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D.B. Dowd

D.B. Dowd is a writer, illustrator, and scholar who studies the history of illustration, the practice of drawing, and the hybridity of reading and seeing. He is currently under contract with Princeton University Press and Quarto Books, London at work on Reading Pictures: A Cultural History of Illustration. The project tells the story of illustration as a dimension of and contributor to the rise and fall of reading in North America, Europe, and East Asia from the fifteenth century to the twenty-first.

He serves as Professor of Design & American Culture Studies at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts at Washington University, where he teaches in the MFA in Illustration and Visual Culture program and the undergraduate communication design major. He also serves as the Faculty Director of the Dowd Illustration Research Archive (DIRA), named in his honor in 2016. DIRA collects materials associated with 19th and 20th century illustration and comics.

Dowd publishes books and zines under his imprint Spartan Holiday.

His book A is for Autocrat: A Trumpian Alphabet, Illustrated (Spartan Holiday Books, 2020) won a national gold Addy award from the American Advertising Federation in 2021.

Dowd’s book Stick Figures: Drawing as a Human Practice was published in 2018 by Spartan Holiday Books in association with the Rockwell Center for American Visual Studies. Recent essays include an assessment of Rockwell’s Four Freedoms for for Enduring Freedom, the Norman Rockwell Museum’s traveling exhibition (2018) and “Nostalgia Illustrated: N.C. Wyeth, Advertising, and American Cultural History” for the Brandywine Museum retrospective, N.C. Wyeth: New Perspectives (2019).

Illustrations from Spartan Holiday, Dowd’s illustrated travel journal, have been juried into American Illustration and Society of Illustrators annuals.

He earned a B.A. in history from Kenyon College in 1983, and an M.F.A. in Printmaking from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 1989.

Personal website

Work by D.B. Dowd

A spread: the background of the page to the left is a light, muted green with a large, dark gray capital K in a serif font positioned at the top left corner. Below it is the word "knowledge" in a white sans serif font. To the right of these two pieces of text is a line drawing of a digestive system — in gray — and a dinosaur (in pink outlines), which crosses over to the right hand page. The right hand page contains an illustration of an alternative planetary system, in which the moon orbits the earth, a dashed arrow labelled "TRUMP" pointing to its shadowy side. Half of the sun (depicted as a yellow orb) is visible at the edge of the right hand page (so that the edge bisects the sun); its glow emanates from it, represented by white dashed arrows that point outward. Along the bottom edge of the spread, in the bottom left corner, is a white circle and a larger, concentric half-opaque light circle — as well as half a yellow circle lined up against the bottom edge; in the center right is a line drawing, in light gray, of a landscape.

“K is for Knowledge", 2020

from A is for Autocrat: A Trumpian Alphabet, Illustrated. Spartan Holiday Books.
A spread, overlaid with a canvas texture: the page to the left features a muted, mustard yellow "X" in a serif font" towering to the left of the word "xenophobe" in an orange sans serif font on a dark background; a scorpion (renders in a black line illustration) winds its tail around the thick diagonal stroke of the X, the bottom end of which has an orange splatter. The shape of the scorpion arcs towards the right hand page, which features a gray line illustration of a slightly menacing cartoon figure, whose shadow is the same orange, on a mustard background; the figure wears mittens, both their cuffs/sleeves and the lower edge of their top adorned with a flame pattern. A circled star is on the front of the top. The cartoon figure is reminiscent of Satan, with their tail pointing to a large white serifed "Y". To the left of the Y is the word "yahooism" in a white sans serif font.

“X is for Xenophobe, Y is for Yahooism”, 2020

from A is for Autocrat: A Trumpian Alphabet, Illustrated. Spartan Holiday Books.
A spread: the page to the left sectioned in half lengthways so that the upper half features an illustration on a light blue background, the lower half a drawing on a light pink/peach background. The upper illustration is of rooftops of some buildings, cars driving on a winding road next to it as well as the word (in red) "view" positioned in the upper right corner of the drawing. The lower illustration is of a (likely, medical) device, with the word "spirometer" (in red, at the upper left corner of this half). The text below the upper illustration reads,'"Pneumonia," came the diagnosis, attributed to the typically mild mHPV virus. I spent several days in the hospital. I was given IV fluids, an antibiotic, and a spirometer, a therapeutic device to rebuild my lung capacity.' The text under the lower illustration reads, 'Upon release I was told to expect an extended convalescence. I was never tested for Covid-19. Test or no, I was one of the lucky ones.' The page to the right consists of a line drawing of an owl, to the left of which is the word "nocturne" in red. The background is yellow. Below this illustration, along the bottom of the page, is the text: 'At night during my illness, and briefly after returning home, I was comforted by soothing hoots from the great horned owl roosting in my neighbor's tree, a creature I have never seen. We settled in to wait out the plague.'

Pneumonia Lessons

final spread; about a Covid-19 scare, published in Plague Journal Vol. 2, Detroit.
A spread: the left hand page features a navy/dark blue illustration of a person in an official uniform; the background is white with light red stripes. The text "BONJOUR MES AMIS" in a light red blocky serif font, positioned at the top of the page; below it is "Je m'appelle Professor Rouge." (in a white cursive font) and "Call me Red." (in the dark blue.) The page to the right is white, with a monochromatic blue illustration of a cars and buses in a city, the text "Allons a` Paris!" "Let's Go to Paris." at the top with a red line drawing of a plane soaring overhead and "Until the plane set down at DeGaulle, I had never been." in a small black font below the illustration; under which is the word "Surprising" in a light red, serif font.

Introductory spread, Spartan Holiday No. 3: French Lesson, 2019

An illustration of an American football match: the players in formation at the start of the game, with onlookers on the bleachers/stands. In the background are three vehicles, the second of which (is orange and) is illuminated by a light, which casts a shadow over the two other cars. The illustration uses orange, green, yellow and other earth tones as its main hues.

“Akron St. Vincent game, 2014”, 2019

from Spartan Holiday No. 3: French Lesson.
Dowd db 2023.08 image 3 spartan thefrench

The French suffer from Grandiloquence, 2019

From Spartan Holiday No. 3: French Lesson
Dowd db 2023.08 image 5 elegy jans bouquet

Jan’s Bouquet, 2022

From Elegy Project
Dowd db 2023.08 image 4 sunken submarine

Fate of the Farfadet, 1905, 2019

Spartan Holiday No. 3: French Lesson
Dowd db 2023.08 image 2 autocrat rs

R is for Rebellion, S is for Swamp, 2020

From A is for Autocrat: A Trumpian Alphabet, Illustrated. Spartan Holiday Books
Dowd db 2023.08 image 1 autocrat c

C is for Corruption, 2020

From A is for Autocrat: A Trumpian Alphabet, Illustrated. DB Dowd. Spartan Holiday Books