I've loved "On the Road" since I first read it about 30 years ago, and a few months ago I was thinking about the legend of Kerouac writing the book on a long scroll of teletype paper in three coffee-soaked-Benzedrine-fueled days. It occurred to me that a long series of drawings that viewers scrolled through online might be something people would enjoy.
I started by making a drawing for every page of "On the Road" in a Moleskine sketchbook, picking images that appealed to me without the burden of trying to tell the story in a linear way. This freed me up to make drawings of things that I like - cars, buses, roadside architecture, old signs. During the years that Jack chronicles his travels (from 1947 to 1951), America looked awfully different than it does now. I've been using historic photos and doing research to make the drawings feel accurate. The book is full of references to jazz musicians, historical figures, and pop culture. That whole period of history seems like a long, long time ago. Adding Kerouac's words as captions to the drawings makes the series feel like a journal and not a carefully planned out illustrated book, and it seems to capture some of the spirit of Kerouac's 'this-happened-then-this-then-this' writing style.
I'm part of a collective blog called Drawger where illustrators post projects and recent assignments, and that gave me a friendly spot to show the drawings in installments as I do them. Fans of the book have been very kind in their comments and it's been getting re-posted a lot. People have written to me to say that the drawings got them to pick up the book for the first time or re-read it again. I'm about 100 drawings into the project, with another 200 to go.
I'm on the faculty at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, and for a few years I've been assigning a book jacket design for "On the Road" each semester. Many of my students have never read the book before, and some don't read it even when it's assigned. Just reading the Wikipedia page and designing a book jacket is a formula for some sad results; You'd be surprised how many twenty-one-year-olds don't know that suitcases didn't always have wheels. But the smart ones get it and the book hasn't lost its appeal to young people who are thinking about where they fit in the world, and what kind of adventures are around the next bend in the road.
Take a look at the few of the images below, and on Drawger, where you can read them as a scroll.