Let's change the subject
JD Salinger
posted: January 28, 2010
News that the reclusive author J.D. Salinger passed away sent me back through the years in several ways. This is a sketch from a a couple of years ago for a job that died a premature death. The writer was sent out to do a "Finding Salinger" story - a task at which he thankfully failed. I remember thinking that Mr. Salinger chose not to be a public figure, and how it was offensive that somebody was out to find him simply because there was no other news going on. In today's culture of everybody being famous on Youtube, twitter, blogs(!), and the internets in general, Salinger's one and out strategy is particularly refreshing. He said what he had to say, and that was it.

Twenty or so years ago my brother Kyle and I had a strange hobby. We had these great maps that showed every road - paved, dirt, abandoned. Some even cut through people's yards. We'd spend a weekend trying to figure out how to get from the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border all the way up to the US/Canada border using only dirt roads. We had a Suzuki Sidekick, a case of beer (Hey, we were in the woods) and a box full of heavy metal tapes. Often, we'd pass through Cornish, NH, Salinger's hometown, and a couple of times I imagined I spotted him ducking behind a tree or a rock. Of course, it wasn't him and it didn't matter. Those trips were like our little mountain version of Holden Caulfield's journey. But with a Metallica soundtrack and Budweiser.
Brown is the new purple
posted: January 20, 2010

This is what I love about politics. The election of Scott Brown to the US Senate last night was an upset for the ages. It’s right up there with the Red Sox’ victory over the Yankees in the ALCS in ’04,  Spinks beating Ali, and the US Olympic hockey team beating Russia in 1980. As pure political theater, it was as entertaining as anything I remember. Martha Coakley, the democratic candidate was pretty much considered the incumbent and the election itself was more ceremonial than anything. The republican candidate (just those words in Massachusetts brings a smug grin from most people around here) was treated the way an eight year old would be for attempting a magic trick at a family party – “That’s cute kid, very nice, now run along”.


As the campaign rolled along, we saw less and less of Coakley, which was okay because what we did see was a tight lipped, overly cautious, entitled politician who seemed to think that mixing it up with the electorate was a task that was beneath her. You almost expected to see her wearing latex gloves while out shaking hands with the people, and the way she showed her teeth was more grimace than smile. It takes a very special kind of politician to lose a 30 point lead to a republican in Massachusetts. Coakley seemed to be a great AG, but she belongs in politics about as much as I do. Talk about a charisma vacuum. It’s as though someone took Mike Dukakis, rolled him in with John Kerry, and then drained what little charm remained, if any.


On the other side you had Brown, driving from town to town in his battered pickup truck with 200,000 miles on it. He seemed to genuinely enjoy getting out and asking people for their vote. He’s as off the cuff and thrown together as Mitt Romney is shined and polished. While Brown was on television every day with his ads showing him in the family kitchen talking to you like a neighbor, Coakley was nowhere to be seen, only responding eventually with a barrage of negative ads.


As far as why Brown won, as always in politics, it’s as complicated as trying to design a flow chart on why someone falls in love. Lame lazy de facto incumbent meets eager, good looking refreshing challenger. A bad economy where the working people (those who are left) are asked to pay for someone else’s –war, bailout, healthcare, etc. We love an underdog in this country. But bottom line is that the country found out what we in Massachusetts have known for a long time. It’s the independents who rule this state. We elected Bill Weld and Mitt Romney not as republicans, but as a repudiation to an entrenched one party system. Same with Brown. We’re not a blue state, we’re not a red state, we’re a purple state.


After Brown’s rambling victory speech in which he seemed star struck at the idea of talking to the president, being onstage with Doug Flutie, and mentioning more than once that his daughter is available, I’ll bet that first twinge of buyer’s remorse may have flickered across many minds. There’s a big difference between politics and governance.


posted: September 11, 2009
We all have very particular memories and feelings that present themselves like a stranger barging into the room when it comes to 9/11. The smallest thing can trigger an unwanted trip down memory lane. For me it’s a collage of colors and sounds. The bright yellow of the scrambled eggs I was making my kids for breakfast when my mother called from New York to tell me to turn on the TV. The earth tones our living room while we watched what was unfolding on TV. The sound of a broadcast suddenly being interrupted. The phone constantly ringing with calls from my wife’s station and the rushed conversation about whether they’d send her to New York or Washington to cover the story. Laughing children. The sight of almost everyone in lower Manhattan looking up and covering their mouths, as though that act would keep whatever evil had descended at bay.

Most of all, I remember looking at the incredibly vivid blue sky that day. Later on, alone with my young kids at the playground I kept glancing up at the sky, empty of clouds and airplanes, and felt myself trying to summon up the overcast that would fit the mood of the day. The fact that there was so much darkness on such a bright beautiful day made it all the more obscene.
I hope time has brought some comfort to all who were affected that day.

