Thursday, January 6, 2011

Getting to the roots

This cover that I got to do for an album by The Slackers reminded of the quadruple-whammy of events that threw me headlong into a life of drawing:

1. Dinosaurs roamed the earth! Brian LaMay and I always argued at first grade recess over who would be Tyrannosaurus Rex and Brontosaurus (neither of us wanted to be the plant eater, and it turns out now it didn't even exist, so why should we have bothered?) Ironically, I hardly ever drew dinosaurs, but the artwork in my books fascinated me nightly. Way back then, illustrators were the only ones who could make these beasts come alive. So what if the artists drew them chest deep in swamps or with their tails dragging, which scientists now say didn't happen.

2. Crayola. I can't find it now, but Crayola once ran a TV commercial in which illustrators (their disembodied hands, anyway) made realistic tigers and zebras and fish with the same crayons that mocked me from their green and yellow box. I was spellbound.

3. Emile Duronslet Jr., a teenager who lived in my neighborhood and drew magically. Until I met him, I didn't realize that humans made the pictures in all those books I loved. Even as a kid he was passionate about drawing and teaching others. He would tell stories about his goggle-eyed Martians, complete with Martian dialogue, as he populated notebook paper with them. I think he became an animator in the gaming industry.

4. Ed "Big Daddy" Roth and/or Stanley "Mouse" Miller (you pick who came first or takes credit), purveyor of hot rod monster art. I still love their oversized demons — bulbous eyes, fencerows of crooked teeth, slobber roping out of their giant leering smiles — jammed into impossibly souped-up hot rods. One gigantic monster arm was almost always raised high above a gigantic gear shifter, the bony hair-flecked fingers ready to put the monster car in motion. Making Revell models of hot rods frustrated me, and my mom had sufficiently freaked me out about paving my own ruin if I whiffed so much as a molecule of model glue, but I dearly loved the artwork.

So when the art director for The Slackers' project told me the cover would have to feature a slot machine — a one-armed bandit! — I wasted no time in talking the art director into letting me rip off (I mean, pay homage to) "Big Daddy" and "Mouse."

I thought I'd lost that chance for good. Years before, drawing for Brew Your Own Magazine, I did key art for a story about how home brewers can use their senses to avoid mistakes in their ale batches. Perfect for bulging eyes, a big nose and a slurping, snaky tongue. Along with a half-dozen sketch ideas, I included this one and really pushed it:

The note below the sketch wasn't enough, though. I had to call and make my plea. No luck.

"Yeah," said the art director.
"None of us knows who this 'Big Daddy' guy is."

Kids today.

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