Tuesday, July 3, 2018

The Tragedy In My Neighborhood

In 2005, a young man working as a temp was assigned to our office. He was bright and enthusiastic, and at some point he told me he and his brother were gathering material to publish a humor magazine, which they planned to title ODDFELLOW, (named after an actual fraternal group with a long history). This came up in the context of our talking about my drawings, as I doodled all over the desk calendar and on any other scraps of paper on my desk. He asked me if I would be interested in contributing some drawings for a story they were publishing. I  said "Yes!" I also recommended they contact my friend Danny Hellman, a professional illustrator who began his career (as have many others of repute) drawing covers for the infamous SCREW Magazine, (actually, a tabloid newspaper published weekly in NYC). I gave him Danny's contact information, (and they did end up obtaining some work from him). Shortly after, the young man gave me the manuscript of a short story called "The Tragedy In My Neighborhood," a sharp little tale of suburban alienation, by Ken Cormier. The tale's narrator seems to be having psychological problems that cause him sleepless nights, compulsive writing of his thoughts, and crying jags at work. In fact, the story is told in the form of one of the narrator's journal entries. One night he witnesses his neighbor commit an act of arson. The next day at work, a new man at work is marched out of the office by the police for an unknown offense. He points accusingly at the narrator.

At this same time, I had become enamored with the graphic work of Swiss illustrator and cartoonist Thomas Ott. Ott works in the medium of scratchboard to powerful effect, and his drawings are dramatic and beautiful. I wanted to emulate his approach, and I thought this story would provide the perfect opportunity. I didn't want to use actual scratchboard, as I feared I would immediately botch the work, as I have no experience working with scratchboard. However, I did use PAINTER, computer software that emulates natural media, to do the work. First, I made the underlying drawings in pencil, and then scanned them into the computer. I opened each drawing in PAINTER in turn, and filled a layer over each image with black, reduced the opacity so I could see through to the underlying sketch, and drew with a white line, digitally carving away the black to reveal the image. These images are the results.

As my first attempts, I'm varibly happy with three of them.  The first image shows the many pages of the narrator's writings pasted on his wall, (perhaps obscuring a window to another view, a view outside his room). This is a way of showing the obsessive thoughts beclouding his consciousness. The image of the man sitting watching his house burn is a failure, in my view. It's stiffly drawn and awkwardly composed, and lacks all the drama such an image should have had. I'm most pleased with the drawing of the pointing man being taken away as the narrator watches from the left foreground. I think my first use of the scratchboard technique is adequate, but it is my underlying drawings that are uneven. But then, I look at Thomas Ott's earliest works and they are clumsy in their drawing and technique, as well. One has to begin somewhere.

The first issue of ODDFELLOW was published in Fall 2005 and contained the story with my accompanying illustrations. A second issue was published a few months later, with another short piece by Ken Cormier, which I illustrated with a single panoramic picture spanning both sides of the top of a double-page spread. I used the same faux-scratchboard style for that, and I may put it up here at some point. The third, and final issue of ODDFELLOW was meant to be the "Spring 2006" issue, hence, my cover illustration--which you can find here on this blog along with several preparatory drawings in a post titled "Dance of the Oddfellows"--a modern rendering of Stravinsky's "Rite of Spring." However, the issue was delayed and not published until the Fall of 2006, so the point of the cover drawing may was obscured, if not entirely lost.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Pseudo Hobo Boho

This is a drawing of Tom Waits that was published in a rock 'zine called THE VILLAGE NOIZE back in the 90s. For a period of time I had a one page comic in every issue for about 5 or 6 issues. The 'zine was a labor of love by its editor and came out irregularly, maybe twice a year, at most. It did appear on select newstands around NYC, and on the magazine shelf at Tower Books. I had drawn a portrait of Waits in my sketchbook, strictly as a portrait exercise, as I have never liked Waits' work. From the first time I heard and saw him, he struck me as someone aping the vocal mannerisms and dress of older black jazz hepcats, along with a heaping of faux-hobo-isms. It all seemed very self-conscious. I like Captain Beefheart very much, a similar vocalist (of very different music), in that his singing is very a pastiche of Howlin' Wolf's style. However, Beefheart was able to incorporate Wolf's timbre and mannerisms into his own singing and produce something genuine to him. With Waits, I've never NOT heard his singing as mere mimicry of his betters. Beyond that, it seems maudlin and caricatured, just a form of minstrelsy. My title for this post expresses my feelings about Waits.

