Back in 2002 a friend invited me to do some screen printing at the CalArts print lab in Valencia, California. I’d never actually silk-screened anything before, so I was excited to get my hands dirty. I learned very quickly that doing this in a sort of rough and tumble way is fun and looks instantly “authentic,” whereas silk-screening precisely is difficult and time-consuming, and should be left to trained professionals.
I designed this poster in a few hours the night before that day of my visit, just to have something fun to print. I wanted something complex, but couldn’t think of a big important statement to make that was worthy of a poster. I decided to illustrate my writer’s block instead. Originally my head was at the bottom of the poster, but that just seemed way too self-obsessed, so I switched in a cow.
Back in Germany I had grown up near a cow pasture. Staring into the big, black eyes of a cow always made me think that they’re up to something. Or that they’re really advanced Zen masters. (I’d like to point out that the cow on the poster is in no way related to any iconic livestock protected by international copyright. Ahem.)
While I’ve been a comic book collector on and off for most of my life, those impromptu speech bubbles probably came more directly out of the Sting CD. In turn they gave birth to a whole mess of work that followed. This poster became the root of the foldout questionnaire graph in the back of the All Access paperback after a mother wrote to me, saying that she’d had a copy of the poster laminated, so that her kids could use it as a brain map to help them do their homework.
Next the All Access chart got mixed up in my head with Robert Crumb’s illustrated reports for the New Yorker, and evolved into the STEP conference pieces, which turned into ink & cirumstance, which turned into 344 Questions, and now is part of the menu of this very website! (I’m sorry, did I just blow your mind?)
Of course, they’re cartoon speech bubbles, so I don’t want to make it out to be a big artistic achievement. I’m just trying to piece together how this stuff all fits together in my own portfolio. But hey, maybe these are a particularly nice cartoon speech bubbles. I’ve seen so many horrible ripoffs of the format over the years that were clearly done by people who’d never picked up a comic book in their lives.
This whole thing was a complete lark, but the result has definitely become a big part of the 344 vocabulary. Shooting from the hip—it always looks cool when you do it, and sometimes you even hit something.