Freelance illustration is an interesting career. You never know where the next job might come from. In the last year I have done lots of the usual (magazine feature illustrations, posters), the unusual (caricatures used to make coffee mugs of sports celebrities for stadium giveaways) and the downright bizarre (cartoon designs for a series of toys featuring various characters in trench coats that open them up to “flash” you, showing various gag elements as opposed to their privates). Right now I am in the middle of a very unique job for The American Museum of Tort Law in Kansas City, MO.
The museum has exhibits that educate the public about the history of tort law and the landmark cases that helped shape our laws and the freedoms we enjoy in this country. Ralph Nader, the famous consumer advocate, is behind the museum. I was chosen to be one of a dozen comic style artists to work on an exhibit scheduled to open in October. Each artist is assigned a famous case, and we have to illustrate that case in four pages, incorporating various elements and artifacts the museum will provide. These pages will be enlarged to about 6 feet tall and??á¬¨‚Ä†used in conjunction with other items about each case. Not too often do museums use cartoon images, but they are very enthusiastic about the project.
My case is Nader vs. General Motors, circa 1965. In that year, Nader wrote a book called “Unsafe at Any Speed”, which called out General Motors for numerous safety issues with the Corvair, a popular GM model. I remember the Corvair, and I though it looked like it was backwards, with the hood being the trunk and vice-versa, but I digress. This wasn’t a case about the Corvair, but rather about what GM did to Nader in an attempt to discredit him. They hired private detectives to get some dirt on him. To that end, they tapped his phones and recorded his conversations, made harassing phone calls, questioned his friends about his private life, and hired women who attempted to seduce him.??á¬¨‚Ä† Nader sued GM and won a landmark case about the right to privacy.
The exhibit of the case will include a copy of Nader’s book, articles he wrote concerning the case, video of an apology by the president of GM and other inserts into the pages. Apparently there will also be an actual Corvair surrounded by the pages. It’s certainly unusual for a museum to use graphic storytelling for a subject matter like law, but actually it makes a lot of sense. It will add color and visual dynamics to what is a rather boring and dry subject.
Here’s a first draft pencil rough of one of the pages. I toned down the “MAD-like” quality of the work as I thought they wanted a little more conventional storytelling, but it still retains some of the humorous nature of my work. Ralph Nader won’t have enormous thighs or be wearing a cobweb thin spandex body suit and cape (I know how disappointed everyone must be about that), so it isn’t your typical comic book look, either. I’ll post some of the finished art this fall when the job is done and the show is ready to open.
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