Tiny Birds in Hats, Robots & Fridgecars: The Artwork of Fish McGill

Regular readers of The 'Zine are probably familiar with the distinctive art style of the 52 Weeks to Rock article series. You may be surprised to know that the artist behind the ecclectic drawings isn't on our design team, but on the web team.

Fish McGill is an associate producer with Harmonix's web team and a talented artist. We quickly discovered that his quirky style of drawing was a perfect match for the offbeat and sometimes outrageous stories in 52 Weeks.

We talked to Fish about his art and his process for creating these one-of-a-kind pieces.

How long does one of these pieces take?

Each assignment is different and depends on the story. I start out with a visual idea or a funny something around the topic and then I make rough loose sketches and thumbnails. From there I make the final drawing and piece it all together from those initial sketchy compositions.

Initial ideas for a band touring California in a car, but a fridgecar is far cooler.

The fridgecar is a go thanks to the addition of a wizard

I come up with a lot of the ideas in passing via getting to know people at Harmonix over lunch, in meetings, in elevators, going to their shows, etc. I look at a lot of photo books on bands, listen to lots of music and dig through old magazines at the public library too. The research and distilling are the most important part of it all.

How much information about an article do you have ahead of time to prepare?

I always have the topic and a few details; sometimes I have the whole story ahead. The topic is enough, a general idea is better because of the flexibility and room for imagination.

I normally have a small amount of information, a wee bit of time and lots of ideas and great fun coming up with the finished product. I look forward to it each week and I enjoy the whole process. I read an interview of Charles Shultz when I was young that confused me because he said he didn't want to create a back log of Peanuts cartoons since he spent his life getting to the point where he could draw a strip each day. I have a blast creating, reaching, struggling for the right idea and I don't take myself too seriously or get stressed about a drawing each week. It is the most fun job around, I really look forward to what's coming next.

Is there something you hope someone will write about so you can illustrate it?

I want someone to write a story about a jug band concert they did on top of a giant robot flying through Antarctica because that's cool.

Has there ever been a story that you had a difficult time creating an illustration for?

The first handful of stories were hard to avoid 1) using any color as part of the assignment, and 2) inserting a weird character, animal or robot. It was a challenge to dodge drawing my favorite things at the beginning and I felt like I should ease them in naturally or something.

All of a sudden you start seeing pirates, robots, dinosaurs, monsters all appearing in the stories but I had to keep them at bay starting out.

Slowly the weirdos began to appear in the series

Have 52 weeks writers ever asked for something specific for their accompanying article?

A crowd surfing Crowns Kendall leaving a voicemail during a perfomance.

Nobody has explicitly asked but I have definitely tailored each drawing to the author giving extra love to the wild stories by The Hellion, awesome first hand concert/interview stories by Brett Milano and stories about Jason Kendall whose shows I often went to in high school.

Do you have a favorite 52 Weeks drawing?

The Joey Ramone interview story. I love that story because you can completely imagine what it was like to hang out at Joey's house and it's inspiring when you hear that one of your music heroes is a cool/kind/funny/helpful dude. That drawing jumped into my brain in the middle of a conversation when I was at home, I ran over to my sketch book and started scribbling the idea out mid sentence. The whole thing sprang out of the Simpsons leather coat hanging on a chair in Joey's apartment reminding me of comics, hieroglyphics, visual narratives, etc.

Nothing beats a concert in space with a pianist and Rolf.

I also really like the four done for the HMXers' Firsts series, it was fun to think of weirder and weirder concert situations like Eraser Head live in concert, miniature Michael Jackson and tiny Weird Al and the outer space piano.

Your work is very recognizable and unique. How did you develop your distinctive style?

I cultivated the look in high school & continued with working it in college. During high school I had a nice side business outside of class selling photocopied holiday cheeky cards that parodied songs & artists on the radio or pop culture stuff of the moment. For example at Christmas time I had a Santa + Busta Rhymes = Busta Clause, Jay Z + Jesus = JayZsus, and so on. I would get instant feedback from classmates based on laughter and how many cards I sold at 25 cents each.

Making promo art with the help of some handy printo & copy bots

In art school I found myself drawing all the time for assignments and for fun. There are lots of ways to draw but somehow I became fixated on iconic imagery when I traveled west for a few months and that interest intensified when I learned more about ancient Mimbres art at the Fogg Museum, Japanese woodblock prints at the MFA, street signs in Tokyo and Beijing and graphic posters when I traveled to Poland. I love simple drawings of artists like Seymour Chwast, Gary Baseman, Margaret Killgallen, Gary Panter, Souther Salazar, Elizabeth Murray, Nick Z, Gary Larson, Bill Watterson, Sallee Oh, Jon Burgerman, too many to name.

What are some of your favorite items to draw?

Robots, ladies, boots, pirates, mermaids, animals, people in animal suits, animals in human clothes, monkeys, wiener dogs, elephants, tiny birds in hats, outlandish instruments, cell phones, the list goes on.

Stay tuned to the 52 Weeks article series to see more artwork by Fish McGill, or check out his art for the Rock Band Network, his personal Flickr stream or see drawings from 52 Weeks in person at Space 242 in Boston.