I Definitely Look Like This

How important is style in what you do?

What the hell do you think Houdini saw when he stared at a straight jacket? For a lot of creative people, perfecting a style is the achievement…the goal. It’s what enables a career to unfold. Once you establish a creative identity (style), the more articulately you can express yourself, or interpret the world.

In context of my own experience, I see a designer’s job as one that transforms gig to gig. The look should be determined by the message you need to communicate. I think not being tied to a style is part of the fun of my job. I understand that for some, it’s exactly the opposite. And for others it’s even a dirty word. That’s why I think it’s such an interesting topic. Is having (or not having) a style a necessity, or result of what we do as creative people?

What I am sure of, is that working within a style can be one of two things…incredibly limiting, or profoundly freeing. With that in mind, I asked Jay Shaw, Tom Papa, and Keith Buckley about how important style is in what each of them do.

JAY SHAW, Designer

Jay’s work is incredible. His ability and aesthetic evolution seem to be in constant motion. As creative director for Mondo (the Alamo Drafthouse’s equivalent of an art department), he’s contributed to some of the most successful major studio and independent film releases (and re-releases) in recent years.

Jay is a pure, true designer. I think he has an interesting relationship with design history (key art specifically). His knowledge of design history is apparent in his work, but each new piece of work he does also takes a firm, deliberate step forward.

Admiration aside, Jay has been friendly to me whenever I’ve reached out, so he generously gave me a little closer look behind his curtain.

How important is style in what you do?

“I think if I were a more competent illustrator having a “style” would be important to me. As it stands I really don’t. I go through phases where one approach appeals to me but I tend to stay pretty versatile aesthetically. If I have any consistency in my work it would be that things tend to look like they were created 40 years ago. I’ve got such an affection for commercial art of the 60s and 70s I can’t help but ape the popular methods of the time. The only drawback to moulding your look to the needs of the project are that it gives you (and the client) a little too much wiggle room sometimes. I envy artists who commit to stylistic parameters.

TOM PAPA, Comedian

Tom Papa is a classic. He’s a wonderful blend of new and old schools matched with an interesting depth. I think he makes interesting choices creatively. He’s got a relatively polished, clean style, but then he’ll have Rob Zombie direct his special, and dress the set like a game show from the 50’s. I love shit like that.

I worked on a tour poster for Tom a few years ago. As inspiration for the poster he explained to me that in the set (which became his “Freaked Out” special) he discusses fears such as aliens, our families, old age, and the possibility that there is no God. That description was as good as I could have asked for. It’s silly and profound, just as he is.

It could entirely be because I enjoy a drink in the same way he seems to in his bit about fitting in…but I get such a sense of comfort in my own skin after listening to him.

How important is style in what you do?

“It would be impossible to say that style isn’t a big part of being a comedian. However; I see style as almost a byproduct of what we do. Comedians often talk about their ‘voice’. Which is uncovering or discovering their true self that they bring to the stage and convey through the jokes they tell. Naturally when this happens you could say the comedian has a certain style.

Of course, one could manufacture a style without having anything to say but that is closer to a clown. Not that I’m knocking clowns. A guy who walks around with a red nose and worn floppy shoes certainly has style. But you may not want to hear his ‘voice’.

KEITH BUCKLEY, Musician and Writer

Keith and I share the home town of Buffalo, NY. I assume it’s lost on most people how accurately the band he sings for (Every Time I Die) embodies Buffalo, NY. It’s a personal connection for me. They’ve successfully interpreted the attitude, tone, energy, and spirit of the city in to their music.

I’ve always admired his range creatively. On a dime it seems he can go from smart to funny to loud, quiet, aggressive, or weird. I move slower than that.

He’s a fascinating combination of intellect and instinct. Perhaps style is the result of those two things meeting… With that…

How important is style in what you do?

“”Style” is the signature you put on performance. our music can’t hang on a wall like other art forms, so our style -the way we do it- is how we let the world know who it was done by.”

A straight jacket…something literally restricting, and yet completely liberating creatively…

More info on Jay at kingdomofnonsense.com.
More info on Tom at tompapa.com.
More info on Keith at everytimeidie.net.

Thanks for reading Question Market 3,


Go. Ready. Set.

Art classes never felt creative to me. I was never lit up by the task of drawing a bowl of fruit accurately. It wasn’t until about half way through high school that the creative challenges within graphic design made me feel like I could pull a rabbit out of a hat.

Several years ended up passing before I was properly satisfied with a visual problem I had attempted to solve. There’s always that first one.

