Illustration

Interlude: Restless Spirit

John Alcorn: Evolution by Design
Written by Stephen Alcorn & Marta Sironi
Designed by Marina Del Cinque
Moleskine, £40, €49, $64, Hardback
moleskine.com

Written for Pulp magazine, 2015

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This beautiful book, printed on Fedrigoni paper, is one of Moleskine’s continuing series of publications that offer “insights into the creative processes of noted artists, designers, writers and architects”. It presents an extensive collection of the work of the talented and innovative John Alcorn, who graduated from Cooper Union, New York’s prestigious design school in 1955, and went on to find an early kind of fame working with both Push Pin Studios and Lou Dorfsman at CBS. These talented and switched-on collaborators had high profile clients in advertising and media, especially in the burgeoning world of TV, and Alcorn’s work was a perfect fit, rich in both wit and style.

At a time when illustrators were becoming interested in type and letterforms, and designers had a real feel for drawing as decoration, Alcorn was perfectly placed. The mixing of vernacular typography, languid and expressive human forms and vivid, over-the-top patterning, quintessentially evoked by Alcorn, would come to define the visual language of the Sixties.

But there was much more to him than that. In his intimate text, John’s son Stephen, himself an artist, calls his father’s approach, “in essence artisanal; at its root lay highly-sensitive eye-mind-hand coordination”. Milton Glaser characterised him as “the baby-faced design prodigy with the golden hands” while Ed Sorel, another of Push Pin’s founders, interestingly saw him as “wildly ambitious, intricate, and jolly”, a collection of words not often seen together. He had a graphic designer’s eye for how a magazine page or a print advert should work, and this made his image-making dynamic as well as smart – he was, in Lou Dorfsman’s words, “an art director’s illustrator”.

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That he may have been, but he saw himself, equally, as an artist, and was not afraid to follow his muse. In 1969, the year he contributed “Eight Days a Week ” to Alan Aldridge’s The Beatles Illustrated Lyrics (and probably influenced the animated film, Yellow Submarine), he visited the home of his maternal grandmother in Piedmont and had an epiphany. As the Sixties peaked and then soured, the artistic wealth and stunning landscapes of Italy made him question his working life. In a bid to escape the deadlines and frenzy of commercial illustration in NYC, he uprooted his young family and moved them to Florence. New York had brought on, he said, “a case of indigestion” and Italy offered the cure.

It wasn’t long, however before his personal work led to his intray being filled by offers from the likes of Fellini and Italian publishing house Rizzoli. Mario Spagnol had been given the task of re-launching Rizzoli, and Alcorn, fresh and contemporary, was the key to this reinvention. In the way that Jeff Fisher’s work was crucial in defining Bloomsbury in its early days, Alcorn’s book jackets, advertising material and logos introduced a new look to the shelves of the Italian bookstore. His time here also involved caricatured covers for political magazines and a few carefully selected advertising campaigns, where his cartoon-like characters feel like a softer version of his Sixties psychedelia.

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A restless spirit, Alcorn moved back to the States in 1977, beginning a new period of freelance life, illustrating record covers and editorial projects in America, while still doing design jobs for Italian newspapers and publishers. He also did a large amount of work for paper manufacturers, whose services and products were excellent showcases for his bold line and pleasing colour palette. His series of illustrated titles for TV Guide in the late 80s used all of his talents in one job: a way with letterforms, a nostalgic set of characters, sparkling visual wit and the technique to combine it all into a satisfying whole.

He died in 1992, at the early age of 57, as Ed Sorel notes, “just as his drawing style was evolving from the purely decorative into something more expressive and naturalistic.” This lavish book is an excellent overview of his life and work, and a beautiful testament to a roaming creative spirit.

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Reprinted by kind permission of Pulp.

 

 

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Illustration, Interludes

Interlude: Anna Haifisch

From Varoom! magazine, 2017

Anna Haifisch’s twitter photo is unnerving. Her head and shoulders sit bust-like among seals in a museum diorama. And reading her latest book is equally unnerving. If you skip ahead to the last answer in the questionnaire, you’ll find out how Anna Haifisch regards the notion of rhythm in drawing. So I’ll try to avoid the word while writing about The Artist, which initially appeared as a weekly strip on vice.com.

