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Battle Lines Drawn

I've put together a class at the School of Visual Arts called Battle Lines Drawn: Creating Political Action Comics, a title that is hopefully both a bit clever and self-explanantory. Here's a link to the Fall Course –– it will be offered again in the winter and will be available for registration sometime in November.

Crafting the curriculum for this has been a fascinating exercise as I'm combining concise lectures on the history of political cartooning and the societal pressures that have been brought to bear on it, along with instruction that will guide students through the creation of their own political comics. I've learned a lot by revisiting the masters and the controversies that have surrounded the form, and feel fired up about promoting this pure, but challenging expression of our First Amendment rights. Following a promo below are the first two pages from a strip I've done that encapsulates some of the origin story and the emerging themes that current day practitioners still grapple with.


Village Voice RIP

One of the first art directors I showed my portfolio to after graduating Parsons School of Design was George Delmerico at The Village Voice. My stuff was raw and angry and a
good fit for the ugly mood in New York in the 80s with a plague spreading through the city and Reagan in the White House. I was a regular throughout the decade contributing illustrations on politics, culture and entertainment. It was a time when even the frugal Voice would buy me two tickets to a Broadway musical (the eccentric, but compelling The Gospel at Colonnus) as research for a job. Subsequent supportive and smart art directors included Michael Grossman and Wes Anderson along with committed assistants like Melanie Pitts and Jennifer Gilman.

Roughly a year after suspending the paper's print edition, and sixty-three years after its debut, the publishers have finally pulled the plug. In its day it was an essential journal particularly for fringe downtown populations that have increasingly moved into the mainstream. Nostalgia is cheap, but it was a time that saw an embrace of expressionism and a punkish attitude in illustration which definitely shaped my work, so allow me a philosophical sigh.

Below are a few pieces I did over the years. The first is about terrorists manipulating their hostages, and was done in pen and ink with fairly dense washes that were suitably noirish when printed on the pulpy page. The third one was done in a similar technique and accompanied a review of Warehouse: Songs and Stories, an album by Husker Dü.

The other two are pen and ink drawings –– the first a phallic bust of French philosopher Michel Foucault (with some Zipatone leaves), the last a nuclear scarecrow in the stick-like form of Nancy Reagan (with some gouache and grease pencil.)


Lowering McCain

In salute to John McCain, here's an image from inxart.com. Despite his many flaws, McCain easily towered over the current crop of legislators crawling around the Capitol. He obviously tried to embody his own best notion of what it was to be a patriot and he had both an awareness of history and a biting sense of humor. One could, and did, disagree with his political views, but it wasn't hard to grant him a sense of respect.

Until 2008, that is, when his choice of a profoundly unqualified running mate in the presidential race severely dinked his reputation. The other two illustrations below date from that campaign, and respectfully avoid depicting she-who-must-not-be-named. His magnificent thumbs-down on the Senate Obamacare vote last year went a long way to restoring his image as a principled maverick. The notion rarely crossed my mind during his thirty-five years in Congress, but he will be sorely missed.

Oh, and this parody 2008 Campaign Ad.


Kofi Break

The death of Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations on August 18, had me looking back through the numerous strips I did for the Earth Times during his tenure. Entitled Kozmology, it focused on global development and the machinations of the typically well-intentioned, but often inept UN, and ran for more than ten years with the kind support of publisher and editor Pranay Gupte.

Despite the organization's noble aims, my focus was on satirizing the bloat, naivete and cynicism endemic to such an unwieldy bureaucracy. Annan was appointed at a time of regional conflicts that saw the expansion of peace-keeping operations to unprecedented levels. Genocidal failures in places like Kosovo and Rwanda dogged his reputation after he was elected in 1997. His predecessor, the dour Boutros Boutros-Ghali (the diplomat so nice they named him twice), failed to win reelection, and the charming Annan was greeted as a reformer. He was the last high-profile Secretary General –– a low-key, but charismatic leader who served a decade.

The catastrophe of 9/11 combined with the disaster that was the Bush Administration and its response to the attack had the effect of ultimately marginalizing the UN. Despite Annan's best efforts, he could not dissuade Cheney, Wolfowitz et al. from invading Iraq –– which he acknowledged as his biggest regret. Ban Ki-moon, who followed him in office, left far less of an impression, and I doubt few Americans could name the current boss, António Guterres.

I've included a few panels below from 2001. The first was published a month after 9/11 when it was difficult to know what tone to strike as many insisted the tragedy would mark the death of irony. Irony rose like a Phoenix. Shashi Tharoor was Annan's Director of Communications and an Indian politician whose post-UN career has been marked by a bizarre scandal involving his wife's death.

The second three-panel sequence introduced a two-pager about Annan's winning the Nobel Prize that same year. Here he is informed by spokesman Fred Eckhardt that he would have to share the honor with the whole, big messy family. The third is a single-panel strip on a scandal in 2005 that involved unaccounted funds and a payout to his son.

Despite the bite of these drawings, I did admire Kofi Annan, and I believe the recent dimunition of the institution he tried to remake is not a good thing for the US or the world. I was lucky enough to meet him at a UN function and was pleased that he was aware of the strip and took the ribbing good-naturedly. His only request was that I make him 'more pretty.' Another reasonable appeal from a decent man that would go unheeded.


Nast Appeal

It's fun to do an out-and-out parody at times, and who better to most sincerely flatter through imitation than the Granddaddy of Political Cartoons, Thomas Nast. His devastating series of takedowns of Tammany Hall's Boss Tweed was widely credited with aiding in that crook's ouster in 1870s New York City. One can only dream…

We're using these as a promotional image for the funny new book Trump Tweets Alt-American History that L.K. Peterson and I collaborated on. It's available now at Amazon.com.



Trump Tweets Alt-American History

The very funny Trump Tweets Alt-American History that L.K. Peterson and I collaborated on has just been released. It's available now at Amazon.com.

From the introduction:
President Donald J. Trump had always intended to teach a master class in Alt-American History at the prestigious Trump University, but the many commitments of his former busy life kept him from fulfilling that dream.

Now that he has more time on his hands after his record-breaking election, he has chosen to share his vast store of knowledge of our Nation’s proud heritage in a series of tweets that the U.S Department of Education has been honored to purchase as the cornerstone of our national social studies curriculum.

And he will continue to broaden and deepen the public record with his profound insights into our past and present for this and future generations on Twitter
@TrumpAltAmericanHistory (now with even more characters!)

The drawings are by Tom Hachtman (including the cover below) and me (the one below that.)




Turkey Shoot

In this nostalgic Thanksgiving Season I wanted to harken back to a simpler time with this illustration I did for the Washington Post in 1998. That halcyon era two decades ago, before vicious partisanship, sex scandals, Special Counsels, and impeachment. Ah, the good old days.


Alabama, Get Away

The special election in Alabama that chose Roy Moore, ex-Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court, as the successor to Jeff Sessions is further proof that there are two Americas in the one we call North. The Republican voter in that state opted to out-Trump Trump –– it's as though the Monster decided Dr. Frankenstein wasn't bullish enough on reanimating the dead.

This sorry spectacle reminded me of an illustration I did for Doug Hunt at the National Law Journal in 2003. At the time, Moore was removed from his post because he resisted a court order to relocate a monument to the Ten Commandments he had had installed at the state judicial building. He was returned to that office in 2012. And removed again for ethical violations. And now this.



Talk to the Hair

Now that tout le monde is getting a daily dose of what comes out of The Donald's mouth, I remembered this caricature I did some 30 years ago which accentuated his pursed, sphincter-like lips.

Thereafter, every time I did a Trump drawing, I kind of hoped it would be the last. He represented much of what I found distasteful in crass capitalism and celebrity culture, but I thought favoring the megalomaniac with further attention was just feeding the beast. He always felt like a sideshow attraction you could safely ignore. No more –– the freak show's hit the big top.

Of late I've caved to the inevitable and joined in taking pot shots at the presidential poseur –– it's a bit too easy, like shooting a whale in a barrel, but the rage he's engendered has created a sense of hate-filled community that's sorta nice. For once all the self-righteous outrage is pretty much justified. Although, I still sometimes feel as if Trump is a mole (and not due to all the snuffling), a double or even triple-agent bent on taking down the Republican Party by exposing all their ugly prejudices by taking them to their awful logical conclusions as rotten planks in an insupportable platform.

My pal L.K. Peterson was inspired to put a droll spin on a potentially grim future and created the e-book Talk to the Hair (just love that title.) It's subtitled A Look Back at the First 100 Days of the Trump Presidency and cleverly 'recounts' the dystopian discontents that a certain vote in November would precipitate. Recognizing that this election cycle was historic for all the wrong reasons, we decided to turn it into an ink and pulp product.

I've contributed twenty black and white illustrations and the back cover artwork. I'm very happy with the results and suggest you get a copy while it's still satire. Order from Amazon. Or at Barnes & Noble.


MoCCA Fest 2016: Flick and Flak

I'll be at MoCCA Fest 2016 April 2nd & 3rd at Now What Media Table #E170. The event is being held at Metropolitan West, 639 W 46th Street , bet. 11th & 12th Aves. in NYC. Hours are from11am until 6pm.

I'll be joining Now What Media compatriots L.K. Peterson, David G Klein, Tom Hachtman and Felipe Galindo in greeting visitors, moving merch and signing books. We're premiering the sequel to Love the Sinner, Hate the Cinema by curmudgeonly critic E. Basil St. Blaise. This compendium of royal pans is entitled Flick and Flak: More Poison Capsule Reviews and features over 100 cinema-skewering cartoons by Randy Jones and myself in full-color.

We'll also be promoting David G Klein's brilliant horror story The Golem's Voice, L.K. Peterson's set of unsolicited sequels Further Adventures: Now What Anthology No. 1, and all our other humor books and comics collections.

You can buy any of our books with the Amazon widget at the top right of this page. Please stop by our table and say hi.


Campaign & Suffering

After more than a year of see-sawing polls, impassioned (read : hysterical) analyses and wild speculation we're finally less than a month away from the first preliminary test of the electablilty of the once-swarming field of candidates for the presidency. Only ten more months to go!

Here's a slideshow of images dedicated to the Greatest Sideshow on Earth. The quadrennial spectacle that provides more laughs than a clown car full of illegal immigrants and more of a mess than all of the elephants the Ringling Brothers are finally putting out to pasture. Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls, those of you still deciding –– please enjoy Campaign 2016.


MoCCA Fest: Further Adventures & The Golem's Voice

I'll be at MoCCA Fest this April 11th and 12th at the Now What Media Table #459. The event is being held at Center548, 548 West 22nd Street in New York City. The hours are 11am until 6pm.

I'll be pitching two brand new books. David G Klein, a long-time colleague and friend, has worked for years on an extraordinary retelling of the Golem myth. This labor of love recasts the mystical creature of Jewish lore as a protector and potential savior for a small boy pursued by relentless Nazis during WWII. The story is suspenseful and full of emotion, and the artwork is just spectacular. It's comic book art in the classic tradition –– action-packed, beautifully-paced, moody and full of detail. And, best of all, it's a tale that can be enjoyed by readers both young and old. I can't recommend The Golem's Voice more highly.

And L.K.Peterson has whipped up a trio of smart and very funny 'sequels' for some familiar fictional characters in Further Adventures: Now What Anthology No. 1. There's a dead-on Sherlock Holmes story entitled The Case of the Glowing Balls in the Nighttime illustrated in period-appropriate splendor by Thomas Kerr. Then Dorothy's pals get a superheroic makeover in Tinman! Crimefighter of Oz, a thoroughly wacky comicbook tale drawn by Randy Jones. Finally, I get a chance to go all noir in Made of Dreams, a hard-boiled caper with a wicked twist.

You can order these books from Amazon.com with the widget to the right. I hope to see you at MoCCA Fest.



Tricks of the Treat

My misspent youth buried alive in horror mags like Creepy and Eerie and Hammer Films like Vampire Lovers and Twins of Evil has me yearning, at this time of year, for that remembered taste of dark and forbidden thrills. But it's much harder to conjure those innocent shudders in these far more graphic times, where the 24-hour news cycle offers up on any given day more acts of mayhem then can be found in the entire Roger Corman corpus.

And, sadly, some of those shockers of one's youth now deliver more smirks than jerks. For a review of many of the Golden Age's greatest Creature Features by the fiendish curmudgeon E. Basil St. Blaise, please read Screamed Corn.

Yet the odious influences linger on, especially in my work. Here are a couple of drawings and a comic strip with a monstrous bent for Halloween 2014. And links to two political animations that were timed to coincide with that other yearly nightmare, Election Season: White House of Horrors and White House of Horrors II.

I'd also like to announce that Now What Books has just published PK in the Terrarium: A Life in Books. It's a collection of my brother Paul Kozlowski's writings culled from the last five years of his blog of the same name. It's a deeply felt and witty set of essays by an engaged reader, collector, champion and all-around lover of the written word set down in print. Paul was a proud bookseller for over 30 years and this book outlines his efforts to share his passion with a distracted public, as he navigated a trade in the throes of upheaval and unpredictable change. Objectivity be damned, I highly recommend it.


24/07

The recent revival of the 24 brand on Fox called to mind this illustration I did for the Hartford Courant in 2007. I never saw either iteration of the series, but it was fun to send up Jack Bauer.

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