Saturday, November 27, 2010

"What the...?" Harry Borgman on our ever-changing industry

I think last weekend's post referencing a recent article on the future of the ad industry had a sobering affect on many people. Certainly the comments and emails I received confirm that. One person who wrote to me is my friend, Harry Borgman, who has seen it all in the many years of his career and has managed to not only survive but thrive, despite everything that has changed about the business over the years. Harry has vast experience in finished illustration in a wide variety of styles, cartooning, design, art direction, teaching, art instruction book authoring and fine arts. I have the utmost respect and admiration for his many accomplishments. Here are Harry's thoughts on the subject at hand:

"I did a couple of graphics on my reaction to the weird and often outlandish changes that occur in the ad biz. Most, of course, are predictable, others just come out of the blue, and often not everyone is affected."


"The most dramatic recent change was when the computer arrived and put all of the type houses and retouchers out of business. The computer doesn't effect really good designers and illustrators, as it's an interesting new medium, BUT there certainly is a ton of garbage being done today by people who think the computer automatically turns one into an artist or designer. There is also the matter of IDEAS, a computer cannot create ideas, people do."

"I actually began working  while still in high school, at an engraving company's art department. All of their artists were drafted into the army... it was 1943. One day I would design a brochure, the next day I would do cartoons, the next day a mechanical illustration and so on, a great way to learn.

Early '50s cartoon for "Friends" magazine, a GM publication, illustrated by Harry Borgman 

After graduating from high school, my best friend and a great graphic designer Herb Schiebold, and I started an art studio in 1947 with space in a downtown Detroit office building. We hired a rep that got us a great deal of work directly from Chrysler.

Early '50s Chrysler 300 brochure, illustrated by Harry Borgman
Things were going really well when suddenly the Chrysler workers decided to go on strike. Somehow that affected the flow of assignments we were getting , and suddenly we had NO work and had to close shop. I don't know how two 19 year old kids could have enough guts to start a commercial art studio... but we did."

"That was my first encounter with GREAT CHANGE in the business, however, it did work for me as I ended up immediately being hired by a terrific art studio, Allied Artists, where I worked for years. It would take too long to go into all of the other changes that affected my career through the years, but believe me, there were many that changed a lot of Detroit artist's lives."

"The chart below shows some of the years that I went through great changes as well as shock. There were, however, long periods of peace in between the jolts. OWWW!!"


"That article about the ad biz was frightening ! There are always dramatic changes in the ad business, but this one is major, I fear. My former rep in NY says that the storyboard business is going to hell, as there are artists from other countries willing to do frames at greatly reduced prices."

"I hope that more artists leave comments about this subject on Storyboard Central."

Harry Borgman's website

Harry Borgman's blog


  1. Harry, great comments. I love the chart of lean years. We all have our own, that's for sure. Damn, I am having trouble seeing the silver lining in this cloud. I noticed that you are rather "old" for this business and by that I mean, people don't wanna work with suppliers that are older and maybe don't have the same things in common. I have been told by a few art buyers (usually not qualified to know art and talent but just hired on to hire only those willing to adjust their prices to accommodate the dwindling ad budgets! )that I am too old to service their needs. By that, I assume she (I've never met a male art buyer, have you? ) means I don't know how to play video games. Geez, how could she tell?

    My rep of thirteen years, unceremoniously dropped me from their roster three years after they instituted a profile pic and bio (with birthdate)
    When I, shocked by their actions, complained to my colleagues, two of their older artists who had been also dropped a few years earlier, told me the reps don't want old artists that are older than 45 because it is a hard sell. "Ben, consider yourself lucky that you were still working well into your fifties!" Most art directors are young and intimidated working with suppliers that may know more than they do!

    Enough... I could go on and on. One rep told me that it would be hard for her to sell me as an art director in the California market because "everyone" knows me as a storyboard and comp illustrator. "Why do you want me to find you work as an art director?" she asked. "Carol, I said,"I am tired of doing twenty and thirty and sometimes forty hour days with little or no sleep and I know I can make a living doing what ad's do!" "I'm sure you could Ben, but I can't present myself nowadays without making sure I have had my hair styled and's that superficial!" I know I couldn't help you... just be glad you have a talent and.........!

    I should write a book, but I'd probably get sued by someone or agency in the process!

