1: Voices in an Artist’s Head

Voices in an Artist’s Head

You bring voices to life through drawing. Can you tell us a little about that process? Does the idea of the scene appear to you first, or characters, or the punchline? Is it different every time?

It’s not easy and that’s the real secret: it’s not easy for anyone. Once you know that, it’s easier to accept when you struggle for an idea. I know because I have lunch each week with the cartoonists of The New Yorker. Everyone has to come up with ten ideas to “audition” every Tuesday. It’s HARD work for even for the best of them.

What I do is have with me everywhere I go a note pad and jot down anything I hear or, better yet, mishear, that is vaguely funny or has potential for a premise. That’s one way. At some point I sit down–for hours at a time–and try to find a correlation with some of those ideas with the movements and trends happening in our culture. I’ll work out the captions for pictures that are only still in my head. Later, like a stage director, I find the right setting and characters for the joke. This may not the best way, but it’s how I work.

At the moment I have around 300 ideas, constantly rewording them and trying to improve them, moving the best to the top. By Sunday I start drawing up the top ten from that list. Most of the time I will not sleep, taking only naps until my Tuesday meeting. It’s not a badge of honor but a rut I know others going in on Tuesday go through as well.

How did you become an illustrator? Tell us about your path to your vocation, from the early crayon years to your present day celebrity.

I really enjoyed Sports Illustrated as a little boy and began drawing because of the publication’s beautiful artwork. As a kid I got attention from my drawing (I remember winning a couple of art contests in grade school) and learned early on that along with making people laugh, art was a way for me to stand out. My family was poor (I grew up in the South Bronx and then on Long Island) and I was very lucky to be offered scholarships.  Otherwise I would not have gone to school.

Once that happened I left high school early–I really wasn’t getting anything out of school. I took all the Regents (before taking the classes) and my SATs and my art teachers were giving my abstract art Cs and Ds. I couldn’t wait to get back into the city where I assumed I’d be understood. So I went to dark, gloomy Cooper Union, found myself in a classroom of humorless European geniuses and left after a day for Pratt Institute, an art school that gave me a full tennis scholarship. While there I took a mandatory creative writing class and the teacher would read my work to the class. She was a fan of my writing and the first person to encourage me in that direction.

Previous Page

Next Page