Monday, March 9, 2009

I Might Have Issues But I've Got My Art

Yesterday I took some reference pictures to be used for a couple editorial panels that I’ll walk through the process step-by-step here. Spring break = catch-up on some back-burner projects I haven’t had time to get around to.
Issue #1: juxtaposing the current state of the economy with the annual World Ice Art Championships that just opened up in Fairbanks this weekend. I actually doodled out the original ballpoint pen thumbnail months ago (when the shit started hitting the financial fan) thinking ahead for once that this’d make for an amusing cartoon come this winter. I went a little bit extra incorporating elements from a few actual ice sculptures on display, including one just for purely selfish reasons ‘cause a friend did it, and another that was the awesomely hands-down badass winner this year. Any excuse for a field trip…

Both of the editorial panels in this post were assembled from separately drawn & scanned elements, hacked-out with markers mainly on scrap paper – ain’t concerned with a beautiful work of art here; just enough to get by while still pulling off a somewhat decent and intelligible image that I can live with, if not be proud to put my name on in print. And for those of our viewers keeping score at hope; you bet this is exactly the attitude I flunk students for (“Do as I say, not as I do kids”). At least until you can get away with it. It’s a vicious circle: maybe I’d get more exposure and money if I took the time and invested serious energy and resources to doing editorial cartoons, above and beyond what I already do at least, but right now the best I can do is rely on experience and habitual, stylistic shortcuts to express the basic concept and let it go at that. One could raise the point that if one is truly passionate about what you really care about, you’d do it anyways, regardless of fame & fortune, that kinda begs the question of value, which I’ll address later on in the post.Anyways, back on topic with the funnies: shown are some of the pieces of the puzzle, which are left separate so as to better manipulate them in layers and use filters to achieve different effects. As can be seen, vectored images are easy to rearrange until a good composition is arrived at, and to also add or delete sections. In this case, as it turned out, I didn’t use the griffin (always better to have too much on hand than not enough when it comes to reference); things were getting a tad bit too busy with limited real-estate, and I liked that the caribou & musk-oxen were both looking, or “pointing” the viewer’s eye towards the focal point of the piece. I also had to go back and redraw a simple snowline plus a few spruce trees to provide a background for both depth and contrast purposes and complete the picture. Once everything’s in its proper place, I drop in some quick preliminary values and export the file as a 300dpi TIFF into Photoshop, where the bulk of the finishing can happen.Oh and hey whataya know – after over an hour and a half monkeying around with the shading and fine-tuning on this cartoon, and I go and accidentally “save” the file at the web-preview resolution size, promptly losing all the work I’ve just done. Which makes me very, very sad, and I take the dog out for a walk. AAAARRRGGG – when I’ve been working all damned day on a few pieces, it tends to makes me fried enough that I just don’t really have the energy to get pissed off about fatal screw-ups like that, just resign myself to redoing everything, and relearn a crucial lesson about backing oneself up, hopefully for a while at least…
So it’s back to the ol’ drawing board, and time to put to the test once again that wonderful theory I frequently give lip service to in class; that it’ll just be all that much more better now, right? Right? Sigh…Issue #2: a little more potentially volatile with this one, going to push some buttons on a hot-topic as of late. A group calling itself the “Second Amendment Task Force” has been rallying people to openly brandish their guns around town as part of a movement to save and defend against the perceived assault on constitutional liberties and fundamental rights (as opposed to the responsibilities of citizens to have informed opinion – much easier to pull guns). As part & parcel of the paranoid, right-winger religious persecution complex add in white, male emasculation and impotency issues, mix all under the umbrella of Obama’s liberal administration, and here’s a situation that screams out for irony and satire. To further conflagrate the issue, they’ve been meeting at one of the local evangelical churches, which of course I then just had to go take a drive out and snap a couple reference pictures of. Google Image search got me the portrait of the main sponsor (“community activist/leader”), plus another local State Representative who is also currently vying for the redneck crown of Interior constituents, and for good measure I threw in a couple stereotypes such as a gangsta and a Ted Kazinsky type (of which, not surprisingly, there are an awful lot here). Worth pointing out now as per another previous posting re: stereotypes; there’s no need or justification to bring race into the mix here by making the kid a darker skin tone, as would be another stray idea of drawing a Klansman – this needlessly complicates the main issue and besides, would either confuse or further inflame the righteous indignation of some readers. More than normally, I mean…
One of the chief functions of an editorial cartoonist (indeed, journalists as well) is to remember, to record and to document events as they occur, which will quite often assume far different dimensions when applied to contemporary issues. In this specific case, when Obama was castigated for his original comment on small towns/clinging to guns and religion/being bitter etc., the chorus of criticism was long and loud from the crowd in our neck of the woods. I make it a point to spend roughly a third of my on-line surfing at hard-core conservative sites and constantly monitor comment threads for insights and fodder, and I can recall the vehemence and injured pride that resulted. To resurrect those reactions to Obama’s stereotyping and put them instead into context with the very same behavior that gave rise to such a caricature, well, these things just write themselves sometimes. I couldn’t come up with better material than the laughable ignorance of the mob mentality on display here, and making fun of such stuff while simultaneously making a non-too subtle point means is the height of artistic engagement and is mighty satisfying. Humor is probably one of the most potent weapons, actually the only one at my disposal, and I believe that those with creative skills ought to use them every once in a while for a cause. That said, I recognize that advocacy art, or protest art, or any taint of politics whatsoever, is often enough to scare away both artists and audiences alike. Choose your battles, I suppose.

