You've probably seen his artwork floating around the internet before. After all, his posters are promoting some of the best comedians in the industry. But who is the talented man behind these amazing illustrations? His name is Brian and his business is Comedy Artwork. We got a chance to pick is his brain a little about his inspiration, his experience, and how the heck one can summon his services. Check it out...
SU: First of all, thank you for taking the time to do this. Tell us a little bit about yourself: Where are you from? What do you like to do?
Brian: I live just outside of Washington DC but I try to make it out to NYC 3-4 times a year. I live a pretty typical, boring suburban life. Wife, kids, family dog and all that jazz.
SU: Would you describe yourself as a comedy nerd?
Brian: Maybe more than the average person I guess. I grew up watching the Comedy Central specials so I've always loved Mitch Hedberg, Brian Regan, Jim Gaffigan, Demetri Martin, Dave Attell, Colin Quinn and the 'Tough Crowd' gang of regulars. The Opie & Anthony radio show had a huge role in exposing me to NYC comedians and specifically the Comedy Cellar scene. And, podcasts have given me accessibility to newer comedians I may not have known about otherwise. But, I've only been going regularly to live comedy shows the past few years so it's hard to consider myself a 'comedy nerd.' It was actually a podcast that got me going to shows regularly. I'm a big 'Tuesdays with Stories' podcast fan so I went to see Mark Normand do a quick set at a DC bar called the Big Hunt a couple years back. Fast forward to January of this year: I go to a last minute surprise Joe List & Mark Normand show at the Big Hunt and they bring out Louis C.K. to close the show out! Definitely my best comedy experience to date. Louie in a basement in front of 50 people! Can't thank those boys enough for pulling that out. I've had a good run with surprise drop-ins the past year. Saw Dave Chappelle, Chris Rock, Tracy Morgan, Jeffrey Ross, all at the Cellar. And I was also a guest on Robert Kelly's YKWD podcast.
SU: Wow, that sounds really exciting! So... how did you get into doing graphic design for comedians and how long have you been doing it?
Brian: I've been doing the Comedy Artwork thing for a relatively short period of time. A year and a half or so. My first comedy project came on a whim. Joe List was coming to town and I planned on attending so I quickly worked up a quick poster design on my own. That was in late February of 2016 (the actual show was April 1, 2016). I tagged him on Twitter and he RTed it and I immediately started getting work from mainly NY comedians for show flyers, podcast art, logos etc. Right around that time I had created social media account @ComedyArtwork. I intended to post random drawings of comedians and thought of it as more of a fan account. But once I saw there was a market for my type of work I quickly realized this could be more of a business than a fan account. I mean, it still is kind of a fan account, I post a lot of random sketches but also share the worked commissioned by comedians.
SU: That worked out pretty well for you! What is your background in art?
Brian: I'm a fairly established editorial illustrator, which just means I illustrate articles for magazines, newspapers and websites. I've been doing that for 10+ years but I've always been looking to break into new markets. So while Comedy Artwork is a definite passion project it's also a way to diversify, find new clients. Work on new, different stuff.
SU: Makes perfect sense. So, where do you get your inspiration and what artists/artwork has inspired your work?
Brian: I grew up on comic books, video games, pop culture so I think that is probably my main inspiration when it comes to how I draw/design. When it comes to a specific project I try to watch some clips of the comic I'm working with. Get a feel for them, see if something sparks. Sometimes I have this idea in mind and wait for the right comic to come along. For example, I really wanted to do a poster that looked like a coloring book page. I held that under my hat for a while until this poster job for Sean Donnelly came around and thought he'd be perfect for this idea. He loved it.
SU: How long does it typically take to produce a finished product?
Brian: It varies but I'm usually pretty quick once I'm able to start working on it but depends on a number of variables.
SU: What is the typical process for requesting and receiving your services?
Brian: Its pretty informal, an email or DM is the norm. Describe what you're looking for and I can give you a quote. The most common projects I work are gig posters, podcast art, portraits and logos.
SU: Do you see your work as a form of comedy itself?
Brian: It can be. Sometimes my work can have a 'punchline' and sometimes it's just a cool portrait of a comedian. I did a photo-illustration of Sam Morril as a New York Knicks player on a vintage basketball card. That was a funny visual, as well as the work I've done for Dan Soder, which shows him face-to-face with Andre the Giant (he does a great Andre impression) and as one of those big headed aliens from 'Aliens.' (Dan was teased as a kid for having a giant noggin.)
