A Conversation with Robert Sikoryak
Danielle Duemesi: The illustrations you’ve done for NationMag are very reminiscent of very iconic cartoon styles, like that of Roy Lichtenstein and Marjorie Henderson Buell. What was it that made you decide to utilize these cartoon-retro styles for political illustrations?
Robert Sikoryak : All my illustrations and comics are inspired by classic, and sometimes contemporary, cartoon styles. I’ve always loved to play with style and parody, and I grew up with MAD magazine and Saturday Night Live, which were both an influence. I try to juxtapose the style with surprising content, whether it's politically or culturally distinct.
Danielle Duemesi: Your style is really versatile and shows a great range of stylistic options, and lots of followers and fellow content creators are met with a burst of variety when visiting your social media and portfolio website. Was there a moment in your development as an illustrator that inspired the idea to expand your capability?
Robert Sikoryak : When I was in art school, I wasn’t interested in drawing in only one style, which is sometimes expected of an illustrator. So instead, I began to concentrate on parody, which gave me the freedom to try out new techniques and keep it exciting for myself. Having done that for years, I’m now known for that approach, so in a way that's become my style.
Danielle Duemesi: What is your creative process when deciding which style to pursue?
Robert Sikoryak: The style usually comes out of the idea. Depending on the concept I’m illustrating, or the story I’m telling, I consider the various visual approaches I can take.
If there are times that I want to try out a drawing style, then I have to find the right concept to support it. Sometimes the style just comes out of the fact that the client requests it, or it will look attractive on a cover. But mostly I try to come up with a style that will be surprising or funny in relation to the story.
For instance, I write and draw a series called Masterpiece Comics, and each one retells a literary classic in the style of a famous cartoon. One of them is a version of Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment drawn like a classic Batman comic book. That may seem like a random combination, but there are enough parallels in their storylines that it makes some sense, while still being visually absurd and hopefully entertaining.
Danielle Duemesi: What was your initial inspiration for hosting comic readings with Carousel? What sort of visual performances can people anticipate? Are there subject-specific panels for each event?
Robert Sikoryak: I’ve always been interested in performance, and reading my comics aloud while projecting the panels one at a time seemed like a natural approach. There’s a long history of newspaper cartoonists performing, going back to the days of vaudeville, and I’d even seen Roz Chast read her gag cartoons live in the early 1990’s. It’s actually a very theatrical form, while still being intimate.
With Carousel, I try to keep the audience surprised, and there are lots of ways to incorporate visuals into theater. And while the majority is comics, we also mix in other visual art and storytelling. Sometimes it’s artists reading their comics with a big cast of actors, or showing their illustrations while playing live music, or even creating live drawings. We’ve also had 3D photography, shadow puppets, and other surprises. Occasionally, we’ll do a themed show, such as on science or politics, and I do annual kid shows with cartoonist Neil Numberman. But mostly I keep it open, because I like the diversity of styles and themes that can come from that.
Danielle Duemesi: Are there any subjects or types of illustrations you’d like to feature more of at Carousel?
Robert Sikoryak: I’m always looking for more variety, and the show has gotten more elaborate over time. I’d like to represent what’s happening in comics, as well as feature different modes of performing. We’ve had over 200 artists on the show since it began, in the late 1990’s.
Danielle Duemesi: How has New York shaped your work as an illustrator? Do you feel the city has any impact on you artistically?
Robert Sikoryak: New York had hugely shaped my work as an illustrator. It’s exciting to have access to all the galleries and theaters, of course. And I’ve gotten to collaborate with many brilliant artists, in the fields of comics, animation, and publishing, and I’ve learned a lot. Being surrounded by such talent really makes you raise your sights.
Danielle Duemesi: What have you been working on recently? What can people anticipate to see from you in the near future?
Robert Sikoryak: I just finished illustrating a book with the author Gavin Edwards, called Kindness and Wonder: Why Mr. Rogers Matters Now More Than Ever. It’s the third in a series of non-fiction books, about Bill Murray, Tom Hanks, and Mr. Rogers. They feature multiple illustrations by me, each one in a different style that comments on some aspect of the subject.
I’m also thinking about my next comics project. I’m currently in the middle of drawing my next volume of Masterpiece Comics, and I hope to serialize more portions of it soon.
For Carousel events, you can visit http://carouselslideshow.com/ .