February 20, 2018
Art, politics, angels, demons . . . and righteous dogs.

John Cuneo

Peggy Roalf does it again. This time with the great Cuneo. John, a powerfully vivid illustrator is also one of the best draughtsmen alive. Here, in full, is Peggy’s interview. Great work, all.

Q: Originally from New Jersey, what are some of your favorite things about living and working in Woodstock. NY?

A: I have lived in Denver and San Francisco as well. I think of myself as a city person but may have to recalibrate that image now that I’ve spent a decade here inWoodstock. NY. I miss the stimulation of the city and should get into NYC more often, but I’m a pretty solitary person and this is as good a place as any to sit at a table and draw. Besides, I’m told that it’s really pretty outside.

Q: How and when did you first become interested in art and illustration?

A: I’ve always drawn (I was one of those kids). We weren’t a museum family, and any art or illustration I saw was in newspapers and books. My naive and entitled presumption was that kids like me eventually got “a job” drawing pictures that would be reproduced on a page somewhere, surrounded by type.

Q: Do you keep a sketchbook? What is the balance between the art you create on paper versus In the computer?

A: I’ve always got some sketchbooks going. Among other things, I use them for practice, to document my neuroses and obsessions, and to reconnect with the tactile pleasure of making marks on paper. I’m fairly obsessive about it and would work in them exclusively if it wasn’t for  deadlines and mortgages.

All my stuff is done on paper and I don’t think I have Photoshop. I worry that if I had the technical option to make changes or “fix” images, my OCD would go nuclear and I’d wind up chattering to myself, hunched over a laptop tweaking flesh tones for a week.

Q: What is the most important item in your studio?

A: Any current, unfinished sketchbook I guess. Also some original art from friends and colleagues. If my wife pops in, she goes to the top of the list. In the summer, the AC unit is pretty vital.

Q: What was your favorite book as a child?

A: The theatrically mournful tone and blunt predatory nature of the Walrus and the Carpenter in L. Carroll’s Through the Looking-Glass really messed me up. Tenniel’s drawings here are peerless, which didn’t help.

Q: What is the best book you’ve recently read?

A: John Cheever’s personal journals and Geoff Dyer’s essay and review collection, Otherwise Known As The Human Condition.

Q: Who and what are some of your strongest influences?

A: My influences are in constant rotation and new ones are added to the list all the time. A book capriciously pulled from the shelf can propel me down a rabbit hole of craven envy or divine inspiration. Currently, Ronald Searle, Friso Henstra and David Hughes have prompted a good portion of both.


Q: What was your first professional assignment and how did you get it?

A: I don’t recall, but my first legitimate magazine assignment was from Martha Geering at Sierra Magazine, to whom I’ll always be grateful.

Q: What are some of your favorite places/books/blogs/websites for inspiration?

A: For a jump start, I’ll often scroll through Richard Thompson’s blog.   http://richardspooralmanac.blogspot.com/  Years and years of incandescent brilliance there. Also,  the superb daily drawings of Oscar Grillo.  http://okgrillo.blogspot.com/. Jillian Tamaki’s  http://blog.jilliantamaki.com/  and   http://www.itsnicethat.com/  are wonderful and efficient ways to postpone the inevitable.

Q: What is your favorite part of the creative process? 

A: For me, drawing for assignment is rife with anxiety. I envy those folks who express excitement and optimism at the beginning of a job. I am honestly hoping not to disappoint.

Q: What is/would be your karaoke song—and why?

A: Excruciating self-awareness prohibits me from the abandon required for this kind of fun. That said, in a perfect world, and with enough vodka, Al Green’s Let’s Stay Together is my jam.

Q: What is your hobby?

A: Pacing.

Q: What would be your last supper?

A: Lamb chops and a case of Barolo with family and friends. Iced poppyseed cake from Just Desserts in SF. Placemats to draw on.



Golf Digest reportage from the Masters Tournament. 


Personal sketchbook drawing.

Rhino and Poacher, for Fragile Planet exhibition. 

John Cuneo is a magazine illustrator.  His work appears in most major publications, including Esquire, The New Yorker, GQ, The NY Times, Garden & Gun, Entertainment Weekly, Mother Jones and Town & Country. Two collections of his personal drawing have been published:  nEuROTIC (Fantagraphics), and  this year, an eponomously titled collection published by Goya: LP Series.

His work has received 9 medals for the Society of Illustrators and in 2011 he received the Society of Illustrators Hamilton King Award.  

