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Winter 2004
Off the Wall
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By happy coincidence, one of the young Baseman’s classmates at Third Street Elementary School was the daughter of Bob Clampett, the animation pioneer and Warner Bros. cartoonist who brought the world Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, Beanie and Cecil, Bugs Bunny and many others. When Baseman was 12, Clampett came to talk to his class. For the aspiring young cartoonist, it was a revelation to find out that a normal adult like Clampett could make a living creating the juvenile humor of which Baseman was so enamored.

Convinced that real artists are born not made, Baseman chose not to attend art school or even study art. At UCLA, he majored in communications. On campus, he became fast friends with Greg Clarke ’82, today a successful artist. Both were aspiring illustrators who did work for the Daily Bruin and ASUCLA. In 1981, the two friends discovered a book that spoke to their off-kilter sensibilities. Man Bites Man: Two Decades of Satiric Art was edited by Steve Heller, the art director for The New York Times Book Review.

Following graduation, Baseman and Clarke flew to New York to show Heller their portfolios, which Clarke concedes were "pretty bad." Heller liked Clarke’s work well enough but had scathing criticism for Baseman’s, which he felt lacked a lyrical quality. "Gary was crushed," Clarke says. "We left Steve’s office, and he threw his portfolio in a garbage dumpster.

"I fished it out, and it took Gary about five minutes to get over it," Clarke continues. "We came back to L.A., and he holed himself up in his apartment for six months and worked on developing his style. Then he went back to New York to see Steve Heller." This time, "Steve really liked his stuff. What came out of that was a New York Times Book Review cover," Clarke says. "He was never looking for work after that."

Baseman’s art has a subversive strain. In 2002, The New Yorker invited him to submit ideas for a cover for its Mother’s Day issue. Baseman turned in six sketches. The New Yorker used one of them, a drawing of a duckling bringing its mother breakfast in bed: two eggs, sunny-side up — in other words, Baseman says, "his two little twin brothers." When the issue hit the newsstands, some readers disparaged it as a tasteless and ill-timed commentary on abortion. Baseman didn’t see it that way at all. "I liked the playfulness of it, the humor of it. I wasn’t trying to offend anybody."

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