Nick Flynn's BEING FLYNN… the back story

Comics, Illustration, Plug

I first met Nick Flynn back in the fall of 1999, in Provincetown, Massachusetts. I had accompanied Sari there for her Fine Arts Work Center fellowship, a residency which would keep us in P-town through the winter and into the following spring. Nick was a second-year fellow, and Sari and I were immediately drawn to his charm, intelligence, and good humor.

Nick was a natural storyteller, and had some amazing stories to tell, about a life filled with drama, heartbreak, debauchery—all that good stuff. By trade, he was a poet—a good one—and over the years he and I did some collaborations, basically me adapting his poems into comics. One of the pieces, “Father Outside,” had to do with the time Nick was working in a homeless shelter and his long-estranged father arrived as a new client. Another piece, “Bag of Mice,” dealt with Nick’s mother’s suicide. In all, we did three collaborations, all of which were published in literary journals (and later published my me in The Vagabonds #2). The original art from our first piece, “Cartoon Physics, Part One,” even traveled as part of a multi-city comics art exhibition.

In 2004, Nick published a memoir, memorably titled Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. (That was a favorite phrase of his father’s.) Nick hoped to collaborate again with me on the cover of the book (which was being published by W.W. Norton, much later to be my publisher for The Influencing Machine.) So we worked together on some sketches. Long story short, Norton declined to use my art for the cover (though it was eventually published as a frontspiece in the British Faber & Faber edition). And I have to admit that the art they used instead, by Hon-Sum Cheng, is far superior.

So, fast forward eight years, and Nick’s book has been made into a feature film. Now called Being Flynn (you can see why they didn’t use the other title), it stars Paul Dano as Nick and the legendary Robert DeNiro as Nick’s father. Julianne Moore makes an appearance as Nick’s mom—not a bad cast! The film opened last week, so to commemorate it, I’m sharing the book’s rejected cover art.

Another Bullshit Night in Suck City

Pull Up Those PIIGS!

Comics, Illustration

My mother, Martha Rosler, and I have just collaborated on a public art piece in central Berlin. It’s on the topic of the ongoing European debt crisis, and it’ll be on display on the building (at Auguststraße 10, 10117 Berlin, Germany) until the end of November. (I wasn’t aware of this beforehand, but “PIIGS” is an acronym used by international bond analysts, academics, and the economic press to refer to the economies of Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain in regard to the ongoing sovereign debt crisis.)

My mom came up with the concept and text, and I did the illustration. The project was commissioned by DAAD (in English, the German Academic Exchange Service). My mother is in Berlin for a year on a residency sponsored by DAAD. This is the second large public art collaboration I’ve done with her, the first being part of the MAK Center’s “How Many Billboards?” project from last year.

The piece is quite massive, approximately 35′ x 42.’ Here’s a photo:

Pull Up Those PIIGS

Pull Up Those PIIGS!

This is how the building normally looks (without the palm trees), sorry about the weird cropping:

Auguststraße 10 10117 Berlin, Germany

And here’s a link to a larger version of the original illo, complete with the groovy yellow-green background which they had to cut out for print-compatibility reasons…

STATE OF EMERGENCY: Evolution of a Cover

A.D., Illustration

I’ve written previously about State of Emergency, Sari’s adaptation of both my A.D.: New Orleans After the Deluge and Dave Eggers’ Zeitoun. Part of Scholastic’s On the Record series, the book is aimed at high-school “reluctant readers” (thus the appeal of the graphic novel format). I think Sari did a really great job of adapting and abridging the two books.

For me, it’s a thrill to be paired with Eggers. I really admire Zeitoun, and of course I’m grateful to Dave for his blurbing of A.D. And what makes this project even sweeter for the whole Josh & Sari family is that Scholastic asked me to draw the cover for State of Emergency. I was happy to oblige, and thought you might enjoy seeing how the illustration developed.

We quickly determined that they were looking for images of post-flooding New Orleans and "people helping people." So the first thing I did was come up with a few sketches:

State of Emergency sketches

"How Many Billboards?"

Illustration

My mother, Martha Rosler, was invited by L.A.’s MAK Center to create a billboard as part of their “How Many Billboards” project. My mom suggested that we do a collaboration, and our billboard is up! It’s on Sunset Blvd, just west of Cahuenga, on the north side of the street, facing east. Here’s a shot. I’m off to L.A. tomorrow (weather willing) to take part in the opening festivities, etc…

"How Many Projects?"

David Heatley's "Suburban White Girls"

Comics, Illustration

I’m way late in writing about this, but you should check out cartoonist/rocker David Heatley‘s "Suburban White Girls" video. Written by David when he was 19, it was remixed and re-recorded last year as part of his My Brain is Hanging Upside Down EP — which of course coincided with the release of his My Brain is Hanging Upside Down graphic novel (Pantheon, 2008). And now there’s a music video.

1980s junior high nerdAs befitting Heatley’s work, "Suburban White Girls" is "an anthem of uncomfortable truth, complex parody, and heartfelt angst." The really cool element of all this is that the video uses cutouts and puppets made from original artwork by over 30 cartoonists/illustrators that David recruited via FaceBook and other means. And — wait for it… I’m one of the contributors! (You didn’t see that one coming, eh?) You’d think that with that many different styles and aesthetics, the final product would be an eyesore, but David was very clever in his conception of the project. He asked each contributor for a particular element — in my case, a "nerdy junior high school white boy, circa late 80s early 90s," in full-figure profile — and provided everybody with a specific color palette of just 20 shades. (By the way, is it a coincidence that the character I drew looks a lot like me from that era?)

