A couple of years ago, while staring at my magic glow screen, I stumbled upon a cartoonist who was creating experimental poetry by attacking a page of the New York Times with a Sharpie and blacking out all but a few choice words. Little did I know that this magic glow screen was actually called the “internet,” and that this multitalented “writer who draws” would soon be launching an entire book of these winsome poems, created by subtraction rather than addition.
Meet Austin Kleon, whose Newspaper Blackout was published this month by Harper Perennial. The technique of “finding” a hidden text within a text is not new, as Austin will tell you, but his approach is. He has liberated it from the left-field manifestos and postmodern posturing which have usually accompanied it, and has created work which is direct and accessible. These poems are as sweet, poignant, evocative, and funny as anything written by the “traditional” method, and definitely worth reading. One might even find them addictive. At Austin’s prodding I decided to try one of my own, and then I had the pleasure of talking to him about his book. Here’s some of the back-and-forth:
DD: Michelangelo reportedly said that “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” What made you first discover the blackout poem?
AK: A nasty case of writer’s block. I was twenty-two, right out of undergrad, trying desperately to write short stories. (Short stories are what they teach you to write in college, and so I tried to write them.) I’d sit in front of the computer screen, and the Microsoft Word cursor would just blink and blink and blink. Like it was taunting me.
One day, I looked over at our recycle bin stacked full of newspapers, and I thought, I might not have any words, but right there next to me are millions of them. Read full interview
I’ve got a cartoon in this week’s issue of the New Yorker. It never gets old, seeing things of yours get published. In fact, getting things published is an interesting process, from start to finish. Sometimes people want to know how it works. So, I thought I’d post a little story, and I thought it would be helpful to title it How It Works.
The first thing to do is to drink a lot of coffee.
One of the keys to finding humor in things is knowing where NOT to find humor. And as you can see, you cannot make a joke about Hoboken. Once that becomes clear, the rest is easy. You just start sketching.
This is a rough idea that came to me upon contemplating a history of missed deadlines. I only jot down what I need to jot down in order to preserve the idea. When I go to pitch it to the magazine, it’s cleaned up quite a bit and drawn in Sharpie:
This cartoon would have been expedited to the cartoon graveyard, except that the good editors at the magazine decided to buy it. So then I do a final version in scratchboard, which is not too different in layout than the sketch:
The final part of the process, of course, is the tremendous crush of media attention and fame that comes my way, which is naturally followed by staggering amounts of money. After a cartoon is published I like to relax by buying a Greek island and paying the residents to leave so I can vacation there all by myself, but sometimes the throngs of people outside my door are so overwhelming that I am stuck here. For instance, this is a snapshot of what is happening outside my window right now:
James Cameron has been printing money out there in Hollywood for the last dozen years, and now he is doing the next logical thing: designing it.
That’s right. Cameron’s first post-Avatar project isn’t a movie, but something a lot bigger: he’s designing the 100 dollar bill. It’s scheduled for release in February of 2011, and it’s going to be huge. Check out this teaser video.
Don’t think it’s true? This is really a no-brainer. In the Na’vi, Cameron created a world of people who at first glance appear to be like us, but who in reality are preoccupied with strange rituals and who speak an incomprehensible language. Hello – what’s so different about the aliens of Wall Street (or, for that matter, Hollywood)? Cameron truly knows his material. Consider all of the ways that this bill takes everything to the next level for the director:
Like Avatar, it’s got 3D woven into it (the blue security ribbon), but this time you don’t need the idiotic glasses.
The color palette is so gaudy it makes Pandora look as about as kaleidoscopic as a cinder block.
You can run it through the washing machine with no problem. Try doing that to your Avatar DVD.
The bell silhouette actually changes color as you turn the bill in your hand. Does it change color to reflect your mood? Does the bill know what you are thinking? Are your palms getting sweaty? This is a visceral piece of currency, people.
Is there a better action hero than Ben Franklin? In addition to being a politician, printer, Postmaster, scientist, musician, beer brewer, and world traveler, Franklin could also stone cold act, as witnessed by his role as curmudgeonly female author and Harvard-basher Silence Dogood.
It’s got raised printing – you can feel Franklin’s left shoulder, and rumor has it that in later releases, you’ll actually be able to smell his warm sausage breath.
