Vladimir Putin himself. He's even convicted in absentia of tax evasion. When he tries to fight back, his tax lawyer Sergei Magnitsky is arrested, and later found beaten to death in his cell. The book is billed as a high-drama story of the ruthless corruption present in Putin's Russia, as well as Browder's crusade for justice- not only for the financial persecution he suffered, but for Magnitsky's murder as well. 


My sketches started off with fairly straight forward portraits of Putin, but I tried playing with a fever chart, and noticed how a couple crashes in the market could easily become bloody fangs on the ex-KGB man. Thank you to my AD, Kim! Here's the review.

Cupid, upload your bow

With apologies to Sam Cooke. This piece for the LA Times was actually finished up a couple weeks ago, but it just ran in the Sunday LA Affairs section yesterday. It's for an essay describing the relationship a man had with a woman he met through Twitter. They exchanged various communiques via social networks online, and grew fairly close. However, after they met in person and went on a few dates, the relationship soon fizzled out.


I've heard hundreds of anecdotes about people meeting online, and falling in love, but I thought this essay was really interesting in that it gave an example of when love over the internet doesn't work out. I thought of this concept of a digital cupid sheepishly picking up his cursor/arrows that failed to hit their mark. I also had another sketch that I think would have worked well:


A bouquet of wilted thumbs-up flowers, showing that a relationship based solely on "likes" and whatnot will eventually fade and wither. Thank you to Wes, my AD on this!

My friend Jake, who I went to art school with and now resides in L.A.,  sent me a pic of my piece in the Sunday paper. Thanks, Buddy!




Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Long-distance runaround

I received a copy of Fast Company that I did a little piece for, from my AD Alice. The article was about telecommuting- working anywhere from down the street from your employer, to the other side of the world. Something that most of us illustrators are fairly familiar with.




The piece consists of advice to both employers and workers. Like most relationships, communication is key. Instead of trying to focus on one or more of the tips, I wanted to show the general idea of communicating across long distances. I thought of those setups in offices that shows multiple time zones on clocks. How about the clocks are talking to each other? Here's a shot from my copy:


Thank you to Alice for this one!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Train Dreams

I recently worked on a book review for The Laughing Monsters, by Denis Johnson. The description of the book sounded so interesting, I decided to look for the novel to read for myself. I couldn't find it while I was at the bookstore, but did find some more of Denis Johnson's work: Train Dreams. Spoiler alert: The following contains detailed descriptions that may spoil certain portions of the book. I'd recommend reading it first, and then proceeding... Anyway, it's a novella, not even 120 pages long, and so was a quick, but extremely pleasurable read. It follows the life of Robert Granier, a simple laborer in the Pacific Northwest, living through the first sixty-something years of the 20th century. The story doesn't progress in chronological order, it skips around to various times in Robert's life, from his thirties, to the end of his life, to his childhood, back to his thirties, and so on. He experiences his share of hardship and tragedy (he loses his wife and baby daughter to a forest fire), but also the events that shaped the country- the invention of the automobile, the development of flight, television, Elvis Presley, etc.


So after reading the book, I decided to try my hand at a mock cover for it. Although the story is about not only Robert Granier, but America in general, and how the rugged, pioneering spirit of this country entered the 20th century, it's constructed like a portrait of this one man. I decided to feature a profile of a man that could be Granier, but combined it with an impression of a cross section of a tree. There were a couple reasons for doing this. First: Granier is a laborer working on various jobs around the forests of the Idaho panhandle, clearing timber for a railroad company for a time. Some time after the death of his family in the fire, he rebuilds his cabin, secluded in the woods, and spends the remainder of his life in that cabin, essentially a hermit. The setting is a very important part of the story, and trees in particular caught my attention. They are anthropomorphized in a few instances: "the trees themselves were killers," or "It was only when you left it alone that a tree might treat you as a friend. After the blade bit in, you had yourself a war." Though not explicitly compared to a tree, Granier is described at one point "amid a crowd of people pretty much like himself-his people, the hard people of the northwestern mountains..."  I thought using the analogy was apt. The second reason: I was reminded of cross sections of trees where various events in history are marked on the tree rings when they occurred. There's a giant cross section of, I believe, a redwood in the Denver Museum of Nature and Science, that lists various historical events on its rings, going back hundreds of years. This story unfolds almost like someone skipping around on a timeline, and explaining what happened to Robert at that particular point, not to mention a virtual history of America itself, during a period of intense transformation. The rings in the profile of Granier could represent memories from his life, specific events that could be pointed out, as the book does.

I enjoyed Train Dreams so much, I later bought Jesus' Son, a collection of stories, and Tree of Smoke, for which Johnson won a National Book Award. I loved each of these stories immensely, and I'm looking forward to the next work of Johnson's I get the chance to read.

Walk this way

Here are a couple spots I did for the New York Times, the Jane Brody column in particular. The first was for the column that ran about a week back, and focused on warning older pedestrians of the dangers of crossing the street, especially in a busy city like NYC. Senior citizens make up a disproportionate number of those hit by cars while crossing the street.


The second column, for this week, focuses on how we can all make streets safer for pedestrians. And it's not just pedestrians and drivers that bear responsibility, but the people that design our streets too.


 Many thanks to Peter, my AD on these!