Q&A with SVA’s Nathan Fox on the Return of Tako and Visual Narrative

May 1, 2014

Tako, the fearless and wildly imaginative female protagonist of Nathan Fox’s recent SVA subway posters, made a triumphant return to New York City this week. In what may be the world’s largest comic, Tako appears flying over a psychedelic landscape as the pilot of a rocket-powered robot. At 24 feet wide by 38 feet high, the poster-turned-billboard is installed on the Western exterior of the SVA administrative building at 209 East 23rd Street, and reads “What’s Your Story?”

svaposter1Fox, chair of the MFA Visual Narrative Department, introduced Tako last December in a trio of SVA posters that were installed on some 400 subway platforms around the city. Commissioned by Anthony P. Rhodes, executive vice president of the College and creative director of its advertising, the series follows Tako’s adventures as she brings to life various creatures with the stroke of a pen (or keyboard).

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Tako also starred in a comic mini-series inspired by Superbowl XLVIII that was published on the SVA website in January. The story took her from the 23rd-street subway platform to the football field at the big game.

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SVA Close Up caught up with Fox as he was making preparations for the MFA Visual Narrative exhibition at the SVA Flatiron Gallery opening May 27.

Where did Tako come from?
Talking with Tony [Rhodes, executive vice president at SVA and the poster’s creative director] over lunch, we got to the idea of putting a face to SVA. What if we gave a character a narrative? I had never seen a subway poster series that told a story—something that was wholly sequential. The legacy of the posters was about what art means to SVA students and to New York, and also about

the amount of creativity and talent that’s here. We decided on a story that viewers would finish. This phrase kept coming up in the back of my mind, which was, “What is your story?” I kept asking that of Tako and out that phrase came the open ended stories for the series.

Tako gives birth to all kinds of creatures and machines from her imagination. Where did that idea come from?
As a kid, I had Transformers and G.I. Joes and Star Wars figures, like most kids (nerds) of my generation. When it came to cartoons, Robotech came out and those things from Asia started to trickle into Houston, where I grew up. My world was Looney Toons and Disney, and suddenly I had something to hold on to. Later on, in college, I discovered Evangelion and Akira—all these stories that involved future tech and mech, which was my favorite part of G.I. Joe.

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How did you find your way to visual narrative?
Growing up in Houston, I saw Cy Twombly’s work (at the Menil Collection) and grew up with Toulouse Lautrec (at the Museum of Fine Arts Houston). Then Alladin came out, and I thought, “that’s gotta be me,” so I went to school for animation. But then I discovered storytelling, which led me to illustration, but I was unsatisfied with it. Even the Cy Twombly paintings—there were stories there, behind all of those marks, stories about him and his experiences. There was something about that movement. Movement, energy, discovery, creativity—things being linked to other things, randomly—were my real interest. Then I got to SVA and Marshall Arisman’s [MFA Illustration as Visual Essay] program, and that’s when I started to put all this stuff together.

Why did you want to start the MFA Visual Narrative Department?
The possibilities and power of story are everything. If I put a picture of an apple in front of you next to a picture of a pie, what does your brain tell you? Apple pie, right? Narrative and a need to tell a story is part of who we are. It’s what we use to define, educate, influence, document and communicate as a culture and as individuals. I wanted to create a low-residency graduate program for students, professionals and educators alike that focuses on both creative writing and visual art regardless of medium.

Where would you like to see Tako travel next? Email [email protected] and we’ll

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share the best responses. The most popular response will be illustrated by Fox and a signed copy of the illustration awarded to the winner. Posters are available for purchase from the SVA Campus Store.

Photos by current BFA Photography student Martin Mendizabal.

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