I scream, you scream, we all scream for....
posted: June 2, 2009
My favorite comedy routine growing up was Bill Cosby's bit on the ice creram man. My favorite Van Halen song? Ice Cream Man. I don't really eat the stuff these days.

I know New Englanders haven’t cornered the market on loving ice cream, but I read something somewhere at some point long ago that we eat more of the stuff up in our little corner of the country than all the rest of you combined. I suspect that maybe because we have such long dark Winters and endless dreary Springs, we binge on ice cream in the summertime. Maybe, maybe not, it’s just a theory.

What I am sure of is that New England in particular is home to dozens of roadside ice cream stands. Many of them are seasonal only, opening up on April 15, giving comfort to all - the devout, the liars, the cheats, the shady dealers as well as the play by the rules types – on tax day, when everybody needs a little extra sweetness their lives, and closing on Columbus day, when we’re all distracted by the autumn foliage exploding all around us. A few of these joints have morphed into honest to god empires.

Richardson’s in Middleton, MA is the big one around here. Many a unsuspecting chocolate chip cookie dough fiend (Me) have waddled up to the local ice cream stand , the fantasy of some family owned recipe being secretly doled out just for their quavering tongues. Sometimes that’s actually the case, but mostly it’s dropped off in the back by an unmarked truck. Usually, if it’s good, it’s Richardson’s. It doesn’t matter though, the stuff is sweet.

For me, Carter’s in Bradford (which is part of Haverhill) MA is special. It’s the place up there on my banner at the moment. In fact, if you look at that picture you’ll see my wife and her best friend since childhood, Jane (Grape Nut), holding daughter Sydney’s (our god daughter) hand as they approach the back of the line. Jane’s father and Maria’s father where best friends as well. And now our kids are all best friends. 3 generations of close families stopping at the same road side ice cream shack. How can they say this stuff is bad for you?

My wife (Chocolate) had her first taste of ice cream (pistachio I think) at Carter’s. So did my daughter (Chocolate and vanilla, but she’s moved on to black rasberry). My son too (Chocolate, but he’s more adventurous. His latest is coconut). When I was in High School and going steady with the girl I’d marry we’d often walk the 2 1/2 miles to Carter’s from my house. I have no idea what we’d talk about, but it was endlessly fascinating. These days we walk a mile to get there from Jane’s house.

When you reach the intersection where Carter’s stands there’s a great view – the one in the banner – of Bradford, and across the Merrimack River, Haverhill, which sits on the side of a hill. Haverhill was where Archie Comics creator Bob Montana grew up and based his town of Riverdale. The old High School is a dead ringer for the one in the comics. I haven’t seen Jughead, but I’ll bet that at one point in his life he scooped a few at Carter’s.

Crumb at Mass Art
posted: February 19, 2009
I met a few friends at Mass Art last night to see the R. Crumb exhibit. I've always admired Crumb's uncompromising dedication to his artistic vision even though the actual subject matter makes me want to protect any child that may be within a mile of his work. Women in particular could learn quite a bit about what it's like in a man's head if they saw/read what I saw last night. I fear that there would be more lesbians in the world if this material were distributed widely. Not that that would be a bad thing. One of the more interesting images I saw was this piece - a drawing on acid blotter. You sure don't get that kind of drawing high working digitally.
It ain't stealing if it's art.
posted: February 5, 2009
This is from today's Boston Globe. There's an exhibition of Shepard Fairy's work at the ICA in Boston this month and he's been doing a lot of press. I like what he does and the spirit in which he proceeds, but I can see how it would get a panty or two twisted up in a knot. One thing that did jump out at me in one of his interviews was when he was asked about appropriating someone else's images into his own work. "When you go see a band and they play cover tunes they never introduce the song by saying,'This is a cover song by...". Well, often they do. And if it's a recording of someone else's song then the writer is receiving credit and revenue from the recording (after giving permission).  Anyway, I think it's an interesting issue and I'm firmly on the fence. I reserve my right to enjoy the transformative work of others and I'm fully prepared to be outraged, litigious and flattered if anyone ever has the poor judgement (financial and aesthetic) to use my work as a basis for theirs. Or not.     NEW YORK - On buttons, posters, and websites, the image was everywhere during last year's presidential campaign: a pensive Barack Obama looking upward, as if to the future, splashed in a Warholesque red, white, and blue and underlined with the caption HOPE.

Designed by Shepard Fairey, a Los-Angeles based street artist, the image has led to sales of hundreds of thousands of posters and stickers and has become so much in demand that copies signed by Fairey have been purchased for thousands of dollars on eBay.