And that’s just the front. If you study the back of the bill from left to right, you will view a panorama that that is traditional and regal and then – BAM! T-Pain drives a Hummer full of bling right through the thing in the form of that ridiculously outsized golden “100.” It’s what Cameron does best – the obvious, but spectacular, plot twist. I don’t see very many $100s, though, so here’s hoping Kathryn Bigelow can step up and really rock the redesign of the nickel.
You often hear people say, defensively, that they can’t draw a straight line, as an excuse for not drawing at all. I usually reply that I can’t either: that’s what rulers, or the sides of cereal boxes, are for. Drawing requires looking and thinking and experimenting. If you can do this then the physical process of representing an idea will become immeasurably easier, and you might discover that you don’t even need to draw a straight line. They’re overrated anyway.
The April issue of Print magazine has a graphic representation of the story of Jack and Jill (based on a classic assignment given by Richard Wilde, chair of the Advertising and Graphic Design department at SVA), done by New York-based designer Joe Marianek. The story is told with a single heart shape, using variation and repetition to communicate the essential characters, events, and even emotions of the story (even the “hill” is merely an upside-down heart, enlarged and cropped). It is simple and brilliant:
You’ll want to pick up the issue in order to see the other graphic assignments and solutions, in addition to Marianek’s comments about this particular one. I unwittingly did the same thing a few years ago with this cartoon (below). I arrived at it backwards because I was going for comic effect, but the principle is the same: taking a single symbol and manipulating it in a way that tells a clear story. It could have been accomplished with an even simpler drawing or with photographs. And if I can do it…
If you are a multitasker, you are living in a Golden Age, even though you are probably playing foursquare to notice. You can watch video on your phone and you can Tweet while you’re playing baseball and you can text somebody while you’re driving an 18-wheeler downhill in a rainstorm. So it only makes sense that now, apparently, the bathroom has become the newest arena to feature technological distraction. And why not? It’s not like the bathroom is a place where you’ve got to concentrate on anything, or read an instruction manual on how to do your business.
I was traveling this week and my hotel room had a showerhead that was actually a video game controller. My first reaction was that this was an unnecessary extravagance, but when I thought about how many times I couldn’t open the shampoo bottle because I was being assaulted by an army of ninjas I realized that this was a great invention. Here are some of the functions I discovered:
I had a great time at the Museum of Comic and Cartoon Art’s 2010 festival at the Lexington Armory this past weekend. Especially fun was the segment in which actors and comedians read aloud stories and strips by Michael Kupperman, R. Sikoryak, and Gabrielle Bell, with Kupperman’s “Mark Twain and Albert Einstein in outer space” and Sikoryak’s classic “Infernoe Joe” series being particularly hilarious. Emily Flake and Kim Deitch read their own works, which were also great. Flake and Sikoryak, among others, will be presenting their comics at Carousel on April 20, which I’m looking forward to. But maybe the most pleasantly surprising thing I saw was that the statue of Wisdom, seated outside the 25th St. oourthouse, was reading Dr. Seuss’ Green Eggs and Ham:
It’s not exactly ice cream weather, but according to The Shake Shack’s “Custard Calendar,” today is Fluffernutter day. Upon discovering this, my first thought was: isn’t every day Fluffernutter Day? And then my second thought was: can you imagine chasing an actual Fluffernutter with a Fluffernutter custard? Just thinking about it is making my body shut down with suga r c o m a
Naturally, it begins with a death. When the New Yorker doesn’t want to publish a cartoon, it gets rejected. However, on the rare occasion when they buy a cartoon with the intention of publishing it, and then change their mind, the cartoon gets killed. This is the first cartoon of mine which was introduced to the publishing afterlife, and so I thought I’d give it an official memorial here. The official cause of death remains unknown, but I’ll offer you the chance to vote on it.
This blog is about cartoons. Comics. Keen observations. Parking tickets. Graphic novels. Light hors d'oeuvres. Permanent markers. Ransom notes. Shakespeare. The funny-looking coffee stain on your shirt. Stuff like that.
Words, Pictures, Humor · This blog is about cartoons. Comics. Keen observations. Parking tickets. Graphic novels. Light hors d'oeuvres. Permanent markers. Ransom notes. Shakespeare. The funny-looking coffee stain on your shirt. Stuff like that.