So anyways, by their very actions these folks are now officially caricatures of themselves, and consequently deserve open mockery for the stunning hypocrisy of their position. Once the public threshold is crossed and they put their names to such a stupid cause it’s fair game, or open season, to use a more appropriate metaphor. Now I trust these folks about as much as the Taliban, and I’m confident that given the chance at power we’d have about as open of a society as their fundamental equivalents over in the Middle East. In fact, the mere posting of the Mohammed cartoon a few weeks back on this blog could technically get me some unwanted attention, academic allowances and freedom of the press aside, still in this country we have the benefit of both a history and a culture which permits such expressions and discussions.But I have to also acknowledge there is a certain element of risk drawing material like this; these are the same people who attract the sort of mentally unbalanced personality that might murder someone who pisses them off. But the day I shut up and put away my pencils in fear of some idiot who has nothing but a gun on his side, that’s the day I’ll figure life ain’t much worth living anyways, and we can kiss America goodbye. Guess that’s my personal version of what passes for patriotism, which I’m literally putting up against an extremist, eliminationist viewpoint, that in my opinion, represents an alarming ratcheting up of rhetoric. Then again, one could argue that I’m not really helping matters much myself with inflammatory editorials. Here’s hoping they remember to defend my right to do so. Or there’s always the possibility I’m not only being melodramatic but more than a little egotistical; as there’s a far greater chance that no-one notices or really cares.

The state of editorial cartooning (and newspapers in general) is an ongoing concern in cartooning – the past couple of years have seen a depressing increase in the loss of nationwide talent. Already ranted in an earlier post about my opinion on the reasons for this, but it’s worth mentioning again as last week while dropping off the month’s fresh Nuggets, the editorial page editor commented on the lapse in submissions from me. No small part of that can be attributed to it plainly slipping down the priority list since it literally isn’t worth my time, and like the majority of artistic endeavors, is therefore relegated to the default status of a hobby. Which is unfortunate, as both of these panels illustrate how local issues that are of real concern to a local community provide a point of view and visual commentary that an article or photograph can’t.
But cycling back to this post’s opening point, I guess I’m guilty of my own hypocrisy in that I invested considerable time on these panels, proving once again I’m a sucker, and my time really isn’t worth squat anyways (just hopefully my talent) and that must be why I’m the way I am and why I do what I do.

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