Last year, he was one of 7 illustrators featured in the Delaware  Art Museum exhibit, State of the Art: Illustration 100 Years After Howard Pyle; one of his drawings hangs their permanent collection. He’s been the subject of a Communication Arts mag feature; his drawings are included in American Illustration, the Society of Illustrators, and the Society of Publication & Design annuals as well as many magazines and satirical publications abroad. Drawger




Fatty Hangs High

So grateful to American Illustration and the the jury this year (Steve Byram, Artist and Designer, Screw Gun Records, Chris Dixon, Design Director, Vanity Fair, Marti Golon, Art Director, Reader’s Digest, Amy Hausmann, Deputy Director, MTA Arts for Transit & Urban Design, Peter Morance, Art Director, The New York Times Science, Len Small, Art Director, Graphic Designer, Nautilus, Alex Spiro, Creative Director, co-Founder, Nobrow ) for awarding my two covers for The Nation coveted spots in the annual show, one of the top honors in our world of illustration.

I am very grateful that my work is recognized, as always, but especially proud that this recognition is for work in The Nation. It is a long partnership that has resulted in my doing some of my best work. Thanks to Editors Katrina vanden Heuvel, Roane Carey and Designer Robert Best.

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Christie’s Fall

Wingnuts Nation Cover w type700

The Great Wingnut Tradition

The Presidents Cuomo

Thanks to Josh Benson, Tom McGeveren, Peter Lettre at Capital New York for making this review of NY Governors who became president (as seen through a Cuomo-esque lens) possible. Oh, just because.

All characters played by current pols.

NY Governors as presidents Titles700

Van Buren Cuomo 2700

Cleveland Cuomo700

Cuomo TR Final Revise 2700Cuomo FDR Final700

DeBlasio in Clover

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For my first cover for the redesigned NY Observer, art director Lauren Draper asked for a portrait of the mayor of NY, Bill DeBlasio, feeling triumphant after his signature agenda item, pre-kindergarten for all NY children, passed the legislature. Thanks to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who is running THIS year (and maybe again next) this will be done without a tax hike. It is a moment to savor for the new mayor . . . and for our kids.

Here is the genesis of this cover.

Many thanks to Lauren, who would take every sketch and try it in layout for me. There was a rare back-and-forth that resulted in good communication all round.

Also great fun to be on board with David Heasty and Stephanie Wagner of Triboro Design who took the peachy paper and re-imagined it as a mag. This is the third one since the re-D. What they have kept is their appreciation of illustration. Ken Kurson EIC, and Jared Kushner Publisher very responsible for that and so much else.


The first idea was to have BDB huge behind a small desk. Not quite right.

BDB Bust

Then there was the BDB rearing back with a big smile and a blackboard with my bit of copy on it. This was approved and then edited. The copy would be more straightforward and have my line in at the end.

Bdb fsk

Then there was this finished sketch sent to Lauren via cell phone camera.

Near final in layout700

Later on, I sent a more finished image. Thanks to Lauren this is the first sense I had of how this might look.

BeB;as NY O Cover700

Here, then, is the cover that will be on stands tomorrow. Illustration is a hardwork/greatfun thing.

The Click-Through

Here’s a tribute to the use of illustration as infographic; communicating information about an issue or a character directly and powerfully through drawings and paintings. In my recent travels I have been working at this in different ways. 5BoehnerCaughtFinal Here’s a nicely handled click-through by The Washington Post. See it HERE. On the first Debt Ceiling Crisis. The art moves easily (no video commercials to disrupt the flow).  Not very much opinion expressed here actually. It’s mostly illustrated reportage via the Post staff.


This chart on gun-influenced members of Congress for The American Prospect. It was a spread that linked portraiture and data.


King Duffy and Gibson


Here’s a limited scroll down. A larger project: the story of the first Jews in New Amsterdam, for Tablet.

2014 Oscars 8 Woody

A recent piece for the LA Times on the Oscars. HERE’s how it looks online.

Mad Men final w type150

The Mad Men of Climate Change Denial took the meme of the TV show, added these galoots and then data.

Mad Men 2

Cost of Revolution layout croppedsm

Last July’s NY Times OpEd page (here was the working layout) on signers of the Declaration of Independence. I did the research and the drawing. Matt Dorfman helped tremendously in organizing the page. Then the famous Times fact checkers came in. Hail to the Chiefs.  Here’s the online slide show.


Here’s Mitt Romney delivering his acceptance speech at the 2012 GOP Convention. I covered both conventions live for The Nation, sending in a drawing every 15 minutes or so. By the end of the week we had posted about 156 pieces of illustration: HERE