For my PBS MediaShift piece this week, I profiled several entrepreneurial web comic artists, trying to determine whether newspaper cartoonists could emulate them.
Archive for the 'art' Category
“To Simponize someone,” — that is, to take a person or character and depict it as a character from the television show The Simpsons — “you have to remember that they have an overbite, they have bright yellow skin, if they’re caucasian of course. No chin, and just kind of a simple fun look, and they’re usually very bright and colorful and wacky and crazy.”
And they have to have only four fingers, of course.
Dean Fraser, a 29-year-old freelance graphic artist from Alberta, Canada, began uploading his first Simpsonized drawings to his website about a year and a half ago. Given his penchant for nostalgia, he started with characters from the Adam West Batman series from the ’60s — Batman, Robin, Penguin, Joker, Batgirl — drawing sometimes multiple versions of the same person. Not long after placing them on his website, his server crashed from the thousands flowing in from sites like Digg. He eventually decided to move his hobby over to Blogspot, where he has continued with it ever since.
After finishing with the classic Batman, he moved on to more contemporary versions of the comic’s characters– including the Heath Ledger Joker — before expanding to other personalities and pop culture characters. Fraser told me that to keep things interesting he likes to dive into his own nostalgia, often Simpsonizing characters from old ’80s TV shows and cartoons. He has drawn versions of dozens of Marvel and DC comic book heroes, people from House, the Matrix, Indiana Jones, and Captain Planet, among others. Lately, he’s been fixated on characters from the show Lost, and has been slowly making his way through the entire cast.
Though he said that the Simpsons style is a simple one, that simplicity can make his job more difficult sometimes. When a character has strong, defining characteristics, Fraser has to find a way to water down those features while keeping them intact. Many of the characters from Lost, for instance, have very strong chins, which doesn’t always transfer well to a style that includes drawing a person without any chin at all.
“It can be a challenge sometime,” he said. “You’re taking the elements that are on a character, when they can be very detailed, and just simplifying those and trying to decide what can go and what can stay, pretty much.”
I asked Fraser how his work fits into the pantheon of fan art. After all, he’s essentially creating a mashup of fandom, mixing his love of The Simpsons with his other pop culture favorites.
“I never went into it consciously thinking that I’m going to join the Simpsons fan community, or I’m going to join the Lost fan community,” he replied. “It’s just that I happen to be a fan of Lost, I like to express [that fandom], and I like to promote it, to show people what I like. And I know other people will perhaps enjoy it themselves. I’ve never really just thought about it that much. I’m just going at it.”
Fraser said that lately his site has been averaging around 10,000 hits a day, an uptick that he attributed to his current Lost series. Now that his site has grown in popularity he gets reader emails asking him to draw certain movie, television and comic book characters. He even gets requests that he draw politicians, though to date the only one he has Simpsonized is former presidential candidate Ron Paul.
Depending on the character and the level of detail needed, Simpsonizing someone can take anywhere from an hour to six hours. He said that drawing real-life people is more difficult than depicting super heroes, who are often already archetypal in their renderings. His productivity varies, depending on the amount of free time he has with his graphic design career. This is, after all, a side project.
“I fit it in when I can,” he said. “With my regular day job stuff, there will be a dry period, and I’ll have a lot of time. As you can see on the website, sometimes it trickles out one or two at a time. Sometimes I’ll do a whole post with a bunch of them. There’s no set regularity to it. I wish could do one every other day or something like that, but I’m confined to when I have time.”
This Gizmodo writer obviously doesn’t know his New Yorker history, otherwise he’d know that the magazine instituted a mandatory retirement age for editors decades ago (former editor William Shawn was the only one excluded from this rule):
Artist Jorge Colombo took about an hour to fingerpaint an intricate Times Square scene on his iPhone using Brushes, a $4.99 iPhone drawing app. Now, it’s the June 1st cover for The New Yorker.
I’m guessing the editors of the magazine saw some kind of weighty symbolism in such a stunt, but landing a New Yorker cover is the kind of honor that would define an entire career for many illustrators. That’s not to say this kind of thing isn’t impressiveÃ¢â‚¬â€it really, really isÃ¢â‚¬â€but I can’t help imagining some dusty, 93-year-old editor at the top floor of the Conde Nast building seeing his first iPhone in the hands of an intern, losing his monocle over this amazing new tech-nol-o-gee, and impulsively ordering something, anything to do with this MAGICKAL DEE-VICE to be put on the cover, now.
