Sunday, September 30, 2012

Politics, Cartoons, Mediocrity

This is the Forexpros comic from last Thursday (October 27th).  It's based on a recent CNN poll indicating voters are more likely to trust President Barack Obama to fix the economy than his opponent, Mitt Romney.  This is a big deal, as the cornerstone of Mitt Romney's campaign has been his experience in business and his theoretical ability to jumpstart the sluggish US economy.

If looking at a cartoon featuring Barack Obama and Mitt Romney on my website leads you to believe I've resumed my political cartooning, here are a couple of details to consider: 1.) I'm still just an illustrator for Forexpros.  They give me the subject and I draw it up.  2.) Though there is perhaps no subject MORE political than the presidential elections, the angle here is a financial one.  The subtext of this cartoon is the effect the elections might have on worldwide financial markets.  3.) Though the subjects are political, there isn't actually an opinion being voiced in this cartoon.  It's just a visual representation of the results of the CNN poll.

If it seems like I'm going out of my way to distance myself from political cartoons, it's because I am.  Though I still have a strong interest in politics, I no longer have any interest in expressing those ideas in cartoon form.  These days, as un-fun as this opinion is, I think the political arena in this country is long overdue for rational, sober analysis and action.  My cartoons tended to be knee jerk, emotional reactions to scenarios that were often far too complex to be distilled into pithy punchlines.  I also found they did little to foment informed discussion.  They just pissed people off.

Ok, down the the illustration side of it.  This one took me about 15 hours total.  One day, 15 hours.  That's mostly because there are four subjects and a decent amount of detail.  As I've said about previous Forexpros comics, the one day turnaround is a mixed blessing.  I don't have enough time to work on these until I'm completely satisfied with them.  But that also means I don't have the time to overthink things.  I have to go from layout to outline to color as fast as I can, which is one of the reasons why the sketches for these are never very enlightening.  I just don't have time to make too many changes to the sketches.

Here's what I like about this one: The station wagon that represents the U.S. economy.  For whatever reason, the present state of the economy in this country seems to be perfectly embodied in the majestic 1991 Ford Country Squire Station Wagon.  I also like Barack Obama's face.  I think the likeness is decent, particularly since I don't think I've drawn him before.  He's got a great face for caricature.  I also like the expressions on the faces of the woman and man.  They're tired and slightly annoyed, which are common sentiments right now about the political and economic state of this country.  The man of the couple is looking at Mitt Romney as if Romney would have been his choice, but clearly his wife is the driver.

Here's what I don't like: Mitt Romney's face (my depiction of it, not his actual face).  It just doesn't look like him all that much.  Also, where are his feet?  The composition is pretty weak as well.  I'm not sure what I'm supposed to be looking at.  The characters are too evenly spaced across the panel.  Better use of perspective and value (both pretty basic concepts) would have been warranted.

I don't hate it, but this one won't make the highlight reel.


Thursday, September 27, 2012

Geothermal Heat Pumps and unbridled excitement

Decagon, a long time client and all around excellent organization, asked me recently (well, one of their employees, really.  Decagon itself is, in spite of laws stating the contrary, not a person and not capable of asking me anything directly) to create a drawing of a geothermal heat pump/exchanger.  So I did.  In fact, I did two.  One in a standard blueprint style and one in what's essentially it's opposite.  So here they are.

Houses are both satisfying and frustrating for me to draw.  Satisfying probably because it appeals to my type-A personality (more like a "type-A-frame personality"...get it?  A-frame?) and frustrating because there are all sorts of angles and stuff on a house.  Houses are a bit like cars: Unless they're purposefully cartoony, you have to get the proportions and lines all correct or it's going to look odd.  I think (this is true for me, anyway) you don't have to be an engineer or an architect or even good at math to be able to notice when something isn't quite right in a drawing of a house or a car.  Perhaps it's because we've all looked at so many of them.  Or perhaps it's because our brains have a pretty good symmetry detection chip in them.  Whatever the case, I hope I did passable work on this one.  It looks good to me, but I also spent enough time with it that I probably can't see what's wrong with it.



