Things My Father Taught Me: Liza Corsillo
In my mind, Designer and Illustrator George Corsillo looms large in his legend. Upon first hearing stories of him relayed from his sons, Emil and Sandy, I became an instant fan. Since that time, I’ve followed along through his kids, and now, thanks to Instagram, through his own photos, as he’s demonstrated a voracious appetite for design, for family, for life. To be a fly on the wall at Christmas in the Corsillo household, watching as they admire one another’s mind-blowing wrap jobs, would be a true joy.
Here, his daughter Liza, an accomplished illustrator in her own right, shares some thoughts and lessons learned from her dad.
When we were kids, one of my favorite things was when my father would make Robot Drawings for the three of us. He took requests — “A television for a body! Vacuum cleaner tubes for arms! Two toasters for feet!” — and drew them with large, squeaky, smelly black markers. He had a drawer full of them. He also had — and still has — an assortment of perfectly sharpened colored pencils on his desk for making sketches as well as his daily “To Do” lists. These lists were highly decorative, illustrated affairs that featured the day of the week in full-color, ornate, hand-drawn text. His notes and letters are still similarly decorated… Christmas cards take hours to complete. My father is constantly designing. My lessons from him are those of generosity: of color, of adornment, of humor, of enthusiasm, of time.
George Corsillo with his employer, Designer Paul Bacon
Back then, my father’s main source of income was book jacket design. In 1985, when he was 35, he designed the cover of Bret Easton Ellis’ first novel Less Than Zero. To this day he is still remembered for that more than almost anything else. That same year he designed the cover for the novel Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry. He did both from his studio at 611 Broadway in Manhattan, the same studio that had once belonged to Keith Haring complete with his drawings all over the walls and ceiling.
“I read McMurtry’s 800-page manuscript on my train rides home,” he told me recently when I asked about it, “and I caught myself crying a few times. I wanted to tell everyone what an amazing book was coming.” The title of the book was meticulously hand-lettered. That lettering paid dividends later, when the movie version was made, and he was able to use money from the royalties to put a down payment on the house we would later move into.
Now, each week he colors the Sunday “Doonesbury” comic strip for Garry Trudeau. Sometimes I can’t believe what a dream job it is. It seems totally ridiculous… coloring for a living. “What a lucky dude,” I think to myself. But it makes perfect sense. If you happen to be around while he is coloring a strip you might hear him laughing to himself at something particularly funny or he might pull you in to read it to you out loud. My father loves his job more than anyone I know, and that’s why he is so good at it. Where we grew up, having a dad that did what he loved for a living was a weird thing. In my mind he was always the cool dad, the honest dad, the authentic. He taught us that work and fun are not — and should not be — mutually exclusive.
Most recently he finished designing David Levinthal’s new book War Games, which catalogues Levinthal’s combat related dioramas done over a period of nearly 40 years. The success of the book design, I think, is in the details. Just like the words “a novel” written across a single cigarette on the cover of “Less Than Zero”. Just like the robot drawings he did for us while we watched in awe. His attention to detail is an effortless part of who he is. Maybe the best lesson he taught us is just that: Do the thing that comes naturally and that makes you want to keep doing it for years and years.