What we needed to say on this cover is that Canada’s national game has been hijacked by the NHL’s American teams — not by the Boston Bruins or Chicago Blackhawks, but by the likes of the Anaheim Ducks and the Nashville Predators, clubs that play in places where hockey, by necessity, has been boiled down to mere entertainment.
This was not exactly the idea that we were originally pitched, but as David Macfarlane dug into the reporting (and Michael Adams crunched a score of hockey stats), the particulars of the story asserted themselves over the unreality of what we had expected to find. This is an entirely normal thing to happen to a magazine feature, but it did present difficulties as Team Macho and I were both made to hit a moving target.
The last thing this cover should have transmitted was anti-Americanism. It needed to, and did, say “good old hockey,” with a gentle flip to the matter at hand. The sport is not exactly the thing that comes to mind when you think of Team Macho, a five-member collective of artists and illustrators that is based in Toronto. They are not without passion for the game, but they are unlikely to remember the exploits of the Winnipeg Hockey Club as if they had happened yesterday.
I am a Team Macho fan. Calling their studio always seems like calling a Justice League staffed by witty, hyper-talented roués from a Gorey weekend. Individually they are all amazing artists; as a group they are truly awesome. The piece they produced for The Walrus was atypical of their work, but I think this simply proves their excellence.
Brian Morgan: After we spoke about this commission, what were your initial thoughts about the story?
Team Macho: We are really interested in using sports-related imagery in our work, as we find that illustration and art that generally features sports as a subject to be either quite conservative and straightforward or brash and ugly. We try to celebrate the tactile appeal of the sports of old and the fetishistic qualities that you don’t often see as the focus of sports art. We were really excited to be able to approach this story with those aesthetic considerations in mind.
Brian Morgan: How did you first approach this? And what is your typical process for generating ideas?
Team Macho: Usually we create our illustration work fairly free-form, in that we approach the subject from an unusual perspective and tailor imagery that’s suited to our ideas. We will often use oblique references to elaborate on the content and create a sense of context for the image.
Brian Morgan: In general terms, how do you create your work?
Team Macho: We generally don’t produce many sketches, apart from basic compositional elements, as we tend to find the most pleasure in creating the work organically. Our use of media is fairly widespread, and we usually choose an appropriate method to reflect the content of an illustration.
Brian Morgan: What was your inspiration for this final image?
Team Macho: We have a lot of old photography books that provide a wealth of figurative reference and inspiration. Especially in the era of helmet-less play (it would be irresponsible to portray the players thus, wouldn’t it though?). We had some really striking action shots to work from.
Brian Morgan: Whose work has influenced you the most? And who or what has shaped your style?
Team Macho: We don’t generally tend to reference art as our main source of inspiration. We take that from a lot of low culture, books about animals, terrible films, past teachers, and each other. We are all fairly odd fellows and spend a lot of time talking, so things tend to develop very naturally and outside of the usual processes.
Brian Morgan: Team Macho has an unusual way of working, in that you fully work as a collective. Who typically does what? How did you decide who would tackle this particular job, and why?
Team Macho: We started off doing our work almost exclusively as a five-man process. As time went by, we realized that it could be a bit difficult and untenable at points due to our work schedules and other boring things. We usually tackle assignments based on who is available and whose particular strengths lend themselves well to the subject matter. In this case, we felt that combining certain elements and treatments by a couple of us would be best to give the piece a strong figurative and structural feel. And we guess it worked well, as the Hockey Hall of Fame later asked us for permission to display the painting as a part of a hockey-themed travelling exhibition!