When I first got to Manhattan in December, 1997 I started to obsessively draw “Hughcards” [hand-drawn cartoons on the back of business cards], just to give me something to do while sitting at the bar. Two decades later, I’m still at it.
[All enquiries regarding the commissioning or purchasing of Hughcards (TM) and other original drawings should be directed to Jason Korman, CEO of the gapingvoid gallery: firstname.lastname@example.org]
+1 (305) 763-8503
1521 Alton Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139
I’ll be regularly updating the site with new work, as events unfold etc.
The Early New York Hughcards:
[Photograph of three of the early New York originals inside a business card wallet, 1997-1998]
An artist is quite a f**ked-up thing to be, and to be honest I’m not sure if I would recommend it to anybody. Still, in my collection there are a few drawings from my time living in late-1990’s New York that, looking back, make the whole thing seem worthwhile (For the first five minutes, at least).
The Shark Bar
When I first moved to New York in December 1997, I stayed at the YMCA on West 62nd.
My first drawing as a New York resident was on my first evening, sitting on a barstool at the Shark Bar: a hip, young place in SoHo.
Having only arrived in town a few hours before, I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by New York, to say the least. Plus I had already drunk quite a lot. I think both show up in the drawing.
I’ve been back to the Shark Bar a couple of times since then, but it never had the same insane magic of that first evening. Great name for a bar, though. Especially in Manhattan.
Millionaire Or Artist
My father once referred to this one as, “Hugh’s Autobiography”. I never wanted to *just* be an artist, I never wanted to *just* make money. Years later, little has changed.
Spring ’98. I was at a bar, it was late, I was kinda tipsy.
Suddenly I realized that my life hadn’t changed much in the last decade since leaving college. Work, bars, cartoons, random conversations of a big-city nature, second-hand bookshops and art-house movies, the occasional bout of random sex to tide things over etc etc.
It wasn’t as interesting as it used to be. But I hadn’t moved on, really. And I had no idea where to go next.
Welcome to New York.
The best cartoons are the ones that give you these amazing moments of clarity as you draw them. That’s the best thing about cartooning, really. Everything else seems rather secondary in comparison.
I Choose This Life
I drew this card my first weekend in New York, at a restaurant bar in Tribeca called The Screening Room (it was attached to an art house cinema next door). I was very single and very alone around then, I hadn’t made any real friends yet, it was a very scary and lonely time for me. Still, I imagined what it must be like to fall in love, to have someone you would want to say these words to, and actually mean them. It would be a poignant contrast to my current situation, which is what exactly gave the cartoon its bite.
December 29th, 1997. Fanelli’s, on Prince and Mercer in SoHo, is one of the great bars in Manhattan. I had been in New York only a couple of days when I found myself there, drinking heavily.
I no longer drink much, however at the time I had this idea that seriously heavy drinking was essential in order to enjoy New York properly. I don’t think I was wrong, either.
Around midnight at the bar I bump into an old acquaintance of mine from Chicago, the film director Mark Mann. He had moved to New York about 3 months previously to do something with his then-embryonic film career. He is one of the funniest and most interesting people I know, but at the time I didn’t know that. We were quite suspicious of each other for the longest time before we admitted that we actually were friends.
I hadn’t told anybody I was moving to New York except on a need-to-know basis, so he was quite surprised to see me there, at the bar. A ghost from his former Chicago life- just suddenly popped out of nowhere.
Told him my story. Told him about being laid off in Chicago. Told him about this new job I got in New York. Told him I only knew I got the job officially 5 days before Christmas- only about a week previously. Asked him how he was liking New York.
“It’s great,” he said. “Everybody’s insane with loneliness, but that’s OK. After a while you realize that’s part of the edge.”
I was hit with a paradox. I wanted to be in New York, I wanted to be “part of the edge”, but I didn’t want to be “insane with loneliness”. Was one necessary in order to have the other? Was it a price worth paying? To this day, I still have no answer.
