Yesterday, my former employer laid off one of my close friends and one of the most talented people I have ever met.
I remember when he was hired. It was a few months after I had started and the art director sent out an email to everyone telling us we’d hired a new artist named Shane McDermott, so be on the lookout for some dude walking around, wearing a beret. Get it? He was an ARTIST.
Shane sat over and away from the rest of the design department on a little cube island with the art director and the other artist. Yes, folks, in 2005, The Commercial Appeal had TWO graphic artists, one of whom made maps and downloaded stock and weather graphics for a living. Can you imagine? I didn’t speak to Shane very much but I remember that first Christmas, he came around and dumped a little pile of chocolates on everyone’s desk. Obviously, we were destined to be good friends.
We also worked together like gangbusters. When I had my stint as assistant art director/Sunday Viewpoint designer my favorite part of the whole week would be when Shane and I got to sit down and talk about his illustration ideas. He would always come over to my desk with his sketch pad in hand and go over the intricate thumbnail sketches he’d come up with. Then I’d make a face and he was always really good at reading when I wasn’t into any of them. Sometimes he’d have something that was just perfect. Sometimes we’d settle on a combination of two thumbs. Sometimes we’d brainstorm a totally new but freaking brilliant idea, sitting right there at my desk. He’d go back to his desk and scan in the thumbnail and I’d place it on the page and design around it. He’d stay up all night making an amazing piece of art that would be printed in the Sunday paper and eventually end up in people’s trash or at the bottom of their birdcage (herf derf, we newspaper people love hearing that joke!). It’s so fleeting, making art for newspapers. You get one shot to make it count. Shane was fantastic at knocking it out of the park, visually, in that one shot. I have so many portfolio pieces with his work on them.
Shane’s art made The CA better. So much better. His touches were all over the paper. When they laid off the graphic artist responsible for doing maps and stocks and weather, Shane picked up those duties on top of his already substantial illustration load. I’m sure he wasn’t thrilled to be spending some of his hours making locator maps, but it was something he did with skill anyway.
Having Shane on staff made the paper more colorful and more engaging every single day. When the holidays rolled around, you could be sure there’d be a sweet story that would unfold in his advent calendar. And he could take a two-dimensional concept and turn it into an entire (and adorable) papercraft franchise. One of the few things I carried from my old desk to my new desk here in Nashville is my CA newsbot. It sits proudly beneath my monitor, looking pretty busted because it’s taped together and not glued, but proud and fucking rad nonetheless.
And having him as a work friend was the shit. For a long time I saved almost every email he sent me at work because they were all hilarious. We worked in this surreal space where there were nosehorn trumpets and foot stompers and people humming and clearing their throats and clicking their fingernails on keyboards and sing-song yawning, and had I not had him there to make incredulous faces at and field my frustrated emails, I never would have lasted as long as I did.
Shane is an incredible talent and a damned great person. It shows the desperation of the company if they are getting rid of him, frankly. Shane’s artwork helped set The CA apart from and above other news outlets. It makes me so incredibly sad to see the paper — which gave me my first job out of college — go this route. Several other people I admire and respect tremendously lost their jobs yesterday in the same round of brutal layoffs. I’m so sick of being a part of an industry that just keeps cutting and cutting with no end in sight. It’s heartbreaking.
The good news is that Shane will be fine. He is going to be plenty busy and I hope it’s with stuff that doesn’t involve a LICK of school mergers and politics. Because he’s illustrated enough of that stuff to last a lifetime.
Shane, my friend, seeing that picture of you loading your stuff into a shopping cart made me cry and laugh at the same time. That is entirely you. Absurd and funny and wacky but always with a baseline of utterly heartbreaking sincerity. You will be missed by an industry that didn’t even know what it had.
Dear reader, go visit his blog, where I hope he’ll be updating us on what’s in store for him.