Chris Morris on illustrating rockin’ John Clayton’s ‘musical’ midseason look at the NFL for ESPN.com

Assignment: Illustrate Senior Writer John Clayton‘s NFL midseason report on ESPN.com, but do so with a nod to his wildly popular This Is SportsCenter ad depicting him as a long-haired, heavy metal fan.

Illustrator: Chris Morris, by day The Cleveland Plain Dealer’s art director, by night a trusted artist various ESPN platforms have used to bring ideas to life.

Result: Morris draws axeman Clayton “jamming” with the caricatures of NFL stars including Tom Brady, Andrew Luck and Drew Brees to address the “musical genres” the 32 teams are in.

Let’s just say you’d rather your team be considered “heavy metal” instead of “elevator music.”

“I have worked with Chris off and on for about 20 years,” said John Banks, ESPN.com’s Senior Deputy Editor, NFL, who drafted Morris for this assignment. “We used to cook up some neat stuff at The Dallas Morning News.”

Morris is a bit of a “mad scientist,” Banks says.

“He’s fast, fun, easy to work with — and a terrific illustrator.”

Morris’ work has been showcased on various ESPN platforms, including an E:60 segment featuring two NFL superstars engaged in a Twitter battle. Front Row spoke with the illustrator:

Chris Morris’ visions of “John Clayton” and “Tom Brady” for the ESPN.com Hot Read published Wednesday.

What was your reaction when you were given this assignment to depict Clayton and NFL stars as rock music icons?
I’ve drawn John Clayton probably three or four times now. This year, we went for a different angle instead of “The Professor with mid-season report card,” which we’ve used before. This was a fun assignment, based largely on the awesome ESPN commercial he’s in.

What challenges were involved in this assignment?
Time. This was a quick turn around, from assignment to delivery. I drew this on Tuesday night, sent the files around 3 a.m. ET and it went online at noon Wednesday. I spent the lion’s share of effort on the lead image. For the inside spots, we decided to go simpler, on a white backdrop, loose shapes. I think the lead worked out better, maybe because it had more sight gags, like Ray Lewis’s expression.

Besides Lewis, Brady, Luck and Brees, what other NFL stars were caricatured or considered for this piece?
We discussed Tony Romo, Mark Sanchez and RG3 [Robert Griffin III] as options. We switched Romo out for Luck, and then tweaked that category from Hip Hop to Arena Rock. Luck is fun to draw anyway because he sometimes wears a pretty disorganized beard.

What’s been your favorite assignment to do for ESPN.com?
I really enjoy the big groups of caricatures I’ve been assigned. There have been some fun NHL ones in the past, and plenty of NFL illustrations I could name. The MLB tailgating assignment was fun. I was filmed drawing for the E:60 LeSean McCoy/Osi Umenyiora feud segment [see video below]. That was pretty cool, seeing my illustrations presented in a different format.

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