Ladies and Gentlemen Mr. Drew Friedman
I’m known to say that I appreciate fine art but my heart belongs with the commercial art world, and Drew Friedman is one of the reasons this is so. From the first time I saw his work in Spy Magazine in the late 80s his voice spoke to me. Funny and strange, but with a sophistication and artistry that always made me think that he was more talented and exciting than the people he was portraying.
His commissioned illustrations have appeared in everything from The New York Observer and Entertainment Weekly to RAW and The Weekly Standard. He’s had at least eight books published - three alone in the Old Jewish Comedians series. His next book, called Heroes of the Comics, comes out in August.
I recently met with Drew Friedman for a chat when he was visiting New York for the day. Despite the wonderful obsessiveness of his art and his blog he turned out to be a down-to-earth reasonable person (I hope that this description does not offend him).
Chris Buck: I love that you’re not making nice pictures to flatter people. In a way it’s an old fashion approach to doing portraits.
Drew Friedman: I just try to be as honest as possible when I’m drawing somebody. Some people have a misperception about me – that I’m out to get people, and it’s certainly not the case. I would not spend time drawing somebody I didn’t admire in some way. With political stuff, not as much, but someone like Wayne Newton or Joe Franklin or Jerry Lewis or Howard Stern - I admire them.
I don’t get gratification when I hear that somebody is offended or hurt by one of my drawings.
In an earlier interview, you said, “I love liver spots.” You seem to be celebrating the vulnerability; or something about the way people are different from each other.
Yes, the liver spots. Every artist have their signature, what they are known for, with me I suppose it is liver spots. When I die The New York Times obituary for me will lead off with, “Drew Friedman, the guy who drew the liver spots.” I’m happy with that. Liver spots are my Ninas.
I’m sure that one day that I’ll be inflicted with more liver spots than anybody. Well, actually my dad doesn’t have them, so I’m not that worried about that.
So, just about my work, I’m not interested in easy nostalgia. What is it about? I like to draw old Jews; they have great faces - old Jews and old comedians.
Do you always work from photography? Do you ever work from life?
No. I use photos for reference, sometimes we take photos if I need a certain pose of a hand, but yeah I’m very dependent on photography and good photographs.
Have any of the comedians ever offered to pose for you in life?
I don’t know if I want them to, unless they pose in the nude (laughing).
I think it would be a great short film - you doing a drawing of someone from life.
Well, especially because they are comedians, they don’t like to shut up. And me saying to them: “Would you please shut up and be still.”
In a way you are helping to create a canon of Jewish comedians. I’m sure that in some of the Wikipedia pages of these comedians they’ll point to being in one of your books as a proof of their importance.
If that is my legacy I will take it.
I know that you have a great story about meeting Groucho Marx.
Yes, I actually met Groucho three times when I was a young teenager, the first at the Broadway show Minnie’s Boys in 1970, then three years later at a cocktail party in NYC, and the third time spending the entire day at his house with my dad and brothers in 1975, when Groucho was 85. It was totally mind-boggling.
Do you think that the Marx’s Brothers hold up for young audiences?
I honestly don’t think younger people are interested in the Marx Brothers anymore. I hope I’m wrong.
But then again I met a thirteen-year-old recently who was into Soupy Sales. He was like, “Tell me everything you know about Soupy Sales.”
Occasionally I run into people like that, and it’s always refreshing.
Are you ever concerned about finding an audience for your work?
Even when I was beginning to do comics with my brother we were just aiming the stuff towards what we liked and what our friends would like.
That said, my next book will hopefully appeal to a wider audience because it’s drawings of the legends of comics books - Jack Kirby, Stan Lee, Harvey Kurtzman and people like that. It is called “Heroes of the Comics,” the heroes being the early creators of comic books.
Top Image: Jerry Lewis.
Second Image: For The New American Splendor Anthology book cover. I am proud that my 1988 portrait of Harvey Pekar was the reference material for this.
Third Image: Cover illustration for Any Similarity to Persons Living or Dead is Purely Coincidental, a book by Drew and Josh Alan Friedman.
Fourth Image: The Marx Brothers.
Fifth Image: Soupy Sales, real name: Milton Supman.
Bottom Image: From Heroes of the Comics, Jerry Siegel & Joe Shuster; the book’s cover featuring Jack Kirby.