Chances are that if I said the names Sal Paradise, Dean Moriarty or Carlo Marx that you would already know a couple of things about them. You’d know that I was talking about the generation defining novel On the Road and also that I was talking about Neal Cassady, Allen Ginsberg and in this case, most importantly Jack Kerouac.
On the Road is synonymous with the 1950s and the Beat Generation that famously arose in that era. The story of how Kerouac wrote the novel is almost as famous as the story itself. Amazingly, the main draft of the novel was typed on a 120-foot roll of teletype paper. This process is so fascinating and I can’t recall another writer working in that way.
After speaking to a friend about the book I was made aware of the work of Paul Rogers, a graphic designer based in L.A. Once I had had the opportunity to look through the extensive range of works on his website, I had really fallen in love with the designs he creates, from magazine covers to children’s books, it seems that Paul has worked in pretty much every avenue possible, but the reason I was pointed in Paul’s direction was one of his most recent works, a major project that he had taken on revolving around On the Road.
Firstly, could you just explain a bit about your background, and how your job works? From reading your website it seems that various outlets get in contact with yourself if they need a cover designing, would you say this is the main focal point of your work?
I’ve been a free-lance illustrator since I graduated from Art Center College of Design in 1980. My assignments come from magazines, newspapers, advertising agencies and design studios. I’ve also illustrated three children’s books, two with Wynton Marsalis, Jazz ABZ and Squeak, Rumble, Whomp! Whomp! Whomp! and one by Bob Dylan, Forever Young. I’ve also had a book of my own published by Chronicle Books called Name That Movie: 100 Illustrated Movie Puzzles.
I was first alerted onto your work by a friend who had seen your ‘On the Road Scrolls’ collection, I fell in love with these immediately as I’m currently reading the book, the imagery it conveys is so fresh, and to see those images actually drawn out was really interesting. What is it about On the Road that affected you so much that you wanted to create these scrolls?
The legend of Jack Kerouac writing On the Road on a long scroll of teletype paper made me think of how we view images online by scrolling down the screen. A few years ago an artist named Matt Kish produced a drawing for every page of Moby Dick, and I just stole that idea. On the Road has a lot of stuff that I’m interested in – jazz musicians, cars, American cities – and I thought I could probably find something on every page to make a drawing of.
Have you ever done anything like the scrolls for any other novels / pieces of work? – Is this something you would be interested in doing, or do you see this collection as a one off?
I did about 30 drawings for a book that was serialized for the online magazine The Tablet called The Frozen Rabbi by Steve Stern.
It probably got me thinking about illustrating a book in sequence. There may be other books that I could do the same idea with but I haven’t really thought past finishing this book.
I recently read a lecture by one of my favourite authors, Alex Preston. In it he talks about the role of the novel in modern day society, obviously your creative outlet lies more in the form of pictures than words, but do you believe that something as simple as a collection of words together in fiction can still have an effect on the society we live in today?
I hope so. I tend to read mostly non-fiction, but my wife is a big reader of fiction and she’ll pass some things on to me, but I probably only read five or six novels each year. Reading a novel seems to me to be a private, personal event that isn’t really shared by a large segment of the population. We have friends who are constant readers and discussing novels we’ve recently read seems like passing secrets among those in the know. I’m not sure about novels having a big impact on society. Literature or even popular fiction seems like something that a small percentage of Americans have a part of their everyday lives. Long-form television series seemed to have replaced the novel for elaborate, character-driven stories told over a long period of time. It’s hard to think of a book that has the same kind of impact on society or culture as The Sopranos or Breaking Bad.
One of the most interesting things I thought about interviewing yourself would be to get a more ‘American’ view on the modern day novel and what it stands for – Do you believe novels are still relevant in this day and age? And are they any new American authors who inspire you?
For new American writers, I enjoy reading Dave Eggers, Michael Chabon. I tend to read mostly older American writers like Truman Capote, John Cheever, Dashiell Hammett. I’m reading Gore Vidal’s memoir now and it’s got me thinking about his historical fiction, Burr and Lincoln. A couple of British writers I enjoy are Ian McEwan (Saturday was brilliant) and everything by William Boyd.
Finally, is there anything in particular you are working on at the moment as I, purely selfishly, would like to see more of your work.
I’ve got a lot of On the Road drawings to finish, but you might like to know I’m talking to a publisher about making a book of the series when it’s finished.
What I found most interesting whilst talking to Paul was his opinion on the relationship between word and picture, he earns his living through images; they are his passion but I also liked the love he also seems to have for literature.
Something that I believe in is the importance of literature in the modern world. Life is such a roller coaster and at times something as simple as just reading a book can get overlooked, but the cultural and social significance of reading is something that should never be forgotten. It was great for me to speak to someone who seemed to share the same views and had a genuine passion for literature.
I would recommend all of Paul’s work, there really is something for everyone on his website, it was interesting to see his work progress and take shape as he goes about creating a magazine cover for example, there are examples of the covers that he designed at various stages of their development and then a final completed image showing the finished product.
As Paul mentioned in our interview, he is currently in discussions to get his scrolls published into a book format, hopefully this comes to fruition as his drawings are a fitting tribute to the legend of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road.