    Which also brings to mind copyright law. As illustrators, we don't have any. Yet, I have an original painting that I did for the NFL a long time ago for the New Orleans Saints and just know I'd get sued if I went an used the Super Bowl opportunity to make prints and sell them. The Saints lawyers want to own the term, "Who Dat" and prosecute anyone who uses their Fleur-de_Lis." Thanks for your support... now, go screw y'all selfs! And yet, people sell tons of arts and crafts with LSU tigers, fleur-de-lis, Drew Brees pics and artwork, T-shirts, posters all unofficial. What is up with that? Getty Images and Corbin, will go after you as well as any of these stock book creeps if they find you used one of their photos in your illustration, but you can't sell electric wall plates with Dr.John's mug on it... but everyone does. At least, here in Louisiana.

    I tell you, these are the issues that few want to address in our business and it is killing us! Looking for a reason to believe, but I ain't finding any!

    Oh boy!

  2. Hi Ben,
    The age thing is certainly a problem. Many of the art directors that I worked with were fairly close to my age, I guess, or I look younger than my age. It seems to me that as an artist we would get better as we age, as we're always learning and improving with practice. If you work in the new computer medium I would think that would satisfy most art directors. Although I've tried doing storyboards on the computer and it seems to take me twice as long as rendering frames with markers. The last year that I worked every storyboard assignment was an overnighter, they didn't seem to care how old I was, they just wanted the stuff the next morning. When the age thing really hit me was when I realized that many of my former students are already retired.

  3. Don´t worry about the "age thing". You are marvellous artists! Reduce contacts with clients to phone and e-mail, don´t give away biographic details and everything is fine. Yes, the ad world is changing, it is the same here in Germany, but in the end they will always need people that can visualize complex stories. I´m 46 ( tomorrow ) and I saw dwindling art directors skills through the last 20 years ( there are always exceptions ).
    Good years are over? Maybe for some time. But we won´t starve, and some day there will be no one left over who can draw a line beside the dinosaurs.

    Greetings from Germany ( sorry for my english )

  4. Kai....I like the way you think.. POSITIVE!

  5. I agree that thinking positive is essential to success. But it would be MORE helpful if commenters shared successful strategies that we could all use to deal with these lean times. Wishful thinking and hopeful waiting won't do the trick, I'm afraid. Anyone have any suggestions? This all relates back to what i wrote when i referenced that fastcompany article a week or so ago. Do you agree that we're on the cusp of fundamental change in the industry or is it just the recession...?

  6. Successful strategies? Well, raise your rates. All. If we all do this and seriously promote the value of our work it will help clients, studios and agencies who might sometime forget that storyboarding is a very useful craft to develop and sell concepts, great tool to plan production under budget, write stories, create complex visual scenes, save time and money, communicate, add value to presentations to clients etc...
    A craft that require skills honed by years of practice...
    So you know what you have to do :-)

  7. Sorry, Leif, my optimistic comment wasnt meant to be so nebulous.
    Strategies.. well,- enlarge the circle of people who know you and appreciate your work ( difficult, as we all know. Portfolio is one thing, reliable, quick work and a good understanding we can only proof by doing a job. ) Try to spezialize, become THE storyboard illustrator for ..XXX. Most of us will find this thought ridiculous as most are able to play lots of melodies on the piano. But imagine a young art director who is afraid of picking the wrong illustrator,- today they will ask you: "allright, you are experienced in drawing fresh vegetables but can you also do raw meat?" Anxiety, "Angst", wherever I look..
    In the long run there will be no such thing as "Internet" or "TV",- there will be one big media bubble, part one way, part interactive. There will be a vast need for animated 3D characters, talking with the viewers and dragging them into a new kind of interactive commercials..whatever,- all this must be designed and as it will always be expensive and time consuming to produce there will be a sketch phase before, more or less what we today call "storyboard". So, there will be plenty of work. Let the big brands dream of reducing their ad costs- haha- they will find themselves in a media driven world that eats MORE money. The classic ad agencies must adjust to these changes ( or disappear ), and they will. There will be strategies to multiply media effects just like the good old 30 sec commercial did ( and partly still does ). It is a recession combined with big changes but definitely not the end of art work.
    Beside that: I share your adoration of Harry Borgman - what an artist, what a career!

  8. Kai- I totally agree with what you said "all this must be designed and as it will always be expensive and time consuming to produce there will be a sketch phase before, more or less what we today call "storyboard". So, there will be plenty of work."

    Great discussion everyone. I haven't worked in the ad world for several years, but all us board artists in film are having similar discussions, trying to figure out what is going to happen next.
    Thanks Leif!
    -Josh Sheppard