About me - Slug Signorino
in 1975, Elwood H Smith showed my newly created "Cloud-Line Smudge-a-Dot" style illustrations to Robert A Roth, publisher of The Chicago Reader. Bob offered me the Straight Dope illustration gig, creating one illustration each week and I continued creating them for 43 years over 2000 Straight Dope illustrations.
Bob Roth would call me on deadline day and read the copy over the phone. I would have 6-8 hours to get the idea, draw it, and race my Straight Dope final art to the South Shore railroad station to get it on the last train to Chicago. I would call the Reader and tell them what train it was on. They would send someone from the Reader to pick up the package at the Randolph Street Station before the deadline. Overnight shipping wasn’t available back then.
In the early days, I would use The Chicago Reader’s art department as my Windy City home base. I’d make calls to art directors and editors, hoping they would see my portfolio. I’d take the South Shore train from Michigan City, Indiana to the Randolph Street station in Chicago and walk to the Reader at 12 East Grand Avenue. The morning after deadline night, the art department work tables were strewn with half-eaten boxes of pastries, cookies and donuts. I’d make coffee, grab something good to eat then look for an empty desk with a phone, and begin making my calls.
I studied art at Mishawaka High School in Mishawaka, Indiana. The art teacher, Alan Hammer, had been an artist in the US Navy. He taught beginning and advanced drawing, painting and sculpture. He could do and teach everything, he was outta sight!
After high school, I played drums in “The Rhythm-aires”, a rock and roll band. I played at South Bend, Indiana’s, Playland Park, every Friday after the football games, and again on Sunday afternoons. Jr Walker, of the All Stars, was the saxophonist at my first gig. I also performed Saturday afternoons at Notre Dame for their TV station, "Club 16“. Christina Applegate’s mother, Nancy Priddy, was the student hostess at the time. I played in many school gymnasiums, the Elks Clubs, Moose Lodges WMCA’s ethnic club weddings—any venue with a bandstand and dance floor.
The Rhythm-aires travelled on the road and played the “club circuit” gigs in Kankakee, Illinois; Columbus, Ohio; Jackson, Michigan and South Bend, Indiana. The band re-formed and played the 31 Club in 1959 and at the Indiana Cafe in the early 1960s in South Bend, Indiana, and Shulas in Niles, Michigan. When that gig ended, the bass player Henry Chandler and I would head over to “Abs", a black club in Calvin Center, Michigan and played.
In the mid-60s, I played with piano player, Tunney Watkins, in numerous groups, playing rhythm and blues and jazz. We played at the Surf Club in Elkhart, Indiana on Tuesday through Saturday from 9 pm-1am, Fieldmouses from 2am-6 am, and on Sunday evenings from 4 pm-8 pm. I also played with Oscar Baby Jones at the Pacific Club in Kalamazoo, Michigan and around South Bend, Indiana.
In the late 1960s I played drums in a power jazz trio. On Tuesdays through Saturdays from 9 pm to 1 am at the "Stardust Lounge" in Elkhart, Indiana. The members of the trio were Curtis Johnson on tenor saxophone, South Bend, Indiana and Ramone Howard, Louisville, Kentucky on the Hammond B-3 organ, and me playing drums.
1960s television was putting “live” music out of business. People began staying home to watch TV instead of going out to nightclubs. So, I decided to try the art world to generate income. Thus began my career as a full-time commercial artist/designer which developed into a career as a humorous illustrator. Eventually, I landed a job doing keyline and paste-up in the Lithotone printers art department in Elkhart, Indiana. I worked my way up from an apprentice position to head art director at Skyline Corporation. My goal was to become an independent freelance artist, so when I heard that the only commercial artist in Michigan City was retiring, I designed a logo, printed a letterhead, and started a commercial art studio in an old office building in northern Indiana. It wasn’t long before I waslanding clients on a regular basis. At the time, I was busy creating artwork for clients like Coronet Films in Chicago.
Then one day my career took a major shift. I met illustrator Elwood H. Smith. He had attended art school in Chicago and had eventually become an art director in the Chicago area. He’d occasionally take on illustration projects, but eight years later, he jumped full-time into the field of illustration. Eventually, he grew weary of the big city and moved to Michiana Shores, Indiana. He and I met when he needed photostats and typesetting at a small business just down the hall from my office. He peeked in one day when he passed by my office to say hi. I didn’t know any Chicago illustrators at the time, so I asked if we could be friends. He and I have been best friends ever since. We rented adjoining offices in an old building on the main street in Michigan City, where we created “Magpie Studio”. We chose the name because we chattered on and on like magpies while we worked. Often, instead of having a real lunch, we’d drive over to the local Dairy Queen for Buster Bars. We became Peanut Brothers for life! Those were wonderful years, where Elwood showed me the ropes about how the world of publishing worked and shared his list of Chicagoclients and shared his list of NYC clients after moving to the big apple.
Elwood said, "If you invent your own style, you can work from here, all over the world”. I hunkered down and created what I called my Cloud-Line Smudge-a-Dot art style. Not long after I sent out mailers with that style, I began getting calls from clients in Chicago, New York City, LA, Washington DC, Boston, and a weekly illustration for a restaurant review column in the San Diego Reader. In 1981 I was featured in Art News Magazine with one of my “Mailart” self-promotion pieces, “The Trip”. I produced illustrations for Harlan Quist and OUI Magazine. I also re-designed the logos for all the Playboy Clubs and created spot illustrations for Playboy Magazine’s art director, Skip Williamson, a 1960s underground cartoonist. Playboy cartoon editor, Michelle Uhry, bought three cartoons from my first batch of submissions, two from the second, one from the third, and none from the next batch. I guess it wasn’t meant to last forever. In the late 1970s, I headed to the big apple to show my samples. While there, I went with a friend of mine, Jim Bossy, to the Broadway show Annie. He played lead trumpet in the orchestra. We walked in through the stage door of the Alvin Theatre to the musicians’ lockers area. Hangingup was my Playboy cartoon of the Ayatollah shoving a musket into the bell of a tuba. When it was time to go on, I pushed the giant door on rollers shut and sat on a folding chair in the pits with the musicians. Throughout the whole show, some of the musicians played chess with a small folding chess board set.
Penthouse Magazine bought a couple of cartoons and then offered me a series, "Little Jack Horner" and other nursery rhyme characters. It became overwhelming because I was too green at the time. My ideas were too far over the top and didn’t do well. Even though they dropped the series, Bob Guccione, Mr. Penthouse, and cartoon editor and cartoonist Bill Lee, were always good to me. One Christmas, Bob gave me a box of delicious salt water taffy.
Back home it was work, work, work.
I created a 174-page elementary school workbook with images ranging in size from one-inch square to a full page. The illustrations had to be finished in 60 days and I was paid $34,800.00. When I finished with the massive project, it took three days for the swelling to go down in my eyes. I said, “I'm never doing that again”. The following year, I did it again.
Slug Signorino with his granddaughter, Georgia - 2002
ABC TV Chicago
Across The Board
American Bar Association
American Dental Association
American Library Association
American Planning Magazine
Better Homes & Gardens
Chicago Review Press
Children’s TV Workshop
Frankel & Co.
Funnies Whittle Communications
Humphrey, Herbert & Alber
Loyola University Press
Medical Self Care
Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago
Needham Harper Worldwide
North East Magazine
Passages N.W. Orient
Pearson, Crahan & Fletcher
Public Service Indiana
J. Walter Thompson
US News & World Report
Washington Post Magazine
Weekend Magazine, Toronto
Albert Whitman Publishing