Blast from Last Week!

Here's last week's comic for ForexPros.  It dealt with the release of the iphone 5 and the subsequent jump in Apple's stock to above the 700 mark.  As has been the protocol lately, I was given the topic on this one and asked to come up with some ideas.  This was chosen from perhaps a half dozen ideas.  Some good.  Some crap.

As per usual, my favorite of the ideas was not chosen.  It would have been a parody of the first "monolith" scene from "2001: A Space Odyssey".  The iphone 5 would have been the monolith with assorted primates gathered around doing assorted things that primates do.  I suspect it was not chosen because A.) This idea is a bit esoteric.  Not everyone's seen that movie and, B.) It maybe only kind of half way makes sense.  But the ideas that are esoteric or obscure and only bordering on sanity are the ones that appeal to me the most.  Such is life.

So, anyway, here's the idea that made the grade.  Things I like about it: Color (getting more comfortable with brighter colors, the apple as a helmet (the old-fashioned fishbowl kind), although it looks a little like the Bic pen mascot, and the light blue grid against the dark blue background.  Kinda Tron lookin'.

Things I don't like: The iphone is supposed to be a jetpack, but it doesn't have all the accoutrements of a jet pack.  It needed more fins or something, but I wasn't sure how to add them without making it look goofy (more goofy than, say, a guy with an iphone for a jetpack and an apple for a head).

All in all, I think this one was good.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Nothing Spectacular

This is the most recent promotional print piece I compiled.  Putting these together always makes me feel good about myself.  I suppose that's because I only include what I consider to be my best work in a variety of categories.  It's not exactly an objective representation of my work.  It makes me think, in the interest of fairness, I should create an anti-promotional print piece; one that includes some of the worst illustrations and biggest mistakes I've made (so far, anyway).  Like the time I spelled my own name wrong.  Yes, that actually happened.  To be fair, though, it's not an easy name to spell.  What with its foreignness and all.

And the Winner is...

It was decided the Facebook concept was the best fit.  Though I was sorry not to be able to bring some of the other concepts to fruition, I agreed with the choice.  The next step was incorporating (into the illustration) many of the people who were actually involved in various education and outreach endeavors using social media platforms.  This meant caricatures.  Lots of them.  I'm used to doing one or two, maybe as many as three at a time for ForexPros, but this one was more than I'm used to tackling.  Six caricatures in a single illustration is plenty.

It was quite a bit of work.  On top of the caricatures, there were also the ancillary characters (robot, food worker, student, drill sargent), the background (they're standing in front of UI campus landmarks) Joe Vandal (it's his page, after all), and all the other details of the page that make it look more convincing.  My favorites are the fact that Joe has unchecked messages and the fact that Joe's Facebook friends are all characters from past "Programs and People" illustrations.

The secondary art was also plenty of work.  Each piece represents a post or update on the various social media platforms discussed in the article.  Finally, the three smaller images were concepts for an infographic about the Morrill Act.

I'm pretty satisfied with the results on this one and, for once, I'm not going to think about it too much.



Programs and People 2012!

For me, the end of Summer is weighted with anticipation for a number of reasons: The onset of milder temperatures, schadenfreude as I gleefully watch kids and college professors return to school and work respectively, football (oh, football.  How I missed you every moment we were apart), and, perhaps my favorite, "Programs and People".

This year's topic was how various social media platforms and outlets are changing the way the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences at the University of Idaho (CALS) is thinking about education and outreach.

First things first: Concepts.

It could be said that I have a bit of a soft spot for old-fashioned and vintage images.  My concepts for this feature did, in fact, heavily favor a variety of styles and images from various historical periods.  However, this time it served more of a purpose than just an aping of classic styles.  My thought was this: Dealing with current technology and current themes can sometimes mean the subject matter gets stale almost immediately.  Particularly when it comes to social networking sites.  Think of all the jokes you've heard about MySpace.  I figured an aesthetically appealing solution would be to portray these very modern elements in old-fashioned ways, hopefully making the illustration a bit more timeless in the process.

