Thursday, December 1, 2011

Lou Brooks - Cartoonist Survey #250

Lou Brooks (“the world’s oldest kid”) is a an illustrator, designer, comic artist and writer who was born in 1944. He is completely self-taught and learned to draw as a child by copying from the comics in the newspaper and by watching the Learn to Draw with Jon Gnagy TV shows. Since Lou’s dad had aspired to be a cartoonist in the 1930’s, Lou had access to all of his dad’s art supplies.

After high school, Lou held various jobs including washing dishes at Howard Johnson's, working around tractor-trailers for a trucking company outside the main gate of Pennsylvania's largest steel mill, and eventually began working nights in the ad department of The Philadelphia Bulletin. In 1967 he met his soon to be wife Clare, who was then a ballet dancer with the New York City Opera. The couple got married in August of the same year and by September they had moved to the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco, CA. While in the Haight Lou did multiple odd jobs and some freelance writing. After a year they moved back to Philadelphia where he worked for awhile as an underground disc jockey and at a rock and roll magazine interviewing musicians.

Photo Credit: Gene Anthony

By the late 70’s Lou and Clare had saved up enough money to move to New York. Lou’s comics began appearing in Playboy Magazine's "Playboy Funnies" where they continued to be published for over a decade. Now forty years later, his art and humorous writing have appeared in practically every major publication in America including The New Yorker, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Reader’s Digest, Penthouse, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American and many others. He has also designed and illustrated multiple covers for Time and Newsweek.

He has created illustrations and authored numerous books, as well as creating advertising art for many corporations. A partial list of his advertising clients includes: Budweiser, Sony, IBM, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Verizon, Pizza Hut, Exxon, Dr. Pepper, CBS, NBC, AT&T and Nikon. His artwork has been animated for HBO, Nickelodeon and MTV. Lou even redesigned Monopoly’s “man in the top hat” for Parker Brothers in 1985.

In addition to writing and illustrating, he has done stints as a stand-up comedian and night club bouncer. When he and his wife moved to the Jersey seaside in 1994, he became the “oldest surfing geezer on the beach.” He also drove Modified Midget race cars weekly at Airport Speedway in Dover, Delaware. If that isn’t enough, Lou was also a founding member of the all cartoonist rock band “Ben Day & the Zipatones.” The band’s other members were Bill Plympton, Mark Alan Stamaty and Elwood Smith.

A member of the National Cartoonists Society, Society of Illustrators and the Graphic Artists Guild, Lou has won many awards such as Illustrator of the Year Award from Adweek Magazine and the Silver Funny Bone from the Society of Illustrators. His most recent book “Twimericks: The Book of Tongue-Twisting Limericks” was nominated for the National Cartoonists Society’s Illustrated Book of the Year Award, and this past March Lou was nominated for the NCS’s Best Magazine Illustration Award. Learn more about “Twimericks” here on the book’s official website.

Lou and his wife now live in Northern California. Be sure to visit his website where you can see much more of his work and purchase giclees, serigraphs and collectibles. Follow him on his blog and his Facebook page. Lou is also the curator of the Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies, a really cool website that features “tools of the trade that have died or have just about died a slow death.” Check out the Museum here.

What is your favorite pen to use?

Whatever I pick up. But mostly Sharpie Fine, Sakura Micron, ITOYA Fine Point, and Tombo Brush Pen (“Any tool can be the right tool.” – Red Green).

Do you draw in pencil first and if so do you use a standard pencil or a mechanical one?

Yes, a very tight pencil drawing first with either Dixon Ticonderoga (very cheap at Staples) or Pentel 0.9 mechanical pencil.

Do you do your coloring by hand or on the computer?

By computer, but it’s pretty complicated.

If you do your coloring by hand, what do you use?

For paintings, Windsor & Newton acrylics on canvas or maple board.

What type of paper do you use?

For inking, Canson Aquarelle watercolor paper.

What thing(s) do you hate to draw?

If somebody wants something “cute,” I usually hang up. Also, in my precise style, getting hair to look exactly right can make me start cleaning my gun at the kitchen table.

Do you buy your supplies from big chain art store catalogues/websites or a local one that you physically go to?

Both. Dick Blick online, or the local yokel art store.

Are there any rituals that you do before starting to draw?

Definitely, breakfast with my wife while we listen without fail to an endless supply of old radio programs. Usually Vic & Sade, Jack Benny, Bob & Ray, Jean Shepherd… there are others, but you get the idea.

Do you listen to music while you draw and if so what genre?

Impossible to answer. Bebop Jazz, Jump Jive, ‘40s-‘50s vocalists, classical, Fats Waller, Ted Lewis, good ‘60s pop, R&B, on and on and on. A lot of Tom Waits, who happens to be our greatest living song writer.

Did you read comics as a kid and if so what was your favorite?

If you mean comic books, it was MAD all the way with some Little Lulu, Scrooge McDuck, Superman.

What is or was your favorite comic strip?

I could read very well by the time I was four, and I learned on newspaper comics. Any of them from the ‘50s… Peanuts, Twin Earths, Li’l Abner, Smokey Stover, Prince Valiant, Gasoline Alley, Winnie Winkle, The Phantom, Buzz Sawyer, Steve Roper, Mary Worth, Brenda Starr. Hard to pick a favorite. In those days there were a bajillion of them. It took all day Sunday to read them and I read them all.

