A Balcony View: I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way

Every Tuesday, I post the link to the Glendale News-Press website on my Facebook page so my friends all over the world can read my weekly column. Though it may be hard for my detractors to believe, I actually have loyal readers in places like Australia.

When the paper underwent an online makeover a few weeks back, my picture was removed and advertising links were put in its place. As a capitalist, I can understand this money-making move on the part of the paper. Filling cyberspace with ads instead of my picture is just business.

Last week, much to my surprise, a likeness of me returned. But it was not the photo I had been accustomed to. It was a miniscule grayish, thumbnail illustration on the News-Press' home page. At first, I didn't think much of. It was so small I could barely make out the image. So I downloaded the image to get a closer look.

At first, I was a little offended at the artist's hefty interpretation of me. But because I realized that I was going to be the harshest critic, I sent the image out to about 200 friends, leaving it for a more impartial jury to decide. I asked the judges, many of whom are either in advertising or in some aspect of the creative world, to weigh in on the drawing. Here are some of their comments:

One friend suggested that I looked like the illegitimate love-child of actors Seth Rogan and Jonah Hill. Another thought that it was in homage to the old Al Hirschfeld celebrity caricatures made famous in the New York Times — if Hirschfeld had suffered a stroke while drawing it.

Another believed it made me look like Wooly Willy, the toy in which metal dust is moved about with a magnetic wand to add hair, mustache and whiskers to a cartoon face. And the comment that most mirrored my own opinion came from a creative director who said it looked like a police composite sketch for a child molester.

My own similar critique had me looking like a 400-pound liquor store robbery suspect. Ironic, considering the debut of this not-so-flattering portrait first appeared with my column expressing a desire to lose weight and avoid dying of a heart attack. I suppose on the upside, every time I see this bloated rendering of me, I will be compelled to fast for weeks at a time.

I'm sorry to say that my polling did not yield a single positive review. But that could be because I have a cynical, jaded circle of friends. So if you'd like to review it for yourself, go to http://www.glendalenewspress.com and type my name into the search field. A nice, big version of the illustration will pop up for your viewing pleasure. If you disagree with me and my pals, let me know.

All kidding aside, the portrait didn't upset me because it paints an unflattering picture of how I look. It is disturbing because it casts both my work and my workplace in a less-than-professional tone.

The truth is, I love working for this paper the same way I love working for the No. 1 satellite provider in the country and one of the most prestigious art schools in the world. My direct association with these top brands makes me feel good about the work I am paid to perform. Call it quality by association.

And like the other two entities I work with, I believe I have a duty to defend their brand and comment on things that can be improved upon. I may be crazy to care, but I do. Rather than duck and cover, an employee should let its employer know when things seem out of balance. Staying silent when something goes wrong (even if it's aesthetic or subjective) is the equivalent of doing the company a disservice. I wonder where society would be if more people were willing to stand up for excellence and less willing to accept mediocrity.

Trivial though it may seem, I consider the illustrations of its columnists a reflection of this paper's standards. For me personally, the columnist cartoon faces do not seem aligned with what this paper ought to represent. As illustrations, they are not rendered in a manner befitting its journalistic integrity. They are hokey and amateurish.

The lack of aesthetic style and competence hurts both paper/employer and columnist/employee. Personally, to see an illustration of myself that I find unprofessional in its production value seems to devalue my hard work.

Oh well, at least my portrait doesn't have tilted "Picasso-esque" eyes complete with crows feet looking out at online readers, like Patrick Caneday's does.

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. He is senior manager of communications for DIRECTV and a copywriting professor at Pasadena Art Center College of Design. Gary may be reached at garyrhuerta@gmail.com.

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