A couple of months later (July, ’98) I drew this, sitting on a barstool. Thinking back to that conversation with Mark, suddenly I had a realization: The simple truth about big cities is that people don’t go there to give. They go there to take, or at least, to get. If you feel like giving, good for you,somewhere an angel is smiling yada yada yada, just don’t expect other people to follow your example. And if you’re feeling lonely, at least now you now know why. This drawing is partly about that.
Within 1 week of meeting this person you realize that not only have you found your soulmate, but you’ve found your soulmate who likes to have sex 4 times a day in the bed, on the dining table, on the kitchen floor, in the changing rooms at Bloomingdales etc.
Within 2 weeks you’re already talking about moving in together.
Within 3 weeks you’re talking about having babies together.
Within 4 weeks you realize this person is a complete psychopath.
Within 5 weeks this person also thinks you’re a complete psychopath.
Within 6 weeks you’re sitting at a restaurant with an old friend who is giving you the “How come you only call me when you’re single” speech.
I Knew My Pain
Sometimes life throws you a devastating curve ball. And you’re never ready for it. Ever.
I remember being young and stupid. How utterly sweet and simple life seemed back then, but I also knew in the back of my mind that these days weren’t going to last forever. Ouch. Hopefully, in a decade or two I’ll be looking back to this time now with equal affection. I think that’s all you can do, really.
Early 30s is a great time to be alive- you’re still young, but you have experience. A powerful combo.
The downside is all that weird rockstar shit you believe about yourself is well past its sell-by date, and if you haven’t outgrown it by then, it starts to fuck up your life.
New York is tough enough if you’re a man. God knows how the women manage to do it.
The piece is not particularly clever nor especially beautiful to look at. But something gently disturbing resides just beneath the surface. Hmmm… sort of like apartment brokers.
There are many advantages of getting older… more money and respect from the world at large being the main one. However, with all this newly found cash & kudos comes the idea that maybe the world isn’t such a nice place, after all. That maybe all that unhappiness you see on the faces of your fellow commuters is there for a reason. And no matter how much you try or how hard you work, none of that will ever change.
Still, I suppose it’s better to know that said brutality exists, rather than burning all those calories pretending it doesn’t. I just wish I’d wised up a decade earlier than I did.
Wolf vs Sheep
No, I don’t have an answer to which option is better. Both exact a heavy toll, eventually.
I’ve always been a big Dorothy Parker fan. Urbane wit at its finest. Would I trade my life for hers in order to be that talented and famous? No way. Like all intoxicants, talent can be a poison. Reading her biography, it seems she learned that more than most.
It’s 2 am and I’m in this crazy Midtown Irish bar. I have no idea why I’m there. I shouldn’t be there. I should be somewhere else. Asleep, comfortable, happy, sharing my bed with a sensible girl from a good family, Brooks Brothers’ pajamas, insufferably middle class. But no.
Everybody in that bar is crazy. I tell myself I’m the only sane one but I think I’m kidding myself.
Being an artist/creative is like wearing funky clothing. Every year gets a little bit harder. After a while it just looks stupid. Eventually the stupidity reaches critical mass and the late-night tailspin begins. At a midtown Irish bar at 2am, while I’m drawing this picture, these things no longer seem to matter.
I like this card because it’s the kind of thing poor old Dorothy would have written.
Bourgeoisie Bastard (The Sex & Cash Theory)
The creative person basically has two kinds of jobs: One is the sexy, creative kind. Second is the kind that pays the bills. Sometimes the assignment covers both bases, but not often.
A good example is Phil, a NY photographer friend of mine. He does really wild stuff for the indie magazines- it pays nothing, but it allows him to build his portfolio. Then he’ll go off and shoot some catalogues for a while. Nothing too exciting, but it pays the bills.
Another example is somebody like Martin Amis. He writes “serious” novels, but he has to supplement his income by writing the occasional newspaper article for the London papers (novel royalties are bloody pathetic- even bestsellers like Amis aren’t immune).