A proxy for all struggling creatives, the strip is full of painful situations. Here, the excitement and unfettered creativity experienced at art school runs smack bang into the ugly realities of life, from the failed attempt to shrug off internet browsing – so work can actually be done – to the jealousy that colleagues’ success provokes.

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Talking to herself and her peers honestly is what Haifisch’s The Artist does. In it, her bird-like character, thin and pale, travels through the world of commissioning editors and gallerists, never at home, never at ease. Anna herself invokes Steinberg, Tove Jansson and Walt Disney as influences. Occasionally, a title page of a new strip will reference great art – Matisse, Munch, Caspar David Friedrich – as a background for The Artist to appear in, each done in the shaky line that characterises her style.

Haifisch gets a lot of mileage for a straightforward six-panel page formula with limited use of text. “I think repetition is essential for comics. I don’t know how many times I’m drawing the same thing. From panel to panel, making sure the reader can follow my thoughts. You can’t be lazy; there are no shortcuts to repetition.”

She marries her penwork to an unusual colour palette, which partly came about from her work as a screen printer. She spoke to one interviewer of her colour rules: “Don’t use red, yellow, blue and green together unless you want your work to look like an ugly children’s book – get rid of at least one of them (Goodbye green.) / Use the colors that’ll emerge when you mix them (that’s where the purple and pink are coming from) / Pick one colour that bites one of the chosen colours from above and add it to your palette (here and there you’ll find an awful brown in my work).

Haifisch goes for the big themes, too: “The religious or mythological tone is my favourite part of writing The Artist. It’s pure honesty. When I talk about artists as saviours and saints, I really mean it (and every other word, too). It’s me giving a speech. I deeply believe that art is mankind’s last straw before it sinks into brutality and chaos. If we let go of art, the world is lost, and we will all die not soon after.”

It’s funny, acute and smart, but like many great strips (Matt Groening’s Life is Hell, Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot, Ali Fitzgerald’s Hungover Bear) she captures the secret melancholy of a life examined, and what at first appears simple slowly begins to reveal its complexities. The saddest frames are the ones that have no words, where the viewer effectively reads ‘between the lines’ to feel the awkwardness and loneliness The Artist trades in.

A Q&A with Anna Haifisch

Materials: Dip pen, ink

Research: Haikus, BBCs’ The Nation’s Favourite Poems, comic books, friends and art shows.

Process: Going to the studio around eleven to see what’s up. Bohemian style. No steady rhythm. I work pretty much every day and like working late. But I don’t like to call drawing work, because it doesn’t feel like it.

Resistances: Drawing comics can be very boring. There’s too much repetition involved. I like to change it up with drawing other things. Also, I like to do some printmaking from time to time.

Insight: The Artist transformed from a flat character on paper into my mate. We really became friends over the last two years. I care for him a lot. Often enough I feel bad for him for throwing him into all these horrible situations.

Distractions: The internet, emails.

Numbers: Six panels per page, three pages per comic. That’s pretty much the maximum of attention the reader is willing to spend on an online comic.

Rhythm: I find it repulsive when people talk about a ‘rhythm in the line’. I think that’s the worst one can say about a drawing. Then I always picture an artist wearing a poncho and dancing barefoot in the studio. Swinging a wet brush.

*The quotes are taken from an excellent interview with Shawn Starr and Oliver Ristau for the blog Left Me Wanting More. [leftmewantingmore.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/unleashed-in-east-interview-with-anna.html]

There’s also a video here of Anna talking at an It’s Nice That event.

Reprinted by kind permission of Varoom!

