The artist circa 2000 with his horse, Chris.
Why talk about any of this now?
I was recently in a video conference with some other Cauldron creators from around the world when the suggestion came up that everyone should share more personal background with readers of our works. I never talk about anything even slightly personal online, it’s just the way I am. I mean, why should anybody be interested? After some thought, I felt I could distill the past 50 or so years of my life into some brief bullet-pointed copy that might be slightly amusing.
Here it is:
My life as an artist
Sitting beneath the concrete dinosaur, I watched my car burn…
My name is Jon Gerung.
I’m 65, a retired multimedia designer.
I went to Arizona State University for a couple of years or so.
Dropped out in 1980, headed West to California to look for work–needed money.
Disaster in the desert
In the middle of the night, crossing the Sonoran Desert, my junker of a car started to overheat. I got off at the next exit at Cabazon, and the engine is already smoking. A Gas Station attendant threw me a fire extinguisher (he didn’t want to get near it and who could blame him) to put out the burgeoning flames.
Cabazon is part of that unique and inexplicable American tradition of Roadside Attractions. It has a concrete menagerie of giant dinosaurs to lure travelers into stopping at the gas station and “restaurant.”
It’s 90 degrees and midnight. I’m sitting on the foot of the Brontosaurus with a vast “EAT” sign hypnotically pulsating over my shoulder, watching my smoldering wreck of a car. After a long while, I pulled my portfolio out of the car, put what clothing and paperback books that would fit into a backpack and started the long hitch (a hundred miles or so) into Civilization.
About the portfolio, this is pre-digital, those things were massive. It’s like carrying a billboard sign in a leather case. Trying to hitch with that was almost impossible. I had to hide it behind the bushes just to get somebody to stop and then grab it quickly; jump in before they could speed away.
Maybe they thought it was a very flat chainsaw case. It was the ’80s–so who knows?
I roomed with my brother for a while in Riverside, east of LA. I was car-less in California, which is it’s own particular kind of Hell until I could put together $500 to buy a ‘64 Ford Fairlane. The color was maybe brown or maybe grey, but for sure it was a tank, more steel in it than any ten modern cars. I wish I still had the Fairlane it‘d be the perfect vehicle to sit out the Apocalypse in, I mean, why dig a bomb shelter when you can drive one.
Ten years chained to the oar
Soon, I was off on my own again in the Fairlane and spent the next ten years in every bad art job you could get. Remember, it’s pre-digital, everything you do with a mouse click now has to be done by hand and re-done by hand and re-done by hand. You get the idea.
It was like Sisyphus was the Patron Saint to all of us, low-end graphic artists.
There were a lot of really god-awful art gigs back then, and as I said, I had them all, totally non-creative, galley slave type of work (paste-up that ad/ pull that oar).
The loser gets lucky
A bright spot, though, I met my future wife, the gorgeous Barbara, AKA, Suggy. Which I take as proof that we don’t live in an entirely insouciant universe or put more viscerally, God isn’t always pissing down your back.
In 1990, I finally got out of Advertising and into Editorial work at a Newspaper which I’m sure sounds terrible to you young designers, but it was a very cool job.
I did something different every day: illustrations, infographics, page designs, daily projects, long-term projects, and towards the end of the ’90s, multimedia. Digital is in full swing. We were doing some cutting-edge work. I worked with a lot of great folks at the DN, even if the overall company was grossly mismanaged (something that would cause me trouble down the line).
My wife and I had moved up to a little ranchette (3 acres) in the High Desert where we could have horses. It was a long commute to my job. In California, gridlock is your destiny.
The Great Recession
Then (play some ominous music here), the Great Recession of 2008. I lasted another year or so and then was out of work. I had a great Flash portfolio site, literally thousands of screens of interactive design, infographics, animated illustrations.
It was maybe a little too good, and I was definitely too old.
Interviews from Hell
One hilarious interview at Comcast, I was running through my site with the Art Director (and I can tell she’s getting really and I mean really upset with me but I don’t know why), when she stops me cold and asks, “Why do you want to work here?” I didn’t say anything, ’cause, I’m talking to someone whose sliding down a Greased Karmic Career Chute who has never had and never will have to pay any dues and, you know, I need some work. I didn’t get that job.
I did get some onsite gigs but switched to offsite freelance, age not a factor there. I worked with some good people for the next eight years or so but also a lot of pinheads.
I managed to get to retirement.
So long, guys
Seriously, a lot of people didn’t, including my two best friends.
My first motion comic was in 1997 using animated gifs, about a time-traveling cowgirl, Rusty Pony. I modeled the character on my wife, but working and commuting full-time didn’t leave much time for personal work.
In more recent years, I have had a chance to get back to comics, static and motion managing to finish a graphic novel, “Mercy is Just My Name.” It was tough going, I knew how I wanted it to look, but I don’t have that kind of natural drawing ability. Loads of work redrawing and redrawing to get it where I wanted it.
The Great American Novel (are you kidding me?)
Right now, I’m working on a prose novel, which is a mashup of Modern Noir Western and a Dying Earth story. I’ll let you guys know how it goes…