Or actors. One year Travolta will be in an ultra-hip flick like Pulp Fiction (“Sex”), the next he’ll be in some dumb spy thriller (“Cash”). It’s balancing the need to make a good living while still maintaining one’s credibility. My M.O. in New York was the Hughcards (“Sex”), coupled with writing advertising (“Cash”).
I’m thinking about the young writer who has to wait tables to pay the bills, in spite of her writing appearing in all the cool literary magazines…. who dreams of one day of not having her life divided so harshly.
Well, over time the “harshly” bit might go away, but not the “divided”. As soon as you accept this, for some reason your career starts moving ahead faster. I don’t know why this happens.
It’s the people who refuse to cleave their lives this way- who just want to start Day One by quitting their current crappy job and moving straight on over to best-selling author. Well, they never make it.
Anyway, it’s called “The Sex & Cash Theory”. Keep it under your pillow.
I have no words. Literally.
One weekend, I caught a train up to Darien, CT. to visit with some cousins who live up there. I suddenly realized that I had forgotten to bring my magazine, and had nothing to read. So I took out a blank business card and started doodling, right there and then.
Realizing that I had stumbled on to an art form that allowed me to be creative just about anywhere- even on a commuter train- felt extremely liberating. It’s a feeling I never forgot, it’s a philosophy I hope never to lose.
Walking down Park Avenue one evening after work, realizing that I was new in town, realizing JUST how few people I actually knew in New York, realizing that I had left pretty much all of my family and social network behind to come here, suddenly seemed pretty terrifying.
No matter how bad things get, no matter how bad a week you’re having, even if you just lost your job, your apartment, your girlfriend, your whatever…
“Hey, at least I’m in New York.”
At least I was being honest.
Manhattan, 1998. One evening after a gruesome day at the office, I went into a coffee shop on 6th Ave to write. Got a coffee, found a table, opened my laptop and looked around. I’m not kidding; there were nine other people in the cafe with open laptops, writing away, just like me. Nine! I counted (N.B. This was well before the era of wi-fi and ubiquitous computing, laptops were a lot rarer back then- trust me, nine was A LOT).
They were probably writing the same tedious crap I was: “It’s a novel about some guy who moves to New York to break into the high-brow literary scene and score with lots of chicks yada yada yada…”
One of the reasons I stick to cartooning is because my traditional prose writing is so godforsakenly awful.
Writing about New York is a bit like writing about sex- it’s already been done to death. And done. And done. And done again. It’s a form of literary necrophilia. Unless you have something completely unique and visionary to say about New York (I have yet to meet somebody in the flesh who does), any kind of Manhattan-fuelled artistic ambition runs the risk of turning you in to a “ligger”.
“Ligger” is Scottish slang for the worst kind of hipster. Somebody who’s a hanger-on, a wannabe, a social parasite. Somebody who goes to art openings to drink the free wine, but never buys a painting. Somebody who sees art as not something you make, but something you milk socially. Somebody who confuses knowing all the right names with actually being one. Somebody who is always seen at all the right parties, but is never remembered. Somebody who actually hasn’t done the actual work.
[Technically, a ligger is that little red and white plastic ball that you attach on the end of a fishing line: like hipsters, it’s just kinda there, bobbing up and down, not doing much.]
Living in New York is only possible if you treat it like a religion. Liggers are really good at this, for some reason. Hence their vast numbers; hence why a big part of your average day in New York is spent separating the liggers from the real people.
This cartoon is all about the liggers, turning up and handing out their business cards like polished machines, right on cue.
So you’re going out a lot. Pretty soon you’re going out too much. Parties. Bars. More parties. More bars.
So you decide to cut back a bit, y’know, start living like a normal person.
So you trade in those wild & crazy times for delivered Chinese food, Harvard Business Review and Seinfeld reruns. You’re just going to try it for a couple of weeks, and see how it feels. After all, this is a “new you” we’re talking about. A better you. A saner you. A wiser, more sensible and compelling you.
But you know in your heart of hearts that you didn’t move from suburban Cleveland, Denver, Pittsburgh etc to a $3000-a-month Manhattan apartment just to watch Seinfeld.