The image, Fairey has acknowledged, is based on an Associated Press photograph, taken in April 2006 by Manny Garcia at the National Press Club in Washington.

The AP says it owns the copyright and wants credit and compensation. Fairey disagrees.

"The Associated Press has determined that the photograph used in the poster is an AP photo and that its use required permission," the AP's director of media relations, Paul Colford, said in a statement.

"AP safeguards its assets and looks at these events on a case-by-case basis. We have reached out to Mr. Fairey's attorney and are in discussions. We hope for an amicable solution."

"We believe fair use protects Shepard's right to do what he did here," says Fairey's attorney, Anthony Falzone, executive director of the Fair Use Project at Stanford University and a lecturer at the Stanford Law School.

"It wouldn't be appropriate to comment beyond that at this time because we are in discussions about this with the AP."

Fairey, in Boston for the opening of his solo show at the Institute of Contemporary Art, could not be reached for comment. The ICA declined to comment on the case, said deputy director Paul Bessire.

Punk rocker and social activist Henry Rollins, a friend of Fairey's who contributed an essay to the ICA show catalog, dismissed AP's claim.

"Shepard's image is his interpretation of an image," he said. "That is to say, it is not a photograph of a photograph, but a drawn image that resembles a photograph. Basically, AP's got no traction here. Nice try. Art wins again."

Fair use is a legal concept that allows exceptions to copyright law, based on, among other factors, how much of the original is used, what the new work is used for, and how the original is affected by the new work.

Fairey is not the first artist accused of copyright infringement. Campbell's raised the issue when Pop Art icon Andy Warhol created his famous works inspired by a soup can; no legal action was taken. More recently, visual artist Richard Prince, who typically takes photographs used in ads and blows them up to make gallery pieces, has been sued by a French photographer for using his images without permission.

A longtime rebel with a history of breaking rules, Fairey has said he found the photograph using Google Images. He released the image on his website shortly after he created it, in early 2008, and made thousands of posters for the street.

As it caught on, supporters began downloading the image and distributing it at campaign events, while blogs and other Internet sites picked it up. Fairey has said that he did not receive any of the money raised.

A former Obama campaign official said they were well aware of the image based on the picture taken by Garcia, a temporary hire no longer with the AP, but never licensed it or used it officially. The Obama official asked not to be identified because no one was authorized anymore to speak on behalf of the campaign.

The image's fame did not end with the election. It will be included at the ICA exhibit, opening tomorrow, and a mixed-media stenciled collage version has been added to the permanent collection of the National Portrait Gallery in Washington.

"The continued use of the poster, regardless of whether it is for galleries or other distribution, is part of the discussion AP is having with Mr. Fairey's representative," Colford said.

Associated Press writer Philip Elliott in Washington and Geoff Edgers of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.
Mother Jones
posted: January 7, 2009
I guess it’s okay for me to piggyback on Harry Campbell’s post here.

Over the last year or so I’ve become a big fan of Mother Jones magazine. Sure, they have groundbreaking reportage and all around good writing, but as a guy who enjoys looking at pictures I’ve been impressed with just how much illustration they use. So when creative director Tim Luddy called and asked if I had time to do a cover for their inauguration issue I felt like I had just been given a winning lottery ticket.

Tim had the idea of quoting a 1935 Saturday Evening Post cover, which was painted by the legendary J.C. Leyendecker.  We tried a couple of different approaches to the baby new year theme – top hat, no top hat, different expressions, but I think keeping it simple was important. After working on this for a while I started to relate to the image itself – you walk a fine line between satire and ridicule doing what I do. I generally don’t like when the former turns into the latter, which can easily happen when  you get some momentum going. Still, it’s not often that a man can look back on his day of work and proudly say that he was paid to draw the president of the United States in a diaper.

As is often the case, this issue of mother Jones is full of top notch illustration ( and photography, but that’s not my tribe), and I’m thankful to Tim Luddy for seeing the value in what we do. It’s obvious that many of us bring our A game when Tim calls. I’m honored to share the same spot on the newssstand with many of my favorite fellow artists. I’ve included many below, but if I missed you, it’s only because it was time to go shovel.
Front Page Fuchs
posted: December 3, 2008
Someone around here should mention Thomas Fuch's great illustration on the front page of the New York Times today. I love that they used illustration in the same spot that's usually reserved for the most important news of the day.
posted: November 4, 2008
McCain seems to have a good sense of humor about himself which will help him get through this tough time.
I hope you all get out and vote today....unless you haven't made up your mind yet which would mean that you haven't been paying attention and are probably uninformed. In that case, just watch Spongebob Squarepants and we'll take care of things for ya! You betcha!