The Art of Illustration | Off Book | PBS Digital Studios


[MUSIC PLAYING] What I find most interesting
about illustration is the direct relationship that
you have with your audience. I have always used my work
to explore places and people that I wouldn’t have
access to otherwise. A lot of people sort of
look down on comics and art. And, you know, I can
understand why sometimes. But for me, I just think
it’s really challenging, and I think that’s
what draws me to it. Drawing, it’s like
asking kids who to love to sing why they
like singing, you know? Like, it was just part of me. [MUSIC PLAYING] Illustrators to
a great degree are interested in interpretation. They’re interested in a
creative sensibility filtering through imagery. Lots of young and
older illustrators are still using pen and ink,
watercolor, wash, oil paint, acrylic, 3D, collage. There really is no medium that
can’t be used for illustration. At one time, the major
markets for illustration were books,
magazines, newspapers. And really for hundreds of
years, being an illustrator meant working in those realms. Illustration did a lot of the
work that photography does now. So that in print media
if you saw portraits, if you saw war reportage,
this would have been created by illustrators. As soon as photography
started to take the place of illustration,
it freed illustrators to go inside their own heads. They could start to deal
with a personal symbolic or conceptual language. The role of the illustrator
became much more than that just of expressing the ideas
of a writer or an editor. So in many ways,
because of the changes that had happened in the field,
there are greater challenges. Sometimes the budgets aren’t
as big as they used to be. But on the other hand,
there are opportunities available to illustrators
in terms of self-expression and initiating their own
projects that just didn’t exist 15, 20 years ago. Editorial illustration
is basically you create illustrations for
magazines and newspapers. Like if you open up
a newspaper tomorrow and you see all of the
photos, where you see drawings with articles, that’s
basically what I do. I’ve worked with “Time,”
“ESPN,” “Fortune,” “New York Times,” “Wall Street
Journal,” and “New Yorker.” As and illustrator, what
I always keep in mind is if I come up
with an idea that may look better as a photo,
then my idea is not good. I kind of change my brain
into becoming the biggest fan of the subject matter. Then hopefully it
makes the viewer spot and want to read the article. Japanese people look at my work
and think it’s very American. And then Americans think
my work is very Japanese. So it’s kind of
like half and half. Part of it is like a heavy from
like comics 1970s and ’80s. The style that I
accumulated, that manga style never went away. I always draw on paper. And then I finish
the whole drawing and I scanned it in and
finish all the coloring on Adobe Photoshop. So it’s half
digital half analog. Nowadays there is more
emphasis on the tablet media. And if the world is
moving to digital media, illustrator has to
adjust according to it. So I’m trying to be
cautiously optimistic. SEAN MURPHY: When did comic
art become seen as high art? I’d say we’re probably not
there yet when most people still associate us with The Avengers
or the Hulk or something. They tend to think
that that’s for kids. I did “Joe the Barbarian” and
“Hellblazer– City of Demons.” I’m also working on
some Batman stuff and I’ve been exclusive
with DC Comics now for five or
six years I’d say. I would say my style is a
lot of black, a lot of noir. Very full, complex backgrounds. Not photorealistic at all. Comic artists, you’re sort of
caricature artist sometimes. Sometimes you’re
doing perspectives, you’re using a of math measure
out backgrounds and whatnot. Sometimes you’re storytelling. And I would say that
there’s much more strict rules of storytelling. You should give a
good enough impression of what’s happening before
people even really read. 80% of the market is
probably superhero stuff. So I find myself writing a
lot towards deeper subjects than just your typical,
like, X-Men type stuff. I wrote and drew this project
called “Punk Rock Jesus.” It’s a story about
a clone of Jesus who eventually decides
he’s an atheist, and he starts fighting mass
media with a punk band. For me, it was just
like a nice way to sort of tackle religion,
politics, science, and sort of a little bit
sci-fi in a fun way that didn’t really
abandon anybody, but at least helped them think. In my eyes, I think, like–
and to like draw these worlds and to do all this stuff. It’s so time consuming. Why would I waste 80 years
of my life drawing people punching each other and
wearing underwear outside of their tights and stuff? You know? Like it just seems like
there’s room for more. What the internet
has done is it’s exposed huge swaths
of visual culture that were never
prominent before. Now, because it’s
incredibly competitive to be an illustrator,
illustrators are making their style
incredibly, incredibly specific to them
because that’s the way that you become identifiable
enough to get work. I have my roots in the
New York burlesque scene and I’m very known for
doing these portraits of these glamorous
sequin-covered drag queens and dancers. I got really interested
in doing work grounded in the Victorian
era when I was in college. It’s cruel and it’s gorgeous. I just became really interested
in subversion and class. And I’m incredibly inspired
by journalists and activists. [YELLING] I was one of the main poster
artists for Occupy Wall Street. For a long time,
there was a real idea of what activist
art looked like. Activist art was red and black
and had a lot of Soviet stuff. I wanted to show people
that activism wasn’t just something for a certain
type of predefined person, but was rather something that
we should all be interested in. An illustrator now can’t
just be a cool jack of all trades that does lovely,
competent illustrations. Because there aren’t
enough slots anymore for lovely, competent
illustrations. And so the Illustrator kind of
has to be a brand into himself. They have to be an
interesting human being, and also put out cool,
unique works of art for free. And then, after you’ve
built enough goodwill with your audience, they’ll be
interested in supporting you. Hopefully I finish
up, and I feel that I finished something good. But also think my best image
will come in the future. What I love most
about my art is using it to explore the
world and to explore places in the world where other people
haven’t gotten a chance to see. Some of the most successful
hits of comics, I think, go above and beyond some
of our best illustrations. One of the great things
about illustration is the intimacy
of the experience. It’s an experience
that you really can’t get with any other
image-based medium. [MUSIC PLAYING]

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