So the end result is quite cohesive, and really fun. Some of the other contributors are Heatley himself, Chris Eliopoulos, Dave Kiersh, Hope Larson, J.T. Yost, Sarah Glidden, and my old intern Ben Moody, flexing his yellow-school-bus-drawing skills! Check it out; and also make sure to watch the credit reel, which features an example of each artist’s contribution to the project; and David’s blog, which gives a blow-by-blow behind-the-scenes account of the making of the video.

WarHolk

Illustration

This past weekend, the Austin American-Statesman ran a special summer movie preview in their entertainment supplement, and they asked me to draw the cover. In honor of the Incredible Hulk film premiering in June, the art director had me do an Andy Warhol-style portrait of ol’ greenskins. As a guy who doesn’t make a living drawing superheroes, it’s fun to go back to my roots once in a while. For this one, though, all I had to do was make an angry face in the mirror, remove my glasses, change my hairstyle, “Warhol” it up, and voila!

As a bonus, here’s a link to the a.d.’s story about his search for the “Credible Hulk”…

New Caledonian Communard

Illustration

Fresh from the success of Gone Missing, The Civilians have a new show, This Beautiful City,  already in production in Colorado Springs,  and a second one in the works. To that end, they asked me to whip up an illo for a fund-raiser they’ve got coming up in NYC in May. The play is called Paris Commune, and the illo refers to the captured Communards who were exiled to the Polynesian island of New Caledonia. So here’s our little revolutionary in his new tropical garb:

Paris Commune

And here’s info about the benefit, which your welcome to attend, if you’ve got $25-$150 to spare:

PARIS COMMUNE II
Communards in the South Pacific

Monday, May 12, 8 PM to 1 AM, Performance at 9 PM
Element Nightclub, 225 East Houston Street
@ Essex Street / Avenue A, New York, NY 10002

Enjoy drinks and dancing in this Lower East Side club, surrounded by The Civilians’ artists, friends, and supporters. This benefit event will include complimentary sponsored drinks, full cash bar, light hors d’oeuvres, and a silent auction.

In honor of our production of Paris Commune at the Public Theater, the company will perform a special sequel to the revolution. Following the Communards (in song) from life in the streets of Paris to exile on the French Polynesian island of New Caledonia, this one-time only event is guaranteed to prove that the fight (and the show) must go on.

Tickets $25 to $150. R.S.V.P. at www.thecivilians.org or by calling (212) 730-2019.

Christian Rock illo process

Illustration

I just did a new illustration (for the San Antonio Current) and thought it would be fun to show the process. The illo was for a story about how dull the “Christian Contemporary Music” scene is. The art director had a concept in mind when he called, so this was one of those gigs deadredfred first told me about, where your job as an illustrator is basically to “do something nice that can hang over the couch.” But that’s cool; I didn’t have the energy for a great new concept.

Anyway, the a.d’s idea was to show Jesus in a band T-shirt, rocking out to music in a crowd of polite, conservatively dressed Christian concert-goers. The a.d. had worked with me before, so he didn’t need to see sketches or even pencils; he said I could go straight to final.

Even so, for my own piece of mind, I worked up a tiny thumbnail, just to get the basic layout for the dimensions of the piece:

Sean Taylor, RIP

Illustration

The murder of Washington Redskins’ safety Sean Taylor reminded me of an illo about him I did a couple of years back for the Washington City Paper. Seems Taylor was a bit of a troublemaker on the field, and had made headlines for spitting in another player’s face. The City Paper piece about him was called “Dishonorable Discharge” — clever, don’tcha think? It’s not the most flattering tribute to the tragic death of a professional athlete, but here’s that old illo:

Gone Seeing "Gone Missing"

Illustration

On Saturday, Sari & I went to see the new production of The Civilians’ Gone Missing, at the Barrow Street Theatre, in the West Village. Gone Missing is a wry and whimsical documentary musical crafted from company interviews with real-life New Yorkers about things gone missing: keys, IDs, a Gucci pump… or one’s mind. Directed and written by Steven Cosson with music by award-winning composer Michael Friedman, The Civilians portray more than 30 characters in their signature storytelling cabaret style. This is The Civilians first open-ended Off Broadway production, which is a real coup for them!

As The Civilians cartoonist-in-residence, I was handed the assignment of coming up with art for the show’s publicity materials. Given the subject matter of the show, one of the ideas I came up with was the iconic milk carton image, stuffed with details about the show. Both the company and the venue loved that concept, so that’s what ended up being used for the poster, the program, etc.

The show has received raves (a “Critic’s Pick” from The Times, five stars from Time Out, and various accolades from Variety, The Times of London, The Village Voice,, and all the other New York papers), and I was excited to finally see the show in person. I’ve seen parts of it on DVD, but even though I did a two-page adaptation of one of the scenes for The Vagabonds #2, I’ve never actually seen the show live. And it was all we hoped it would be: inventive, often hilarious, and filled with great music. as always, I was a huge fan of Jennifer R. Morris’s work, who doubles as a woman who loses her pump and a professional organizer.

If you like offbeat live theatre and are in the area, make sure to see the show. And look for copies of The Vagabonds #2 and the (I Am) Nobody’s Lunch/Gone Missing paperback (which I did the cover for) on sale in the lobby.