Mt. Lebanon man's years of cartoons, illustrations on display
His cartoons and illustrations have appeared in everything from Nickelodeon Magazine to The New Yorker, yet few of his Mt. Lebanon neighbors realize how well recognized his fun and funky art is.
He goes by the single name Wayno, and his work is the subject of a retrospective exhibit of sorts titled “Flat Files,” on display at Manchester Craftsmen's Guild.
The exhibit contains 55 pieces — cartoons and illustrations that, altogether, span almost the entirety of Wayno's career, beginning in the late 1980s, when he made underground comics.
“Back then, I was a self-published cartoonist,” says the 56-year-old, self-taught artist. “There was a real underground network that operated through the postal system of people just doing little eight-page Xeroxed comics and trading them with each other. So, it was kind of like a punk-rock training ground for someone wanting to be an artist or cartoonist.
“There was no kind of editorial restraint, and it was a good way to learn how something looked reproduced as opposed to the original,” he says.
But soon, art directors and creative types started to take notice, and Wayno, a trained engineer who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh with a degree in engineering in 1978, turned cartooning into a full-time career. He had a client list any of his peers would envy: Rhino Records/Warner Music Group, McGraw-Hill Books, Entertainment Weekly, The Guardian and the New York Times to name a just a few.
A lot of his early work on display is full color, and features his signature technique of using painted vinyl “cels” over hand-painted backgrounds, a technique similar to that used in hand-drawn animation.
“This is actually two separate layers,” Wayno says, pointing to the piece “No Siesta Tonite,” an album cover he created for a 1994 Cynics' LP, produced by Get Hip Recordings.
“I learned that technique from other comic-book artists in the early 1980s. It really makes the foreground pop out from the background,” he says. “I ruined a lot of toothbrushes trying to get that texture you see in the back.”
About the Cynics, for which he has created numerous posters and album covers over the years, he says, “They're one of the greatest bands to come out of Pittsburgh, yet no one here seems to know them even though they tour all over the world.”
Music being a lifelong interest (he plays several instruments), Wayno has designed record and CD covers for Rhino, Get Hip Records, Merge and many smaller independent labels. But none brought together his interests in music, cartooning and pop art more than the artwork he created for the 2005 Grammy-nominated box set “Weird Tales of the Ramones,” among which his “Joey Ramone Pinup” poster is a real standout.
“The Ramones were like a cartoon in real life,” he says. “So, I really enjoyed working on it.”
Another standout piece is an illustration he did of David Letterman and Paul Shaffer originally published in Entertainment Weekly in 1995, in conjunction with an article about how cold Letterman likes to keep his television studio. An acrylic-on-paper illustration, it not only reveals Wayno's ability to capture a likeness, but the gist of an article, as well.
“I like to think of an illustration or cartoon as something that tells part of a story,” he says. “An illustration makes someone want to read the accompanying text to see what's going on in the article. A cartoon leaves something for the reader to fill in, to complete the joke.”
One of Wayno's cartoons on display — “Swiss Army Helmet” from 2011 — hints at another successful aspect of his career. Since 2007, he has been a regular writer for Dan Piraro's internationally syndicated daily comic, “Bizarro,” where he has published more than 100 gags.
He also works as the comic's daily colorist, and has served two weeklong stints as Bizarro's guest cartoonist. “Swiss Army Helmet” was created during one of those stints.
In March 2012, he stepped in as guest cartoonist for another King Features Syndicate cartoon feature, Hilary Price's syndicated comic strip “Rhymes With Orange.” His “The Dead of Winter” cartoon on display, which features a rock 'n' roll band of snowman, is from that series.
As for his gag writing: “The ideas are pretty plentiful,” Wayno says. “But to work it and edit it and make it into something, that's the challenge of it.
“I don't want to make it sound too mystical at all,” he says. “There's certainly some talent involved, but it's also a skill you just learn to develop.”
Wayno will talk more about his art and cartooning in general from 6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday during a gallery reception. The talk and reception are free and open to the public.
Kurt Shaw is the art critic for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.