Suzan-Lori Parks/The Civilians' "Action in Inaction"

Illustration

365 PlaysI drew a play, and my drawing is the play. (Along with some whale sounds.)

The prolific Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Suzan-Lori Parks undertook an amazing challenge in 2002–2003, when she wrote a short play every single day for a year. The result is the 365 Days/365 Plays National Festival, which from Nov 13, 2006–Nov 12, 2007, is presenting the work simultaneously across the country, creating the largest collaboration in the history of American theater. The plays may be performed in one night or over the course of the entire week. That, in addition to where and how they are produced, is up to each participating company.

In New York City, The Public Theater is spearheading 365NYC. Over the course of this year, over 60 selected theater companies — curated by The Public and the 365 Days/365 Plays National Festival — is performing these brief, brilliant plays. Each week, selected theater companies are producing one week’s worth of plays, each ranging from one to five pages in length. The theatre group I work with, The Civilians, are producing this week of 365, from April 23 to 29.

In addition to presenting the plays live this week (and later as part of the whole month of plays at the Public), The Civilians are also presenting the plays on their website. Civilians director Steve Cossen asked me to help, by adapting one of the “constants” (short plays which are eligible for presentation by all the theatre groups at any time during the year), entitled “Action In Inaction.” And this is what we came up with. (Make sure the sound is turned on in your computer!)

Personally, I find it an amusing — and shall I say thought-provoking? — presentation of the script. Others may scoff. Your reaction?

P.S. The Civilians will also present the plays as a hybrid live and recorded event Thursday, April 26, 9pm; Friday, April 27, 9pm; and Saturday, April 28, 4pm, at the Barrow Street Theatre, in New York’s West Village. Free; email kyle@thecivilians.org to reserve. The live version of the plays will be reprised for The Public Theater’s First Sundays Series on Sunday, May 6, at 3pm and 7pm. To reserve, call 212.967.7555 from 10am to 9pm, Mon-Sun, or visit the Public Theater Box Office, 425 Lafayette Street (between Astor Place and East 4th Street).

The Civilians' "Resurrection Vaudeville"

Illustration

The blessed bunny at right was drawn by me to call attention to The Civilians’ 2007 benefit. Enjoy drinks and dancing at the new Midtown club, Arenas Nightclub, surrounded by The Civilians’ artists, friends, and supporters.

Members of The Civilians will perform songs from the company’s new show about Evangelical Christianity—along with a few favorites by Michael Friedman.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Arena Nightclub
135 West 41st Street
Between 6th Avenue & Broadway
New York, NY 10036
8pm to 1am, Performance at 9pm

Includes complimentary drinks from event sponsors Tequila Corazón, Smithwick’s Ale, and Red Stripe Beer; full cash bar; silent auction; and raffle.

wedding cupcake topper

Illustration

Photobucket - Video and Image HostingMy dear friends Mark and Betsy are getting married in a couple of weekends — yay!

Instead of a traditional wedding cake, they’re going to have wedding cupcakes. And they asked me to draw a wedding topper to stick onto each cupcake. This is basically what it’ll look like.

Kinda fun; I just wish I was better at likenesses.

Patriot Acts with The Civilians

Illustration

The Civilians have put me to work again, doing an illustration for a fund-raiser they’ve got coming up in May. The benefit is in the form of a concert, with various progressive-minded celebrities singing patriotic songs, so my mission was to come up with an image which conveyed music & patriotism — with an undercurrent of subversiveness/irony.

With the aid of Artistic Director Steve Cossen, I did the illustration shown here, inspired by the famous image of Marlene Dietrich from Blue Angel. As Steve remarked, there’s something wonderful about this prototypical American icon being a fusing of French statuary and German pose!

