In Conversation with Eli Neugeboren

In Conversation with Eli Neugeboren

by Randall Lotowycz

If there’s one thing I love as much as horror movies, it is an awesome t-shirt. So when those two loves align, I bring out the credit card and make a purchase without hesitation.

Texas Chainsaw Massacre shirt
Needless to say, this Leatherface t-shirt triggered my nerd lust. I had to buy two copies, one for me and one for a friend who would never forgive me for not getting him one. I ventured to website of artist Eli Neugeboren and a grin overtook my face. I wanted to buy all of his shirts! This guy was Ink & Code material and I knew I had to reach out for a chat. He’s someone I wanted to get to know and certainly someone everyone should also want to get to know. Eli Neugeboren is one to watch.

Randall: So you’re a man of many hats, between teaching, logo design, art direction, photo illustrating, graphic novel illustrating, and now t-shirt entrepreneur (in addition to being a husband and father of two young boys). What inspired this latest endeavor and how on earth do you have time for it?

Eli: Thanks! Flattery will get you everywhere. In the past being involved in a variety of activities seemed to be a negative, but I think I’ve been with them all long enough now that they’re each legitimate in their own right. The t-shirt thing is the result of a lot of conversations with my buddy Patrick Weber. We’ve been talking about doing a line of horror-inspired tees for a while and when I booked a table at MoCCA Fest, it lit the fire under me so that I would have something besides the first issue of my comics at my table. As for having time for anything, I’m lucky enough to have a full-time teaching gig, which allows me to spend time developing my side projects.

Seeing Leatherface and Large Marge made me giddy. When tackling pop culture icons, why start with these two?

Large Marge scared the bejeezus out of me when I saw Pee-wee’s Big Adventurein the theater as a kid. I literally had nightmares about it for months. Both of these movies are all-time classics, and for very different reasons. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure is Tim Burton’s first big hit, it has Pee-wee, and a million classic lines. The Texas Chain Saw Massacre  is a horrifying movie, but it is also so absurd and laugh-out-loud funny at parts (“Look what your brother did to the door!”) to go along with beautiful cinematography. I don’t know what the aspect ratio is, but it is extreme and really plays to the bleak farm-filled landscapes. I think Mad Max might have the same ratio and that is also an awesome movie – tee coming soon? [editor’s note: Yes, please!]

How old will your sons have to be before you show them both Pee-wee’s Big Adventure and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre?

Ha! Good question. At this point I’m more concerned with when I can start showing them Miyazaki, and more importantly, if they’ll appreciate it. I think I’ll want them to be at least 8 or 10 for Pee-wee’s and well into their teens for Texas Chain Saw. By that point, these movies will probably seem so ridiculously dated they won’t have much interest anyway.

Do you have any other movie monster shirts on the way?

Yes indeed! Me and Patrick are going to launch a whole shop called, “Tee Shirts from the Grave” at some point in the next few months. We’ve got a bunch more designs in the pipeline, and not all of them are as directly ripped from pop culture. Some are just weird drawings or creepy things we came up with.

What inspired the Water Tower Hot Pot design?

I originally did that for a t-shirt competition/gallery show last year. The gallery is owned by a Japanese woman and I’ve always loved the water towers, so it got me thinking about udon and hot pot, and it all kind of came together. I mocked it up a few different ways, but in the end I wanted to create it traditionally, even though I do so much digital work. I used a nib pen and a brush pen. I’m super happy with how much detail the screen retained. The gray ink was a last-second decision, but I think it looks so much better than white would have. Grunged it up in a good way.

Will you be branching out to Women’s sizes in the future? I ask because you chose a comfortably light fabric that’s also a little see-through in white. I see this as a win for everybody.

Haha. I think I have to. I’ve been getting a lot of request for cap-sleeve tees and tank tops. The trouble with a venture like this is moving enough units to justify keeping inventory in stock.

You mentioned you were at MoCCA Fest, where you sold your shirts in addition to the copies of Tidewater. Was this your first foray into illustrating graphic novels? And how was the reception to the shirts?

People really seemed to like the shirts at MoCCA Fest. Large Marge was the best seller, which is interesting because Coffee and Beer is by far the best seller online.

People were way more into the comic, which makes sense since it’s a comic festival. If I do it again next year I will definitely have more works on paper. This is my first foray into making comics. I was commissioned by Pearson last year to adapt Romeo & Juliet and also Julius Caesar into graphic novels for high school students. They ended up being 90 and 85 pages respectively, so I have all of that under my belt now, which is great. The bad thing is it was work-for-hire so I don’t own the art and can’t reprint or sell it at all. It surprises me that I have been an avid comic reader since I was 7 or 8, and I’ve been drawing since I can remember, but I never got around to making a comic until now.

You collaborated with your father Jay Neugeboren on Tidewater. What was that process like? Would you do that again?

I would and plan on it. It is definitely fulfilling a lifelong dream to collaborate with him. I might be biased, but I think he is a spectacular writer. His novels are very character oriented and visceral. The story I’m adapting is a fictional autobiography that is interspersed in his novel, Sam’s Legacy, which came out in 1974, the year I was born. He pulled the story I wanted out of his novel and drafted a very loose script, which I have been adapting into the graphic novel. I change what I need to and he gives me pretty much full artistic license on it. I would definitely do it again, but I gotta get this one finished first, and I’ve got a long way to go.

Who are some of your influences, both in comics & graphic novels and in art/design/illustration?

For art: Bill Sienkiewicz, Art Adams, Gerhard Richter, Vik Muniz, Hieronymus Bosch, John Singer Sargent, Louise Bourgeois, Mike Mignola, and way too many more to mention. Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (original comics NOT the stupid cartoon [editor’s note: we agree to disagree on his assessment of the Turtles cartoon]) were all very influential to me. I bought them all as they were coming out and they did a lot to form my fragile little mind. I would have to add Repo Man and Akira in there as well.

For more recent stuff I loved the Preacher, 100 Bullets, and Powers. For current stuff I’m very much enjoying Saga, Prophet, and the new Hawkeye (Hawkguy). I’m not much into the hero books these days, but I can still appreciate a good one.

I really enjoy the work of the Hanuka Brothers, Tomer and Asaf. I think Jessica Hische is ridiculously talented and generous and prolific. My buddies Gideon Kendall and John Jay Cabuay are pretty awesome.

What’s next on the horizon for you?

Issue #2 of Tidewater should be ready by Memorial Day! I’ve also started developing a new series I’m going to call The Long Shadows that will be a bit like the Gorillaz crossed with 007/G.I. Joe and takes place in NYC in the 80’s. I’ve been doing regular work for Grantland Quarterly, and I’m co-curating a basketball-themed art show that will open October 23 at Exit Room in Bushwick. I’m still working on the Drawing the News (#drawingthenews) series and don’t see that ending anytime soon. I’d love to have a book made of those, but I think the copyright issues would be a bit too sticky to bother wading through. I’m doing a card for this Tarot Deck project – 78 artists each doing a different card. The Kickstarter should launch sometime in early May.
And that is why I wanted to talk to Eli. You can follow him and his many exciting projects on Twitter and Instagram.  


About the Author:

Randall is an I&C contributor and is most recently the author of The Mini Book of Mini Darts: The Book, the Boards, the Darts, and 43 Games
You can find more info on Randall and his other killer works HERE

See Randall’s other Ink and Code pieces.