13 June 2021

Covering The New Yorker: R. Kikuo Johnson

R. Kikuo Johnson is a cartoonist and illustrator born on Maui, Hawaii, in 1981. His award winning drawings and stories regularly appear in books, advertisements, periodicals, animation, and on the cover of The New Yorker - see a selection of his covers below. Johnson divides his time drawing in Brooklyn, teaching at the Rhode Island School of Design, and playing the ukulele with his family in Hawaii. He is the author of the acclaimed 2005 graphic novel Night Fisher and his new book No One Else is due for release in November 2021 from Fantagraphics Books.

art by R. Kikuo Johnson
“The only thing worse than the feeling of paranoia is the sickening realization that it’s not paranoia after all,” the staff writer Jiayang Fan wrote in a recent piece. Fan was studying the shadows of the Asian-American experience—and the experience of Asian-American women, in particular, in which ambient fear can curdle suddenly into outright violence. Her words followed a spate of such violence: a mass shooting, in Atlanta, that left six women of Asian descent dead, and a series of anti-Asian attacks across the country, often targeting the elderly. The air of anxiety is also captured in the magazine’s latest cover, by the artist R. Kikuo Johnson.

Shifting Gears
art by R. Kikuo Johnson
As covid-19 infection rates have risen in New York, and the city braces for winter, it can be hard to see a reason for optimism. For his latest New Yorker cover, R. Kikuo Johnson finds one: the welcome surge of cycling across the boroughs.

Safe Travels
art by R. Kikuo Johnson
The timing seemed right for a new spin on a classic illustrator’s theme, the family summer getaway. A few summers ago, I passed through a small town in Montana to buy some emergency bear spray for a week of backpacking in grizzly country. Soon after, that same town made headlines as a hotbed of white nationalism. Instantly, the grizzlies seemed like the lesser threat. For the record, I support a hunter’s right to humanely harvest wild food as much as I support a father’s right to wear dorky hats with sandals.

Tech Support
art by R. Kikuo Johnson
“I’m not too worried about machines replacing cartoonists,” the artist R. Kikuo Johnson says, about his cover for the Money Issue. Johnson may have switched from drawing with ink, brushes, and paper to using a stylus and a digital tablet, but he isn’t worried that computers will take over the rest of his cartooning process. “When robots are advanced enough to be neurotic, then maybe I’ll be concerned,” he said, “though I don’t think too many of us choose this field for job security, anyway.”

The Finish Line
art by R. Kikuo Johnson
R. Kikuo Johnson seldom goes to the gym. (“I prefer to cycle everywhere to get my exercise,” he says.) But the artist was still able to find inspiration for his cover for this week's Fall Books Issue in his daily life: “I don’t have much time to read, but I listen to books on tape or podcasts while I draw. I’m at a desk sixteen hours a day, and I’ll often have a moment like this where I find myself just staring blankly at a screen, not drawing at all but completely consumed by what I’m listening to."

art by R. Kikuo Johnson
“My first job after graduation was as a waiter in a Times Square steak house. It lasted eight years,” R. Kikuo Johnson said, of his cover for this week’s issue, “Commencement.” “Around this time of year, I’d see lots of caps and gowns coming into the restaurant with their proud parents. Those were definitely moments of reflection.” Johnson graduated from the Rhode Island School of Design, in 2003. He now supports himself as an artist and lives in Brooklyn. After an initial move to Williamsburg, he’s on his second combination studio/living space in Bed-Stuy: “My rent is good right now and I’m not worried—the landlord likes me," he said with a smile. He also commutes to Providence, Rhode Island, to teach at his alma mater: “It’s not just me—I’d say most of the other teachers at risd are also alumni. That’s what made me think of this image.”

Closing Set
art by R. Kikuo Johnson
“Everyone in Brooklyn is a d.j., so I rely on my much cooler friends to take me out,” the artist R. Kikuo Johnson says. “I have been taken to many one-night-only warehouse parties—I love dancing—but this was my first time at the Palisades,” he continues, referencing the underground venue in Bushwick that was the model for his cover of this week’s issue.

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