Interview with John Hancock AKA Grokdad

John Hancock has an impressive portfolio of artwork as well as a few pieces of fiction to his credit. His twitter followers know him for his standing offer If you’re a celeb, and tweet me, I’ll eventually draw your picture. He currently lives in Dayton, Ohio with his wonderful wife and their son who is as silly and creative as he is.

1.     How did you come up with the moniker Grokdad? Are you a fan of Robert Heinlein?

I am Heinlein fan, but actually the name came up another way. When my son was due to be born, a friend on a discussion board suggested I should call him Grok online. Since my moniker at that time was Lerk, it seemed a natural fit for my son’s online name.

Illustration for story on airport noise complaints for the Dayton Daily News

2.     Do people ever think you’re pulling their leg when you introduce yourself as John Hancock?

If I only had a dollar….. It happens all the time, people don’t believe it’s my real name. I joke that it was the only way my parents got me that I couldn’t get them back. I graciously endure people making one or two comments about it  (put your “John Hancock” on the dotted line, etc.) but they don’t seem to realize that I’ve had the name all my life, so even though its new to them, nothing they can say about it is new to me.
I also discovered I couldn’t make a dinner reservation with my real name. I’d show up and have no reservation because they thought it was a joke. Ironically, I now use the fake name of “Sinbad” which they happily accept without question.
When I moved to Chicago a few years back, I briefly toyed with the idea of moving into the John Hancock Tower, but then I realized I’d never get my mail.

Editorial cartoon for the Las Vegas Review Journal

3. and 4. Pepe, the Club-Footed Elephant was… disturbing. So is the font color, which I admit to playing with! Where did the story come from? How did it find its way to publication? What other works of fiction have you published?

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First of all, I had nothing to do with the design of that page beyond the illustration I drew for the story. Phew! That’s out of the way.
This story wrote itself one day.
It walked unbidden from the forest of my mind, sniffed around the clearing, and steadfastly refused to go back into the trees. It is a difficult piece to categorize, it is a bit flippant, a kind of amiable dark humor, but it is not a children’s story. Oh no, it is NOT a children’s story.
Pepe does have the beauty of being brief, and can be a fun piece, especially when read aloud. As for it being a bit disturbing, the story made me write it that way. I had little choice in the matter.
I received a kind note from the editor of Asimov Magazine saying “Thank you for letting me read this”, and apologized it did not quite fit their publication. Finally, the E-zine “Bewildering Stories” published it and one other story, “The Slush-o-matic: Recycling the Slush Pile for Fun and Profit”  http://www.bewilderingstories.com/issue59/slushomatic.html

Illustration for story on "What if Elvis Was Still Alive?" for the Dayton Daily News

5.     You mentioned you wanted (past tense) to be a science fiction writer. Was this a childhood dream? How much writing have you done?

Two things I dreamed of as a child: One, to be the first man on Mars. Two, to be a famous science fiction writer. Well, okay, three things: Three, to be a famous artist.
As a kid, I would ride my bike to the library, check out 14 sci fi books (the maximum allowed), read them and come back the next week for more. I am still a voracious reader to this day.
I’ve always been able to draw, and that is what puts food on my table. Writing is a bit more of a challenge for me. Oh, I can plot like the dickens (or Dickens), but I get hopelessly shipwrecked on the shore of details. Novels seemed too long for me to write, even though I outlined several. Short stories seemed more my ticket, but I found out that SciFi short stories no longer have as rich a market as it did when I was young.
So, fast forward to my mid-life crisis. I was (and am) happily married, so the affair was out. I couldn’t afford a sports car, so I thought “Hey, how about I dust off that dream to be a published writer?” And dust it off I did. I spent about a year toiling at it, getting a lot of mimeographed rejections, like most writers. Finally, I got my first personalized rejection for Pepe from Gardner Dozois of Asimov Magazine. I hung around the Asimov discussion board and was told what I’ve always been told about writing: that you have to be consumed with it and do nothing but grind out words several hours a day. I thought about it, and realized I only have fun writing when I feel inspired, so trying to get published as a science fiction writer, if it required the grinding devotion (that I didn’t really have time for at the time), then maybe I should give up trying to break into Science Fiction short stories.

I still want to write screenplays, and have several that I’ve started. But the midlife crisis is over, so I’ll just have to see how soon I get a screenplay accepted.