What was your favorite book as a child and do you still own a copy of it?

A boxed set of "Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass", given to me by my Aunt Clementine. Yes, I still have it, along with a few dozen other books she had given me.

Did you have any formal art training and if so where did you receive it?

I did one semester right out of high school at Tyler School of Fine Art in Philly. They told me that maybe I should come back some other time when I was ready. The school was running in a very classical mode at the time – how to make your own oil paints and crap like that. I hated it. I wanted to do what I saw in comics and newspapers. So, I never went back. The rest is all self-taught from Walter T. Foster books and absorbed from experience.

Do you feel that the Internet is a blessing or a curse?

I’m probably one of the oldest computer addicts alive. The Internet’s an incredibly amazing limitless thing. By now, we should all know everything about everything. But the curse that comes with it, I guess, is that it’s shortened most people’s attention span down to about six seconds tops, which is a shame.

Did either of your parents draw?

That’s a sad tale. My father wanted to be a cartoonist. I have all his sketch books and comic strips, which are beautiful. But something happened that stopped him. I never did find out what it was, but my theory on it is that he just didn’t believe a career like that was possible. He was for the most part a miserable man because of it all. He had one job all his life as a bean counter at a rail car factory. He ended up drinking pretty heavily. When I started doing well, he seemed to resent it tremendously. It surprised me and made the going pretty tough. The last time I saw him alive, we hugged and he said in a low voice: “You’re doing what I always wanted to do.” Hell of a punchline.

Who in your life is/was the most supportive of your art?

Hands down, my Aunt Clementine. Besides bringing books to read, she’d take me to movies, plays, amusement parks. I remember us going to see the Ice Capades. She gave me my first phonograph along with all her classical records and always reminded me that I would be a success as an artist. Can’t ask for more than all that.

Do you keep a sketchbook?

Not very much. It comes and goes. A friend who’s a very well-known illustrator once told me that illustration had ruined her desire to draw. At times, I think I may have the same problem. It comes from being controlled by the people that hire you. Especially these days. Some illustrators seem to be comfortable with it, but it’s been a problem for me at times. End of the day, I need to get as far away from a drawing pad as I can get.

Have you ever taught cartooning/drawing and if so did you enjoy the experience?

I taught almost a semester at SVA. For me, it was a nightmare and a waste of time. I really got no satisfaction from sharing what I know with a roomful of kids that are in school because they have to be.

Do you feel that talent or passion is more important in drawing?

You need to have both. I’d say of the two, passion is the most necessary. You can’t fake enthusiasm.

Do you collect anything and if so what?

This and that, but friends and fans have given me a lot of the good stuff. About ten years ago, illustrator Peter Hoey got me into collecting vintage movie posters. If I had to pick one thing I “collect” more than anything else, it would be books. But I don’t think you really collect books, you accumulate them. It’s been going on so long that the books are why my wife and I never think of ever moving again.

If you were an animated cartoon character who do you think you would be?

Daffy Duck.

Are you a righty or lefty?

Lefty, which makes legible handwriting impossible. But I bat and bowl right-handed.

If you weren't an artist what would you want to do for work?

Well, I used to say “writer,” but these days, I consider my writing part of my art. So, I would have to say probably something in the movie business.

In one or two sentences describe your drawing area.

Back east at the Jersey Shore, we rented a house at the beach for a few years and I worked in the dining room. But when we bought the house we’re in now, it was the first time we went to the trouble of having a few rooms renovated into one dedicated well-lighted studio space. It looked so perfectly white and uncluttered and flawless, until we moved everything in and started using it. Now it looks like Oscar Madison’s bedroom. Wait… that’s four sentences.

Do you play any musical instruments?

I have a ukulele right here at my desk. But I’m not sure you’d describe what I do with it as “playing.”

If you could give one piece of advice to someone who wants to pursue drawing as a career what would it be?

Have rich parents.

Who is your favorite artist?

That’s like the music question you asked me, and giving you just one isn’t possible. I love the really quirky comic book artists from the ‘40s, like L.B. Cole or Al “Stiff Figure” Feldstein at MAD. Will Elder would be in there. Same with comic strips. Guys like Martin Branner and Ernie Bushmiller. Pulp illustrators like Norman Saunders. And Ron Turner, a sci-fi illustrator from Britain. Not many know of him over here. Some of the original underground artists, like Victor Moscoso, Robert Williams, Rick Griffin, and Crumb, of course. Sixties California car culture… Roth and Barris were geniuses. Ray Harryhausen. Tex Avery. Osamu Tezuka. Tadanori Yokoo. Lichtenstein. I’m afraid the list would take a few days to put together.

Thanks again Lou. I really appreciate that you took the time to participate!


Bill White said...

Congrats on 250 interviews, David. It was (is) a great idea, and it's wonderful that so many people have embraced it.

Here's to (at least!) 250 more!

David said...

Thank YOU Bill for being the very first participant!

Unknown said...

Great interview.. nothing like reading an interview with one of your peers and keep saying to yourself, "Hey... me too !" - Thanks to the both of you.