Here’s info about the benefit concert, which will be held Monday May 8th, 7:30 pm, at The Skirball Center for the Performing Arts, 60 Washington Square South:

Patriot Acts: an American Vaudeville
Patriot Acts is a celebration of inspiring music about our country, featuring classic and contemporary songs that champion democratic ideals. Organized as a benefit for The Civilians theater company and co-sponsored by The Nation magazine and the Skirball Center for the Arts, Patriot Acts brings together a diverse array of musicians to give expression to a rich tradition that is rooted in fairness, equality, freedom, justice — a tradition that values dissent and puts forth a vision for citizenship counter to prevalent ideas of militarized nationalism. Through an evening of vibrant performances, Patriot Acts reclaims the progressive context of many of the leading icons of our patriotic culture, a context of which many Americans may be otherwise unaware.

The words to “America the Beautiful” for example, were written by feminist and social activist Katharine Lee Bates; the poem was originally included in a collection protesting US imperialism in the Philippines. Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” inspired as response to “God Bless America,” sings about America’s beauty but also poses a challenge in the last and often omitted verse:

One bright sunny morning in the shadow of the steeple
By the relief office I saw my people.
As they stood hungry I stood there wondering
If this land was made for you and me.

From these classics, Patriot Acts traces a musical landscape from songs like “The House I Live In,” a 1945 hit for Frank Sinatra, to contemporary songs by politically engaged artists. The concert also features songs from The Civilians recent show (I Am) Nobody’s Lunch and others. Patriot Acts is inspired by the article “Patriotism’s Secret History,” by Peter Dreier and Dick Flacks that appeared in The Nation magazine.

Beastles: Let It Beast

Illustration

The Beastles: Let It BeastBoston DJ and mashup-artiste Bob Cronin (a.k.a. “djBC”) has compiled his second CD of Beatles/Beastie Boys tunes, appropriately titled Let It Beast. (His first album, The Beastles, was written up in Rolling Stone, The Weekly Dig, The Metro Times and other places.) Anyway, I did the art for the cover. It’s sort of a “Brady Bunch”/Let It Be homage. Being a huge Beatles fan, I was thrilled to be commissioned to draw the Fab Four. Still, I never claimed to be much at likenesses, so don’t judge the results too harshly.

Check out the album here. I think you’ll agree that the songs are simultaneously keen and dope, groovy and slammin’. And then there’s the added edge of it all being slightly illegal and underground. Yeah!

So baby gimme dat "Toot toot"

Illustration

Image hosting by PhotobucketSo on Friday night Sari and I attended the premiere of The Civilians’ Nobody’s Lunch, and I finally got to see the promo postcard I did. Turns out they also used my art for the posters advertising the show (one of them was five feet high!), and for the program. And perhaps the biggest compliment of the evening was finding out afterward that one of the show’s key props — the “suspicious package” — was based on my drawing!

The production itself was amazing. Nobody’s Lunch is a plotless cabaret-style fragmented mirror image of our current society. We all know we’re being lied to — by the government, by the media, by our own families — and yet we don’t care. Plus alien remote viewers and lizard-men! It’s scary, depressing, funny, and entertaining. The songs were great, and the cast of six wowed us with their performances. Sari & laughed our butts off, and then had a lot to talk about afterwards. (There’s a pretty insightful review in today’s Times that pretty well echoes my thoughts on it.)

I’m tickled to be associated with The Civilians — especially now that I’ve seen one of their productions — and I encourage you to see the show yourself before their limited New York run ends.

Nobody's Lunch

Illustration, Work

The Civilians — an interesting New York-based independent theater company — contacted me about collaborating with them earlier this year. Their mission is to “develop original projects based in the creative investigation of actual experience.” Right up my alley. I’m working on a two-pager comix adaptation of a monologue from a previous show, Gone Missing, which I gather was well-attended and crticially acclaimed. I hope to post that collaboration soon.

