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

4 Questions for Joe Fournier

Joe Fournier is one of the most vigorous caricaturists around.  He has combined his various talents composer, musician, writer, illustrator,  filmmaker, voiceover actor into a magic blend that takes us to new places in this field. His animations have appeared on the Chicago Tribune website and his print pieces are offered up for syndication.  I am a fan, not just of his work, but of Joe’s demonstration of what we all need to do in this market; diversify and explore.  Hey, nobody know’s where this all is going. Going forward in this chaotic and transmutating industry will take the kind of person we see in Joe.  Strongly attacking the problem of covering the field while tenaciously holding onto his standards; not falling into the Kitty Pit. Here are (approximately) 4 questions for Joe Fournier.



Here are 4 questions for Joe Fournier.


1. Tell me the difference between the print series and video series.  Do they overlap? Are you adapting the same ideas? If not do you find a different approach to similar ones?


They are pretty similar.  The print pieces are or could be animatics for animations I suppose.  They are also much easier to turn around in a few hours as opposed to the week it would take me to do the animations.  With the news cycle zipping by with the attention span of a chimp, the shelf life of all these things is a little longer than you can hold your breath.  So, sooner the output the greater the impact, bigger the laugh.



2. What is the funding for the videos like? Are it all Trib or are you syndicating?


The videos?  Close your eyes.  What do you see?  As for the printed pieces, that I am being paid by an industry that’s circling the drain could be looked at as a victory, though a nominal one.  I am currently shopping the OpArtpieces for a syndication deal.  Hope springs eternal.



3. What recent cartoon have you done that has given you the most fun to do; actually made you laugh in a high pitched cackle in the middle of the night that might have disturbed a sleeping dog?


I liked the Rose Garden heckler No Such thing as a Stupid Question and the Sheriff Arpaio America’s Toughest Sheriff pieces.  Bigger the a-hole the more fun they are to tee up.  I like them for the little, second tier jokes that I’ll insert after I run the whole thing.  “TUCKER CARLSON SMELLS LIKE PUDDING!” means absolutely nothing, but I liked the sound of it, particularly coming from that guy.  And sheriff Arpaio saying that he was all aquiver to be able to “shake down anything darker than Debbie Reynolds!”  made me very proud, though I put in a great amount of thought deciding whether Debbie Reynolds was funnier than Doris Day.  I think I chose well.  But I’m also partial to the song pieces like The Tale of Romney Hood, and the completely absurdist pieces like Willard Scissorhands.  Of course, no bigger jerk have we than The Donald.  ! The Donald on The Donald is a personal favorite, near and dear to my heart.



4. Political cartooning is such a thankless, undistinguished, masochistic profession.  Are you an idealist assuming that cartoons will make a difference at some point and that they haven’t as yet is not a good indication of anything yet, or a romantic, suspecting that the glorious past of the art will by some inherent quality return a golden glow to people today, or are you pathological in some way and can’t really explain this nervous tick you have?


Our politics are so hostile and mean spirited right now, I think people need a little levity, a little fun.  Maybe that will turn out to be the common ground we’re looking for, who knows?  Peter Sellers, the theater director, says that all art is political, and I think there is some truth to that.  I’m not an idealist.  I started doing this work because the straight up illustration work went away.  I’m not tied to past political cartoonists.  Though they were brilliant, in today’s environment people look at it, categorize it by slamming it to either the left or right, and dismiss it.  It doesn’t have the impact it once did.  Just more white noise.  I’m trying to loosen things up, use my animation background along with some elements of the graphic novel, and get people to laugh, relax, and maybe take a bit more in.  Shit, now I do sound like an idealist.  A not-very-self-aware idealist.



Okay 5 questions. How did you learn to draw real good?



Why, by studying music, of course!  I’m a conservatory trained sax player, composer and arranger.  (Intake of breath, pause for haughty reverence.)  After college I studied music in India for a time, then returned to the states where I promptly cut my middle finger damned near off.  (My drawing hand, of course.)  So I sat around, ate Cheerios, drank cognac and watched the Oliver North trial.  (Still to this day, our finest American liar under oath.)


Then I became an illustrator.



Okay 6 questions. Where can we buy stuff you make?


Well, depends on what you want to buy.  If you’d like a copy of my compendium of printed pieces from last year, This One Goes to Eleven can be purchased here http://www.lulu.com/shop/joe-fournier/this-one-goes-to-eleven/paperback/product-18879966.html  and here  http://www.amazon.com/This-One-Goes-To-Eleven/dp/1105522628/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340983612&sr=8-1&keywords=this+one+goes+to+eleven


My cd with the quartet, Calder’s Circus, can be purchased here http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=calders+circus%2C+joe+fournier&rh=n%3A283155%2Ck%3Acalders+circus%5Cc+joe+fournier&ajr=0  and here http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/jfournier




My site has everything else, including the large oils I’ve recently gotten into.  www.joefournierstudios.com
Finally a big thanks to you Steve, our top-shelf, groove daddy of the illustration world. Thanks for including me on your blog. You’re the best!