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Illustration

Eleven: David Driver

I learned more about collaboration and commissioning in the three years that I worked for David Driver than at any other point in my career. It was about finding talented people and letting them bring their gifts to whatever project you were working on. It was about enjoying your work. It was about honing your skills.

in 2014 Simon Esterson and I went to David’s house to talk to him about his career, with some vague thoughts about the fact that he had never really been profiled. There was an excellent two-part post on Mike Dempsey’s wonderful Graphic Journey blog, and some pen pictures in various books about the Radio Times, but not much of significance. That was odd, as he had given many well-known designers and illustrators important breaks in their careers. I had talked to David when profiling his long-time colleague Peter Brookes for Eye, and Simon was certain that it would be valuable to at least start a conversation with David.

We had a riotously enjoyable meeting that lasted four hours and left with hilariously unrepeatable stories about working for the BBC, The Times and the radical press of the Sixties. It would take four years before it made it into print, bolstered by two more equally enjoyable meetings. The profile finally found a home in the second of two issues of Eye devoted to Magazines, which came out in November 2018.

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I talked to various designers and writers about David, and parts of what they emailed me were used in the profile. The great English designer Robert Priest, who has mostly worked and lived in New York wrote a very thoughtful and punchy piece about David’s influence, which I’ll run in full here. Priest worked with David Driver at Welcome Aboard and Radio Times.

“The role of the editorial art director in Britain changed in the 1970s. It was influenced by the work of Tom Wolsey at Town in the 60s but was more fully realized a decade later with the emergence of a new breed of art director who was not just a visual journalist but a bona fide journalist in all senses of the word. They were well educated and savvy and wanted more of an influence on their magazine’s content. Leading the charge were Michael Rand and David King at The Sunday Times Magazine, David Hillman at Nova and David Driver at Radio Times, the journal of the BBC. 

“As a young designer at the time I was tremendously excited by their work, and that of their American counterpart, George Lois at Esquire. I was fortunate enough to become a magazine art director (back when it was the top title in the art department) at the age of 23 at Conde Nast’s Wine & Food and did my best to learn on the job until I met David Driver a year or two later. David had created an in-flight magazine for BOAC for Cornmarket Press and was doing things I’d never seen before. He combined a big picture vision with an attention to detail that was incredible.

“I went to see him on Conduit Street and found him be a larger-than-life character. Tall, with long curly hair and extremely funny, he welcomed me into his world. David always kept a small coterie of lieutenants around him. People he trusted. Just as he did with artists and photographers, always a limited roster of contributors who understood his vision. I wanted to work for him, despite being a number one already, because I wanted to observe his process and to find out how he came up with such great ideas, but there were no jobs available at the time. Soon after, however, David joined Radio Times and recommended that I follow him as art Director of Welcome Aboard. He didn’t interfere from afar but I always felt his support and influence. 

“In 1975 I had my own design consultancy and David asked me to redesign the TV and radio listings in Radio Times. One thing led to another and I went to work for him at last. I became one of his lieutenants.

“David worked very closely with the editor, Geoffrey Cannon to fashion the content of the publication. It was a double act and they were a formidable couple. They demanded that stories be conceived both editorially and visually from day one. David would expect complete information from the other editors at the magazine when we started working on a feature. If it wasn’t delivered precisely David would crush the editor with frightening efficiency. In more than a few instances they were unable to respond at all, having not thought the idea through, and were forced to skulk out of David’s office, often in tears. Not pretty but extremely effective. 

“In 1977 David was offered the job of Art Director of Weekend Magazine in Toronto. After much thought, he decided to turn it down, but a mutual friend recommended me for the job and I was pleased to accept. I would try to put what I’d learned under David into practice. I’ve been trying ever since.”

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Design etc

Interlude: Living in the Present

Twenty Over Eighty: Conversations on
a Lifetime in Architecture and Design
By Aileen Kwun and Bryn Smith

Princeton Architectural Press, £21.99 (paperback, 224pp)
Designed by Paul Wagner

Written for Eye Magazine, 2017

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You want inspiration? Buy this book! It’s as simple as that. This entire review could be taken up with vivid and quotable insights from any one of the interviews that Aileen Kwun and Bryn Smith have put together here, cleverly visiting a demographic often sidelined – asking twenty giants in the fields of design and architecture for their wisdom as they look back from the perspective of spending eight decades on the planet.

These are people who have been, in different ways, totally devoted to their work – it’s inseparable from their lives. From textiles to furniture, graphics and illustration to architecture, their age unshackles them from being polite or politic. Starting with the ninety-one-year-old writer and educator, Ralph Caplin, who came to design via a humour magazine, it finishes with eighty-eight-year-old architectural planner and all-round mover and shaker Beverly Willis, who wrote and directed her first film, about women architects, in 2009 at the age of eighty.

The authors set out this elegantly-designed book as a series of conversations, some in person, some via email exchanges. As young design writers, they worried that it would be impossible to “capture the essence of twenty legends… for a conversation worth their time, and yours.” However, with astute questioning and careful editing, they turn the varied responses into a satisfyingly fluent and coherent read.

And – not to put too fine a point on it – the project is timely. Here’s a chance to catch up with people who were influential at one time, but who have somewhat fallen off the radar – the late architect Michael Graves, left partially paralysed by illness, tries to “redesign the healthcare experience… from the unique viewpoint of a patient” which leaves him splenetic about firms who do a lot of work in that field, as they’ve “never been in a wheelchair – what they’re doing is making interiors, like a hotel. Interiors.”

Or the riveting story of Charles Harrison, from post-war US Army cartographer to the first African American executive at Sears, designing thousands of user-friendly products, including the moulded plastic garbage bin that probably sits outside your house – essentially identical to that invented by Harrison in 1966.

Milton Glaser is, as always, outrageously quotable… “Nobody tells you you’re an artist. ‘I’m an artist.’ There it is, and nobody can take it away from you. Isn’t it remarkable? You couldn’t do that if you were a brain surgeon.” “I believe that art and design are like sex and love. They are fine independently… and every once in a while you get both at once. But not often.” “My essential mantra in professional life is: do no harm. Which is very complicated…”

And there’s much about the centrality of good teaching, whether in the classroom or studio. Here’s Bob Gill: “These people in my class haven’t originated anything, they’ve been told what to do. So the first thing I tell them is, I will hate everything you do, but I love you, so that’ll make it easier. And I really do like them, and I really do hate everything they ever do.” The brilliant Denise Scott Brown, one of the authors of Learning from Las Vegas, insists that what designers and architects “really badly need is a School for Clients!”

Phyllis Lambert, who lobbied her father in 1954 to hire Mies van der Rohe to design the Seagram building – writing him an eight-page, single-spaced screed – is asked, “When did you first become curious about art and architecture?” and replies, “As a child. Children are pretty smart; they don’t go around with nothing in their heads.”

Michael Carabetta, who commissioned the book, feels that all of the interviewees “prove Newton’s Law – a body in motion tends to stay in motion. There’s little that surprises them. They’ve seen it all, or enough to know what makes the world tick. That’s knowledge. And once they have that knowledge, they learn there is always more to learn.” Indeed, a common thread running through the book is of looking forward to “the next job,” and there’s a shared sense of not looking back or resting on their laurels.

Ricardo Scofidio (81), whose recent projects include the overhaul of Lincoln Centre in New York in 2013 and the creation of that city’s High Line, says that, for him, “the most difficult thing has been to live in the present, and to resist thinking about what the future will look like.”

Much of their work still seems, if not futuristic, relatively untouched by time. Kettles, lights, buildings, logos, posters, theories and more – if you want to know what twenty lifetimes of excellent work in the visual/spatial field looks like, and what those lifetimes have taught the practitioners, this book is for you.

There’s a nice Vimeo flick through the book here. If you’re interested in the longevity of creativity, I’d recommend this book as an essential purchase. Reprinted by kind permission of Eye.

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Illustration

Ten: Peter Brookes

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I was thrilled to see a profile that I wrote for John L Walters and Simon Esterson at eye magazine in print this week. Last year I visited Peter in his office at The Times and spent a fascinating couple of hours talking to him about his career in illustration and cartooning, below a wall covered in stunning examples of his art and craft. I was lucky enough to have met Peter as I started out in magazine design, at my first proper job, in the art department of Radio Times. By then, he had worked with its brilliant Art Director, David Driver, for a decade, and his approach to problems and his enjoyment of finding creative solutions rubbed off on the whole team. “Happy days!”, said Peter as we talked about that part of his career, and they were. As I left, I noticed a stack of previous cartoons, topped off with his brilliant Michael Gove/Boris Johnson “Et tu, Brute” from a few weeks before, memorably summing up Gove’s disastrous entry into the Tory leadership battle.

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Interludes

Interlude: Linus Magazine

Written for the My Favo(u)rite Magazine Project, organised by Jeremy Leslie and Andrew Losowsky to raise funds to help Bob Newman, US art director and magazine lover, after he had a seizure and collapsed. The brief was: “Choose your favourite single magazine issue, and tell us about it. Any magazine, from any country, from any era.”

Linus Cover

UK
May 1970
Linus Magazine. Bought in Moroni’s, home of magazines, on Old Compton Street, Soho, in May 1970, when I was still buying boy’s comics full of war and derring-do. I loved Peanuts – who didn’t? It had Snoopy on the cover, so it was an obvious purchase. But inside, a world unknown. Put together by Ralph Steadman and Frank Dickens, it ranged across the globe to find extraordinary things, all done in the name of comics. It was racy, it was smart, it was funny. It placed Dickens’ none-more-British detective strip bang up against Guido Crepax’s Nazis and nubiles from Milan. It had Fellini’s sketches! It had The Upside-Down World of Gustave Verbeek, where you read the strip then turned it over for the conclusion of the story, and the drawings miraculously made sense that way too… Coming across Roland Topor probably affected my entire career in magazines. As soon as I saw Brad Holland and Peter Till’s work, I recognised the visual brilliance that I’d so admired in Topor. This was extraordinary stuff, and I never found another issue, but, like the Velvet Underground, its work was done.

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Illustration

Four: The Process of Cartoons

From Varoom, Autumn 2011

I’m not an expert, but I’ve been a lover of cartoons for years; Ray Lowry’s matchless work for the NME, Gahan Wilson and Charles Addams’ worlds of strangeness in the New Yorker, deranged Honeysetts in Private Eye, the art in Roland Topor’s fluid line. Casting an eye around I found the modern cartoon where you’d expect (the cover of the New Yorker) and where you wouldn’t (the V&A). I found them in a friend’s sketchbook and in the national press. As I looked around at the cartoons that I liked most at the moment I was struck by the fact that, whatever else, cartoons are still, even in the digital age, all about the drawing. All about the scratch of the pen, the feel of the line, the sketch in service of the words, or the sketching making words superfluous…

John Cuneo, Illustrator, New Yorker Cover, June 27 2011

So, Drum Roll! Top Of The Heap! The New Yorker cover! Is this the Holy Grail job? Maybe not any more – maybe it isn’t seen as cutting edge enough (also it’s blurrily on the border of art versus illustration) but… it is the most visible cartoon job in the world. and I like a drawer with a worldview, and John Cuneo has one, like all of the greats.

John Cuneo Q&A:

BRIEF  I will occasionally send Francoise Mouly, NY’s art director, rough sketches for potential cover ideas, the vast majority of which are summarily dismissed.

MATERIALS  Ink and watercolor on paper.

RESEARCH  I combed through a couple of dog magazines for breeds that might lend themselves to a bit of anthropomorphising, and worked backwards, to the dog owners, from there. Also found a little downtown (NY) street reference.

PROCESS  Was asked to work up a colour comp first, and then a final. And then another version, one with more of a “summer” wardrobe and feel to it. Each effort getting progressively tighter of course, and incrementally less funny.

DISTRACTIONS  After the art gets accepted and publication is pending, one selfishly hopes for an uneventful news week—so that a cover-worthy current event doesn’t rear up and usurp your little dog gag.

NUMBERS  5. The number of Irish Water Spaniel owners who sent me pictures of their pets.

