Before Andy Warhol became a household name and face of the pop art movement, he was an advertising artist looking for a way to express himself - and a new graphic novel chronicles those pivotal years.
Becoming Andy Warhol by Nick Bertozzi and Pierce Hargan focuses in the artist's critical turn from commercial artist to fine artist and provocateur. The book seizes upon a key moment in the artist's life when his mural for the 1964 World's Fair was taken down, leading the artist to take a stand against the prevailing ideas about art at the time.
Bertozzi, who has done several biographical graphic novels about historical figures, spoke to Newsarama about focusing in on this under-explored part of Warhol's life to explain the artist as a whole.
Newsarama: Nick, how'd you come about to do a book like Becoming Andy Warhol?
Nick Bertozzi: I found an image from the 1964 World’s Fair of the New York Pavilion covered in murals including one by Warhol that I’d never seen, “America’s 13 Most-Wanted Men.” Researching further, that mural was replaced by Warhol’s “Silver Mural” a 20’ x 20’ square of silver paint on canvas. This replacement and the reason behind it became the spark for the book. Here’s a picture of the original mural:
Nrama: So you had the images, and the story behind those image. What’s next when you decided you might want to do a book?
Bertozzi: I’m lucky to have taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York City and have access to their terrific library. I took out every book they had. I visited museums and galleries and Pierce, the incredible illustrator of Becoming Andy Warhol, visited the cafe that Warhol frequented, still-thriving Serendipity 3.
Nrama: This story focuses in on one specific period in Warhol's life. How did you settle on that time period?
Bertozzi: The “America’s 13 Most-Wanted Men” mural led me quickly to the time period leading up to its creation, when Warhol was a commercial artist and not yet really showing in the galleries.
Nrama: As an artist yourself, why did you decide to collaborate with someone else and not draw it yourself?
Bertozzi: Writing is faster for me and I have many other stories to get to that I’d never have the time to draw. Also, it takes me a couple weeks to be proficient with a likeness and there were so many in this book.
Nrama: That being said, did you do any personal sketches/artwork coinciding with the project?
Bertozzi: I chipped in a bit with the layouts, but the final look and feel of the book is Pierce Hargan.
Nrama: How did you come to connect with Abrams and Pierce Hargan to do this book together?
Bertozzi: Pierce, a recent graduate of SVA, would stop by my class to show me his work. It’s rare to find an artist that age with his technique and his vision. I had planned to offer the Warhol GN to Abrams - a publisher known for its art books - and Pierce made the pitch a really solid one.
Nrama: You've done graphic novels about real-life people before, from Picasso to Houdini to Lenny Bruce. What did you find from doing those that helped you in doing Becoming Andy Warhol?
Bertozzi: History is not a static grouping of dates, names, and places–in the right hands it is alive and we exist within it. I believe that I’ve honed the skill to bring characters out of the past and make them read as real, fleshed out people.
Nrama: Why do you think comic books is ideal to tell Warhol's story?
Bertozzi: Comics are easy to read. Warhol would like that.