In any case, the editor of THE VILLAGE NOIZE was doing an article on Waits and he asked me if I could provide a drawing to accompany the article. At first I thought I would draw a brand new portrait, but I hit upon the idea of making a copy of the sketchbook head portrait, and pasting it onto a separate new drawing of the upper half of a male torso in black leather...and so, voila! For the backdrop, I photocopied a black and white photo of the Manhattan skyline a few times to make it more graphic black and white, and I pasted that behind the figure in the foreground. This was all done by hand, as I did not have Photoshop, or even a computer, at the time I drew this. The head and leather jacket are drawn with a black Prismacolor pencil; the striped t-shirt was achieved by laying down strips of Liquid Friskit, which dries to a rubbery consistency, and then spattering ink with a tooth brush over the area. When the ink dried, I rubbed the dried, rubbery Liquid Friskit off the paper, and underneath those areas remained white. I think the end result is reasonably successful.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Urban Plight

This is a comic strip I drew over the course of my first couple of years living in New York. The story was inspired directly by the alienation I felt being in this big, strange, overwhelming city where I wanted to be but where I didn't feel at home. I felt intimidated by many of the rough, odd-looking people on the streets and subways...but then I thought of all the spree-killers who were "quiet, well-behaved, would-never-hurt-a-fly" type fellows, and I thought: "Maybe these people are afraid of ME!"

The story was originally published in two parts in RED TAPE, a literary/art zine published on the Lower East Side throughout the 80s and into the dawn of the 90s. This Wikipedia page provides some info, including some of the prominent contributors to the magazine:


I've been in New York for 37 years now, and it long ago came to feel like home.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

NYC 1980s Punkers

I knew a girl at work whose brother played bass for MURPHY'S LAW, a NYC hardcore punk band big in the 80s. She said they were looking for an artist to draw an album cover for them, and she asked me if I were interested. I was, and the band asked her to have me provide samples of my drawings. This is one that I sent to them. I can't recall if I sent anything else, but this drawing scotched my chance to draw their album cover. I made this sketch by drawing people from two photos in an article in NEW YORK Magazine about the NY hardcore scene. Apparently, someone in the band had a beef with one or both of these people in real life, and my having randomly chosen to draw them incurred his displeasure.  (I wasn't interested in the NY hardcore scene--or hardcore in general--so I was not familiar with the band's music or any of the internecine politics of the scene.)

Later, on a band trip to Los Angeles, the band member who was my work colleague's brother was stabbed to death in a completely random street encounter with a couple of young toughs.


These are drawings of skulls I made from the skeleton I have hanging in a room in my apartment. I have named the skeleton "Clarence," after a corpse in a comics story drawn years ago by my friend John T., a musician, artist and cartoonist. The name amused me. I bought the skeleton for the astonishing low price of $300.00 over 30 years ago. I was taking life drawing classes at the Art Students League (in NYC) and I decided I needed to learn the skeletal structure of the body.

(I had already been studying muscular anatomy via George Bridgman's book CONSTRUCTIVE ANATOMY, but I wanted to learn about what lay under the muscles. Later, I had a teacher, Eliot Goldfinger, who took the class to Hunter College downtown to examine a cadaver. First, Eliot lectured while referring to a cadaver hanging free so he could turn it around to show all sides of it. Then, we were invited to put on surgical gloves and manually examine another cadaver laying supine on a gurney. The experience was odd and fascinating.)

I found a small ad on the back pages of the Village Voice, advertising skeletons for sale. The low price was possible because the guy who ran the company--"Ossa Anatomical"--was preparing to purchase new skeletons, and we who ordered from him at this time could get an almost wholesale price. He supplied skeletons to art schools and medical schools and other interested parties. He operated out of a third floor loft on 14th Street, just west of 6th Avenue. All these years later, Clarence still presides over his area of my apartment.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016


I was doing some reluctant housecleaning the other day and I came across this...a photocopied image of a drawing. At first I wondered, "What is this? Who drew this?" As I studied it, it occurred to me that I had drawn it! I wondered why I had drawn it and, again, who was this person? I don't know where the original drawing is. It did dimly occur to me who this was and why I drawn this picture. It had nothing to do with who this man was...he was John Fairchild, long-time and now-deceased editor of prominent fashion magazine WOMEN'S WEAR DAILY. I recall I had come upon a photograph of John Fairchild in magazine article about him and I thought the photograph was quite dramatic and would present a good opportunity to practice drawing a portrait.The drawing is no masterpiece, but coming upon it unexpectedly, having totally forgotten it, I am pleased with how it turned out. I'm thinking now I should get back to work practicing my drawing of faces!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Frankie Stein

A doodle of Western Lit's (and Hollywood's) ur-Monster, drawn in a children's storybook style. I drew this with the defunct and much-missed vector drawing application CreatureHouse Expression.