Friday, September 21, 2007

Editorial Cartooned

"Playboy Magazine?!" she asked over the Australia-Canada landline.

"Yes mother, I have my picture in Australian Playboy!"

Then I paused for a while, deliberately, and tried to listen to her gasp or imagined her face in shock. Holy Hef, I was laughing hard but later she understood it was only a job. (Playboy page below with my picture; did you expect me nude? LOL)

Yes, people do buy "sleazy" magazines for their articles (yeah right;-) and/or the lack of it:-)
But then editors of hot-blooded male's photo-literature sometimes have to limbo under the thin line that separates nude photography and smut. We used to have Australian Playboy and Australian Penthouse magazines freely available in newsagents. In Queensland, young men often suffered from liturarius interuptus as newsagents glued together pages containing photographic models who displayed their keratin-rich zones.

My first editorial commission from art director of Australian Playboy was an article much critical of Libya's Muhamar Kaddafi. (above image). The man however seemed to have mended his ways and doesn't worry Bush anymore. I'm not particularly proud of this work but it was funny to me at the time;-)

I also did regular illustration work for Australian Penthouse. Phil Tripp, author and BMG music pioneer became a friend and owned the original illustration for Penthouse Magazine (Above image I did 1992 which in 2004 was used as cover art for a book, image below)

Although I was gainfully employed by newspapers I did freelance magazine work after the passing away of my wife Virginia. This was the time I worked my backside off to lift my head above an emotional quicksand and sustain normal living and focus on a motherless 4-year old.

What's it like to see your editorial cartoons in the morning papers the next day? I've been often asked. Well in the beginning when I was doing comic strip cartoons for the Philippine Bulletin Today I almost bought all the copies;-) Now how do I reminisce that wonderful feeling? My chest was a silverback's, thumping and heaving with victorious satisfaction. But alpha male adrenaline display was only a brief high; soon I realized entailing responsibility. Now it is to our readers after gaining editor's trust tho' latter will be forever breathing down my neck.

Today we have modern laser and offset printers. From 1440 it was the legacy of Johanne Gutenberg that ruled the budding Fleet Street and Madison Avenue. From early movable types, the printing press evolved further with constant tweaking. Letterpresses were unwieldy androids that stamped lead letters on virgin newsprint. The printer's ink smelt good; the hot, steamy lead didn't. Sweaty men with ink-stained faces carried on their work like quiet friars carving each letter stamp out of wood.. They tediously aligned letters and plates in wooden frames. Sticky black ink on printed dry runs clung to my shoes. It's 1965 for heaven's sake; no such thing as desktop publishing!

I got used to seeing my work proudly in print since high school days when I was school artist for Araullo High School's The Wall/Ang Moog (mid 60's). After that I was artist of our college paper Ang Malaya of Philippine College of Commerce where I tried to finish BSC-Advertising. How I enjoyed doing storyboards for commercials. It was like creating comics, a popular folk literature; same as manga for the Japanese which is read faster than their bullet trains.

I was mesmerised by wit and talent of Filipino editorial cartoonists I met in Manila as I nervously joined their ranks . They built my confidence and I owe these selfless artists a lot. Neal Cruz and Ben Rodriguez were then my gentlemen editors. They were of two competing national newspapers. Neal is currently senior columnist for The Inquirer.

Most of my idols (am lucky to have known them also as friends) are gone and probably sketching St. Peter up there. There was Edgar Soller whose cartoons were syndicated worldwide and regularly published in The Los Angeles Times and California Examiner to name a few.

Who can forget Larry Alcala who inspired generations of cartoonists? There was Boy Togonon Daily Express cartoonist and who also kept "hot" the Samahang Kartunista ng Pilipinas (am proud being part of setting it up in 1978) .There was painter friend Hugo Yonzon Jr (father of namesake the third, aka Boboy, also a buddy (currently SKP president) and of course the sharpest satirist of 'em all..bossing Nonoy Marcelo, described as a pillar in illustrative journalism.

I miss 'em guys sorely. Still with us today and getting headaches drawing the political landscape in a visual nutshell are Benjo Laygo who is also member of Banggaan Art Group; there's witty Dengcoy Miel who is editorial cartoonist for Singapore's The Strait Times. And who hasn't heard of Corky Trinidad? He's editorial cartoonist of Honolulu Star-Bulletin and the first Asian (if not Filipino) editorial cartoonist to be syndicated in the United States.

According to Dengcoy, the more prominent pinoy cartoonists now in the Philippines are Pol Medina (Pugad Baboy comic strip, Inquirer) and Lyndon Gregorio (Beerkada comic strip sa PhilStar). In the field of editorial cartooning, top guys are Rene Aranda (Philstar), Gilbert Daroy(Inquirer) and Manny Francisco (Manila Times). Go for it guys, good luck!