With that in mind, I did four concepts:  A 1950s-esque advertisement (complete with puns and vacuum tubes), an industrial revolution dealie type thing (this gets very technical, just bear with me), a "Saturday Evening Post"-type cover, and a very modern parody of a Facebook timeline page.  This fourth idea came from my girlfriend, which is why it's completely different from the other three and beautifully simple.  It was one of those times where I heard the idea and slapped my hand to my forehead for not thinking of it myself.  Sometimes I think good ideas seem obvious (even though they're not) because they're such a good fit.

Here be the concepts, mateys.  Arrrrr.

-Noah "Long John" Kroese

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Video Games and the Euro

I know I owed you a Forex comic from last week, but there wasn't one.  I seriously considered posting a consolation illustration of some kind, but I figured the effort would have smacked of insincerity and I respect your intelligence enough not to patronize you with insincere posts on a blog about illustration.  Also  I didn't have anything to post.  I even looked for something old but didn't come up with anything.  I'll make it up to you this week, though.

So, here is last week's ForexPros comic (incidentally, posting last week's comics always makes me think of "The Pre-Taped Call In Show" from Mr. Show.  Recommended, if you haven't seen it).  The comic deals with a new effort by ECB President Mario Draghi to save the Euro with something that sounds to a financially uneducated illustrator like Quantitative Easing.  At any rate, much like the previous comic, I was given the subject matter and asked to compose the comic.

This one was pretty fun.  Being able to incorporate and pay tribute to a game that was a big part of my childhood was great.  It's an interesting exercise, however, when I'm referencing images or characters that already have a significant identity in peoples' minds.  This is something I used to do periodically in my political cartooning days, with mixed results.  I would often think or feel a certain way about an issue and then I would reference an image that, to me, had a similar emotional resonance.  But this backfired sometimes (I referenced the Mohammed Ali/Sonny Liston photo once and was accused, among other things, of being racist).  If something is too iconic, if the emotion of an image, for instance, is too deeply ingrained in us as a culture, re purposing said image will only make people reject it.  There's also the risk that an image will mean something different to different people.  Images have that power.  Two people might feel two completely different ways about the same image, so referencing that image toward a specific goal runs the risk of being wildly misinterpreted.

That analysis was probably way more than anyone was looking for on a Mario Draghi/video game mashup comic.  So, here's the TLDR: Images are tricky.  Vintage video games are fun.  I liked this comic lots.  It was fun to draw.  The saturation is way higher in this illustration, but it seemed like the right approach.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Forex Fourteen: Anticipation

    What yer a-lookin' at is actually last week's comic for ForexPros.  The subject of this one was the anticipation around Ben Bernanke's then upcoming speech in Jackson Hole, Wy.  Yes, those majestic mountains depicted in the background are based on the Grand Teton, the translation of which means rougly, "I'm a really lonely explorer and just about everything looks like a woman."
    Unlike all of the past cartoons for Forex, for this one I was given only the subject and asked to come up with how to portray said subject on my own.  I didn't exactly go out on a limb, as you can see.  Portraying the markets as the bear and the bull is well-trodden territory, but: A.) How do you portray the markets, as complex as they are, in another way?  Drawing a Wall Street trader?  A guy in a business suit?  A graph with a face (man, that would be so bad it might actually be funny).  I think the bear and bull are probably still one of the better options.  B.) The bear and the bull are great characters.  We've (and by "we", I mean Americans) anthropomorphized both animals so extensively that stuffing them into suits and making them listen to Ben Bernanke talk about a possible third round of quantitative easing is fairly believable.  Both animals can be given eyebrows and human eyes and it still doesn't seem too far fetched.
    This marks the fourth of fourteen cartoons that feature Mr. Bernanke, which is almost 30 percent.  I think I'm getting pretty good at drawing his face.

Ok, that's what I gots.  I will likely be working on the 15th ForexPros cartoon tomorrow, and I will do my best to post it relatively soon after I finish it.