If you want to see Rob's masterpiece, it will cost you a cup of coffee. It's good coffee, the kind they grind right in your face. The scent of the place hits you like a giant cartoon hammer as the beans squeal.
"I have this internal standard," Rob says leading the way to the back room at Green Mountain Coffee Roasters. He selects a table against the wall near stacks of gift wrapped coffee samplers. "When I can meet that standard, then I'm proud of the work. Then I'm happy."
He's happy with "The Gift" which hangs a few tables away. The colorful drawing looks for all the world like a framed New Yorker cover. A frazzled 90s woman sits on a puffy armchair in the center of an annihilated living room. She glowers up at the cat sitting demurely on her head. The image vibrates with energy, both spent and coiled. The view is slightly fish-eyed and high, as if seen through a peephole from a ladder.
"Illustration is communication," Rob says. "So where do you start? After getting an assignment, I need an idea, a spark. Then comes the design, and then the illustration has to work itself out slowly inch by inch."
So did he submit his masterpiece to the New Yorker? "I'm still building my portfolio," Rob hedges. A couple hundred commercial art assignments aren't enough for him. "I'm still testing my talent. I need to prove something to myself first, though God knows what."
A serious cartoonist, thin and not unlike an inked drawing himself, Rob labors over his work. He struggles for just the right line, just the right angle. He points out another piece he likes, an illustration for a magazine article on gardening. It shows a teary young woman with a mean looking handgun about to assassinate a feeble tomato plant. Another illustration is about planning the perfect wedding. It shows a meteor hurtling toward a simple country church. There is a delicious sense of doubt and doom throughout Rob's art. His humor tracks anywhere from wry to Ren and Stimpy.
Rob used to do a weekly college cartoon strip. Why not go Dilbert and syndicate his craft? "I have plenty of sick and twisted ideas," Rob says, but I'm not sure I could come up with one every day on deadline."
The artist moves toward another work in his gallery, but two intense women in mid-bonding give Rob a sharp look and he backs off. Okay, so it's not exactly the Whitney. He's only 27.
Rob checks his watch nervously. He has a big web site to complete, an overdue logo and sketches for a lobster seafood menu in progress. But first, it's his shift at the coffee counter. He dons an apron and moves with leggy cartoon grace toward a toothy customer. No self respecting artist ever quits his steady job. The beans squeal again.
By J. Dennis Robinson
Robert Squier, who has four brothers, was born and educated in Exeter, NH. His grandfather was a well known Boston painter who produced portraits of such figures as Gen. George Patton and President Taft. Mr. Squier attended Maine College of Art in Portland for two years, then transferred to UNH where he began publishing the comic strip "Drinking Buddies" in the campus newspaper. He abandoned college and turned to commercial illustration when he was "discovered" by local graphic designer Mary Jo Brown. Mr. Squier has since produced illustrations through local advertising agencies for Shipyard Ale, Dunkin' Donuts, Delta Dental, DeWolfe Agency, the City of Portsmouth and other clients. His other masterpiece is the logo for SeacoastNH.com. He currently works on assignments from his home office in Portsmouth.
Photo by Mike Parnum
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