I asked Brandon Schaefer, Open Mike Eagle, and Al Madrigal what they considered to be among their first successes as creative people.


Brandon is an incredible graphic designer who primarily designs movie posters. Brandon fascinates me because he so consistently remains a student of the movie poster and design game and that comes through in his work.

He’s created great images for some great projects and people. He is the creative director for Jump Cut, an entertainment advertising agency, and explores the world of his chosen profession on a podcast he co-hosts called The Poster Boys.

What do you consider one of your first successes as a creative person?

“This might sound silly, but it was something really small that felt quite big at the time. During my senior year of high school, I was asked by my design teacher if I wanted to design the program for my class’s graduation ceremony. The details are hazy – it’s been over a decade – but I remember how excited I felt to be given the chance to make something that would be seen by a lot of people.
For the next week or so, I spent a little bit each day after school teaching myself how to really use the pen tool in Illustrator. The first Spider-Man film was hitting theaters around the time, so I drew him web-slinging underneath “Class of 2002” with a graduation cap and a diploma in his hand. It was a pretty simple black and white illustration that was printed on a folded sheet of blue office paper…honestly, nothing incredible about it – but seeing it printed and in everyone’s hand felt like a tremendous accomplishment. I’ve been lucky to have worked on a lot of great things since, but I don’t think any of them have touched me in quite the same way as that first experience did.”


Mike is a rapper from Chicago. I’m fascinated by the depth of Mike’s releases and output. He has a storyteller persona more than the persona or function that many rappers/MC’s traditionally take (to keep a party going, or defeat an opponent). I feel very few degrees of separation between him and his music, even when he’s not referring to himself at all.

I wasn’t able to connect with him properly for artwork on his latest album (“Hella Personal Film Festival”), but am thankful he gave us the following peak inside his brain and story. Thanks, Mike.

What do you consider one of your first successes as a creative person?

“i would say that my first success as a creative person came when i won my first rap battle in high school. I didnt really have much to hang my hat on socially before that point and becoming part of the skills based community of underground hip hop was really big for my self image. But actually progressing to the point where I can win a battle was a big turning point. I was like I had gone from ‘I can do this’ to ‘I can be great at this’ and I hadnt had anything like that in my life before. And realistically I havent looked back from there.”


Al is a stand up comedian, actor, and entrepreneur. I’ve worked with him on and off for years and am reallllllly glad he said he’d answer my question. Al is interesting because he wears many different hats so effectively.

He’s been a contributor to The Daily Show since 2011, and co-created the All Things Comedy Network. His ability as a comedian is obvious and it’s where he’s dedicated, but I’ve always gotten the sense from him that he’s interested in the inner workings of all the other worlds he gets exposed to by doing comedy. Television, film, design, business, family, politics, technology…etc…

What do you consider one of your first successes as a creative person?

“After spending three years a mute in high school, I finally decided to run for study body treasurer my junior year. My first creative success came with my campaign posters and speech. The posters were all very detailed and fun – “Ask your mom” (Along with a variety of older mom ladies) I’ve always been relatively comfortable with public speaking but when I had to do the speech for study body treasurer at 16, my junior year of high school, that was instrumental at developing my comedy career. It was the first success I had at being funny in front of a crowd. I don’t know what possessed me, it was 1988, but I thought it would be funny to do a Jesse Jackson impersonation. It was Jesse Jackson’s second presidential campaign, so very topical.  Super hacky but my speech rhymed and the impersonation seemed to be on point. I talked about “fiduciary responsibility” and such.., it killed. I remember afterwards the vice principal pulled me aside to tell me that I won in an absolute landslide. I got 1200 votes out of 1300. The guy I beat out ended up transferring out of the school.

Because my speech for study body treasurer was so successful, Mario Prietto, S.J. then principal of SI, lobbied me to be the salutatorian for my senior year.  Back then, at my school, salutatorian was not given based on academic accomplishment. Huge honor, because salutatorian was chosen based on who was funniest and would give the best speech. I did a light roast of the entire 1989 class and did an impression of Mario Prietto. That’s when I got the bug, my first creative success.”

The confidence gained by those first experiences is so interesting to me. It’s a real world application of something that each of us have long suspected. It’s gaining access to a room we’ve always wanted to go in.

More info on Brandon at seekandspeak.com.
More info on Mike at mikeeagle.net.
More info on Al at almadrigal.com.

Thanks for reading Question Market 1. I’m working hard to bring another one soon.



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