This Week's Guest Editor: Cartoonist/Illustrator Ward Sutton

This Week's Guest Editor: Cartoonist/Illustrator Ward Sutton SUTTONSIGNER.jpg[A note from the SPD Grids Editors: This is the sixth in our ongoing series of Guest Editors on the Society of Publication Designers website. Ward Sutton is a cartoonist, illustrator, writer, and visual provocateur. As a graphic storyteller supreme he uses his cartoons, comics, and illustrations to highlight the worlds of popular culture, rock 'n' roll, personal relationships, politics, and much more. In his ongoing series of comics in The Boston Globe, Ward continues to produce sharp, smart (and funny) visual political commentary of the highest order. His graphic illustrations and designs have been featured on posters for everything from Radiohead to John Leguizamo's Freak.

Ward was the creator of the popular Sutton Impact comic strip which ran for many years in The Village Voice and other altweekly newspapers. He's been a longtime friend of SPD, and we're very happy to have him joining us on the site all this week. Stay tuned for some amazing insight into cartooning and illustration. You can follow Ward on Twitter @WardSutton.]

By Ward Sutton

Those of a certain age may recall the recurring gag on Late Nite With David Letterman about the "Actor-Singer." (If not, this may jog your memory.) The joke here was that in the showbiz world, these people treaded the line between being multi-talented and desperate to do anything.

The same might be thought, at various times, of the Cartoonist-Illustrators of the world, of which I am proudly one. I certainly remember the desperate phases of the early years--drawing for beer, terrible vegan co-op food, or maybe a concert ticket.

But there are actually more than just the two worlds of cartooning and illustration: there are editorial cartoonists, alternative editorial cartoonists, comic book artists, alternative comic book artists, daily comic strip artists, weekly alternative comic strip artists, gag cartoonists ... and the list of sub-categories goes on and on.

MudhoneyTadCover.jpg(All illustrations and cartoons by Ward Sutton)

Throughout my career, I've enjoyed exploring the various spots on this complex Venn diagram. I've had the opportunity to design posters for bands and Broadway shows, illustrate magazine covers and create animation for TV. But I also both write and draw cartoons--most prominently these days for The Boston Globe.

When I was asked to guest-edit GRIDS this week, my first thought was, "What can I add to the conversation?" That's when I thought of the Actor-Singer, and I decided to focus my week on the places where cartooning, illustration and design meet.

Planning the week had me retracing my own history:

I will be interviewing Art Chantry, the design guru who gave me my first illustration assignment at The Rocket when I moved to Seattle in 1991 on the eve of what would come to be known as "the grunge revolution."

Back then, I was cutting my teeth in Alternative Weekly newspapers, and as fate would have it, right now there is an exhibition at the Society of Illustrators titled Alt Weekly Comics. We'll hear from the show's curators, Warren Bernard and Bill Kartalopolous.

NirvanaFinalSM.jpgNot long after leaving Seattle for New York, I was thrilled to get the chance to actually visit the offices of Mad magazine, and now, years later, I can officially call myself a contributor--one of the "usual gang of idiots." I'll share a conversation with Sam Viviano, who, as both a successful illustrator and art director, personifies my GRIDS theme for the week.

When I arrived in NYC, 20 years ago this year, I found a community of illustrators I had never known before. One of these talented peers was Andy Rash, who might now go by the title Illustrator-Illustrator. After years of polishing a trademark style, Andy broke out with a whole new second style, fitting for the digital age. He'll tell us about his new graphic invention that he calls "iotacons."

DoTheWhiteThingSM.jpgWhen it comes to hyphenated titles, Jennifer Daniel reigns supreme. She's a sardonic renaissance woman for the media age, creating interactive graphics, animation, illustration and a whole lot more. In 2009, she hired me to create a cartoon for The New York Times business section I never thought we would be able to get past the editors, telling the tale of the GM bailout via AC/DC's Back in Black. I was thrilled she got it through, and I'm thrilled to interview her this week.

This journey through the intersecting planes of cartooning, illustration and design--and the journey through my past (to paraphrase Neil Young)--would not be complete without Bob Newman.

NYCov.jpgWhen I moved to New York, I came to the city with a list of contact names, and at the top of the list was Bob Newman. Bob gave me a chance and my first big break in the world of magazine illustration. He was at the helm of Entertainment Weekly, opening the door to a variety of alt cartoonists like myself. Here's how he remembers it:

"I spent my formative art director years working at altweeklies and other publications that published a lot of cartoonists, both in comic strip form and as illustrators: Lynda Barry, Matt Groening, Pete Bagge, Mark Zingarelli. We did special comix issues at both The Rocket and The Village Voice (where I was editor and design director, respectively) that featured original contributions from a wide array of artists. When I was design director at the Voice, we used people like Kaz, Carol Lay, Michael Dougan, J.D. King, Paul Corio, and many others, in large part because of art director Florian Bachleda, who actually graduated from SVA with a degree in cartooning. When I moved to Entertainment Weekly, it was a natural progression to bring in altweekly cartoonists. Again, in large part because of Florian, who also worked as an art director at EW, we used cartoonists for both illustration and for comics. Those artists were a perfect fit for a new publication like EW. They were brash, funny, graphic, smart....the perfect compliment for the magazine's editorial and visual aesthetic. It was a break from the illustration styles that were popular in most other magazines at the time, so it helped create a sharp, new visual identity for the magazine. Also, for Florian and I, it was the first time that we were working somewhere with big illustration budgets, and we were excited to be able to share the wealth with a bunch of artists who, for the most part, were still scraping for small-paying assignments. How cool was it to be able to pay our favorite artists, many of whom were also our friends, some decent money for a change?"

It was an exciting moment where people who were working in the underground popped up into the mainstream. The cultural landscape has changed a lot since then, but with this history in mind, all week I'll be spotlighting talented cartoonists who also happen to illustrate, even if rarely, in a series I'm calling, "When Cartoonists Illustrate!"

Thanks for reading.
--Ward Sutton (Your Cartoonist-Illustrator-Editor)

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