Thanks to you Joe, for trailblazing and showing that great work will rise, even in the rushing river of brackish media. Keep up the crazy brilliance. And don’t forget to write.



The last week has seen an ongoing protest on Wall Street. This weekend we saw how un-finest the NYPD can be. It is inquest time in Lower Manhattan. There enough thugs in public life without any of them being on payroll. Neither protesters nor Cops are angels. But they all need to be above board and not break laws. It is inquest time in Lower Manhattan. Ed.


This group of “occupiers” have had enough of privatized profits and socialized risk; many of the protesters come from hard-hit states, some whose homes have been foreclosed on.

Jane Maisel found about 200 hearty souls camped out and making noise.

There are times when a protest needs to be specific, but this is not one of them. occupywallstreet.org has called for people to protest the system as it now functions—or doesn’t function—for many of us, here dubbed “the 99%.” This group has gathered in the spirit of Tahrir Square, in this case speaking against the corporate powers that seem to have a death grip on what we like to believe is our democratic society.


Saturday had brought a flood of people to march along Wall Street in front of the NY Stock Exchange. So in the NYPD’s effort to keep the protesters from disrupting business around the New York Stock Exchange, police have now lined Wall Street with barriers, creating such narrow paths that everyone, including executives, tourists, and delivery people, must shuffle along nearly in single file.


I got off the Number 3 train at Wall Street, on  the cool and rainy Day 4 of the protest. With the help of a kind Tweeter and some grudging, sarcastic directions from a NYC policeman, who said, “I’d like to find them myself,” I found my way a few blocks north to Zuccotti Park, at Broadway and Liberty Street. The park has a wall on the north side, just the right height for passersby to look into the park, which many did. They were as drawn as I was—what was going on?


I encountered a young man with a plastic bag for a raincoat who was serving as part of an impromptu welcoming committee along the periphery of the park.  Twenty years old, here from South Carolina,  he told me that he is part of the 99% in this country who are suffering because of the 1%’s greed. He explained his view that this is not personal greed, but structural greed. “And I’m going to stay here as long as the group is able to stay here.” He wanted to know if I had ever heard of agents provocateurs. We talked about the dance scene in The Grapes of Wrath, and he promised to look it up. After four days living outside, this twenty-year-old still didn’t need a shave.


Code Pink offered me a hot pink paper to fill out, extending the 60’s rallying cry, “Make love not war.” My sheet said Make ______ Not War.


The soggy paper quilt on the sidewalk made up of others’ contributions had already covered the necessities:

Make art…

Make justice…

Make whoopee…

Make safe neighborhoods…

Make lasagna…

Make a mess ….

Make friends…

Make anything but…

Make flan…

Make jobs…

and one that would make my father’s heart sing (he’s writing a book with a similar title):

Make laws not war.


As I entered the park I noticed that the man standing next to me was wearing a T-shirt stating “I am Troy Davis.”

And there were more cardboard signs, soggy, torn off cardboard boxes:

“Do you feel it trickle down?”

“Corporations are NOT People”

“Unfuck the World” (the only printed bumper sticker I saw)

“Only the Oligarchy got Democracy, not the 99% of us”

“Get your money out of our government”

(and tied to a balloon in the shape of a smiling pig) “Greed makes me happy”

A member of the group who was serving as a medic gave a short talk on the warning signs of hypothermia and how to avoid it. Pizza, water, hummus, bananas, and peanut butter in Costco-sized packs were neatly stacked along one of the planters, free for anyone to help themselves. Empty pizza boxes covered much of the pink granite walkways on this private park/public space, put to use to  keep people from slipping on the cold  wet stone between chrysanthemum plantings. The boxes are remnants of the huge numbers of pizzas that have been delivered from neighboring pizza places, paid for by orders placed by people around the world—as was done in Tahrir Square.

Arrests had been made  that morning. I was told that police had removed the tarp that covered computers and other electronic equipment. When protestors replaced tarp the arrests began. A young man lying handcuffed on the ground was described to me as having called  out that he was unable to breathe—having an asthma attack— but the police dragged him away, ignoring his pleas for his medication. He  was rumored to be in critical condition.

The group is determined to remain peaceful. They have asked the police to see themselves as the protectors of the demonstrators and their right to free speech. Some of the police seemed relaxed and tuned in to the situation; others looked disgusted or bored.


