Week Fifty Two

W52 Interview: Neal Obermeyer “Good Friday, Better Art”

Posted in Art openings, Interview by sarahbakerhansen on 1 April 2010


Cartoons by Neal Obermeyer, part of “Good Friday, Better Art,” opening Friday at Lincoln’s Handmade Modern.


Editorial Cartoonist Neal Obermeyer is an old friend of Week Fifty Two: we worked together at the Daily Nebraskan, on the University of Nebraska-Lincoln campus, for a few years in the mid-1990s. Now he cartoons for the Lincoln Journal Star and keeps an active blog at his Web site. It only made sense than when he told us he was having an art show we wanted to know more about the method behind his madness. Obermeyer’s show “Good Friday, Better Art” opens Friday night at the Parrish Studio’s Handmade Modern from 6:30 to 10 p.m. For more information, visit Handmade Modern or Neal Obermeyer.

Week Fifty Two: The show has a tongue-in-cheek religious theme. Why did you choose to go in that direction?

Neal Obermeyer: For the most part, it was just taking advantage of something that happened by chance. First Friday fell on Good Friday. But since the show fell on Good Friday, I figured I’d take advantage of it. Incorporating the day into the theme of the show was an easy way to make the opening date memorable. And at the same time, I’ve had a lot of cartoons featuring Jesus over the years — particularly Holy Week — so incorporating that idea came very naturally. I also wanted to do some finished versions of some of my favorite rejected cartoons, so the idea of resurrecting cartoons that had been sentenced to death by editors fit with the Easter weekend theme almost effortlessly.

W52: How do the cartoons translate to the walls of a gallery?

Obermeyer: We hung stuff Wednesday night and honestly I was thrilled by it. These are pictures I’ve looked at numerous times over the years, but seeing them in these little frames stuck to these walls looking all official and stuff — it was very cool. I’m used to seeing these things on a smudged piece of off-white paper surrounded by Charles Krauthammer and Cal Thomas columns, but never in frames with nice lights shining on them! I should probably clarify the prior statements by making it clear that I’ve never done a show like this before, so this was a totally new experience to me.

One of the things that I liked upon seeing these things on the wall was how, when you get up close to read them, you can see all the eraser smudges, residual pencil marks, ink swirls where I’d try to get my pen working, and other elements of their creation that would normally be cleaned up and Photoshopped out before they’re sent on to my editor. I’m a big fan of seeing the process of things, and so I liked those hints of the earlier stages that are exposed by the lights and the presentation.

W52: You have a big following in both Omaha and Lincoln, but for those who aren’t as familiar with you, why should they check out your show?

Obermeyer: One of the things I like about looking at old cartoons is that they’re a kind of silly history book of events and issues from the past decade. It’s like an odd timeline with punch lines. Also, I’ve enjoyed stepping back and trying to look at these pictures from an artistic perspective. As I am prone to say, I have long approached this work from a very utilitarian perspective, so it has taken me some time to view these drawings in a different way. So I think it’s fun to look at these pictures and try to detach myself from the decisions I made, often subconsciously, and look at the aesthetic makeup of the picture and how that enhanced — or sometimes obscured — the idea. I think what I’m trying to say is “If you like to look at drawings, there will be drawings there.”

Also, if you’re not into the whole “Editorial cartoons” thing, I have some comic book content there. I didn’t think I’d have room for it initially, but I’ve included the original art from a 9-page fictionalized Edgar Allan Poe biography published last year by Powerpop Comics, which looks really nice laid out across one wall. I also have some books available that include my two 24 Hour Comics.

As a little side note, if the whole idea of “Jesus cartoons” has thus far been a put off to any readers of this interview, I would like to add that some of my more religious friends have been the biggest fans my Jesus cartoons. I’ve always tried to think of them as a modern version of the type of religious art (with punch lines), so many of them are loaded with symbolism. I definitely put more thought into them than Jesus-sensitive critics might initially assume, so I don’t want anyone to be frightened away by the presumed sacrilege. You might still hate them, but at least then it will be for the right reasons. Also, if you’re 21 or older and come up to me and say “Fizgig” you will get a can of Busch Light (while supplies last). Everyone else has to drink wine.

W52: For the people who do follow your work, will we get to see some of “Neal’s greatest hits” as part of the show?

Obermeyer: Yes, absolutely. I’m not sure yet how many cartoons we’ll have room for on the walls, but I pulled work from my whole career. So you’ll see cartoons from the Daily Nebraskan, the Lincoln Journal Star and The Omaha Reader. I didn’t specifically set out to put together a “greatest hits” show, but I tried to select cartoons that were memorable, pretty to look at, and effective at communicating, so I think cartoons that meet those criteria would qualify as among the “greatest hits” category for most people.

It won’t all be nostalgia, though — I’ve also taken six of my favorite rejected cartoons from the past few years and done brand new finished versions of those. So there’s a combination of greatest hits, resurrected rejects and then just some miscellaneous personal favorites that I felt like including.

W52: Will you be eating a few fish sandwiches on the day of the opening?

Obermeyer: Oh yes — Friday, April 2 is also the Last Supper for the Lent 2010 Fast Food Fish Sandwich Tournament. The final round is between Hardee’s, which I’ll have for lunch, and Runza, which I’ll have for dinner. Then sometime after midnight, I’m going to the Gourmet Grill for a gyro.