The Evils of Consumerism

Design, Illustrations, Personal work

It has been a while since I’ve written something here, so please bare with me—my words might come out a little bit ruffled and/or rusty.

Having said this, hopefully it won’t be true of the new set of drawings I’ve been working on.

The Evils of Consumerism: Good To the Last Drop

These were not commissioned, but actually started life last summer in my sketchbook as small experiments with visual puns and playful graphic shapes. The ideas that came out also reflected my current preoccupation with direct, bold visual storytelling through accessible metaphors—all peppered with tongue-in-cheek humor.

Early idea for the series
Initial sketchbook tomfoolery

Humor is an element in my work that I’ve mostly tried to downplay or even suppress for several years, likely for fear of coming across as “not serious enough” as an artist or visual communicator. Of course this was probably never an issue for many of my heroes, Tomi Ungerer, Saul Steinberg, and Quino among them—all artists that proved that graphic humor can be infused with poetry and wit, while still tackling “serious” subjects; such as the tumults of daily life and their often inevitable existential challenges.

The Evils of Consumerism: Lead The Herd

So, deciding to let the tone of the new ideas evolve naturally—and after telling my inner critic to go peruse some vintage cartoon books—the vehicle for the humor (and target of my admittedly twisted imagination) soon appeared trough the ballpoint haze…

Sketches for what became Lead The Herd

Like any other New Yorker, I find myself staring at subway posters while I wait for my commuting train. Without getting preachy and seeming hypocritical, I often get baffled by modern advertising and its vacuous promises of ever-lasting bliss with products that often can barely fulfill their own intended function. Most crucially, there’s the underlying suggestion that the more we acquire or consume, the happier we could (or should) be, which of course rarely is (if ever) true.

The Evils of Consumerism: Gimme More

Most of us are aware of this. And yet these glossy, pitch-perfect ads that seem to be concocted in a parallel but seemingly faultless world keep luring us into dispensing with our hard-earned cash, in exchange for some ever-elusive nugget of happiness that we’re apparently (inexplicably!) deprived of.

An early idea that payed homage to Cassandre’s immortal Dubonnet Man (while spoofing you-know-who), which I eventually abandoned after deciding it did not fit the tone and intent of the series.

It’s a trap we can’t help but fall into, whether we’re aware of it or not. It poses an interesting conundrum, as well as certain questions of identity and self-contentment. Fitting fodder for the pseudo-ads and aforementioned visual puns that started emerging from my sketchbook—some of them reproduced here in their rawest form.

The Evils of Consumerism: One Cup is Not Enough

On a more technical note, I wanted to experiment with two-tone graphics—usually letting the second color highlight the emotional or conceptual aspects of each piece, while playing with the visual balance of the colors (and I certainly think of black as a color) on the page.

The Evils of Consumerism: Your Bag Is Hungry

Another interesting but enticing challenge was to find ways to add visual variety and expression with that limited palette, and that’s where mark-making and texturing became essential ingredients in each drawing.

The Evils of Consumerism: Take It For a Stroll

Making these images also reminded me of an important lesson that’s surely old hat to many seasoned creatives: let your work breathe and grow without trying to control its direction too much. The more you play and listen to your intuition, the more the outcome will surprise you.

As of this writing, I’m not sure whether there will be more pieces added to this series, but—as a whole—I consider them a breakthrough of sorts. They allowed my “funny bone” to resurface, and hinted at other directions to pursue.

Even Ghouls Get the Blues

Design, Illustrations

Care of Cell 44

Halloween aftermath/welcome to November: For the past two weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of collaborating with long-time friend Jesse Paris Smith and her fantastic New York-via-Michigan band Belle Ghoul. They specialize in spectral, lush, sugary pop, having recently released an EP of their own compositions through Elefant Records, as well as a smattering of singles, self-released tracks, and covers.

Jesse asked me to come up with artwork to accompany and promote their online-only/free-downloadable take on the Zombies classic Care of Cell 44—she said they were looking for a visual that was “sweet but spooky”.  In case you’re not familiar with this little gem of 1960s British pop, Care of Cell 44 is written as a tender letter from a narrator who’s anxious to see his lover, after she’s completed an extended jail sentence for an unspecified crime.

The Future’s Past, By Way of Modern Irish Fables

Design, Illustrations, Open Road Media

These are some of the cover designs I worked on recently for a series of science fiction novels by Irish author Ian McDonald. These novels have just being released today, in e-book form, from Open Road Integrated Media (for whom I also did other cover designs, blogged here a few weeks ago).

Cover art & design for science-fiction/fantasy e-novel published by Open Road Media. Art director: Andrea C. Uva.

Most of these books appeared originally in printed form sometime between the late ’80s and early ’90s. Going by the detailed briefs the art director sent me, I got the sense that these are imaginative, unsettling novels with layered narratives that deal with political and moral issues; as much as they are time-warped fables populated by improbable, somewhat tormented characters.

October, You Are Too Kind

Illustrations, Wall Street Journal

It’s both a pleasure and a privilege to contribute to The Wall Street Journal, and this is my second commission from them, which was just published both in print and online yesterday in their Sunday edition.

The article is about all the great pre-holiday deals and discounts available in October, from cheaper plane tickets to toys sales for the kids; with additional insider’s tips for saving money. You can read it here.

I love the challenge of having to synthesize a certain amount of information into a very small space. I made the original drawing the same size as the printed size –only 3 1/2  by 3 1/2 inches– to ensure maximum clarity. Spot illustrations can still have an impact and a strong presence on the page, depending on how well composed/designed they are. Since I sometimes tend to include too many elements in my images, this gives me the chance to try to distill an idea to its bare essence. Needless to say, it’s an ongoing challenge that I look forward to keep improving on.

Mark Tyner, the art director of the WSJ page, is straightforward, attentive, and helpful, and makes sure the whole process goes by in a breeze. Many thanks for the assignment, Mark.

Blown Covers

Illustrations, New Yorker/Blown Covers

For the past month and a half, I’ve been contributing to the Blown Covers blog curated by New Yorker art editor Francoise Mouly and her daughter, TOON Books editor Nadja Spiegelman. Through the blog, they run a weekly New Yorker cover contest with a different topic announced on Mondays. Every Friday, they feature the winning entries on the blog, along with a slideshow gallery of all the contributions.

This is the fourth time I’ve had the honor of making it into the Runners Up list, which is usually comprised of 12 entries. This has been my highest position yet, coming in at a not-too-shabby #2 (!!!). This past week’s topic was Back to School, and this is the runner-up entry in question: