talent scouts: publishers sweep cakes

by Art Chantry (art@artchantry.com):

back when i was art directing the rocket, i had a constant parade of “talent” approaching me for work. because the rocket was literally the ONLY kiosk in town to do anything fun or kool in town (unless you count the seattle PI, Times or Weekly – which were the competition and decidedly uncool). so, everybody who did anything locally – and then a whole lot of outsiders – constantly hit on me for freelance work. the fact that we paid literally nothing ($35 for an illustration? $10 for a photo? NOTHING!), we were constantly swamped with people.

AC:ya know, the rocket originally was very cliqueish about talent. but, after i got there and learned some lessons, i tried by best to open it up to experimenting constantly with new talent. i tried really hard to find cool shit that nobody had seen before, or, i'd gamble on some person who just struck me as brilliant (even tho their portfolio was weak). i began to trust instinct at the rocket. working with no money and under pressure was a great training ground to develop instinct. it has served many generations of rocket art directors very well since then. a lot of famous AD's came from the rocket, the school of hard knocks and trial by fire by the seat of yer pants. at the rocket, i began to learn to spot things that i trusted.

i remember editor bob newman asking me about a package from this new cartoonist from the local paper (was it the Seattle Post-Intelligencer? i remember a guy in devo [i think it was ‘bob 2] asking if “post-intelligence’ meant ‘beyond intelligence…?”) i remember being all snotty and arrogant and dissing the newbie cartoonist as a newspaper professional hack who wasn’t funny. the guy really wanted to do a cover for us, but, we decided he was “uncool”. so, we turned him away. his name was gary larsen. can you believe that? i was such an idiot snob.

another time ed ‘big daddy’ roth hit on us to try to talk us into running his new ‘rat fink’ comic strip. he had converted to mormanism and wanted to turn rat fink into an agent of environmentalism and healthy living. for the kids, you know – the kids… we politely said,’no.’ i still feel confident about that one.

of course, there were many times we tried to hire famous guys who said no. we really tried to get the late completely un-PC comic panel artist Callahan (who just died last year) to run his panels in the rocket (instead of the local sunday supplement magazine in the seattle times (alongside home decorating tips). he wanted to do it, but turned us down because the slimes (times) threatened to stop paying him his $75 a month retainer if he did anything for us. he needed that money so bad, that he was afraid to lose it. we couldn’t talk him into the change. too bad. he would have been perfect for the rocket.

we got turned down by lotsa famous people – largely because they’d never heard of us (or better yet, thought we were reprehensible). a couple of ‘famous people’ actually tried to take the money in advance, then not send the artwork and shaft us. you’d be really surprised who actually tried that ploy on us. only happened only twice in my personal experience, but it was by a couple of the most famous respected names in the design/illustration world. pretty surprising and weird.

another situation we had was being deluged with cartoonists. for a long time, we at the rocket had a reputation for launching the careers of cartoonists. it began with lynda barry, ron hauge, and matt groening. before long we had added gary panter, charles burns, peter bagge, michael dougan, stan shaw, holly tuttle, carl smool and many others to our ranks. as time went on, we sorta became famous for being ‘underground cartoonist friendly’ clearing house and for printing the stuff nobody else had any nerve to print.

so, we started get inundated with cartoonists from all over the country (and the world), all trying to get their stuff reproduced. then fantagraphics moved to town and it REALLY hit the fan. i’d get ten envelopes full of stuff from a different new cartoonists every single day!

most of them were terrible, too. so many of them were so stupid and violent that it made me wince. to this day, delving through all that crap for so long has made me, an old school marvel comics collector and matron of the arts, HATE to read comic books. i can’t do it. even brilliant great stuff – can’t do it. what i learned about good comics is that there is only one way to become a great cartoonist – become a great writer first. that’s the trick. it doesn’t matter how great the artwork is, if you can’t write a story line, forget it.

in fact, people like lynda barry (who could draw beautifully, i used to have one of her ‘fine art’ pieces) pioneered the “i can’t draw” school of comic art in the rocket. her work is like a textbook on the truth that you don’t need to draw for shit to be a truly great cartoonist. it’s like she was TRYING to do bad drawings. her instinctive experiments in comic form got so far out that the images were almost completely squeezed out of the frames and the st

became all text. she only got MORE popular for it. now, she just write novels, it seems

then there were guys like this. this is the work of a kid – a tacoma kid (who grew up in spanaway, south of parkland where i grew up). when i first met him, he was playing synth/keyboards in a little band called “pure joy”. it was a great band that he did with (among others) his brother rusty willoughby. this guy’s name is randy willoughby – rusty’s “big” brother.

he left Pure Joy (brotherly ‘love’) and got into graphic design. i don’t know the story of his trajectory, or even if he had any schooling. i just first noticed his work when he did an amazing cover for his brother’s later band called “flop”. the thing was maybe the first imaginative inventive piece of computer generated graphic design i’d ever seen. it sorta blew my sox off.