Illustration for prolific ghost writers for the Dayton Daily News

6.     Have you or would you try 5 minute fiction on Leah Petersen’s Blog? http://www.leahpetersen.com/

Yes. Her blog looks really interesting and I intend to give the 5 minute fiction thingy a try.

(Note: Between submitting these answers and the interview being published, John was a finalist in 5 Minute Fiction!)

7.     Now that the landscape of the publishing world looks so different, would you consider doing more writing? Perhaps something that could use both your drawing and writing skills together?

Very possibly. When I gave up on short stories, that was years ago. Now the internet seems more diverse, and more democratic – in the sense that people can be their own publishers more easily. But working a 9 to 5, having a loving family and now that I’m drawing celebrities, it’ll be while before I tackle something that big.

Illustration for Challenging Destiny magazine

8.     What kind of work have you done in the newspaper business?

I started as an illustrator, back when computers were the size of houses and houses were the size of … well houses. When the macintosh arrived, my inner geek just exploded. I became one of the very first newspaper artists using computers for a daily newspaper. What I did shifted from illustration to information graphics and graphic design. For a while, I was on the cutting edge of the industry and kept getting job offers. Eventually, of course, other artists caught up with me. And, as you probably already know, Newspapers themselves are in the process of racing to become obsolete. There aren’t many art jobs in newspapers anymore.
Currently I work in a marketing department, in a different industry than journalism. Sad, really. Journalism, in all its form has been slowly dying for decades. Now its InfoTainment or something.

Bob Dole

9.     How has your job changed with the ever increasing use of the internet?

Completely. I have done a lot of Flash animations, html design and even user interface work. Right now I’m involved in multimedia projects. Luckily, design is design. Doing it well is independent of the medium used.

10.  What kinds of social media do you use? Do you combine the personal use and the professional?

I have a facebook account, reluctantly, and am almost never on it. I think there is a temptation for people to share too much on facebook in ways that come back to haunt a person personally or professionally.
I just started twitter a couple of months ago. I like it better because its hard to get into too much trouble in 140 characters or less.

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11.  Your twitter followers are used to seeing you address various celebrities with “Tweet me back, and I’ll draw your picture.” What got you started in sketching celebrities?

Yeah, I hope that doesn’t annoy my followers too much! The whole drawing celebrities thing started sort of accidentally. I started using twitter and following famous people, but had a hard time getting them to
respond. Finally Mary Lynn Raksub responded back to one of my tweets, and I thought “How can I thank her for doing that without seeming like a weird person?” so I drew her picture, posted it on http://www.twitpic.com/photos/Grokdad  and let her know it was there. She seemed happy with it.
I did it that way once more, but I didn’t get a response back, which worried me that I was offending that person. So I thought about a more congenial way. I started asking them to tweet me back, first. That way, it became like a virtual permission slip. Hopefully, that means they’ll enjoy being part of the gallery. It’s getting pretty amazing now, with all the famous people who have given me permission to proceed. I’ve already drawn over 30 celebs and I still have about 8 or 9 yet to draw. Since I only have time to draw in the evenings or weekends, Its easy to get backed up.

Getting a likeness in a portrait is an exacting challenge. Being off by a millimeter or a strand of hair can make or break it. It helps if you can get into a creative zone. Somedays I make several attempts and fail, and other days I can more easily be in the zone and crank out several drawings in a couple of hours. Some of my celeb drawings are better than others at achieving a likeness. The nice thing is, I have accumulated some followers since I started drawing celebrities.

12.  What celebrity would you most like to draw, but haven’t yet?

My son gets a big kick out of it when I get to draw an actor who is on a show he likes. So, when I drew two actors from SyFy’s Sanctuary, Ryan Robbins and Agam Darshi, he was pretty stoked. He would love it if someone from Big Bang Theory would tweet me back, but so far that hasn’t happened.
Personally, I am already jazzed by those who’ve tweeted me. If I could snag more I would love, for example: Helen Hunt, Tom Hanks, Cyndy Lauper, Marisa Tomei, Kevin Bacon…Kal Penn, Wil Ferrel, Gene Hackman, Jane Lynch, Kaley Cuoco  — get the feeling I mean EVERYONE? Basically, I would love if anyone wanted to become part of my gallery.

