Regular The Bottom Line readers might recognize that in addition to writing, I often do illustrations for many articles that run in the paper. So, of course, I jumped at the chance to see Francoise Mouly and Anita Kunz spend an evening talking about their work in illustration and art editing for various journalistic publications.
Thanks to the Lynda and Bruce Thematic Learning Initiative, UCSB Arts and Lectures hosted an evening in Campbell Hall on Oct. 17 dedicated to these two incredibly influential, artistic women who have worked in comics and illustration over the last several decades.
Francoise Mouly, a Knight in the French Order of Arts and Letters and an art editor for The New Yorker, has been incredibly influential in comics publishing and art editing for about 40 years. She co-founded RAW magazine, a comics anthology “for damned intellectuals,” along with her husband Art Spiegelman. Together, they produced comics from famous cartoonists such as Chris Ware (“Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth”) and Richard McGuire (“Here”), and RAW even originally serialized and published Spiegelman’s famous “Maus.”
Anita Kunz, one of The National Post’s 50 most influential women in Canada, has lent her detailed and whimsical illustration talents to create provocative magazine covers for The New Yorker and Rolling Stone.
Kunz began the evening with a slideshow of various illustrated projects and covers she had drawn for Rolling Stone, including for its “Great Moments in Rock and Roll History” section. Her illustrations presented humorous takes on the imaginary origin of such classic icons as Chuck Berry’s duck walk (after watching a mother and her ducklings cross a street) and Elvis Presley’s sultry sneer (a face made while flossing). Other pieces of hers dealt with censorship, gender issues, and environmental concerns.
“It’s absolutely thinking in pictures,” Kunz said about her clever visual humor.
Mouly astutely added, “Photoshop makes people think painting is malleable … they think drawings and paintings are like photos, which cheapens the value of the image.” As an art director, she emphasized the importance of letting the artist express their vision of the assignment. “The images that stay with people are those that you could remove the title and it still tells the story.”
Having worked together on many New Yorker projects, Mouly had a charming dialogue with Kunz that involved reminiscing about projects she had assigned to the artist, including a 1995 cover of the New Yorker that incited a lawsuit. A Manhattan-based shirt vendor claimed Kunz had stolen his “famous” punk design of a man whose hairstyle resembled the New York skyline. The women laughed in retrospect, because the lawsuit was dismissed when they found out “the guy had only sold about 10 of those shirts.”
Mouly then concluded the discussion with a montage of iconic New Yorker covers beginning with the first appearance of dandy mascot Eustace Tilley in the 1920’s, all the way through covers as recent as the latest debates, which feature Donald Trump caricatured as a weeping “Ms. Congeniality” in a beauty pageant. The visual storytelling of each cover maintains its strength even outside of the cultural moment; illustrations from World War II and the 9/11 eras needed no explanation to make their statements.
The evening was thoroughly entertaining, and I left the auditorium feeling inspired to keep working on both my art and my ability to convey news through images. Art is a powerful tool for education and information, and it was an absolute privilege to hear firsthand from two artists as savvy and satirical as Anita Kunz and Francoise Mouly. In publishing, like in baseball, it really is important to cover all your bases.