In New York, you always think that if you try harder, work longer hours, make more money, spend more time at the gym, put more effort into networking, read more books, go to bed earlier, drink less booze, avoid negative people, be less shallow about the whole sex thing, be more supportive to your close friends, eat more vegetables and stop smoking so many damn cigarettes, you will eventually be able pull off that great Miracle Of Miracles i.e. you’ll finally, finally, finally be able to live in Manhattan while simultaneously leading a healthy, productive, emotionally-balanced life.
Yeah, good luck with that.
YOU WILL DIE ONE DAY
“Depend upon it, sir, when a man knows he is to be hanged in a fortnight, it concentrates his mind wonderfully.” -Samuel Johnson.
“To study philosophy is to learn how to die.” –Cicero.
“Be happy while you’re living, for a you’re a long time dead.” –Scottish proverb.
“Life is short. Make it amazing.” – @gapingvoid cartoon.
The British author, John Mortimer once described Life as “A tiny blip of time, separating two vast expanses of eternity”.
Ain’t that the truth… The insanely brilliant stoic philosopher and Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius famously coined the phrase, “Live every day as if it were your last, for one day it will be.”
The great mythologist, Joseph Campbell thought that religion came about once human beings first became aware of their own mortality. I believe all these great thinkers were right on the money, in their own way.
Without death, life would have no meaning. It is death that gives life its edge. And it’s that edge that gives life its meaning. That gives us the experience of being alive. Which is what the meaning of life is really all about.
To know life, is to know death. And maybe, just maybe, be OK with it.
Now go do good work, with all your heart. Yes.
YOU DON’T NEED TO DO IT FULL TIME
You don’t need to do it eight hours a day.
An hour or two before breakfast is plenty. After few years it starts to add up.
The rest of the time, you can actually go out and interact with the real world, make a proper living, act like a grownup.
I did all my best work when I had a day job, when I had to “steal time” to get it done.
Stealing time made it more satisfyingly urgent and real, somehow,.
Sure, your bohemian friends will call you a sell-out if you take this route.
IN PRAISE OF SMALL ART.
A friend of mine was in Paris a few years ago, where she went and checked out the massive Anish Kapoor sculpture, Monumenta 2011, which was on exhibit at Le Grand Palais.
This got me thinking…
I like Kapoor’s work. He makes a lot of very big art, especially the last decade.
I, on the other hand, make very small art i.e. these “cartoons drawn on the back of business cards“. And the prints aren’t too large, either.
Though I like a lot of “Big Art”- Kapoor, Serra, Gormley, Smithson etc etc- I’m pretty happy I stuck with “Small Art”.
Small Art can impact another person on a meaningful level, just as powerfully as Big Art. Fifteen lines from Shelley’s Ozymandias had as much influence on me over the years, as fifteen hundred pages of Tolstoy’s War & Peace, as much as I loved the latter.
Small Art is A LOT less hassle to make.
And you can make more of it. More often. Without bankrupting yourself or putting your life on hold for literally years on end.
And perhaps more importantly, there’s the “Personal Sovereignty” angle. With Small Art, there’s no need to wait for someone to deem it worthy beforehand- no need to wait nervously for the rich patron, the movie studio exec, or the illustrious museum director to give it the greenlight. There’s no need for the politics or the schmoozing or the bureaucracy.
Or the sleaze and corruption. The “Big Art” world is rife with that, as we all know full well.
With Small Art, you just go ahead and make it, and then it exists, and the rest is in the hands of the gods. Your work is already done, and you can get to bed at a decent hour. And not lose any sleep over it, either.
Hey, it worked for Joseph Cornell, Saul Steinberg and Edward Gorey… three artists who I rate WAY higher than Kapoor or Serra.
And what is true for Art is probably true for your thing, as well. Worry less about how BIG you want your business to be, instead think about how much LOVE you actually want to give out while your still have time left on this earth.
“Meaning Scales.” Exactly.
GET YOURSELF A “CREATION MYTH”.
