Erik T. Johnson, “The Outliers: Chapter 1″
Artist: Erik T. Johnson (Minneapolis, MN)
Title: The Outliers: Chapter 1 (2012)
Medium/technique(s): Offset printing, letterpress printing from ink drawings and digital separations
Edition size: 1400
Number of pages: 32 + cover and slip cover
Dimensions, open: 8.5 x 12 x .125 in
Dimensions, closed: 8.5 x 6 in
My earliest artistic experience was American comic art printed onto common newsprint, and over the years I’ve explored this simple vernacular at different sophistication levels though printmaking, editorial illustration and my work with commercial clients and paper manufacturers. Within that inspiration, I’ve often varied my graphic style, believing strongly in the power of each visual language as much as the literal “meaning” of an image. While my individual drawings are often narrative, I also create stories with the same stylistic methodology. For instance, I’ve create short political comic essays on themes like environment, extremism or in American imperialism such as my work in Nicholas Blechman’s Nozone book series. My latest work, The Outliers, explores more personal (but fantastical) themes.
With The Outliers, I’ve created a rich and mysterious environment around a mute 11 year old boy, whose life is turned upside down when he’s discovered to have a secret friendship with an enormous woodland giant. The main character, Tsu, is inspired by the strengths and vulnerabilities I’ve witnessed raising an Autistic son whose speech was delayed at an early age. The world of The Outliers is described as existing “on the periphery of human perception” and it’s inhabitants can be seen as metaphors for the people in our world who survive along side us but are often unseen or heard.
While the narrative of The Outliers has layered storytelling and dark twists, the story is enriched by the book as a paper artifact. The bulk of the pages are a warm high-grade newsprint color, emulating the traditional comic book substrate and includes loose and pulpy use of 2-color printing throughout. The cover of the book is a heavyweight rich brown paper that is letter-pressed in silver with detailed images and text about different species of “Outliers.” The book is also wrapped in a dust jacket that uses a playful use of 4-color printing, which shimmers on a heavily calendared sheet of butcher paper.
The Outliers book is the most singular product of my artistic career. The narrative and visuals content are matched with the execution and form. The book lives within the vernacular that inspires it, but it also brings a sense of personal and experiential discovery that make it something extraordinary.