Sunday Mailbag- The Workplace Posters

April 20th, 2014 | Posted in Mailbag

Q: Forgive me if this is posted somewhere in the blog, but I’d love to know more about this Marlin Workplace Poster that you do each month. How long have you been at this project? What kinds of things do they look for each month? Do they have specific requests or do you have full creative allowance? What do they use it for? Is there a different employee featured in each month’s installment or is it all fictional characters? I really enjoy seeing the humor in these posters and I’ve always wanted to know more about them!

A: Those ‘workplace posters” I do are a fantastic example of one of the rarest of freelance birds: the long term client.

There are three different types of freelance clients: new clients, repeat clients, and former clients. Finding new clients is your second most important job because inevitably they all end up being former clients, and have to be replaced. Your most important task is doing a great job on the actual work and meeting the client’s needs, because the more often you can make a new client become a repeat client, the more successful you will be. It is tremendously difficult to find new clients, so your time and energy is better served trying to retain the clients you have. The Marlin Company is one of those repeat clients that an illustrator is lucky to have.

The Marlin Company produces communication materials for industries and employers all around the U.S. They make workplace display units that a company would put up in their employee areas and provide a subscription based service that sends monthly content for those displays. The content consists of posters, placards and electronic animations that promote teamwork, safety, stress management and other important employer messages to the subscriber’s work force. The content is tailored to the specific display unit and some target certain industries like health care or manufacturing, but most are universal messages that any business wants their employees to understand. There are no specific people depicted in any of these, just generic cartoon employees, although they do specify mixed sex, age, and race or “race neutral” people in the scenes. The poster art I do is part of their “humor” line and usually depicts some zany scene or situation that enforces the message that goes along with it. They give me the scenario they want to see and I come up with the visual to “sell the gag”. Back in “The Day” the final printed poster would be 17? x 21? with my image being 17? x 17? and text at the bottom, and these would fit into a slot in this plastic display unit hung on the break room wall. These days it’s almost all electronic, with a flatscreen display and dynamic images the subscriber than change easily anytime.¬¨‚Ć I do one illustration a month for them.

I keep trying to figure out how long I’ve been doing these, and can’t come up with a definitive answer. I know the first one I did for them was a physical painting, not digital. It was of two baseball coaches in a dugout, both giving crazy baseball “signs” that were clearly not compatible and the players looking very confused. The message was about clear communication. I know it was after I started with MAD because the art director I work with was a fan of the magazine and that’s how he found me. That means it’s been less that 13 years (I’ll have been with MAD for 14 years this fall), but not much less. I’ve going to estimate 12 years, guessing the first one was done in 2002. That’s about 144 posters I’ve done for them. The Marlin Company is a valuable client for me, and their projects are always fun to boot… mainly because I get to eschew the caricature thing and just do some goofy cartoon faces. Here are a bunch from over the years:

Thanks to Zach Morris for the question. If you have a question you want answered for the mailbag about cartooning, illustration, MAD Magazine, caricature or similar, e-mail me and I’ll try and answer it here!


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