Harry Nordlinger

What first caught our eye about artist Harry Nordlinger was the album artwork he did for San Francisco band Schlotman. Earlier this year, the band released their first LP and asked Nordlinger to design the cover art. “They asked for something to do with birds and I could make the rest of it up. And I came up with this four-paneled, surreal idea.”

Nordlinger creates art for bands and venues all over the Bay Area. Among his favorite venues to design for are Bottom of the Hill, the Chapel, and Elbo Room, and he takes inspiration from a wide range of styles and artists. Below is a popular poster he made for a Man Man show — this dark bird creature, he says, is medieval-inspired.

When asked what medium and technique he uses for a piece like the Man Man poster, he says, “I do everything by hand. That’s really important to me.” His technique — a quick little lesson for the lay people out there, because we find every step fascinating — is to first draw everything in pencil, to outline it in black pen, then erase the pencil, scan the image, and open it in Photoshop so he can adjust the contrast as needed. It’s a refreshing turn in the days of digital everything.

I see a blue pencil in his bag and ask about it. “Oh this? This is a non-photo blue pencil. It’s so you can scan the image without pencil showing. What they used to do back in the old days, is there would be a scanner that would basically be like taking a photo…they’d scan it with these scanners that just wouldn’t pick it

[the blue] up. So it just pulls the black ink for the newspaper. So this is basically an updated version of that.”

Speaking of the old days, a lot of Nordlinger’s work is inspired by old comics and advertisements. The Spits poster, for example, was inspired by an old magazine ad featuring Perry Como with a cigarette. “I really love commercial art,” he says. “Especially from the 1970s and earlier, where it’s all hand drawn. If you look at old magazine ads and they’re actually painted! I love that. That’s what this whole series was inspired by, old magazine ads.”

“What would you say is important right now in the cartooning scene, in illustration?” I ask. “And what are you hoping to accomplish right now?”

“The real thing I’m trying to do is put out comics…I really want to make comics that have a level of artistry to them and that feel that they have an intention and a purpose,” Nordlinger says. “I don’t want to make comics that are just fun and light. I think a lot of the audience in San Francisco really wants fun and light things — things that are cute and easy, accessible. I really want to make art that is more abstract and less obvious than that.”

“I think art is made to make you feel and experience things, and those aren’t always easy or positive things,” he says. “I want to progress that idea and make art that’s upsetting or scary or that makes you feel different. I’ve gotten a lot of criticism that my art is too weird, but, I’ve never understood why that’s a bad thing? To me, being weird just means being new and different. I dunno, people always say, keep this weird or keep that weird, but I think you should keep art weird.”

In days where art festivals are being taken over by gadgetry, booze, and music — things we can also enjoy — it’s important to find and maintain space for artists. Zine Fest is coming up this September 1 and it’s a great place for illustrators to showcase their work. In fact, Nordlinger just released his most recent comic, Softer Than Sunshine, which sold out of the first two prints runs. He just made a third.

We ask Mr. Nordlinger which artists inspire him in the Bay Area cartoonist scene. “Trina Robbins, definitely. Matts.” They’re his unofficial mentors. And who are some of his dream bands to illustrate for? He starts listing: “Palm, Pixies, Guided by Voices…”

Harry Nordlinger has done all sorts of work in the Bay Area. Intricate tattoo designs, bar coasters, T-shirts, patches, pins, and lots of album artwork. “What do I want to do more of? Right now, I’m really interested in more design projects, on a bigger scale…I love doing T-shirts and album artwork.” He will be a featured artist at Comic Arts Brooklyn on November 2.

Harry for Hire: Question for Mr. Nordlinger? Interested in commissioning some illustration work? You should ask him! He’s incredibly approachable and what we’d call a relief to work with. Check out more of the styles, inspirations and mediums of San Francisco artist Harry Nordlinger and stay tuned for what’s on the horizon.