Tuesday, April 17, 2007

News, for lack of a better term...

This is the final version of the cover I’ve just designed for the May issue of Interlude. The third of three versions of what I was assured each time to be the final version of Interlude, I might add. Different opinions prevailed and suggested at three different points that I keep coming up with new versions. This was the final. I’ve really got no complaints, though. The money was green, I was compensated for the changes, and it looks good.

Kind of a bleak period in my art career right now. A couple things that I’d been banking on to pay off have blown up in my face. For the past year I’d labored under the delusion that Interlude Magazine would eventually bring me aboard as a staff employee, rather than using me in my current pay-per assignment freelance position. I even went so far as to hand in a resume to their editor-in-chief, who’d given me a lot of positive vibes that a staff position was imminent. Guess that’s the lesson I’ve learned from this. Never trust a vibe. More often than not, they either turn out the opposite of what you’d hoped for, or are little more than an overpriced station wagon for hip soccer moms who haven’t made the leap to a Hummer. I flat out asked the senior artist at Interlude if I really had a shot at getting hired, since Jean (the ed in chief) assured me they’d know if they were hiring by June or July. I didn’t want to get my hopes up for the next three months just to have them crushed underfoot, so I asked about it. Val (senior artist) gave it to me straight, saying Jean was leaving Interlude for good, and that the Mike the publisher hadn’t mentioned anything about hiring me on staff. So the outlook wasn’t great. But she did assure me that I’d continue to be used for my freelancing. Of course, living paycheck to paycheck was what I was hoping to escape by getting on staff. Guess it’s not in the cards.

I’d also been in contact with a guy who seemed to be trying to promote a new type of boxing glove. I found him on Craigslist.org and responded to his search for a cartoonist. Based on his suggestions (the gloves with human faces on them: a grizzled fighter-type, the sexy chick and the cool young buck), this is what I came up with.

As it turned out, what I came up with was exactly what he didn’t want. He then told me that it didn’t matter anyway, since he was scrapping the whole project. So that was a big waste of time over a stupid sounding product.

Basically, I can’t see where my career is going. I should probably be pushing Pillow Billy harder than I’ve been lately. But Christ, they really make it hard as hell to get your foot in the door. If I have to listen to one more pretentious literary rep tell me that Pillow Billy didn’t “move” them or that they don’t feel it has staying power or a timeless quality, I’m gonna shove a marker up my nose and into my brain just to end this sick charade. I just don’t know what to try next, and the feeling that time is running out for me, that this is no longer a world for cartoonists if it ever was, and how the hell I’m gonna take care of myself and more importantly Laura is just sitting on my head like a two ton gorilla with hemorrhoids.

The few bright spots in all this have been the odd commissions and gigs that have magically fallen into my lap, which is the only way these things seem to happen. The more I work towards furthering my career, the less becomes of it. But the more I just go about my daily routine the more gigs fall out of the sky.

My old college friend Dayle Pivetta is a blossoming actress in New York, and she recently commissioned me to draw a caricature of her for her resume. Here’s a photo-to-caricature comparison of the two.

That was a real blast to create. I just worry sometimes that if I run out of friends that I’ll no longer have any clients, since it seems like the people I get hired by the most are pals from the past or connections to them somehow.

I have taken a couple commissions from people I’ve met online, and that has been fortuitous. Here’s some samples of what they’ve had me create:

I’d also been contacted by Michele, a puppet builder who created the Jay and Laura puppets seen on my website (check it out for a full explanation of the project: http://www.jayfosgitt.com/PhotoGallery/jayLauraPuppets.html). She wanted some artwork done to help promote her Ebay page, but didn’t have a lot to spend. So we cut a deal, and I did the artwork in return for her building me a puppet of Pillow Billy. Not only could this be a good promotional tool, but it’s something I’d dreamed of having since I created the story. So it’s a win-win situation. Once I receive the puppet I’ll post some pics. In the meantime, here’s the art I created for Michele.

Laura is currently in a production of Cats at The Bay City players (check this link for info on showtimes and tickets: http://www.baycityplayers.com/pages/season.php). And while hanging around backstage during a couple of rehearsals, I was asked to contribute some artwork to the set. So if you come to the show, you can see a sign I made for T.S. Eliot’s Dog Food and Lloyd’s Junkyard (a snarky tribute to T.S. Eliot, author of Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, which the musical is based on, and Andrew Lloyd Webber, creator of the musical itself). I’ll try to get some photos posted if I can get to the set. And also, I may be working backstage as a makeup artist for the cats themselves, since the guy who was supposed to do it bailed, and the alternative is having the airbrush artists who painted the costumes airbrush the actors faces, which I think would be a terrible idea. So I may be involved with the less risky act of makeup application.

