Hi Bob. Thanks for doing this with me. I read that you were trained as a political cartoonist and majored in journalism - what led you to creating childrens books?
Oh, I think all this stuff - writing, cartooning, illustrating and designing -- are just so connected that wandering off into children's books was pretty much a natural for me. However, I'm pretty fortunate that my style seems applicable in so many different venues. It's pretty unusual for an illustrator to work in children's books and newspapers and greeting cards and animation design, etc -- not to mention working for clients as diametrically opposed as Hallmark and MAD magazine, The Wall Street Journal and Cartoon Network. But when it comes to children's books, I've just always had an affinity with their simplicity of design -- and have felt its important not to pander to children, but to empower them. If I don't have a sharp, intelligent and aesthetically sophisticated reader engaging with my books, then they simply don't "live" -- and if my art alienates certain people, then that's just fine with me!
When you sit down to create a cartoon, do you know exactly what you're going to draw before you do it? Does the story line/humor develop before or after the drawing? Which comes first?
I'm lucky because I'm one of those people who sort of "sees" in my head -- and sees the whole picture. It's always been important for me to be able to draw virtually anything without referring to photos of visual reference material. For example, if I have to draw the Taj Mahal from memory, I can do that. It won't be PERFECT, the windows may be in the wrong places and maybe a spire might be misplaced, but cartooning and illustration is simply a visual "language" of hieroglyphs. If my hieroglyph communicates "Taj Mahal", then it becomes easier for me to communicate the bigger concept within the art or illustration. Same is true if I have to draw a 1920s Underwood typewriter or a silhouette of the State of Texas. The fact that my memory of those things may not be perfect insures that my representation of them will contain some "art", and I strongly believe that "mistakes make room for art". I also have this weird ability to draw and design animals without never seeing a photo of one. If I have to draw a giraffe or a Siberian tiger or a kamchatka bear or even a yak, I can do so entirely from memory. That's apparently a very unusual thing, but with the amount of work I do, it would be impossible for me to dig around for reference photos and visual scrap. Amazing how tight deadlines also FORCE me to trust my mental instincts!
"Art or idea" -- the whole chicken and the egg thing. Art and idea should be locked together -- like a pair of Siamese twins joined at the hip. Sometimes the art will suggest the idea, other times it's the reverse. Right now I'm sitting here illustrating an article on Venture Capitalists (VCs) for the New York Times. The article talks about where VCs "see" opportunities to fund companies. I'm really playing off of that idea of "seeing", and am doing so by visually representing periscopes and binoculars and eyeglasses into shapes that evoke dollar signs. When you work that way, there can be no real division between the art and the idea -- they become one -- and when you push around your pencil on the paper, the more you blur their distinct lines.
Just draw from memory? Wow, that’s pretty impressive! Bob, your personal website is never ending! And what's with all of those other sites - Planet Cartoonist, Artsicle, Artyo and WEiQ? Are they all of your sites? You're all over the place! How do you find the time?
I'm just lucky that I work fast -- and all my sites are a reflection of that. If I had a really cautious and deliberate and painstakingly-slow type of personality, none of my web work would get beyond the source code! But I find web design a real natural -- and just one more hat that I'm effectively forced to wear. Freelance cartoonists HAVE to be able to work as a lawyer and an accountant and an office manager and an ad exec, etc -- so being able to crunch out your own html is just what you DO. I didn't know html three years ago, and felt the need to work with a tech partner to develop planetcartoonist.com. She was SO incredibly slow and if she was able to get a page posted, she would labor over it asking me "do you think the table in the upper left should be 85 pixels wide or 92?", you know, that sort of mega-anal stuff. It drove me crazy. I decided at that point that the ONLY way I was going to be able to exploit the power and potential of the Internet was to DO IT MYSELF -- and, happily, its worked.
Do you enjoy what you do Bob? What do you do for fun?
I paint, I cook, I read, I travel, but I'll be honest, I'm happiest when I get to my studio in the morning and sit down at the drawing board. I never forget how damn lucky I am. I mean to be PAID to draw silly pictures each day? The notion is just laughable. Nothing could be more fun for me.
Thanks Bob - it’s been my pleasure!