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John Mavroudis: The multi-awarded illustrator of TIME and The New Yorker
by Kelly Fanarioti
The calendar showed September 21st, 2020, when TIME magazine for the second time in its history – the first was after the September 11 attack – had featured a black border on its cover, designed by the hand of the Greek-American graphic designer and one of the most influential and talked-about illustrators, John Mavroudis, paying tribute to the 200,000 dead from Covid-19.
As the San Francisco-based artist says to NEO, he picked up the numbers from Johns Hopkins University, he drew line after line of Date, Number, and the word “Deaths’’, over and over. Until the page was practically full. He then colored the dates in grey in order to make the death count stand out more. From there it was a matter of expanding some of the lettering so that it formed the number 200,000 while still keeping the type readable on the daily death count.
“TIME had only done that once. Coronavirus has killed the same amount of Americans that died on 9/11, but in a 3-day period. EVERY three days. But there was no national outrage. There was no emotional trauma, no video of a plane hitting a building or a building melting before our eyes. This was a catastrophe every day. Quietly, methodically taking lives without the pizazz or flash of an explosive event. The country was growing numb to this true American carnage’’.
Mavroudis believes that America’s failure to deal with the pandemic was magnified by an incompetent leader who couldn’t display an ounce of empathy because he simply has none.
‘’The only thing Trump cares about is if coronavirus affects him personally, or affects his re-election chances. He doesn’t even give a shit about his own supporters, unless it would be a problem to cast a vote for him. So he lies about his “hoax” and sneers at people wearing masks. To compound matters, his political party is not simply a cult of yes-men fawning all over his every utterance… too fearful that he’ll send an angry Tweet their way. It’s pretty pathetic and no way to run a country…. But in a crisis like this? A pandemic? It’s a death sentence for thousands”.
‘’Greek relatives gave me the passion for politics’’
He was just a kid when he heard at his grandparents’ house his uncle Anastasis and aunt Clio talking about politics. They subscribed to National Lampoon magazine and they were also making fun of politicians. When he started going to college, he was interested in politics and this seemed like a perfect place to combine love of art and politics. So he became the political cartoonist for college’s newspaper.
“It was pretty fun trying to come up with new ideas. Ever since those days, I’ve always tried to keep my brain busy with idea-generation’’, he says adding that he was also inspired by Greek Mythology.
‘’The visual storytelling involved and the simple, yet powerful imagery is something that inspires me daily. To be able to combine ideas and convey them in a way to make people think. I owe a great debt to my Greek roots’’.
Blending his drawings with type, Mavroudis has been awarded many times for his covers. When he was young and reading TIME magazine, he could not imagine that in a few years the covers of the emblematic publication would have his signature.
‘’I grew up seeing TIME magazine on our table every week. My parents subscribed and I was always fascinated by the covers. When I got older, I started really appreciating The New Yorker, as well for the amazing journalism and the iconic covers. They’re the pinnacle of American print media, along with The New York Times and the Washington Post’’, the Greek – American illustrator says.
He admits that making covers is a very humbling experience, as many of his ideas that he still thinks would have been perfect covers, were rejected.
‘’I still submit ideas that occur to me, knowing full-well that it’s ALWAYS a long-shot to be accepted. The difficulty doesn’t deter me’’
As for his awards, he confides in NEO that every time he is distinguished for his work, he feels so elated but also embarrassed by the attention.
‘’I’ve come to realize that recognition does help motivate. I went years turning in work without much coming from it, and that can be demoralizing. It makes you question yourself and your value. But I’ve also learned that sticking to it and building up a body of work you’ll be proud to show your child is something to strive for. The awards are nice, for sure but the work that can stand the test of time is the true measure’’.
‘’Greece was a dream trip for me”
The highly acclaimed artist has only been in Greece once. His father was a Greek who was born in Alexandria, Egypt, so he took a trip to both countries.
‘’We visited relatives in Athens and Volos and also went to Delphi, Kefalonia, and Poros. I loved the historic sites, the food, the people. My favorite memory is sitting in the café for hours, drinking retsina, eating amazing food, listening to music, and just talking and laughing. I hope to go back very soon. I want to take my wife and my daughter, Athena, to visit this beautiful country’’, he says ending up that he is very proud to be Greek.