WEBSITE  http://www.johncuneo.com

Steve Way, Cartoonist & Cartoon Editor, Personal Notebooks

You might call Steve Way’s visual journal The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Cartoonist. Follow our hero, Steve, as he maps out his daily rounds – of cartooning/ living/organising builders/cooking food/attending glittering fashion shows – and commutes between London and Moscow in an attempt to spend time with his partner Fiona, Art Director of Vogue Russia. In the tradition of Art Spiegelman, an everyday relationship is explored in extraordinary detail and Steve gets to use up Moscow’s supply of Indian ink.

Steve Way Q&A:

BRIEF  Self-imposed, but girlfriend said it first – “You are a lot funnier in real life than you are in your cartoons”. Also real life is a lot more interesting, with her working in Moscow, than another UK joke about the recession. The fact that the gag is drawn on a heavy Stalinesque table in an ex-Soviet 1958 apartment (on my visits) is the wry bit. The diary structure, sticking to what happened on that day only, hopefully keeps the whiny graphic novel tone at bay.

MATERIALS   Dip pens bleed too much, pencil’s too faint and doesn’t look permanent, so initially black felt tips (Edding 55, Mitsubishi Uniballs, anything 0.5.) However, the line was a bit continuous and not good at showing the foul winter Moscow throws at you. So now it’s fine black biros you can hatch with, that give a slightly broken line when you draw fast, plus clog romantically when they are about to run out. It looks like ‘real’ drawing.

RESEARCH  Remembering. Busy days are the worst – cue hunting for scraps of paper I’ve written one- word tags of the day’s events on. All drawings are from memory, the exception being the covers of books/mags read. I try to get the type sort-of-right by having them in front of me.

PROCESS  Always behind, so there are bursts of catch up, often 3-week clumps. It takes about 3/4 hour per page. There are no roughs, I just start. Some days I draw badly and improve, others the reverse. In fact a really good passage of drawing slows you down, as the page opposite has to have the same care. My spelling is always a random process. The record for pages in a day is 15. A scary amount of drawing.

DISTRACTIONS  Very occasionally people commission me when I’m so in the mood to do the diary, tut. It is its own distraction, you can’t even draw or catch up when travelling, particularly on planes. People get interested in it and want to talk, or in the recent case of Callum (aged 4) want you to “do sharks.”

NUMBERS   One page, One day, one A5 Paperchase—pink, so I can find it—diary. Ruled lines on each cream page, all ignored. Sadly a lot less British Midland air miles to Moscow than you’d think, so still not able to draw the First Class lounge. You can’t cheat.

WEBSITE  http://www.stevewaycartoons.com

Tom Gauld, Illustrator/Cartoonist/Artist/Merchandiser/PR/Author

The modern world of the image demands that he straddles all of these nomenclatures. His recent Guardian cartoons are also, I would suggest, poetry.

Tom Gauld Q&A:

BRIEF  Every week I make a cartoon for the letters page of the Saturday Guardian Review. The image has to relate to one of the letters on the page, but I try and make something which works without reading the letter. This week The Guardian sent me a letter about a book reviewed the previous week. Two phrases interested me: “awash with spies immediately before the Norfolk Zeppelin raid of January 1915” and “nocturnal goings on in the saltmarshes around Hunstanton.”

MATERIALS   Uniball pen and correction fluid on paper, then Photoshop.

RESEARCH   None.

PROCESS   I begin all my projects doodling in my sketchbook. These are the doodles for Nocturnal Goings On In The Saltmarshes (Mr Victorian Novel was for the following week’s cartoon). Once I have an idea, I will draw a pencil-version, which I scan into Photoshop and fiddle with. When I’m happy, I print it out and make the final ink drawing by tracing on a lightbox. This gets scanned back in, tidied up and coloured. I’m very lucky that Roger Browning, the art director on this, trusts me enough that I don’t have to do a rough. I just make a cartoon and they print it, which I find very liberating. Though they did once ask me remove the word “Wanker”.

DISTRACTIONS  Turnaround is quite tight: I get the letter on Tuesday afternoon and hand in the final art on Wednesday morning, so I’m quite focused.

NUMBERS  This was my 254th weekly cartoon for The Guardian Review. To see the completed Nocturnals cartoon go to http://www.varoomlab.com.

WEBSITE  http://www.tomgauld.com

Q&As by John O’Reilly

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