one day, he drifted into the rocket and showed me his portfolio , and i was thrilled this guy actually looked me up. i immediately hired him to do things. what he produced was like nothing we’d ever had in the magazine before. it was the antithesis of the “rocket style” (think “grunge”, since that’s where it originated). it was mechanical, austere, sophisticated and clean. and very dryly funny. it was total shock value in our magazine.

for instance, here is the illustration randy did for our review of the record “out of focus” by Love Battery (released on sub pop). i mean, what the hell? randy’s entire page layouts were so dented and antithetical that people didn’t know how to read them. if you didn’t follow his instructions, you could get lost.

a couple of guy back in the art department just thought he was copping david carson, who had just become ‘famous’ in underground circles for his work in the new raygun magazine. but, that wasn’t randy’s stick at all. i doubt he ever saw raygun or david carson before. he was just a special mind.

for instance, as i got to know him, i found out that what he did for fun was draw the typeface ‘palatino’ (i believe designed by adrian frutiger). he researched different versions of the typeface design (as pirated by various type companies) and was attempting, over time, to draw an historically accurate version of the original (now lost) design. he had been working on this little project for YEARS! partay, dood!

in the meantime he was raising a family. he got a fair position working at a design shop that created in-store fixtures and began to utilize his engineering/design skills to a better result, at least better than crummy punk rock record covers and $35 illustrations for the rocket.

eventually, i left the rocket, and then i left town. i completely lost track of randy, but often wondered whatever became of the guy. i expected big things from him in time.

when i stared doing this crap on facebook™, like so many other people, i began to hear from old ‘lost’ friends. and randy popped up! he’s working at walter dorwin teague associates (one of the most famous and renown industrial design companies in history). so, he eventually hit the big time after all. pretty cool.

so, here’s to the brilliance of that odd little guy from spanaway who drew fucked-up images for the rocket. randy posts here once in a while, and i hope he’s really embarrassed now…


AC:never confuse the ‘art’ with the ‘artist’.

and even assholes can be good people sometimes.

i once heard milton glaser say that ‘graphic design is actually all about power.” pretty scary to think about.

…when the stranger immediately glommed onto the sex ads, the rocket knew it was toast. too much money involved and it didn’t really stand a chance after that. just a little reality. sex ads are what collapsed the underground newspapers of the 1960’s. when the sex industry started to advertise in those papers (who nievely accepted them in a spirit of “do your own thing, man”), they sealed their own death warrant. within a year or two, those papers literally became porn rags and catered solely to that market until they collapsed. the corrupting influence of blood money is astonishing to watch in action….we used to run raymond pettibon’s work in the rocket, too. we ran his work as a gag panel comic back int he classified pages (early-mid 80’s).

my favorite was a drawing of a dashing looking fellow being lead away in hadcuffs by some cops past a throng of adoring women. the caption read, “everybody loves a handsome killer.” in seattle, just after the ted bundy killing spree and in the middle of the then unfolding green river killer death count mounting up, this was in extremely bad taste. i loved it….

yeah, we ran pekar’s strips long before he became a big shot famous dude. denny eichhorn was close to him. i actually got to do a layout for one of pekar’s political articles once in a magazine i did with denny called “northwest extra.” i had to discuss my layout and stuff with him on the phone extensively. he was cool. annoying, but cool.

crumb actually hung out at the rocket a couple of times. we did an interview with him (michael dougan did the interview). crumb was buddies with peter bagge and pete was buddies with the rocket. in fact, we had pete illustrate the crumb interview for the rocket cover. but crumb never did any drawings special for us. he let use lift what we wanted. but, we actually wanted to always have original stuff, so we rarely took people up on offers like his.

i remember once walking into the rocket offices (“rocket towers”, we liked to call it) and there was this weird guy rolling a little girl around in one of our garbage cans. everybody sorta glanced at him over their shoulders and wondered who was the fucking weirdo torturing the little girl, etc.

of course, it was crumb and his daughter sophie. he had come up with pete so that pete could drop off some artwork for some other project for the rocket. nobody recognized him! try to imagine that.

i also remember another time, walking into my girlfriend’s (ashleigh talbot) apartment and there was robert crumb sitting on her bed chatting away. now, THAT was weird moment….

…i remember one time, when randy was hanging out back in the ‘art department’ at the rocket. being an old neighborhood kid from out spanaway (which i swear is haunted. i grew up in parkland, next door, which i think is cursed) we started sharing ‘horror stories’. it’s common thing that kids who grew up that way always do – they start to share stories about growing up around there. the stories are like O. Henry writing dispatches from Dante’s “Inferno”. every story is really fucked up and scary, but still has a darkly morbid and humorous ‘twist’ ending. just the way it is down there. it’s “normal.”

anyway, we started sharing horror stories and, even though we were on final deadline and the place was packed and extremely busy, we sorta managed to clear the room. people couldn’t stand listening to our stories and one by one, everybody left until we were alone in the production room (at deadline, no less!).

when we noticed, we laughed. then randy turned to me and said something like, “ya know, it’s so nice to actually be able to talk to somebody who gets it. when i tell these stories, nobody believes me. they think i’m making it all up. but it’s all true!” i knew EXACTLY what he meant. …

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