Blood Sweat and Ink! Creating The Village Voice Comics Issue

Blood Sweat and Ink! Creating The Village Voice Comics Issue In early February Village Voice Art Director John Dixon and his team had a great idea: Instead of using a ton of photo and pickup art to populate the pages of the iconic paper, why not use comic illustration... heck they could even use comic illustration for the cover...and why not the feature well...while they're at it maybe every department, the TOC, the reviews...every rubric, every folio, every section header...and before long the Comics Issue was born!


This collectors' item of an issue arrived in the Voice's newspaper boxes all over NYC this past Wednesday, just over 2 months, more than 30 commissions, hundreds of emails, countless hours of painstaking color correction and a few grey hairs later. Controversy followed shortly after the release about the "economical" way in which it was produced due to a tight art budget, (the artists generously agreed to work for free using the issue as a showcase to promote their work through big on-page plugs for their websites and blogs) which led to an outcry from the cartooning industry in support of their colleagues who felt their generosity was being some what exploited. Responding to the controversy Voice editor-in-chief Tony Ortega thankfully admitted not paying the artists turned out to be "not such a good idea" and did the right thing on Friday by figuring out a way to compensate the artists for their efforts. While not entirely erasing the bad press the Voice received, Ortega's reaction did mend a few fences and the entire controversy gave some much needed attention to the larger issue of the "new media economy" where compensation can be hard to come by. Voice Art Director John Dixon (a "frustrated illustrator" himself!) sees this issue quite simply as "a tribute to artists, cartooning and the MoCCA Festival." 

All controversy aside and from a purely practical perspective (this is an SPD blog after all) the comics issue is an extraordinary feat of organization and art/edit collaboration (when you learn that at the 11th hour 75% of the issue was torn up to accommodate some seriously tricky ad configurations it becomes an even more remarkable achievement). AD John Dixon opens up to SPD about what it takes to produce a special issue like this on a weekly schedule with a small staff we've even smaller budget. Hint: a real passion for alt weeklies and the craft of comic illustration. 

Cover Art: Ward Sutton


SPD: did you pull this off?
John Dixon: The answer is: 'shed a lot of tears and blood'.
We prepped for this issue over 2 months ago. I wanted to replace all the usual provided art (film-stills, album-promos, etc.) with original illustrations and cartoons throughout the entire issue -- we needed about about 25 to 30 pieces to do so. So I individually sent emails to 50 possible contributors asking them to participate, with the disclosure we wouldn't be able to pay them because of the (standard refrain these days) 'budgetary-shortcomings' but, "would they do it in exchange for extra-promotion of their websites, blogs and portfolios on-page and on-line on our site?" It took some delicate, self-effacing wording. I contacted mostly people I have never worked with, some A-lister-pros but a lot of young talent. I sent the emails out in one day and was floored that the very next morning 30+ people replied with eager interest. "I'm in, let's do it," was the common thread. (A few said they were busy, some people never replied, but only 2 or 3 may have took offense and said they wouldn't do it for no-pay. I replied to them with commiseration and thanked them for considering the offer.)



Feature opener art: Mitch O'Connell
Check out this 5 minute clip O'Connell put together about his process

J.D. That was the easy part.It was a thrill to plan out and juggle all the assignments. As a frustrated illustrator myself, a great reward is getting to work with talented artists. I made some assignments right away and booked other people for stories I knew would be coming in late. My editors are missing a few teeth and nails from me pulling to get their line-ups in weeks ahead of time. Some coughed pieces up right away others dragged their feet but all the writers and editors we're on-board with the theme of the issue and helpfully contributed to the individual illustration assignments.


Theatre Review Art: Mark Korsak
Check out Korsak's blog about his process here

J.D. The biggest battle came up against the the advertising side of our paper. Again, the 'budgetary-shortcoming' card was played -- this time, against the editorial side. We pleaded for weeks to make a special case for this issue-date to no avail. We wound up having Ad 'Stickers' placed on most of the printed covers, an advertising-supplement ate up a significant amount of the overall page count, new 'checker-board' film ads dominated other spreads, and we had to sacrifice the size of illustrations in order to accommodate as many different articles and artworks as possible. On the last-day-of-close, we tore up over 75% the book reconfiguring layouts to jump stories and fit edit content into weird ad-space allowances. In the end, only a few stories and artwork did not make it in the final paper.

Eats art: Adam Kidder

J.D. When you don't have the budget to pay an illustrator you've got to give them a long leash to do what they want. I don't recall sending anybody back to the drawing board with their sketches. Only one or two people needed persuasion to get their pieces thru the goal-post of the stories' editorial focus. All were extremely professional in delivering wonderful works on time. My right-hand designer, Jesus Diaz and I took extra care in the color-correction of each illo. We didn't want to screw anything up. Our crack production department jumped at the chance to flex some of their own creative muscle by hand-drawing all the separate folios and section hedders.

Film Review art: Johanna Goodman
Dance Review art: Victo Ngai

Music Review Art: Doug Mac

Musto Column Art: Dominic Bugato

J.D. The issue flew out the gate and is making a splash. We hope it will celebrate the noble endeavor of illustration and promote the work of the creative minds and hands that donated their own sweat to make it possible. But all-in-all it's a tribute to artists, cartooning and the MoCCA Festival

Contents art: Aaron T. Newman

Art Director: John Dixon
Associate Art Director: Jesus Diaz
Contributors: Cary Conover, Willie Davis, Chad Griffith, Andy Kropa, Ward Sutton, M. Wartella
Art/Photo Interns: Olga Generalova, Danielle Hyland, Kaitlin Parry

Other Artists used in the comics issue:
MARGINALS: Evan Hughes
FEATURE 2: George Bates
FEATURE 3: John Kovaleski
FEATURE 4: David Gonzalez
FEATURE 5: Delmar Senties
THEATER 1: Kurt McRobert
FILM Tracking: Bill Thomas
MUSIC 2: Anthony Pugh

EDU: Columbia ROTC: Cojo
EDU: Arhchiology; Lalo
EDU String theory: Rich Tu
EDU Green MBAs: Kristian Bauthus
EDU Opener: Stephen Webster

For a complete portfolio of the work in the issue, check out this slideshow

  • Nancy Stamatopoulos

    Ditto! Thanks for all the links, Neil. Doin' the research now...

  • Josh Klenert

    What a great post. This is a must-bookmark page for my next illustration assignment.

  • Nancy Stamatopoulos

    I'm speechless. Really, what can I say? The amount of work that went into this issue is obvious. And the results: fantastic. Hats off to staff and contributors.

  • Tom O&aposQuinn

    Wow, this is great. Being a huge fan and supporter of illustration I am really impressed with this issue of The Village Voice.... a collector issue for sure. Hopefully the artists will get more exposure and make some money from this.

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