Cartooning & Comic Art
Artist Dies of Exposure: Tim Kreider on Working for Free
Posted by Rebecca Blake on November 10, 2013
This October cartoonist and writer Tim Kreider had a particularly galling week, in which he received no less than three requests for his services, for free – in exchange for “exposure.” The experience drove him to issue a manifesto via The New York Times Op-Ed page, in which he calls upon his younger colleagues to not give away their work. In fairness, Kreider admits that many of the requests come from struggling organizations or publishers. But in his article, "Slaves of the Internet, Unite!" he accurately describes a cultural shift which has occurred, in which creative work has been devalued and demoted to “content”, and in which the ease of digitizing and accessing that work via the Internet has lead to stagnant income increases.
Kreider concludes his article by pointing out that businesses wouldn’t keep making the “free work for exposure” pitch unless it worked on somebody. In response he offers a bit of writing he’s willing to donate: a template for a polite refusal to send in answer to the next request for free labor.
Tim Kreider splits his time between New York City and the Chesapeake Bay. He is the author of We Learn Nothing: Essays and Cartoons (Simon & Schuster), and his cartoons have been collected in three volumes by Fantagraphics. He is a contributor to numerous publications, including The New York Times, The New Yorker, and Men’s Journal. He is also the creator of the cartoon, The Pain–When Will It End?, which appeared in the Baltiimore Sun from 2000-2012.
Image © Tim Kreider
Road Trip! The Journey Behind the Cover Art for the Handbook’s 14th Edition
Posted by Rebecca Blake on September 25, 2013
So what do Mr. Dill, a burnt draft card, a hula doll, and a wooden nickel have to do with pricing guidelines? These are some of the characters making an appearance in José Cruz’s cover art for the 14th edition of The Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines. Depicting the view from the driver’s seat on a long road journey, his illustration is an exhuberant, I-Spy mélange of detail. Look closely; the cover tells a tale.
Right click onto the cover image to pull up a large version. © Jose Cruz
Cruz had long been familiar with the Guild’s Handbook, having used it when he started his freelance design career in 1977. He was recommended by Michael Doret to create the latest cover art. (Doret is the husband of Laura Lynn Smith, the illustrator of the 13th edition, and is the designer of the Graphic Artists Guild’s logo.) Inspired by two of Cruz’s published works – “Mars vs. Earth” (Workman Publishing), and the serial illustration, “13 Bullets for Sam Spade” -- the Handbook’s art director, Sara Love, suggested a roadtrip as a concept for the cover art. The concept is apropos for the Handbook, implying that the book functions as a road map for planning a successful creative career.
Below: An early sketch for the cover art. © Jose Cruz
The resulting artwork tells the story of a long, adventurous cross country road trip. Clues to the identity of the driver (Joseph Cross, Cruz’s alter ego), time period, and location stud the illustration. A partially burnt draft card, with a registration date of 1964, places him squarely in the 1960s. The arrow-straight highway, with mountains looming in the distance and coyotes lurking at the side of the road, put the car in the southwest. A baseball card for a Yonkers player tells of the driver’s New York City origins, while the Bay State engraving on the car key, tickets from the Indiana State Fair, and trolley tokens from San Francisco hint at the driver’s circuitous route west. The journey is portrayed in the placement of the artwork, with the front cover depicting where the driver is going, and the back cover is the view through the side window, showing where he’s been. The glowing sky appearing over the horizon line hints at the unknown future.
The artwork also depicts the artist’s own creative journey. Homages to Cruz’s creative influences from his early career sprinkle the illustration. The fly perched on the steering wheel is a representation of an image by iconic album artist Charlie White III, one of Cruz’s first inspirations. A subtle reference to Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, and Pushpin Studios (hidden in a Gold Star trading stamp) acknowledges their support of at the start of his career. (Pushpin & Associates represented Cruz in the 1980s and Milton Glaser provided encouragement and exposure.) Even Cruz’s daughter Jo-X Rae and close friends, Daniel Pelavin and Michael Doret, make an appearance on the label of a 45 rpm record.
Cruz also skillfully places the Handbook and the Guild as central to the artist’s creative journey. The title of the book is framed in the steering wheel and dashboard, with the Guild logo functioning as a compass. (There’s also an homage to graphics software programs embedded in the steering wheel; familiar icons for pointers, cropping, and other tools appear to be engraved in the central column.) On the cover back, the description of the Handbook appears as the text on an actual roadmap.