Lastly, I’m in post production on those greeting cards I’d mentioned awhile back, and am getting ready to send them out to Recycled Paper Greeting in the hopes of getting another gig. Still no word from Mackinac Island Press about Pillow Billy. And I just got a copy of Pillow Billy returned to me that I hadn’t even remembered mailing out. It doesn’t get much more depressing than that; being rejected by someone you’d forgot you’d propositioned.

So, such is my career as it is. I’m still paying the bills, but I’m not really where I want to be, career-wise or geographically. And sadly, the two rarely see eye to eye. But on a brighter note, Laura’s 25th birthday is coming up (May 18th. Mark your calendars and make sure to wish her a happy one!), and we’re planning a weekend trip down to Novi for the Motor City Comic Con, where I plan to get some caricatures autographed by some of the celebs in attendance. I’ll post ‘em after it happens. And I know you must all think, “Oh, real cool. He’s dragging his lady to a comic book nerd fest for HER birthday.” But it was her idea! Laura loves comics, and it’s what she wanted to do. So in that respect, having such a woman makes me luckier than I could ever aspire to.

Monday, April 09, 2007

A Hard Goodbye to Johnny Hart...

One of my childhood heroes died recently, and I don’t know how to feel about it. This isn’t because of some inability to grasp death as an abstract concept, or due to a poor foothold on my emotions. It’s because as he found his faith I lost my own, in the man and his work.

Johnny Hart was probably the second most revered cartoonist in my short list of artistic idols, right after Charles Schulz (Jim Henson is in a whole other category of worship).
As a kid, I’d be hunkered down on my grandma’s living room floor, trying and surprisingly succeeding to replicate Hart’s unique cartooning style, using Sunday comics and an old battered bargain basement collection of Hart’s early B.C. strips as reference. A slightly newer collection (newer for 1981, at least) of Hart’s Wizard of Id comics only strengthened my resolve to canonize the cartoonist. Ironically, the term canonize, to consider or treat as sacrosanct or holy, possesses such definition as to explain my decent from Hart appreciation as I grew older and came to distance myself from the man as did he from his readers.

The Hart I had known from my childhood was a brash and bawdy man of bar room burlesque, described to me through the previously mentioned dog-eared (and seemingly chewed) collection of B.C. strips. In those early days of Hart’s career, he showed us that the caveman invented the raunchy joke right alongside the wheel and fire.

But in 1977, as has been boastfully reprinted in countless religious publications, Hart found god.

So as to sidestep any misunderstanding, I stress that finding god isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Schulz had known god all his life, even so far as to having been a street corner evangelist in St. Paul prior to finding his cartoon calling. Schulz never lost touch with his religion prior to his comic strip success, and managed to subtly incorporate it into his cartooning without sacrificing his characters, content, or humor. The man who revered god in one Christmas special was equally adept at creating his own holiday icon in the Pagan-rooted celebration of Halloween.

Hart, however, proved incapable of such balance. Shedding his “sinful” past and offering up his work as a religious sacrifice, B.C. became a heavy-handed, pulpit-pounding Christian eulogy to a once genuinely funny comic strip. Lines were crossed that I couldn’t accept, and my readership, like that of countless others I’d read, was lost to Hart indefinitely.

In recent years, turning 30 brought forth the nostalgia of pre-1977 Hart for me. And though that weather-beaten tome of B.C. strips was as extinct as the characters within, the memories were still there, strengthened by a recent acquisition of vintage Arby’s collectible B.C. glasses. Soon I found myself going back to Hart, avoiding his content but paying full attention to his artistic style, as fresh and fun as the day he began the strip in 1959.

Of course, by the time this wave of nostalgia passed over me, Johnny Hart, age 76, passed away from me, dying, as all us cartoonists truly dream of though few but Charles Schulz have managed, at his faithful drawing board. In an equally all-too-appropriate ending, Hart died the day before Easter, wanting perhaps to touch base with the Christian significance without stepping on the toes of the Man himself.

Now the nostalgia falls cold upon me, like revisiting your old family home to find that it’s no longer yours, and knowing you can never truly return. Did I do Hart a disservice by abandoning he and his work rather than adapting myself to their evolution (or more appropriately, creationism)? And what does it say about me that I idolized a womanizing, hard living and harder playing cartoonist rather than the pious creator who preached sermons though his strips? These questions and more fill the void that is left by the passing of Johnny Hart, and in the end, the answer to it all is suddenly clear.

Johnny Hart was a cartoonist who chose his own path, and regardless of what anyone else thought of his decisions and creative product, produced work of the most personal nature to the best of his ability, attempting to satisfy and unwilling to justify to no one but himself, save for perhaps god. I couldn’t see that when I was younger. But I can see it now. And for that strength of conviction, and for a level of talent and dedication that never faltered, even to his dying day, the man is again worthy of my respect and admiration.

I just wish he were still around so that I could tell him.