SU: How do you blend your personal style with that of the comedian you're working for?
Brian: While I try to adapt my work to a specific comedian, in the end I have a certain set of styles that someone is either going to like or not. So if you're asking me to work on something for you, I'm going to expect you already like my work so its not so much blending as much as just finding the right look. And what's crazy is that EVERY TIME I send final art over to the comic I think they are going to HATE it.
SU: Would you consider your artwork caricature? Do you feel like you're tasked with making fun of the people whose job it is to make fun?
Brian: I'd consider them portraits. When I think of caricature I think of the super-exaggerated features you see of drawings at amusement parks. I'm playing around more with style than exaggerating facial elements. Sometimes getting the likeness is tough, especially for pretty people. Give me an ugly person 9 times out of 10, way more fun to draw because the likeness is much easier to capture and you play around with the style a bit more. Sometimes I'm tasked with making the people just look cool. And sometimes to make them look silly. Just depends.
SU: Do your clients tell you what to make or do you have full creative control?
Brian: It's a mix. Sometimes I get full creative control to just 'do my thing.' Sometimes I get a specific idea to execute. And sometimes it's a collaboration, where they may have a style/look in mind but not a specific visual. With the poster I did for Ian Fidance he basically just said I'm thinking of a 'Fear and Loathing / Hunter S. Thompson' tribute. So I ran with that idea and did a fun little homage.
SU: What medium/platforms do you use to create?
Brian: The majority of my work is done digitally and drawn on a tablet monitor where I actually draw directly on the monitor. I do some work traditionally, actual pen or ink on paper. But I use Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop on a Mac. I've been doing more design with actual photos instead of always drawn portraits. While I realize comics are drawn to me because of the art, I know that not everyone would want a drawn portrait, so trying add more range to what I do.
SU: Who's your favorite comedian you've ever worked with and why?
Brian: I did a series of posters for Judd Apatow's theater tour where he was performing stand up and taping a Netflix special. That was pretty exciting, working for probably the most powerful person in comedy. I'm a fan of his movies and especially loved Freaks and Geeks, The Larry Sanders Show but hadn't actually seen him do stand up before. I had complete creative control and just presenting my ideas to him. He was down for my ideas and it was a pretty seamless process. And, shortly after finishing the posters, I did get to see him perform stand up at the DC Improv where he was working on final material for his theater shows.
And I'm currently working with Jim Norton on some posters for his character Chip Chipperson. Chip is a character that was born from the old Opie and Anthony days and now has 'podacast' on his own. He's an idiot. He's the best.
SU: Oh, we love Judd, Jim, and Chip! Ha. So, who haven’t you worked with that you’d really like to and why?
Brian: I mean Louis C.K. would be the pinnacle. Patton Oswalt & Marc Maron have a great history of producing cool, illustrated gig posters so that would be a nice feather in my cap as well. I almost got to work on a Brian Regan poster but it didn't work out, that would of been amazing. Oh and Jim Gaffigan, Dave Chappelle, too.
SU: What is your overall goal for your artwork career?
Brian: I'm not 100% sure. I always have a lot of ideas, some I follow through on, some I don't. I'd love to produce more t-shirts, I'd love to get into working on movie posters. I've thought about maybe having some sort of art & stand up comedy show but not sure how that would work. And my latest idea is a concept where I invite comedians to draw a doodle of a comedian of their choice. No art skills needed. They can be these little scribbly drawings on a napkin. I'd release them on a blog or a website on a regular basis.
SU: Those sound like some pretty dope ideas. We really appreciate you taking the time to answer our questions. Of course we can't conclude this without asking the number one question of all... Who are your top 5 favorite comedians?
Brian: I know it's blasphemy but I never really got into the legends like Pryor or Carlin. My first memory of seeing stand up was sneaking over to a friend's house to watch Eddie Murphy Raw. The guys right off the top of my head wouldn't be a surprise: C.K., Chappelle, Hedberg, Regan, Gaffigan.
Ah, blasphemy indeed. But it's okay Brian, your posters are so awesome- we forgive you. To get in contact with Brian and/or check out more of his work, you can visit his website comedyartwork.com