An Interview with Lunchbreath And Fueledbycoffee

By Lauri Apple in Arts & Entertainment on Aug 20, 2009 7:00PM

c02_sm_5.25_Spatulas.gif Lunchbreath (not his real name) is a Chicago-based creative agency director whose drawings poke fun at the design world and contemporary American culture. Craig Berman -- aka Fueledbycoffee -- is a Chicago-based industrial designer/creative director whose drawings often poke fun at the same things. Since May, they've collaborated on "Core-toons," a weekly cartoon slot at the esteemed online design magazine Core77. Recently we talked to them about their process and work.

Chicagoist: Tell us more about Core77 and your involvement with that website.

Fueledbycoffee: Core77 is a blog/zine/community site for the industrial design world — basically for anyone involved in designing and developing new products. They've been publishing since 1995 — they're actually the first blog I ever read! What sets them apart from most design media is the fact that they have an extremely irreverent and cheeky way of reporting, which is perfect for our wry cartoons.

C: How did you get this weekly column gig?

Lunchbreath: Craig had existing connections at Core77 and was able to hook us up when we had the idea to cartoon-blog the International Housewares Show. They usually have people fighting over who gets to cover the hot design events in Milan and New York, but when it comes to the dull stuff, observational humor is much more appropriate.

C: FueledbyCoffee, you live car-free. How do you think that influences your ideas about design?

F: I'm not sure if it influences my designs, but it certainly makes me feel superior to all car owners. I haven't owned a car in over five years -- however, I'm on my high horse every day.

C: Lunchbreath, can you tell us how you developed your voice as a cartoonist? What are some of the things you learned along the way?

L: Most of this is just a way of dealing with constant distraction -- an attempt to summarize whatever is in my head on a given day in order to make space for the next thing. I've always wanted to be a dilettante, and lately I feel like I'm finally starting to succeed. I'm equally interested in trivial and weighty matters, and usually the intersection of those two is absurdity, which is a fun place to be.

It's become oddly clear to me that the images which get the most attention are usually the harshest ones. Clearly aggressive opinions cut through the clutter much better than thoughtful ones — hence Sean Hannity's existence — so I guess the lesson is to try to build some conflicting viewpoints into a single image to frame the caustic stuff more gently. Which is easy, because I can't stick to a single POV on any given topic.

C: Do you guys meet up to hash out your ideas, or does it happen mostly over the Internet?

F: Every day my mind wanders into absurdity. Maybe I see something ridiculous on the El, or a brainstorm goes awry at work, so I end up with a dozen bizarre ideas a week. Many of them make their way into my sketchbook, and if they're lucky, they may someday emerge as a cartoon. Fortunately for me, I can amuse myself without trying too hard. Unfortunately for me, this means I have no idea what's funny to other people, so luckily I can bounce ideas off Lunchbreath first.

L: This stuff is mostly done separately, with a healthy amount of half-ass idea-sharing over email for guidance. Generally the collaborative stuff is more fun, but harder to arrange because of our schedules — and usually more appropriate for tackling bigger projects. I've been recruiting other designers and architects into the cartooning world for group activities lately, and have high hopes for the creation of an idiot think tank.

C: A lot of your illustrations — the fixie features and benefits, the Ed Hardy recipe card; seem to poke fun at people who take their "personal branding" a bit too seriously. Where does that humor come from?

L: One thing that came up early with Allan (Chochinov, Core77 Editor) was the concern that we not come off as merely cruel. I think any good designer is by nature inclined to geek out and cherish their own obsessions: vintage furniture, band posters, shoes, eyeglasses, whatever. It lends itself easily to satire, but we're criticizing from the inside. My own fascinations are at least as uncool and impractical as anyone else's.

F: In our day jobs, there's two ways to approach a design problem: Develop new concepts intuitively from a completely naive perspective, or research the subject matter deeply and create highly informed concepts. The same applies to making fun of people: Either deeply know what you're talking about, or come at it from a ridiculously naive perspective. The bizarre extremes are where the funny things happen.

C: What has your readers' responses been like? Do people get mad at you for being too honest/critical?

F: One day my website got 10,000 hits from a cartoon I posted. If the Internet paid you a dollar for every hit your website got, I would be pretty happy right now.

L: Heavily enthusiastic, but with enough criticism to reassure me that people are paying attention. The danger of poking fun at a subculture is that if you don't understand it well enough, you end up looking like a sad, misunderstood Andy Rooney-type character. So, it's best to stick to topics you either know well or care so little about that offending the believers can be taken as a compliment.

I've definitely gotten flack for being too mean on some political stuff, but that's the point of having a web persona: to advance ideas more ardently than is appropriate at, say, the dinner table with your in-laws.