Let's take a trip back to the early 1990s, shall we? I was studying painting, drawing, and art history at Western Illinois University. Why did I pick Western? It was where my dad went to school, and it was close to home (25 miles), but really, WIU picked me. They gave me a free ride for four years, and most semesters I won additional scholarships, so it was almost like they were paying me to go to school there. I'm living proof that not having a social life in high school (and thereby earning a hefty ACT score) equals big, big bucks...in the 90s.
"Western is what you make of it," one of my advisors told me the first week I was there. "People complain about the Courier [WIU's newspaper] all the time, for example, but the easiest way to change that is to get involved and fix it yourself." During my junior and senior years, I attempted to fix it myself, along with my roommate Melinda. Melinda is an incredibly smart writer, and during her senior year she became the Courier's Editor In-Chief. I took over its (now defunct) arts and entertainment supplement, Clue Magazine. Room 1812 in Higgins Hall had effectively taken over the media at Western Illinois University. Our offices were in Western's Heating Plant Annex, which you can see in the delightful, not at all concentration camp-like photo above.
I was responsible for designing, writing, editing, typesetting, interviewing, and illustrating what you'd see in Clue. The production staff and I did it cut-and-paste style, using the kind of computers a state school might have had in the early 90s, a huge and weird printer machine, and good old Exacto knives and a waxer. I managed a staff of around five writers and our lone photographer, and together we put out a new edition of Clue every couple of weeks. It was a full-time job for which I was paid something like $250 per month.
Would I sound crazy if I said this was my dream job? Other than what I do now, this was my dream job.
"What you've made is a very visual Clue," observed Courier advisor Terry Lawhorn as he looked at the first issue under the Eddington administration. Illustrations were extremely important to me, and I wanted to add at least one to every article we published. Since nobody else on the staff could draw (art majors tended to shy away from journalism opportunities), and since people like Johnny Depp and Kyle MacLachlan (above) weren't exactly available for us to photograph, I created caricatures of the celebrities discussed in our articles, often on the same night that Clue was printed.
I won't say that my Clue set Western on fire, but at least my friends and art professors enjoyed seeing my extra-curricular work. WIU president Ralph Wagoner, who knew me because of the scholarships, liked to pop by the newspaper offices and say hi. He nicknamed me "The La Harpe Flash" which never exactly caught on, but when I told Jeff about it last night, he pouted, "Nobody ever called me Flash..."
(Roseanne and Delta Burke)
The reason I'm writing about this is because on Monday a client asked me if I could draw some caricatures for use in his upcoming wedding, and I dug through a 22(!) year-old sketchbook to find a few examples.
(Andrew Dice Clay and Bob Saget--can you tell this is the early 90s?)
I love drawing caricatures. Before I begin working on one, I'll study whatever existing photos I can find of the subject and try to figure out what makes that person unique. Then I exaggerate those features. If a person has small eyes, I'll make them tiny. If a person has a big chin, I'll make it huge.
Occasionally the caricatures dictated an article's layout. Once I drew a full-length caricature Jonathan Winters (left) just so I could put a review of his short-lived TV series inside his stomach. Next to him is Timothy Busfield, whom you probably do not remember from Thirtysomething.
My caricatures are more gentle/realistic than most, especially if I like the people I'm drawing, but I had no problem being mean when I drew celebrities whose work I didn't enjoy.
I reviewed Young Guns 2, hated it, and drew four mean-spirited caricatures of its four co-stars.
As you can see, I had fun with Kiefer Sutherland's big eyes and Christian Slater's scrunchy face. That review earned me an ICPA (Illinois College Press Award).
So to all you little leaguers out there who are considering joining your school's newspaper, even though print journalism is not exactly the wave of the future and you're studying something else, I say do it. This was one of the most creatively fulfilling experiences of my life, and even now I'll find myself falling into Clue mode, imagining illustrations and coming up with funny headlines for articles no one will write or read. If somebody offers you complete artistic control of an arts and entertainment supplement for which you will be paid scratch, scream YES and have fun.