STEFAN SOLVES A PROBLEM
When Ze Frank rebooted his amazing online series “A Show With Ze Frank” he invited me to draw a recurring segment. His brief was to “incorporate the audience and have it be fairly simple—just you and a marker transforming something ready made into something beautiful.” The phrase “Sesame Street on acid” may have come up, too.
Talking through a few ideas with Ze, we decided that I should solve problems submitted by the audience as an illustrating advice columnist. Ze selected his favorites from among hundreds of problems people posted on his website, and I picked the final questions for the segment. I based my choice on what resonated with me emotionally, and also on what solutions I thought I could draw.
This is one of the great frustrations I’ve always had, by the way, and one that I will probably continue to carry with me forever. Many of my ideas exceed my ability to draw them. Drives me nuts. That’s why I love drawing the Daily Monsters. They’re based on process, and I don’t start those drawings with a finished character in mind. That way, each character is a happy evolution from nothing into something. With a regular drawing, I just watch with mounting despair as my hands fail at getting an image out of my head undamaged.
For me, this was a little bit of a problem with these drawings. Ze had asked me to keep things loose, which isn’t my natural default setting. We filmed the first few segments here at my desk, with Ze and his camera person hanging out while I was drawing. Which was fun, because we got to chat and goof around, but it made the drawings a little bit too loose. I was performing for Ze instead of for the camera.
After he’d left, I reshot a bunch of those solutions on my own, so I could draw more slowly, do retakes, and just generally get it right. Diligence isn’t sexy, and it happens more easily under monastic conditions. I still cringe a bit at some of the illustrations, but they’re fun and loose, and that’s a worthwhile leap for me.
I did enjoy adding the voiceover for these clips. I recorded them sitting in an old barber chair at my house, speaking into the voice recorder on my iPhone. Only when I listened back to the first few takes did I realize that I was pretending to be on “This American Life.” I toned down my inner Ira a little bit, but you can still hear it. Act One of our show: Imitators. As good as the real thing? Act Two: No. Stay with us.
My anxieties notwithstanding, I always love getting a call from Ze. He never fails to push me into something new and interesting, and I’ve never gone wrong taking him up on an invitation. I wish I’d had him as a friend when I was a kid.