The illustration is a showpiece for Cruz’s skill, and reflects his philosophy of “less is more and more is less, more or less.” His work ranges from the deceptively simple (such as his Simpletons), to the lushly complex. Working digitally permits him to construct layers of simple objects, creating complex, rich images. For the Handbook illustration, Jose researched source materials extensively, so that the details (such as “atomic” paddle ball souvenir) fit with the 1960s timeframe. The artwork also reflects Cruz’s artistic influences: the art deco styling of Joseph Binder and A.M. Cassandre, the geometric artwork of graphic designer George Hardie, the designs of the English artists Bush Hollyhead and Mick Haggerty, the lushness of Charlie White III’s illustration, and the beautiful typography of Michael Doret and Daniel Pelavin.
A nationally recognized illustrator with an impressive list of clients, Jose attributes his success to a lot of hard work – entering illustration annuals, and hauling his portfolio from meeting after meeting with art directors. He received his early art education at the Dallas Skyline High School from Bud “Norton” Hemedinger, a former NASA employee who taught commercial art, and from his TCU teachers graphic designer Margie Adkins, and illustrator Don Ivan Punchatz. Cruz's first job was working for Punchatz at The Sketchpad Studio, a realistic fantasy-art shop. However, upon seeing the geometric artwork of George Hardie and Mick Haggerty, Cruz changed his style.
From that point, he began as a freelance illustrator, building in the 1980s and developing relationships with then prominent art directors such as Judy Garlan from The Atlantic, Fred Woodward from D Magazine and The Rolling Stone, Dan Lloyd Taylor from Money Magazine, Mitch Shostak at BusinessWeek, Milton Glaser, James Noel Smith from both the Dallas Morning News and the Times Herald, and Stan McCray from Houston City and Boston Magazine.
All images © Jose Cruz. www.x-factor-e.com/home.html
Comic Art, Clandestine Operations, and the High Cost of College Tuition
Posted by Rebecca Blake on August 27, 2013
An auction of comic book art held in early August featured two works which played a role in the event which inspired the movie, Argo. The artwork was created by iconic comic book artist, Jack Kirby, the co-creator of Captain America, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four, and the Hulk. After a long and prolific career at DC and Marvel Comics, Kirby left publishing to work in animation, creating storyboards and animation art. In 1979, he was hired by producer and visionary, Barry Ira Geller, to create storyboards for the film adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s scifi-fantasy book, The Lord of Light. Geller’s vision included a theme park, Science Fiction Land, for which Kirby created architectural renderings.
The movie and them park were never produced; under allegations of embezzlement on the part of Geller’s assistant producer, the entire operation was shut down. The project materials, however, were resurrected when CIA operative Tony Mendez contacted Geller’s make-up artist with a request for a suitable film project which would provide a cover story for a clandestine operation in Iran. The agency needed a film project to provide a cover story for a rescue operation of six Americans hiding in the Canadian embassy during the Iran hostage crisis. The script and Kirby’s illustrations for the Lord of Light – renamed “Argo” for the operation – were used as props. Iraninan authorities bought the ruse, and the Americans were successfully smuggled out.
Geller was kept in the dark about the operation and the role Kirby’s artwork played. In 1993, with Kirby’s permission, he sold the drawings at a Sotheby’s auction (ostensibly to pay for his son’s college education). Two of the drawings were snapped up by a young comic book artist and publisher, Jim Lee. A fan of Kirby’s work — Jim Lee had started his career at Marvel Comics, where he worked on the revamp of X-Men — Lee snapped up the works without knowing the back story. When the tale behind the operation became public knowledge, Lee (now a co-publisher at DC Comics) realized the value of the work and put it up for auction — also to meet his children’s college costs. The artwork was auctioned off August 2 for purported total of $41,000.
While Geller wishes he had known the role Kirby’s artwork played in the rescue operation (and its true value) at the time he sold it, he remains upbeat about the publicity. As he reported to Wired Magazine, “I’m very, very happy, in fact, to see it in auction because anything that further brings notice and credit to Jack Kirby and his life is important to have.” The full story of the operation was covered in an extensive Wired article in 2007. In November of 2012, a documentary on the Argo backstory, “Science Fiction Land”, received full backing as a Kickstarter project and is now in post-production.
Above right and below: Two stills from the documentary, "Science Fiction Land", showing Jack Kirby's renderings for the theme park. Copyright © 2012 Flatbush Pictures | Brooklyn Film Networks, Inc.
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