In the meantime, Civilians artistic director Steve Cossen asked me to draw the announcement card for their next show, (I am) Nobody’s Lunch (A Cabaret About How We Know What We Know When Nobody Knows if Everyone Else is Lying and When Someone or Something Wants to Have You for Lunch). Whew! (The show will run Jan. 19 – Feb. 6 at 59E59 in NYC before moving on to Philly and Cambridge, MA.)

As Steve put it, “The show is about the floating fear and paranoia in post 9/11-America, and that while the show’s subject is dark, our approach is eccentric and well, funny… So as our main marketing piece, the card should encourage someone to come have a good time watching a show about bad things. Basically — creepy in a fun way.” And then he mentioned that he wanted the card to feature a suspicious package, and a bartender who turns into lizard. (That’s a theme of the play, which I read and is AMAZING.) No problem! Oh, and the card is almost a foot long (and, yes, it’s supposed to be cut off like that.)

So here’s what I came up with:

Image hosted by Photobucket.com

last-second assignments

Illustration

In the last week, I’ve gotten two one-day illustration assignments. Other than when you’re working for a daily paper, this is extraordinarily rare. Like, usually when an art director gives me a “quick turnaround” project, they may have “only” two weeks before the deadline. Not usually a problem.

Well, last Thursday night, at 8pm, I got my first-ever assignment from Time magazine (!), for a piece due 11pm Friday! Barely 24 hours. Plus, it was for a very dry topic (527 committees and the Federal Election Commission) and they had no ideas for the illustration. AND I was leaving for SPX the next morning. Oy!

Well, I got the job done, brainstorming and coming up with seven sketches at 1am Thursday, and doing the complete, full-color illo after I got to Bethesda on Friday afternoon. It meant I lost a full day at the con with Pekar, but, oh well, the pay was great, and it was for fricken Time. (The irony is that tho’ the illo was supposed to run this week, the story ended up getting bumped. So look for it next week…)

I thought that was a one-time thing until I got a call yesterday from a regular client, The Washington City Paper.

SPX program cover

Illustration, Work

Image hosted by Photobucket.comThrough a series of coincidences, I got invited to draw the cover for this year’s SPX program. Seeing that Harvey Pekar will be a special guest at this year’s show, SPX Executive Director Steve Conley thought a Pekar theme would be appropriate.

I talked it over with Harvey, and he suggested showing himself at the show, with me, man_size, and Ed Piskor, all artists of his who will also be in attendance. Harv is saying, “Wow, after all the great things Dean and Josh have been tellin’ me about this expo, and now I’m here finally — as a guest with his own booth no less.” Pekar also suggested having me, man_size, and Piskor coming up with our own lines of dialogue.

Given Harvey’s line, I felt my obligation as the artist was to:

a.) promote Harvey being at the show
b.) Promote SPX itself

Thus, my sketch showed a line of eager fans in front of Harvey at his booth as he signs copies of his books, DVDs, etc. Behind him we see other exhibitors, fans, cartoonists, etc, in the Versailles Room. Showing the American Splendor artists (me, man_size, & Piskor) didn’t seem as important, and took away from the other two important elements above.

So I decided to render us artists as bobble-head dolls! man_size is perched on a pile of The Quitter, the new book he’s got coming out this fall, Piskor is on a pile of Macedonias, the book he’s working on, and my bobblehead doll is situated in front of the Best of American Splendor book, which features a number of pieces with my art. I think it’s a funny conceit, and a sly allusion to the Harvey Pekar bobblehead dolls which were part of the promotion of the American Splendor movie. (I own one myself.)

I left space for each of us bobbleheads to have a line of thought- balloon dialogue, but personally I thought that took away from the concept. Having the dolls talking was just a little too symbolic and surreal. After talking it over with Steve and man_size we decided to keep the bobbleheads mum, so I was happy to scrap that. Neither man_size nor Ed had come up with lines of dialogue anyway!

So there you have it. I finished drawing the actual cover yesterday and am coloring it today. There are a lot of people in the background scenes — see if you recognize any familiar faces.