The LAUGHING DRAGON PIZZA CO.
After I had finished my term in Norm Schureman’s drawing class, he asked me if I’d like to help him on a project over the break. He was creating a theme restaurant for Six Flags Magic Mountain—The Laughing Dragon Pizza Kitchen—and he thought I might have fun designing one of the murals. I was completely exhausted, but how could I say no? I idolized the man, and after more or less sneaking into his class three months earlier, he was asking me to come in on a project? “Yes” was the only possible answer!
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- Norm Schureman / Six Flags
Norm had already introduced us to the Laughing Dragon on our class trip to the sculpture show that was carving the character out of foam to create the sculptures for the restaurant. Now he needed lots of artwork for the inside walls. He had already hired a few of his TA’s to help him on a long mural showing dragons working on a pizza production line. He set me to work on a big portrait of the Dragon family. At the center was Norm’s dragon, surrounded by his father, his wife, and their three kids—a son, a daughter, and a freshly hatched baby dragon. It’s the perfect sitcom setup.
I put in all kinds of fun details. The grandfather is wearing a Shriner’s fez with crossed pizza cutters. The son is holding a balloon made of an inflated pizza. On his shirt is a little human logo, as an analog to human kids get to wearing shirts with little Lacoste alligators. Lastly, the daughter is holding a whirligig that’s been burned to a cinder. Because if you’re a dragon and you blow on a whirligig, that’s what happens.
Note the Loch Ness Monster making a cameo appearance in the background.
Beyond that I added a bit of scenery, and a VIVA LA PIZZA banner held aloft by two cherubic dragons, and that was that. Norm was happy with my work, which made me glow with pride. He wanted me to go right on to the next part of the project, but I had to cry uncle. I had been running on empty already, and as much as it’s fun to work for somebody you admire, it’s also a lot of pressure. Norm was a little confused when I told him this. Insecurity wasn’t really something he struggled with. Drawing came naturally to him, and gave him energy. But he understood, and let me get a little break.
Bridget and Nathan Duffy of Duffy Art in Hawthorne, California painted the actual murals.
We stayed in touch over the years, Norm and I. He came to visit me in Portland during my year at Wieden + Kennedy. (A lot of students graduated to work at Nike and Adidas, and they’d fly him up to conduct workshops and consult on new projects.) Both in Portland and later when I was working back in Los Angeles, he was the person who’d call me on my meekness. “This isn’t good for you! Why do you let them treat you like that?” He saw more in me than I did, and it confused him that I’d put up with some of the things I had allowed into my life. At the same time, he didn’t push me to change just because he told me to. He was a good teacher and a good friend.
When I worked with Gary Koepke at Modernista! in Boston I asked him to hire Norm to do some concept drawings for our Airwalk pitch. That felt pretty great! Gary initially thought that Norm had been a fellow student. When the work came in, his eyes got pretty big. “This isn’t some kid you hooked me up with, is it?” Ha!
When my folks were in town we’d sometimes go visit Norm and his family. I dropped in on his classes whenever I could. He always asked me to TA for him, and I always said I wanted to—if he could only get an afternoon class going. My 8am days were done. Every few months we’d talk on the phone or leave each other messages. Every time we said, “OK. Let’s get lunch!” and we never really made it happen. More often than not I thought I was too busy and cancelled, forever saying, “Soon, though!”
Sadly, things didn’t turn out that way. Norm left us very suddenly on March 20th, 2010. He put himself in the path of an armed man at a party. When Norm tried to disarm him, the man shot my friend in the chest. Just like that. Norm was 50 years old, a loving husband and father, an amazing teacher and a true friend. We were owed many more years in his company, and he had a lot left to do.
I’m glad that I happened to make my way to Art Center when he was teaching, and at just the right moment where I could have noticed his work. It was a pleasure and a privilege to know him. If you love drawing, you should check out the book about his work.