About What I Make
I write and illustrate, mostly nonfiction. All my work engages the social landscape. Not the natural landscape, but the fashioned one: crappy architecture, signage, vehicles, holdover statuary, people making do. My illustrated journal Spartan Holiday documents my travels and blends reportage, memoir and history.
I made work in the 1990s and early 2000s that was more allegorical and satirical: some for print, some animated. Around 2008 I shifted to a more journalistic approach. But I am realizing that my prior fictions and new reports reflect similar concerns. You see what you see.
I’m often available to go on assignment as a reporter and illustrator. Please contact me if you would like to discuss a project.
About What I Do
I’m a professor of Art and American Culture Studies at Washington University in St. Louis. I also serve as the faculty director of the D.B. Dowd Modern Graphic History Library, part of Washington University Libraries, which I had a hand in creating. It was renamed in my honor in 2016, thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Ken and Nancy Kranzberg of St. Louis. We collect the work and papers of illustrators and cartoonists, and are especially strong in American periodical illustration of the 20th century.
I write and lecture on the history of illustration, comics and animation. I have completed the manuscript for a book called Stick Figures: Symbolic Drawing, Graphic Practice and Cultural History, and look forward to announcing the publisher very shortly. I co-edited Strips, Toons and Bluesies: Essays in Comics and Culture for Princeton Architectural Press in 2006. I also serve as a leader of the Society of Fellows at the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies, part of the Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.
I work with a wonderful group of designers, illustrators, artists and architects in the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, and with equally wonderful humanists in the American Culture Studies program in the College of Arts & Sciences.
About What I Think
I have an abiding curiosity about and deep affection for vernacular visual cultures. Humans fashion things. Giving form is a way of making meaning.
The best first sentence in a book not named Moby-Dick appears in a little volume, long since deaccessioned, that my wife checked out of the public library in Maplewood, Missouri in the mid 90s. The book, a how-to manual for making decorative stencils, was published in the 1920s. I cannot remember the author or the title. The book began, “All normal persons desire to make things.”
Strike the word normal and the utterance is perfect.
About Where I Come From
I was born in Massillon, Ohio in 1960. I attended Kenyon College where I studied history, theater and art, graduating with a B.A. in 1983. I kicked around in Cleveland, New York and Ann Arbor before ending up at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, where I worked with the celebrated woodcut artist Karen Kunc. I earned my M.F.A. in printmaking in 1989. I sandwiched brief stints in Tarkio, Missouri; Halifax, Nova Scotia; and Cleveland again between my graduate degree and the day I joined the faculty of Washington University in 1992–which felt then like winning the lottery, and still does today. I have a wife and have two sons: Lori, a filmmaker and entrepreneur (storytrack.com); Daniel, a teacher of Chinese and ESL; Andrew, a young filmmaker and writer (andrewdowd.com).