I found this Photoshop painting in my newspaper illustration archives. It was done in 2004 for an Oakland Tribune story about the anorexic sub-culture. The editors suggested that I draw a skeletal woman in front of a mirror and the reflection, looking back at her, would be a beautiful woman. Not bad, not bad, but a quick internet search turned up many images that played with that concept.
I offered the idea of a beautiful woman, her image repeated in a sequence, transforming into a skeleton. Death by anorexia was considered a noble thing by the people in the story; I felt it would be an appropriate way to illustrate it. Not brilliant, but it could be effective. Someone said, okay, give it a go.
So, why Betty Grable? Betty Grable was my idea. I know, catch up with the times, right? But, here's why I chose her:
Even though Betty Grable was way before my time, I've always thought of that picture as THE pin-up. It was a ubiquitous image on TV and in magazines as I was growing up. Every time I saw it in print, the caption would refer to it as "the most popular pin-up of all time." Honestly, in pop-culture that picture was still in play until Farrah Fawcett's poster made the scene.
Since newspaper readers are an older crowd -- people around 40 and up -- I was confident that even the "younger" readers who might not know her by name would have seen the picture a hundred times in the same way I had. So, I picked her.
When I finished the illustration, there was a brief struggle over whether or not it should see print. It was more gruesome than anticipated and one editor along the path of the approval process -- or maybe more than one -- had reservations about it. It is a bit horrifying, but it was pushed through. Because of the tense discussion about its appropriateness, my stomach was in knots. I had a sleepless night worrying about it.
But it went over well. I received more positive responses from readers and colleagues for this illustration than any other one I've done for the newspaper. . . by far!
The day it ran, the editor-in-chief came over to the graphics department. He held up the illustration and he said, "Who did this?" I raised my hand. He looked at me, and I'm certain he was trying to remember if he had seen me before. He paused, opened his mouth to say something, hoping that my name would leap out, but he gave up. He gave me a thumbs-up, said "Good job!" and walked away. Whew. Felt great!
Then -- as now -- I mostly do fluffy art; charming, friendly, cartoony illustrations. I'm not complaining, but I saw this assignment as an opportunity to show that I could wipe the smile off of my face and draw something that doesn't tickle the hippocampus and then melt in the mind like cotton candy. It felt good to do something mean and ugly.
This is how it ran in the paper, cropped strangely at the ankles and on the side, but it looked good on the page that way. A headline ran across the top and the story settled in nicely on the right. I enjoyed doing it.