Zina Saunders on Jan. 2009 cover of The Progressive:
Nick Jehlen contacted me about doing the January 2009 cover of The Progressive, featuring Barack Obama, along with two interior illustrations. The images had to illustrate two related articles about how activists and progressives need to keep pushing their agendas with Obama and not sink into complacency.
After reading the articles, I asked Nick if there was anything in particular he had in mind and he said he'd like to see what I'd come up with, so I started sketching.
I came up with eight roughs that I thought went well the text. One thing I had to be mindful of was that I didn't want the scenes to look like Obama was being threatened or attacked by activists...I wanted to get across the idea that the activists were urging Obama in the right direction, and that they were all pulling together.
There was a passage in one of the articles that described Obama being very open to hearing opinions and urging people to call him. So one of the sketches featured Obama in the oval office on a phone with a multitude of wires feeding into it, representing the many voices he'd be listening to.
Editor: In addition to the many voices you refer to, the red phone can be interpreted it as signifying the many problems/crises Obama will have to tackle …
It's great to hear that an image can prompt different ideas and interpretations, and I like your interpretation a lot. It was Nick Jehlen who said the phone should be red, in part to evoke the, "Who would you want to answer the phone at 3 AM" Hillary Clinton ad from the summer.

Jan. 2 and 3, 2009 e-mails

Nick Jehlen on the October 2008 cover of The Progressive
The October 2008 issue received a lot of mail...  The reaction was surprising to me - a lot of people crying homophobia, which I have a hard time understanding.

The idea behind the cover started with trying to show the tabloid nature of the campaign coverage - the artist was showing me photos of Soviet leaders kissing, and that led to the idea of the two candidates doing something that would surely have grabbed the headlines.

But my favorite thing about the cover was that everyone I showed it to had a different reaction - I think it was so unexpected that people read into it whatever they were thinking about the campaign.