Why do newspapers have editorial cartoons? Well, I guess to break the monotony of looking at boring text; or maybe it's a newspaper tradition thing; notice that newspaper banners have old English fonts. Why? Well they denote "old". Old has wisdom, thus credibility. It's very important for newspapers to be trusted by its readers.

Editorial cartoon is vastly different from comic strip which has a series of frames (tho' the artist still has a rare option to subdivide his space). One has to create a visual statement within a single frame. Some are often political. Others just a funny or serious expose or a tongue-in-cheek lampoon verging to libelous.

Remember those opera masks carved in marble in heritage theatres? Tragic and funny, that's what editorial cartoons should be, some believe. Some old school styles are confronting, not affronting; some cartoonists play it safe or don't want to rock the boat too much.

I had a funny experience while filling in as editorial cartoonist for The Philippine Daily/Evening Express. Publisher and chief editor "Cholo" Rodriguez summoned editor Neal Cruz to his room. It was about an editorial cartoon which I did that showed then First Lady Imelda Marcos leading the hand of a young Vietnamese refugee; (this was around '78 and there was a stranded boat full of Vietnamese refugees in Philippine waters and poor, wretched souls wanted to integrate in Manila's slums. However some members of the public didn't find the idea romantic. It was the Iron Butterfly's opportunity to seek limelight again. So she did let them in. Good on her compassionate heart;-) She then was topic of my visual editorial the next day. And the day after, a workmate approached me, his face sullen and I thought he wanted to borrow some money for an exciting date. He gently opened his mouth:

"Hey Edd, Mrs. Marcos rang up Cholo, annoyed because she didn't like the editorial cartoon!"

"You kidding me? Why? I thought I did her a decent cartoon!"

"Not that.. she just did not want to be caricatured. "

There was this bitter, metallic taste in my mouth, like sucking on a rusty paperclip. I was silent but my brain panicked in protest. "Damn, how could I boil myself dead like a frog? We're still under Martial Law (exactly 35 years ago today)". I remember saying to myself "I can't take this s--- anymore!"

Australia was most welcoming. Cosmopolitan Sydney captured my senses. Democracy at work! Unions are bosses! Newspapers impressed me. Decent newsprint and modern layout. I eagerly opened tabloids, munched news and comics and never left a white square blank in quick crosswords. Oh wow, look at all these cool editorial cartoons by Sydney artists. It was the 80's! I joined the newspaper artists club and made friends. I mean dinky di mates who taught me the larrikin way to work without compromising fun;-) There was Paul Zanetti of The Daily Telegraph, Darren Pracy of The Sun, John Shakespeare, the late Bill Mitchell (above photo in white jacket, next to me) of the Australian known for his Bustards of the Bush editorial cartoons, Bill Leak of Sydney Morning Herald (who later joined The Australian), there was that cheeky Larry Pickering (who did nude drawings of Australian politicians with focus on their genitalia), there was Ron Tandberg who did small one-column square cartoons--all funny and witty; also Bruce Petty who did Paul Klee-like doodly drawings but were sharp, spiky and dangerous like a roll of barbed-wire in a cage.. and my favourite John Spooner who I revere. The man is a watercolourist!

Nowadays I do editorial cartoons opposite editorial page. Recent ones I've scattered thru out this blog entry. (I also have fun doing weekend sports illustrations for the Herald).

I admire editorial cartoonist guys around the world who have to come up with ideas everyday. The journalist's cliche, "you're only as good as the last article you've written" also holds true for political cartoonists aka illustrative journalist aka visual satirist or a newspaper "clown". Once style and humour are accepted by readers, the artist had already created rapport with them that could last for a long time.

It's no easy task though-- to think outside of the box and visually express it all inside a little box? Insane!;-)

Labels: , ,

Monday, September 17, 2007

Life Sketches

Heard of Verrocchio? No, it's not another Starbucks invention, he was Leonardo's teacher. Oh yes, the Master also had a teacher!

I guess everyone should have a teacher. Someone to guide but not to control the mind. It's like drawing, I needed someone to guide me (even teachers in form of books) but not someone to tell me how and what to draw while he held my hand.

Life Drawing is teacher; not a teaching aid. It often reveals beauty and magical qualities of a human being; and feelings that come with it. Plenty of opportunities for me to record these thoughts through drawing.

Now pencil is "teacher", not a teaching aid. It reveals its qualities and limitations as I let it skid freely on the sketchpad. Pencils create linear footprints and so it should not pretend to be a charcoal stick which can cover areas quickly with a mere smudging of a finger. Hence a pencil shall cover areas by massing up repetitive lines until desired tone is achieved. It's tricky and that's why drawing is fun.

But there are hidden principles behind drawing which took me time to discover and learned firsthand. Thus, I always remind myself: Respect the pencil at all times. (Permit me to use the pencil to represent all medium of drawing and painting just for analogy). Never ignore a broken pencil. Sharpened pencils shall always inspire one to draw. Get the habit of buying small sketch pads and nice HB and 2B pencils and draw someone you love..just to start engines running.

