Herrick: Commie pot orgy—don’t tell my parents

I started out at City Paper answering phones, a gig I got through the calendar editor at the time, with whom I worked at Video Americain. Once I made my artistic skills known (by doodling on Post-it notes), I was offered a job in the design department under Athena Towery. The job was more Tetris than design—adjusting the little blocks of ads that make up the classified section—but soon I was designing full-color ads. My first cover was not one I designed, however: Joe MacLeod, then art director, had me dressed up in a German barmaid outfit with blonde pigtails, holding up six full two-liter glass tankards for the 2013 Beer Issue. Then, in 2014, The Sun acquired us and I and others were laid off. Fortunately, I still had a job at the video store, but not for long: It would soon close its doors forever. In fact, City Paper’s first feature under its new owners was an oral history of Video Americain written by Jenn Ladd. So now with the closing of City Paper, this makes two beloved Baltimore institutions that have employed me until their final days. Forgive me if I feel a little cursed.

It was also the year The Sun bought us that City Paper published its first “Weed Issue,” and Athena contacted me to ask if I’d be interested in illustrating the cover—they wanted it to look like Big Brother and the Holding Company’s cover for “Cheap Thrills,” done in the same style as the artist Robert Crumb. I jumped at the opportunity, even though I had just come down with some kind of viral pink eye that was so painful I was only able to keep my eyes open a few hours each day. I guess my body thought I should look stoned if I was going to be drawing pot leaves and such. The whole thing was a goddamn nightmare and I kept getting emails asking when I’d be done, but I finally finished, though rather sloppily and just barely under the deadline.

In 2015, I was asked to illustrate the cover for City Paper’s first Comedy Issue. The challenge was in capturing the likeness of the many comedians featured in the issue in caricature; I had to Google multiple photos of each person profiled or interviewed in the story, and I had printouts of each of them covering the walls of my cubicle for reference. This one came together a little better, a little more planned. Among those represented was Wham City Comedy. When the cover came out one of the members contacted me, requesting a list of names to go with each face; I mocked up a fake “original version”: all the faces swapped out with several from the Tumblr site “realbusinessmen.com.” They responded, “That clears it up, thanks!”

When I heard the Sex Issue was coming up, I walked into then-editor Evan Serpick’s office with my pitch: me—naked, except for a scant covering of satin pink sheets—covered in lipstick kisses and surrounded by dildos. I’m not sure why he said yes—I was just excited to get my modeling career going again! To achieve the effect I wanted, I had to set up one tripod as high as it would extend and lash a second tripod to it horizontally so that the camera was directly above my bed, facing down. For another version of the cover (unused) I constructed two “homemade sex dolls” using some of my wife’s clothes and two foam heads from Michael’s craft store (fortunately by now my wife is pretty used to coming home to this kind of thing). As the issue came together, the theme of Marxism became an apparent connection between each of the articles—so I altered the photo to give myself a bushy Karl Marx beard, along with some fake adult magazines: “Ass Kapital” and “Cummiest Man Fest” (they could be real, who knows). The design nearly made it to press without getting censored, but somehow it got into the hands of a Sun exec who requested “. . . maybe one less dildo . . . ?” I guess it could have been worse—they could have made me remove the cum splotches, some of my finest work!

That year they asked me to illustrate the Weed Issue cover again (and, once again, in another artist’s style). This time, the idea was to imitate the work of Czech art nouveau painter Alphonse Mucha—an artist whose work I’d admired since my first year at MICA—specifically, his packaging design for Job rolling papers. I first pencilled and inked the design by hand, then brought it into Photoshop to add a watercolor effect. The result was too nice to only be reproduced in newsprint, so we tried to sell it as a poster on archival paper online (no one bought it, but still). I will say that the one thing that’s been a bit of a challenge is trying to convince my conservative parents that I’m actually doing a lot of great work, building my portfolio, etc., but “er no, uh . . . sorry, I can’t show it to you . . .”

In the spring of 2016, City Paper journalist Brandon Weigel and staff photographer J.M. Giordano took a “Fear and Loathing”-inspired trip down to Florida to cover the Orioles spring training. Their journey took them, among other places, to a Trump rally and the Hulk Hogan sex tape trial. I was asked to illustrate their expedition in the style of Ralph Steadman, Hunter S. Thompson’s long-time collaborator. This was probably the most fun I’ve had working on an illustration—Steadman’s style is to splatter ink across everything like black blood, letting it drip all over the paper.

For the 2016 Sex Issue I proposed perhaps my most ambitious idea yet: a “Where’s Waldo”-style orgy scene. A lot of research went into this piece to make it as inclusive as possible. I left the artwork mostly uncolored due to lack of time—which actually resulted in a very enlightening phone conversation with a reader who felt I hadn’t included enough representation of PoC—which was true: While the art, left as a line drawing, left the race of the figures up to the interpretation of the viewer, it is not the same thing as concrete representation—an important distinction. I’m still surprised The Sun let this one through; by my count it’s about 30 dildos over the previous Sex Issue cover . . .

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