Pearl Jam: Backspacer
The title of Pearl Jam’s new album Backspacer refers to a typewriter key that went out of use in the 1950’s. Vedder, who still uses typewriters, explains why he picked the title: “”Backspacer [means] actually you kind of have to go back and look at your mistake.”
The cartoonist responsible for Backspacer’s cover art probably knows a thing or two about that. Despite his prolific output and distinctive talent, the career of Dan Perkins (who illustrates under the pen-name Tom Tomorrow) has been riddled with near-misses, disappointments and setbacks.
Perkins is known for his extremely left-leaning political cartoons that grew ever more potent, relevant and bilious as the Bush years marched on.
He got his first major break in 1998 when he was offered a gig doing a bi-weekly cartoon for the US News and World Report. Unfortunately he was fired after only 6 months.
In 1999 he scored an animation deal with Saturday Night Life, however the three spots he did create never aired (you can check out some of his animation on his YouTube channel).
After Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore started to work with Perkins on the script for an animated film. It was never produced.
Nonetheless, throughout the ups and downs Perkins has maintained his weekly comic strip This Modern World, which will be familiar to visitors of liberal outlets such as salon.com.
So it must have come as another blow in 2009 when the Village Voice Media suspended all syndicated cartoons, leaving Perkins without a steady source of income.
Perkins first met Eddie Vedder at a Nadar campaign rally in 2000 and the two remained friends from then on. When the Village Voice withdrew its syndication, Vedder posted an open letter in support of the artist on the Pearl Jam website.
And further support would come in a more practical way, when Vedder gave Perkins a shot at creating the cover art for the band’s upcoming release. “This is not a pity job,” Perkins stresses. “I really had to work at this thing.”
While Perkins was intent on closing the deal, Pearl Jam were at first concerned that he might not be interested. “I wasn’t sure if our politics were hardcore enough for him” recalls Vedder.
The exposure and attention will hopefully lead to further opportunities for Perkins. On his blog he charmingly reflects on the head-fuck that is seeing his artwork displayed in a Target outlet.
The cover art was also at the centre of an online teaser campaign, with the label staging an easter egg hunt prior to the album’s release. The nine individual artworks were scattered across sites like Rolling Stone and Wired. Fans that clicked on the images from around the web and assemble them on the Backspacer site were rewarded with a demo version of the song Speed of Sound.
Perkins’ next project is a children’s book, The Very Silly Mayor, which is released on October 1, 2009. The theme of the book is resisting peer pressure and standing up for your beliefs. If his commitment to outspoken political opinions has cost him opportunities in the past, this uncompromising cartoonist clearly regrets nothing.