Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Shot at Glory - Comic for ESPN

When art director Siung Tjia from ESPN called me in early February offering the coolest job ever given to a mortal, I had to say yes. Just the CHANCE to do something so big for such a visually creative, innovative publication was too much to pass up.

Zev Borow, a sports writer for ESPN, had written a short story about a fictitious performance-enhancing drug for regular guys, and editor Neil Fine thought it would be great as a comic. That's where I came in.

Zev wrote the story, I adapted it as a comic, and he went back in the end and filled in the word bubbles. It was a thrilling way to work that allowed for game of creative ping-pong that was really exciting to be a part of.

After my first shot at the story, I had a meeting with Neil and Siung discussing the goals of the project. Neil was excited about the piece so decided to push the deadline back to give me some time to make this thing really good. At the meeting he told me they'd be able to make it six pages if that eased things up on me.

The schedule was really tight when the job got pushed because it up overlapped with some other jobs I was doing. I was fortunate to have the help of a good friend and illustrator, Mike Neumann, to help me out with the flatting. There's no way I could have gotten it done in time without him. Thanks Mike!

I passed my finished line drawings on to Zev with an estimated word count for him to work with, numbering panels so he would be able to easily see where the text was going to go. I was kind of nervous but he did an amazing job on the text.

Then I went back into Photoshop and spent the next two days hand-lettering every bubble. As the project got closer to completion, the clouds parted and the sun cast a heavenly glow on my studio. Laser beams of passion then shot out of my eyes, almost causing my monitor to catch fire on two separate occasions.

The story went to print in the 10th Anniversary issue of ESPN the Magazine, with LeBron James on one side of the flip-cover double issue. It's currently on stands, and also features a full page and spread illustration by bad-asses Jillian Tamaki and Nathan Fox.

When it was all done, I was given a left-over ticket to the magazine's 10th anniversary party, where the band was none other than 90's favorite Third Eye Blind.

I love my job.


Monday, March 10, 2008

CJR Scandal - Vladmir Putin Illustrations

Several weeks back I was shocked to receive the following email:
Hi Frank,

My name is Jon, and I'm a freelance fact-checker for Columbia Journalism Review currently working on a piece about the Russian Esquire. I wanted to run a couple of things by you if you don't mind...

- You're based in the East Village?

- Did you recently do illos for the magazine portraying Putin as “a bouncer-like skinhead“ and as a “hung corpse“?

Let me know when you get a second; many thanks.

The email got me a little upset because I felt like and assignment I'd done several years ago was being misinterpreted in order to make some writer's point. I asked to see the piece he was talking about before commenting either way. Here is his next email:
I can't send you the entire piece, but I can copy you the part that references you:

"In the Russian analogue of U.S. Esquire's Dubious Achievements section, East Village illustrator Frank Stockton recently portrayed Putin as a bouncer-like skinhead and as a hung corpse. Bold provocations -- and yet no reaction from Putin's administration followed."

Please let me know if any of the facts are inaccurate; thanks.
I talked to several friends to get a good idea of how I should respond, if at all. Some friends said yes and some said no, but in the end I decided that the best thing to do was to write a detailed response and CC the editor of the magazine, as CJR is a well-respected literary publication and less of a tabloid.

Here is the response I wrote up after thinking the situation over:
Hi Jon,

From the paragraph you sent me it seems that the writer is using two
examples out of a series of 30 to make some point that's not in the spirit or original intent of the pieces. It appears to imply that I was making some sort of political statement about Putin. As an illustrator, I am hired to interpret the text given and present it back to the publisher in a way that fulfills their needs, rarely if ever to present original views or opinions on issues. Pinpointing two images out of thirty is like showing two panels of a 30 panel comic strip and letting them imply a completely different story than may take place in the entire piece.

In the Fall of 2005 I was commissioned by the Russian Esquire to make 30 illustrations of things Russia leads the world in. One condition the publication asked for was that each illustration had a caricature of Vladmir Putin as the visual metaphor for Russia. Originally I was commissioned to make just one illustration for the article, in which they asked if I could illustrate the theme “child suicide” by putting Putin’s head on a child’s body and hanging it from a noose. While I didn’t personally like that solution at all (and never show that particular piece for that reason), I nevertheless still did it, because as a recent graduate of an arts program facing over $800 per month in loan repayments I took whatever I could get.

For whatever reason, my art director at the magazine asked me if I would
be interested in doing the other 29 illustrations for the article, but if I could come up with my own solutions. I excitedly obliged and proceeded to quickly and sometimes more brilliantly than others make visual companions to the content of the article: 30 things that Russia leads the world in. Topics were given in a list format, and they simply asked for Putin to be in every illustration.

The piece as a whole was designed to have a humorous yet somber tone. To take two of these solutions out of context as the writer is doing in this article makes it seem as though I am making a statement about Putin; either who he is or about how I feel about him. I never thought the article would be misunderstood or myself misrepresented in this way. I’m very proud of the series of Putin pieces I did for Esquire Russia and stand behind my solutions and my integrity as an illustrator. But I assure you I am not and have no interest in political illustration although on occasion in the past political figures have been the subject of my work.

Thanks for reading,

I've decided to re-post the Putin 30 series here with the descriptions for everyone to see.

Most abortions
Most auto accidents
Most cops
Most diamonds exported
Most emigrants to other countries (?!?)
Most female bosses
Most gorodiki enthusiasts
Most kangaroo meat consumed
Most dogs sent to space
Most instant coffee consumed
Most computer piracy
Most scientists
Most under-age smokers
Most swimfins
Most people trafficking (pictured above)
Most alcohol-related deaths
Most of claimants of human rights violations
Most prisoners
Most alcohol consumed
Most leaves on the ground (?!?)
Most generals
Most heart disease
Most child suicides (pictured above)
Most neo-nazi skinheads (pictured above)
Most opium consumed
Most domesticated reindeer (pictured above)
Most private security firms
Most sunflower oil exported
Most tanks

The biggest lesson I got from the whole ordeal was to think more carefully about the assignments we choose. As a freelance illustrator, there's frequently a struggle I face between making art and making a living -- more specifically, sometimes in the struggle to make rent, we take on jobs that we otherwise wouldn't have interest in.

Artistic freedom is certainly a goal of all of us working in printed media, and while we want everything we do to be true to ourselves, that struggle of dealing with a client who calls you up and knows exactly what they want in the most excruciating detail is often times a pain, especially if you're someone who's trying to innovate and go further with each piece you do.

I've been making a bigger effort over the last several months to respectfully turn down jobs that I don't think I will be able to push myself with, though its sometimes a tough economic decision. The result has been (in my opinion) a dramatic jump in the quality of the work of mine that is seeing print.

All in all, I'm always grateful when someone calls me with a job offer whether I can make the time to do it or not because I know how rad it is to be able to make pictures for a living.

Thanks for reading!