I happened upon the moment when a lawyer was offering to seek an injunction to stop police from clearing the park and protect the group’s First Amendment right to free speech, and to gather and pitch tents in the park for as long as thirty days. One of the speakers addressed the group, asking whether they would collectively accept this offer of legal help. Since the police had ruled out the use of any amplification, people had to serve as amplifiers by repeating what was being said. Speakers spoke one phrase at a time and the assembled members repeated it so that all would be able to hear. What first appeared to be group-think turned out to be an effective solution to the need for amplification. Practicality mixed with the absurdity of the situation when the lawyer asked and his words were repeated: “Would anyone mind—” (the crowd: “Would anyone mind—”) “if I smoke?” (the crowd: “if I smoke?”), at which point the woman near me reached out and asked the lawyer, “Can I have one, too?” The lawyer handed her a cigarette, stating “I don’t have enough for everyone.” (About 200 of us were huddled together to hear him speak.) Suddenly many were lighting up and a great cloud of fragrant smoke wafted over the crowd.


Not only is the group determined to be peaceful, but it is also determined to be democratic. Engaged in the inefficient but virtuous quest for respectful discussion leading to consensus, they are really pulling it off. People were asked to be concise and they were. Questions were raised. Direct responses were given. The whole discussion was polite and avoided oversimplification. All this from a crowd that had been sleeping under plastic tarps with a layer of cardboard between them and the granite pavement for three nights—and had seen their neighbors dragged away earlier in the day.


When I had to leave  I had to climb over people and up onto one of the polished, slippery granite walls. I gauged the distance and wanted to hop down, behaving like the twenty-year-olds around me, but thought better of it. I realized that I felt free to look my age, so I asked a young man to lend me a hand and I safely stepped down from the wall. You gotta do what you gotta do, which this group understands.

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WW 3 Illustrated @ 30

Here’s to Peter Kuper, Seth Tobocman and all the wonderful artists who have made World War 3 Illustrated a unique and powerful moment in political art in the US. Started as a reaction to the Reagan years, it has grown and become an important publication of strong and direct art comment . . . for the last 30 years!!!

Some questions for Peter and Seth:

When you see the work altogether like this, what goes through your mind? Do you think of something lost, something gained in the years?

[Read more…]

Victor, Franz and Me

Recently Victor Juhasz, one of my very favorite artists and people, and I caught the show of the 21 heads by Franz Xavier Messerschmidt at the Neue Galerie.  These are mysterious heads.  They are all of faces in extreme discomfort or anguish of some kind. Messerschmidt was a German sculptor who was rising in prominence, doing commissions for the court.  At one point his world went sour and he found himself without commissions and even a teaching job.  He withdrew into his own world and did these “character heads” for the rest of his life.

“Character heads” is something Victor and I do for a living.  The idea of exaggeration for the sake of an idea.  This is called caricature but that is too blunt a word, most of the time.  Teasing truth from imagery is a tool in every artist’s box.  An astonishing thing about Messerschmidt’s heads is that they feel very direct and modern . . . for the 20th century.  And these were done in the 18th!!  There is nothing before him or after him in the history of sculpture that this connects with.  He is just out there listening to whatever music came to him. And in madness, or inspiration or an alloy of the two, this work appears.  And speaking for myself I recognize all of them.


“These sculpted heads by Messerschmidt proved to be an unexpectedly exhilarating experience even as they challenged a number of assumptions and tendencies to short cut in the drawing process.  You couldn’t.  Paying attention was crucial when trying to interpret on paper what he did so magnificently in 3-D.  Many of these heads were already caricatures, hyper realistic animated caricatures.  Messerschmidt’s complete command of detailing the logic of muscular functions and their intricate relationships to every other muscle in these extreme facial gestures forced me to be extra aware of my shading and direction of line in the drawings.  I felt like I was looking at squinting eyes, creases in the face, furrows in the brow,  flarings of nostrils and bulging of eyes for the first time.  It’s very easy in the studio environment to fall back on tried and true predictable solutions (in other words- bad habits) in drawing and be guilty of not thinking all the time what you’re actually saying about anatomy.  These sculpted heads forced me to think about every mark I put down, the weight of the darkness in the shadowing and how getting one thing wrong, from lazy observance threw everything else off.  I was humbled by realizing how much I didn’t know.  Returning to this exhibit is a definite.  I could draw these heads all day and not be bored.”

Below is a group of sketches we both did that day.  My work is up here to look closely at his and learn a thing or two.

PS: Vic is off to sketch the troops in Afghanistan next week.  I’m sure it will be an amazing experience.  We all wish him a safe and art-filled journey.  Hoping he can post some of the pieces when he gets back. Meantime Vic, give them our best.