In all the news coverage over the controversial New Yorker cover depicting the Obamas as terrorist extremists, I haven’t seen many mentions of other works by Barry Blitt, the artist of that cover. Two of his covers last year — which I’m posting below — were among the best the magazine has featured in years.
This first one had every political cartoonist in America smacking his head, saying, “Why didn’t I think of that?” I’m not even a political cartoonist and that’s what went through my head. It’s easy to guess from seeing it what the two major news stories it’s referencing were:
And here’s another one that really blew me away:
When the missionaries showed up at James Gurney’s house, the last thing they were expecting to do was play a game of baseball.
Here were a few well-dressed men who had probably spent the day visiting unwelcoming households, trudging yard to yard hoping to get a few words in edgewise before the homeowner, clearly annoyed, shut the door in their faces. If they were lucky they might be able to hand over one of their Watchtower magazines, a small victory considering the publications were no-doubt thrown away almost immediately.
They were likely expecting the same when they reached Gurney’s home. Best known for his bestselling Dinotopia books, Gurney is a renowned artist who has done illustrations for National Geographic and dozens of science fiction paperback covers. His sons were playing baseball in the yard when the missionaries arrived.
“When they came up to the door I just handed one of them a baseball bat and said ‘you’re up,’” Gurney told me in a phone interview last week. “I handed the other guy a ball and said ‘you’re pitching.’ And then I handed the third guy a mit and said ‘we’re playing outfield.’ And we started a baseball game that lasted about an hour or so.”
Though nobody realized it at the time, Gurney later told me that the occurrence could be considered a kind of performance art. He likened the “religion of baseball” to the religion these missionaries were trying to push, and in doing so understood he was engaging in a form of proselytizing of his own. “They seemed to be relieved that they didn’t have to do the hard sell,” he said.
This is not the only time he has met the door-to-door religious with such disarming artistic distraction. In Gurney’s blog, he published a post last week documenting his peculiar response to two Jehovah’s Witnesses who showed up at his Hudson Valley New York house.
The artist had grabbed his sketchbook on his way to the door and immediately asked one of them if he could sketch his portrait. “I just said, ‘why don’t you just read to me some of the stories from the Bible and that’s what they did,” Gurney recalled. “They were just reading from Noah and Genesis and the story of Lazarus. They’re great stories anyway. [The Jehovah's Witnesses] were kind of relieved too to just sit down and read stuff from the book.”
Because the artist had to concentrate so much on the drawing, he was unable to engage in any kind of back-and-forth religious discussion. And in avoiding that discussion, he said, he was able to humanize these two figures.
“I’m kind of a journalist with a pencil,” Gurney told me. “…Without thinking we all tend to fall into polarized positions when people come up to the door and I think it’s fun to just try to get outside that and talk to them as people. While I was sketching I could talk to them about raising kids and how they grew up and what kind of TV shows they watch. It got them off the track and they became like regular people.”
After Gurney posted the account and pictures of the two missionaries in his blog the response was immediate. His commenters began dissecting the situation, feeding on the ambiguity of his intentions to play a kind of guesswork art game. “I love stories where people engage strangers in a way only commonplace in the ‘good ol’ days’ where one was innocent until proven guilty and not the other way around,” one commenter wrote. “We all have a great potential to bring happiness to those around us, and you seem to use it to the max.”
Gurney launched his blog as a way of chronicling the tour for the last Dinotopia book. His publisher had recommended using a blog to take his fans along with him during his travels, but its focus soon expanded to cover a number of artistic topics.
“Whenever I have any kind of adventure that has something to do with art I try to weave it into the blog,” he said. “…I think out loud about my art on topics ranging from aesthetics to paint stroke mixing. I’m learning a lot from people who have commented…They give insights and tips and writing a blog post can be a form of rough drafting material where you have a thousand editors read it and give you feedback. It’s a real privilege as both a writer and an artist to have access to a group of like-minded people to critique your work.”
But not all who participate in his art projects are art aficionados. When Gurney played the three missionaries in the game of baseball, a few of their fellow church members climbed out of the vehicle they were waiting in to come and watch.
“After we were done playing they all started piling back into the car,” Gurney recalled. “One of the youngest of them turned to me as he was getting back in and said ‘this is the most fun we’ve ever had when we’re doing our rounds.’ And then he said ‘maybe that’s what the kingdom of Heaven is all about.’”