Thursday, April 21, 2011

Drawing for Taste


A million years ago a crew of journalism and art students ran off copies of a ‘zine called “Chickenhead” to piss on and subsequently off faculty at some mid-state Ohio university. The ringleader, an amicable while hungover beartrap of a bourgeois bully called Wayne with hushed email tones, formulated and formed a more manly masthead called TLC, an acronym for the euphemism for all common denominator foodstuffs, Tastes Like Chicken.

Although defunct since 2007, for several years Wayne and I did the illicit, forbidden dance of spec work for hire for free. Wayne's cronies asking for illustrations to extend eye time on their magazine and web posited prose; my conceding to challenges that didn’t affect paying my rent, sick days, or using up sick days calling in constipated to hit deadlines for TLC after procrastinating too long. Not that I’ve ever done that. Moving on.

Over the years we danced, I created several pieces for various topics and authorial agendas. I never met or heard from any of the authors, so I can only suspect that they loved my work so much as to be rendered speechless. I don’t want to know the truth, I couldn’t handle the truth, though I do wish someone would feel a little sorry for me and make a goddamn t-shirt out of my LL Cool J portrait.

Back when I graced the halls of Pence Hall at the University of Kentucky’s School of Architecture, I would nip out during studio to cross the sidewalk to the Journalism school to pick up pending assignments for the Kentucky Kernel, the university’s daily news rag. A lot of famous people got their start at that paper, or so I’ve been assured by my WRFL alumni friends, also vets of the journalism school, and unlike me, also famous. Mick Jeffries and John Howard, looking at you. Aaron too, though I’m not sure if he worked for the Kernel.

I used to stop in at the Kernel somewhere between noon and three, pick up a drawing assignment due back by 6:30 or 7pm the same evening, or if lucky, that time the next day, generally to go with a show or album review. Sometimes I’d even get lucky and get passes to a show or a comp copy of someone’s album to review. In the days before Google, if no one you know knew the group, you had to form an opinion strictly on the listening or hearing live. None of the instant expertise via Wiki or fan sites that Patton Oswalt wrote in “Wake Up, Geek Culture, Time to Die” have spelled out the doom for geek pursuits requiring cultivation over years, taking earnest effort, and prospective social ostracization, to accrue.
Through the college station and the requirement all DJs review a number of records a week, the college newspaper’s smattering of assignments, and the breathtaking breadth like as inside a tardis that exist inside Cut Corners, the college record store. I discovered bands and authors I’ve held dear every since, sometimes rabidly. Alice Donut, Wiseblood – Feotus – JG Thirlwell, Heavy Vegetable, Test Dept., Mary My Hope, Eon, Boss Hog, The Dwarves, Einstürzende Neubauten, Swamp Zombies, Swamp Terrorists, Download, Meat Beat Manifesto, Bloated Floaters, etc. 

Now all you need is a couple hours free to browse Amazon of iTunes on your cellphone and keep a wary eye on what others also bought to trend track to new sounds, surfing the sales to others for potentially satisfying successes on the new sounds front, but with the ability to preview songs before purchasing them, or fish pirate bay for them if you’re nasty, the boutique relationships have been circumvented, building a sense of who you can trust, and on what topics or genres, a relationship built on your spending time and money in their shop, on their shifts, and at their discretion, and the staff of any boutique shop, records or comics or used books or consignment clothing, will always be cooler than you, know more than you, have insider knowledge to wield like flaming swords or inflatable cocks throughout the store to see who will quiver and who will part their moistened wallets, sacrifice the greenbacks within from a submissive pose on bended knee to the mighty knowledge of the employee. 

If you liked a shop you wanted to be liked, to be a friend with benefits, get to lay claim on early or finite assets when they arrived, or marshal discounts, or order cases in at wholesale. You had to show up with gifts, with something to sooth the ego or appetite of the guard at the gate between yourself and whatever glittering geeky obsession had caught your eye and cornered your heart somewhere with a pointy heel. I’ve spent more time cultivating relationships with shop owners and core staff than with some relationships I might’ve actually gotten laid in.

There is more to that obsession for geek knowledge, for building relationships with boutique and specialty shops. The thrill of the hunt, the competition with other like minded or similarly disposed geeks, the adversarial joust of having knowledge others didn’t, particularly store staff since they were supposed to know like everything weeks ago. Of strolling in with an engorged geek dick to flop out on the counter for all to gaze upon through the slightly parted fingers of the hands they’ve thrown up to protect themselves from the magnificent brilliance of your mighty metaphorical member. 

My work with TLC herald back to those days as a 19 year old with deep hunger for more and better, more and faster, like Tick visiting the retired superhero home and hoping, “To lap up their pearly mess of wisdom.” The difference is that I could take topics I knew nothing about and had little investment in and as Patton described, after a few clickity-clicks and a couple hours in Google become an armchair expert, a veritable cornucopia of collected opinion and observation, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing since all that so called knowledge came on the backs of others with the free time to wiki figments and facsimiles as forthwith, forthright facts.

I could take an assignment about a new talk shows hosted by celebrities I had only fleetingly known through white noise osmosis to have existed.  Tyra Banks, Tony Danza, names I struggle to remember even know, after drawing them for hire, albeit for free. Fire off for free and forget, like politics, I suppose.

One of my favourite illustrations for TLC were the ones for the Yes Men documentary, a group I actually knew a bit about and learned abundantly more to prep for the illustration. I don;t know if the Yes Men ever saw my illustration next to their interview in TLC, but i do know that I have purchased each of their films and paypal donated to many of their projects since. So if the interview aimed to bring readers to the Yes Men fold, at least they convinced this freelance illustrator to become a believer and advocate.

Another favorite, the one for an editorial about LL Cool J, came easily for me since I’ve been a fan of LL’s since back when he warned prospective opponents he would crush them like a jelly bean with the might of his Cool J cookies. While I’d worked on Scarface: the World is Yours our producer, Cam W., fly to NYC to meet with the big wigs at Def Jam for a licensing collaboration that eventually came through. En route, Cam ended up sitting a couple rows behind LL and LL’s two bodyguards. Cam, a former big deal college quarterback, is not a small guy. LL is considerably bigger. And the bodyguards basically needed to buy adjacent seats to accommodate their muscular girth.  Cam didn’t have the brass clangers to try to approach LL on the plane or in the airport, but later got to have Jay Z introduce him to LL in the Def Jam HQ in a lobby littered with the up and coming label talent, most of which were bristling with bling, prison influenced tattoos, and Cam had felt a variety of armament accessories. When I took the assignment, I recalled Cam’s story of how he’d seen LL rushing in to NYC to cut new tracks regardless of what film or TV project he had going, reminding me of the lyrics to G.O.A.T., a track named after boxing legend Mohamed Ali’s slogan, and I thought of LL’s muscle fitness book that I’d noticed on Amazon when looking to replace my lost CD of Mama Said Knock You Out.
I moved on from TLC to work on recreational projects, collaborations with other artists, as part of the International Moly Exchange. I’ll write more about that sometime, as many of those were completed on bar room table tops, just as many of the sketches for the TLC pieces were.

If you’d like to see more of my TLC work, check them out on my Flickr. And whatever your geek tastes are, enjoy the increased availability of tips and insights afforded by the web, just take it all with a grain of salt. You can’t truly know something until you’ve experienced it, and from that experience deriving perspectives, opinions, new questions, etc. Others can help inform, contextualize, and cross reference.

You have to decide how you actually feel about something, what you choose to take away from it, and how you might use your experiences and perspectives to inform something else, a decision, a direction, or a derivation of your own.

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