13.  What is your ideal environment for drawing? Is it the same for writing?

My environment for drawing is sitting in my recliner, watching tv with my wife and son. I hold an 11 x 14 inch pad in my lap and multi-task drawing and family time. I like using unexpected color combinations, therefore I have a jumbled stack of prismacolor pencils on the end table within reach. I don’t decide which color to use until I reach for it.

Writing, though, I need to be somewhat alone and have music in the background. Takes a different sort of concentration, I suppose. Writing requires you to coalesce words around a thought. Drawing, on the other hand, is releasing yourself to a mind meld between your eyes, brain, heart and your hands.

14.  What is your favorite digital or electronic tool to use in writing?

Always my Macintosh, laptop or desktop, and Word.

15.  What is your favorite digital or electronic tool to use in drawing?

Again, my Mac and Adobe Creative Suites… Illustrator, Photoshop, etc.

16.  What is your favorite non-electronic tool to use in writing?

None. What am I, a caveman? If I had to write stuff out longhand, it would be forever. Honestly, thank you electronic gods for giving us the keyboard.

17.  What is your favorite non- electronic tool to use in drawing?

I’m using Prismacolor pencils on layout bond to do the celebrity drawings. I love watercolor, but don’t get to use it much anymore. I’m pretty facile with a pencil, but watercolor is like surfing – you have to adjust to the flow of water and accept your accidents and work them into the piece.

18.  What has been your proudest moment in your professional life so far?

Contributing to a series that won a Pulitzer (I didn’t personally win a Pulitzer, but that’s pretty much the closest I would have ever gotten to one). That would be the obvious choice.
The not so obvious choice is that I’m proud of many people I’ve had the chance to work with. Bright, talented people that inspired me to do better.

Cover Illustration for Challenging Destiny Magazine

19.  Does Bonzai Graphics keep you busy? Or happy? Or both?

It’s a freelance business. Anyone in freelance will tell you its not always consistent. Sometimes busy, sometimes not. That’s why I have a 9 to 5.
Happy is hard to gauge when doing freelance, because the nature of it is to do something to serve a client instead of your own creative needs. I don’t look there for my own happiness per se. I look to make the client happy.

Doing things like drawing celebs is a nice creative outlet for me, and that keeps me happy.

I’m hoping someday to get an actual gallery interested in hosting my celebrity twitter portraits.

20.  Who shot first, Han or Greedo?

Ah. Since I’m of a certain age, I know that Han shot first, first, and then Greedo shot first, second.
Depends on whether you’re referring to the original version or CGI’d rerelease.
You’ll have to be geekier than that to fool me.

And there’s more! One of the watercolors John sent along with the interview missed being rated PG on a minor technicality, but I loved it and wanted to use it. You can see the whole picture, as well as a story I wrote to go along with it on the fiction side of the blog Under Loch and Key. It is called Life and just happened to go along with The Red Dress Club prompt this week!

The Shortlink for this post is  http://wp.me/p1qnT4-cv

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About AmyBeth Inverness

A writer by birth, a redhead by choice.
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8 Responses to Interview with John Hancock AKA Grokdad

  1. Amy O Rizzo says:

    What an interesting interview, for reading AND viewing! This has been one of the best things I’ve read all day. Thanks for that!

  2. kirby kelley says:

    John…this is Kirby Kelley, from high school. It’s about time to tell you that you have always been, and still are one of my heros.

    • John Hancock says:

      Hey Kirby! how are you? I’m flattered, but I’m not much of a hero.
      I hope things are going well in your life. You were very good artist, too, as I remembered! you still in Missouri? I”m in Ohio.

      • John this is Kim Duncan I don’t know if you remember me from school, but don’t let
        Kirby sell himself short he won the King of Blues a few years back out of 4000 others. I myself I’m proud to tell people that I went to school with both of you.

  3. Mark Otti says:

    Hey ol’ buddy, this is Mark Otti. Great interview! Glad to hear that you’re doing great and are so successful. Take it easy.

  4. Lin Carlson Taylor says:

    John you were inspiring in school and still are I see! Glad you are happy. Your pictures are wonderful, not surprising, and fun! Good luck getting lots more celebs. Blessings to you and yours. Lin Carlson (Taylor) from High School also

    • John Hancock says:

      Kim, Mark and Lin:
      (didn’t get a “reply” choice on kim’s message):
      Thanks for the notes! glad u guys are doing ok. Right now I’m recuperating from a blood clot in a bad place but will be on my feet and raring to go soon.
      Didn’t mean to leave anyone hanging waiting for a reply!

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