That time between starting a drawing job and "the big reveal" can seem excruciatingly long--and with most live drawings it's only a matter of minutes. In this case, it's six years.
It all started in early 2008, when I got an email from a potential client who wanted to know if I could work from photos. Well, yeah, of course. He further explained that he would like to commission a few dozen black and white caricatures, suitable for reproduction, for a project. Well, that set off my reproduction rights radar and I asked about what sort of project, how many copies, etc. etc.
Some clients get vague when I ask details like this--they are either trying to get a bargain basement price, or they really don't have much of an idea themselves. This fellow, to my surprise, bypassed vague and simply answered in the negative. No, he could not tell me anything about the project. And I would not be at liberty to publicize it. He said he worked with the government and then he asked if I would be all right working from very bad photos, some of them of corpses.
Well, this was turning into an interesting little email exchange. I learned that the people I would be drawing were warlords in Afghanistan. Maybe "warlords" isn't the right word. "Power players" might be more apt, definitely more politically correct. My initial (overblown) fears that this job might get a Fatwa put out on me were assuaged as he explained that the drawings would not be anything that would ever endanger my life in any way. This was, remember, around the time that Danish cartoonist was in fear for his life after drawing a controversial image of Mohammed.
We struck a deal, and he began sending me photos of the subjects--often along with color commentary about their personalities, the regional clothing or hats they were wearing, and whether I should emphasize the mean look in their eye or instead focus on the playful expression they had in another photo. And yes, a couple of them were really awful, fuzzy photos and a few were post-mortem. I did my best. My contact was very supportive, telling me when I was going in the right direction and, overall, he was happy with the results.
Then, much more recently, he emailed to tell me that the work he had done in Afghanistan was amping down as the situation there got less tense, and so he was able to talk openly about what the caricatures were used for. And, likewise, I am now allowed to post a few on this blog. He also kindly answered a few questions, which I am publishing below . . .