Steve Brodner seeks the truth. In search of that truth through satire, he has exposed hypocrisy and skewered politicians, corporate fat cats, and pop culture. As a visual journalist (a neglected art form seemingly kept alive by Steve), he has covered political campaigns and conventions as well as shed light on the plight of the underclass. Steve has even ventured beyond the printed page into the world of documentary filmmaking with drawings. I have no doubt he will excel in this endeavor as he has done wherever he applies his exeptional talent.
While most of us are content to work out our creative obsessions in the relative comfort and security of our studios, Steve is out pursuing stories that spark his passion. That quest has taken him all over the United States and, for Outside magazine, a considerable distance up Mt.Fuji. He takes the initiative with an entrepreneurial drive and finds magazines willing to publish his stories. Armed with notebook, tape recorder, pens, and laptop he can work anywhere. It’s not unusual for Steve to finish a piece and e-mail it from a hotel room on the road.
These days, so much is in question about the future of our business. In the face of such doubt, Brodner holds firm with conviction and idealism to a belief in the power of illustration. He is that rare breed of artist who has something important to say and the ability to express those ideas in a concise way. In addition, he also has the chops to make that idea come to life with Steve’s warmth, generosity, and sincerity, have earned him the respect of the illustration community. There was nothing more moving than when the entire audience at ICON3 in Philly gave Steve a standing ovation at the showing of his film about families of 9/11 victims.
Brodner is not only about moral outrage and compassion; he’s also about stretching a face to the extreme, and leaving it still recognizable. His art is a swirling pot of Nast and Daumier, Hirschfeld and Steadman, with a dash of Chuck Jones- all paint splatter, brush, and pen lines in sweeping motion.
I first became aware of Steve’s work in the mid-eighties when I saw his cover for The Progressive about the radio commentator Paul Harvey. The illustration showed a middle-American family gathered around a radio that had the face of Harvey spouting patriotic fireworks. It was a black-and-white tonal drawing set against a dark background. The piece was executed with such draftsmanship, yet completely stylized and distorted. It was unlike anything I had ever seen before and made a lasting impression on me. I knew this was an artist to watch. We met at a party about a year or so later and quickly became friends. Steve and I are very close in age and have had common experiences growing up in New York, he in Brooklyn and I on Staten Island. Over the years, we’ve reminisced about things that have shaped our pop cultural consciousness: local New York TV programming in the 60’s, Mad magazine, and our admiration for caricaturists like Mort Drucker, Bruce Stark, Jack Davis, and David Levine. We also share a love of jazz and have spent some enjoyable nights at clubs listening to live music.
Steve is always thinking and always drawing. In a restaurant, a napkin or a tablecloth will suffice if no paper is handy. In his early days, he honed his drawing skills and keen eye by doing caricatures at bar mitzvahs. That practice served him wellin later years whether he was giving a demonstration before an audience, or drawing under the glare of TV studios lights. I watched in amazement as Steve, articulate and at ease, sketched while giving an interview on national TV during his book tour. I often refer to Steve as the hardest working man in the illustration biz. One can hardley pick up a magazine without seeing a Brodner somewhere on its pages. His output is phenomenal and he often sacrifices sleep in the process. It’s a very full career to be one of the top editorial illustrators working today, as well as being the contemporary master of caricature, but Steve doesn’t limit himself to that. He juggles art journalism, teaching, filmmaking, and lecturing in addition to family time spent with his wife Anne and daughter Terry. To young illustrators he is generous with his time, complimentary and insightful. Steve even took time out of a schedule that would make most illustrators dizzy to travel from New York to Florida to go door to door on foot with people from all over the country to get out the vote.
More than anything, Steve is a political animal and it is fitting that the Hamilton King award was given for this particular image. The piece was done for Rolling Stone’s “National Affairs” section, to which Steve is a refular contributor. The “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” was an idea that publisher Jann Wenner had had in mind for some time. The article, “The Curse of Dick Cheney,” seemed like an appropriate time to use it. Although the concept may not have been entirely Steve’s, the solution is uniquely Brodner. It’s a powerful image, beautifully composed, and expertly executed. As always, he nails his subjects.
This award is the perfect cap to a year that saw the publication of Freedom Fries, an impressive retrospective of Steve’s political work. Perhaps Ralph Steadman says it best in his comments in Steve’s book: “Beneath Steve Brodner’s imposing style there lurks a powerful draughtsman- the heart of an outraged fighter with a strong moral sense. One does not invent that kind of thing. One has neither got it or one hasn’t. Steve has the force- in bucket loads… Steve Brodner is one of the great Captains of an art, which few are truly blessed to wield as a weapon. As you wander through this book at your leisure, spar a thought for the blood, sweat, and tears of a master of his own choices, in the knowledge that inside his own rhythmic acrobatics, it never gets any easier, because he is at the cutting edge of personal opinion and expresses it in a way that can never be said in words.”
Although Steve is too modest to expect to receive such recognition for his type of work, this is truly a well-deserved honor. Congratulations to you, Steve. I’m proud to call you my friend.