1. A very dated-looking photograph from 1978. Eleven young, goofy-looking techies. They turn out to be the founding members of Microsoft, including Bill Gates.
2. Michael Dell founding his computer empire in his dorm room at the University of Texas.
3. Ben & Jerry’s started making ice cream in a converted gas station in Vermont.
4. The business guru, Tom Peters often writes about how his time as a young man serving in the US Navy helped evolve his now-famous worldview.
5. Rock star physicists, Brian Cox talks passionately about the Big Bang Theory.
6. How a despondent, burned-out, second-rate advertising copywriter FINALLY got his groove when he started drawing cartoons on the back of business cards.
7. The Beatles playing those early gigs at The Cavern Club in Liverpool.
8. The famous tech blogger, Robert Scoble talking about his job working in a discount camera store, back when he was a kid.
9. How a bunch of young, angry social misfits start a small nightclub, the Cabaret Voltaire, in 1916 Zurich [at the height of World War One] and in the process invent Dada, one of the 20th Century’s most influential art movements.
10. Abe Lincoln was born in a log cabin.
So… What do these all have in common?
They’re all Creation Myths. That’s right; just like The Garden of Eden.
We humans seem to need them, somehow. They manage to articulate who we really are, somehow. The help explain our core values, somehow.
And for whatever reason, REALLY successful people are even more likely to have them, even more likely to need them, somehow.
Does your schtick have a good creation myth? If not, maybe it needs one?
Think about it.
ON JOINING A “SCENIUS”:
1. Eventually the rock stars leave when they no longer need you.
That’s what Bob Dylan did with the Greenwich Village folk scene. That’s what Madonna and Keith Haring did with the New York downtown scene. Ditto Kerouac and Ginsberg with the Beatniks.
And the ones who get left behind… feel left behind. So they spend the next couple of decades droning on about how great the scene was before so-and-so sold out etc. I can think of better ways to spend one’s later years.
2. Sceniuses have short lives. Very short lives.
The first year, nobody knows what’s happening. The final year, nobody notices the thing ending. In between that, you have maybe one to three years of people doing cool stuff in the spirit of mutual cooperation. Then the hangers-on move in and take over like weeds, the whole thing becomes tedious, the aforementioned rock stars move to Hollywood, and everything implodes.
3. A scenius is a great place to launch a career, not a great place to sustain one.
Like the previous point says, people move on, and move on quickly. So you need to be ready for when it happens.
4. It doesn’t seem like that big a deal at the time.
Me and my former scenius pals spend a lot of time on Facebook nowadays, posting old pictures from the scenius years, talking about how amazing and fun those times were.
The thing is, they may have been the best of times, we just didn’t know it then. We were too busy trying to hold down day jobs and pay rent and get laid and all that other day-to-day crap to notice. Had we known how special a time it was, we probably would’ve spent less time being miserable and insecure.
5. It’s nastier, more cliquey and more political than people like to admit.
Yeah, it’s junior high school repeating itself. Especially if the scenius revolves around a charismatic leader a-la Andy Warhol or Andre Breton. You have been warned.
6. You can’t plan for it to happen.
You may think the crowd you’re hanging out with is the most culturally significant group of party people since Max’s Kansas City, but the more seriously you believe this, the more likely you’re wrong.
ONCE YOU HAVE YOUR “THING”, IT NEVER GOES AWAY.
For me, it was cartoons. But for you, it can be anything. Writing books. Poetry. Painting. Technology. Computers. Internet. Running a business. Theater. Music. Cooking. Carpentry. Film. Photography. It doesn’t matter.
What matters is that it’s yours, something you really own, not just something you’re doing just because it sounds good.
And once you have this thing, it’s here to stay. It’s going to rule your every waking hour on some level. It’s going to be the lens you see the world through.
You’re going to have to learn to accept that, learn how to deal with it.
And because you’re going to need people in your life who understand this (Most people won’t get it, not even a little bit), you’re going to have to be very selective about your friends, about who you give your energy to.
This is it. This is what it feels like. Good luck.