I met Thomas a little over a year ago at McNally, a Soho book shop. He asked what I was writing. I told him. He showed me a few sketches he was working on. We exchanged names for FB, communicated a little through there. But that was it. We did not see each other again after that first meeting.
When the the idea of interviewing Nyc residents sprouted, I thought of Thomas. I knew he was there, somewhere, but I didn't know him, so I invited him for a coffee and a recorded conversation.
Thomas is Thomas Ng
Thomas left home, Guam, at 17 to attend GWU in DC
He then moved to Nyc to attend SVA
A boast worthy factoid about Thomas's experience at SVA:
Dear Thomas, with a sign in hand, posed nude in front of the university in order to get into a closed class (It worked)
Thomas is currently a book cover designer at Simon & Schuster
Do you like living in New York? "I haven't technicially lived in the city for like 5 years now? I live in Greenpoint, Brooklyn now. I def like it there, it's half young people and half families.....I could never move back to the city. It's too "on" all the time. Sometimes you do want that peace and quiet."
Were you always into art? "When I was in DC I studied business, and when that ended, my family was like, "you gotta come back to Guam." And I was like: No! At that time all directions were pointing towards business, and I was super depressed about it. I thought, I don't like any of these things, but I felt like that was all there was. And then I discovered things like art programs and I taught myself how to draw at 21/22. I didn't think you could learn how to draw. I thought you were born knowing how to. You know like gifted people? I found this teach yourself book. When I was able to master the skill, I was like, o cool. And now I'm inspired, kind of. Actually, I felt like that was a big hurdle, or a test to pass, and when I passed, it was the most confidence building thing that I had ever done..
Then what? "Well, I was lucky enough to meet Stefan Sagmeister, who's like a super big cheese in the design world. I heard about how he carved letters into his chest to do a poster. Which blew me away. So anyway, I got to sit in at a dinner thing with him, where everyone else was pretty big. The Director of the Smithsonian was there. It was crazy, they were talking about designing blimps and so forth. I just stayed quiet until I could ask him: Should I go to art school? I felt like I had just put my life into his hands at that moment. He said, "yes," and gave me some advice. He was very sincere too. I headed off to New York and art school after that."
So, what's it like designing book covers? "It's like: speed-read, learn about a violin, borrow my friend's violin, do a photo shoot, scan some loose change, show tons of ideas and thank the skies that they picked my favorite." (And apply this to every other book.)
What are a few things you have done, or are doing? "I'm just going to plug this book, I don't even know why, I'm not his publisicst. I'm not getting paid for this. But it's good karma......Right now I'm designing a cover for Fiddler in the Subway. It's a collection of feature stories written by the very talented Gene Weingarten (Winner of two Pulitzer prizes.) The big story is about an experiment. What if you took the world's greatest violinist and put him in the subway, would anyone notice? The story unfolds and there's tons of great features like this."
"A few things I have worked on are: I Slept With Joey Ramone, it's his Memoir. Very cool. -- Stir-Frying to the Sky's Edge, which is a Chinese cookbook. I'm sending that to my mom. Shadow Knights, the first book in a series of Pulp History stories. Real-American-Hero types. We went for a pulp "action comics" look. The cover looks different now, sadly. And, The Playbook, which is part of The Bro Code series and was inspired by, How I Met Your Mother. The book is sort of comical advice, or tricks, on how to pick up girls. I'm pretty sure none of them work, but it's pretty funny."
Contributed: "I also design T-shirts for bands sometimes. Fashion merch is my little pet project."
Now back to my current obsessions, Nyc, and City verses the country...Who has is right? "I think my friends who are married with kids are the ones living in the real world. (Although Thomas appears like he should be carded, he is slightly beyond that age.) One of my friends, I haven't seen since middle school, now has a daughter that looks like she could almost be in middle school. It's a little crazy. And when I talk to my family is when I get a reality check, '"What do you mean you work this hard for this little?"' New York is like a career Disneyland sometimes. I still love it. But I'm trying to make more money now."
Are ya happy? (Long pause) "Do I have to say 'yes'?"
No, you can say "no". (Long pause) "I work too much. So now, my favorite thing is to do anything on the weekend that's not related to work. I just moved, so painting and decorating the apartment has become a fun new project. I also do some yoga. I'm exercising again, which feels really great. I was limping for 3 months on a foot injury because my body was super unhealthy. Now I'm eating better and exercising again. That and taking moments to just, this is going to sound dumb, but just look at the sky and appreciate my new quiet neighborhood. I think I'm getting happier."
Are you lying about any of this? "Nope. Wait, just don't ask me my height. I always say I'm 5'8", but I'm really 5'7 and 3/4. I'll never let you measure my height without putting up a fight."
The plan was to end there, until I stummbeled upon a certain New York Times article. This article covered a story about this guy who posted flyers all over Union Square and the East Village, (In order to lift a friend's spirits.) asking folks to call a voicemail box he had rented for his friend Gary. The flyer read, ""Please say, 'I love you, Gary after the beep." The guy who posted the flyers is Thomas Ng.