Treasure your drawings like photographs you want to keep. Treat every drawing as a learning experience, never as a masterpiece (this will urge one to do better next time:) When elated, draw! When melancholic, draw! One shall have a clearer mind and feel a sense of well-being after a sketching session. Let's draw! Back to our childhood, innocent and free! One can easily recapture that wonderful feeling but this time forget crayolas and walls:-)

"Control the medium!" How many times have we heard this? "Don't let the medium control you!" Why are we afraid to use an airbrush, or a sablebrush, or a pen, or a stylus? The great fear of the unknown? Because they are intimidating, some will say. I disagree. What more could be intimidating than a blank canvas or paper waiting for the artist?

And so I tell friends, family and kids...grab some pencils and practise drawing. It's a form of meditation, like I discovered long ago. It will entertain the brain. One goes inside a painting one creates, or even a doodle; and if I may wax becomes the pencil point, a tiny speck of light that represents one's spirit; a speck of charcoal or lead that etches the footprints of your soul on earth.

It's also like going to war, lifedrawing. Get ammos ready, down to the humble rubber eraser. Prepare to crawl or squat on the floor if all easels are taken. Take plenty of liquid before the session, never food (it will slow you down for the digestive system needs energy. Starving is good sometimes;-)

Last Saturday we had a good model for lifedrawing at Blacktown Arts Centre. Great venue, spacious and was clearly designed to admit natural light. (Thanks to Monir Rowshan (Cultural Planning Coordinator of Blktn) for letting me know of this lifedrawing event. Also to the selfless effort of Sophia Kouyoumdjian, most dedicated arts warrior of Blacktown. Wonderful models! Hey Sophia where do you get all of them? Gee my list of models dates back to Banjo Patterson and their contact numbers simply went out of existence).

The model's skin glowed like porcelain behind a silky mesh. She was dainty but firm and strong.
There are times my sketch pad seems to throb in anticipation of impulsive pencils lines and carefully placed soft pastel highlights. Drawing is like fishing. They say half of the excitement is in the waiting. Soon as you catch your fish the adrenaline shoots downhill. After finishing a sketch I pine for another one until the boat is full. Old sketches entertain like photos. They can bring back the smell and taste of sensations long gone. That's why they're never treated more special than a good photograph.

It's all for sketch practice, drafts and studies anyway but I do acknowledge that I've invested time and energy in it; plus thoughts and feelings while I was doing it.

Now why not frame an old sketch no matter how people think about it? Isn't it what matter most are the circumstances that eternally revolve around the old sketch? Just a thought.

No wonder a good sketch is just a starting point of a good painting. Sketches that didn't evolve into paintings shall remain studies or mere reference points. But sketches are a teacher, too; reminding me I was prone to doing this line, that colour, etc. at that point of time. Some sketches bring me back to places, nearer again with people and rekindling friendship that were drawn in mind as real sketches of life. One place that stood out is Kirribilli Neighbourhood Centre where we did our early lifedrawing sessions (early 80's).

I believe a good lifedrawing sketch is not all about good draftsmanship. Likewise a written poem is quite different from a sharply-written doco of a new V-6 engine. Nonetheless accurate drawings develop naturally after a string of lifedrawing sessions. One need not draw to please anyone, just draw for oneself. I impulsive enough to angrily crumple a disliked drawing (I used to but now I recycle them:-) but still courageous enough to start on a new one. Ne'er give up on life!;-)

There were about a dozen artists that surrounded "Jackie" who posed like a ballerina frozen in time (in fact she is a ballet dancer). I had timer in hand and sort of "conducted" the lifedrawing session to spare model from asking us if we're done yet, etc., and also to run the session smoothly with agreed time segments beforehand.

I assisted Sophia who had to be in ten places at one time around BAC. Such a busy place on Saturdays. It's just a stone's throw away from Westpoint shopping centre where I should meet my family after life drawing.

"Three minutes remaining, thank you.." I often alerted artists before model assumed another pose. I was much impressed with Jackie's weight-shifting poses and there was one which brought all blood down to her head. She was definitely a glowing Carrara marble sculpture for at least 5 minutes in Da Vinci's time.

It's good to have at least six initial 5-minute poses to warm us up while last 2 hours subdivided into 15-min. to 20-min. poses.

The other Saturday we had a male model who gave us some good poses, too. With the group to my surprise is a Filipino who also did lifedrawing for fun. His name is Clem and he sent us pictures he took during session breaks. He used to be art curator in Manila and worked for the Thomas Jefferson Museum. And yes we plan to organise a life drawing session pretty soon. So Clem, take care of those models' contact numbers, mate;-)
Read my previous blog entry on Life/Figure Drawing

Labels: , , ,