When Grant Shaffer was just five years old, his obsession with “The Flying Nun” (go ahead kids, google it – we’ll wait) became the first step in a long and varied career. He did not go into aviation or a convent, however, as his depiction of the popular TV character won an art contest and became his first printed piece, in a local newspaper.
“I’ve always been an artist, ” Shaffer muses. “I’ve never thought of doing anything else.”
His mom, a painter and his dad, a stockbroker made sure that he had “all the art supplies that I wanted” and by the time he was in college he was doing drawings commercially for local stores as well as some advertising work. A very wonderful” art school teacher then introduced him to something he was unaware of, the craft of storyboarding (a sequence of drawings which represent the shots planned for a movie, television or video production).
His first job in that genre was the movie ‘Species’, which led to widely admired projects such as ‘Zoolander’, ‘Angels in America’ and videos by Madonna and Beyonce. His most recent project is the upcoming Lin-Manuel Miranda film ‘Tick, Tick……Boom!” (And that’s all that he’s willing to share about that!)
Shaffer has lived in NYC for the past 26 years, in a series of apartments that always found him “circling around Tompkins Square Park.” He explains that “the heart and energy of the East Village still exists. I open my door and there it is – young, old, gay, straight. I still love it here.” His enthusiasm comes shining through in his cartoons, the very amusing ‘NYSee’ series which is inspired by things seen and heard in the streets of Manhattan, and are featured regularly in EVGrieve as well as having been showcased on the LinkNYC kiosks. In addition to that he is teaching at SVA and the Hetrick-Martin Institute as well as contributing to the New York Times, the New Yorker, Interview Magazine and Graydon Carter’s digital weekly found at AirMail.news. We should also mention the three children’s books that he has illustrated and his enthusiasm for photography while wondering how he finds time to walk his rescue pups, Jerry and Lala.
Somewhere in there, he managed to paint a mural for his husband’s nightspot, Club Cumming, which led to a collaboration with Rock Soup, a small clothing company that specializes in limited-edition collaborations with a variety of artists who are encouraged to donate a portion of their profits to the charity of their choice, as Rock Soup does. After finding success reproducing Shaffer’s mural as a matching shirt/pants set, the company’s co-founder, Joshua Joyce, approached Shaffer about doing another project. Shaffer suggested they use his “Trans Power” design, which had been first produced as wallpaper by Voutsa (and is still available there).
The drawings, which depict transgender heroes past and present, are now wearable as a matching shirt and pajama bottoms. Featuring trans heroes and icons such as Sylvia Rivera, Lucy Hicks Anderson, Rita Hester, Christine Jorgensen, Marsha P. Johnson, Venus Xtravaganza and Justin Vivian Bond, the set is a limited edition which is already selling fast. Bond is “honored to be included and, knowing how young most of the others who are featured were when they died, I’m grateful to still be alive to enjoy them!”
Continuing, Bond mentions that, “I literally sleep better surrounded by the spirits of the courageous tran-cestors who came before me and fought so hard for our rights.”
Not content to donate just a portion of the profits to charity, Shaffer is giving all proceeds to the Hetrick-Martin Institute, an organization dedicated to “helping gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and questioning (LGBTQ) youth between the ages of 13 and 24 reach their full potential,” according to Annalee Fannan, the Coordinator of Community Engagement and Communications at HMI. Rock Soup is also donating its profits to HMI, an organization that Shaffer has supported for years.
“Grant has been a strong advocate for the well-being of our LGBTQ+ young people and the community itself for many years now,” Fannan states. “He has devoted much of his time to working with our youth, helping them develop their craft and encouraging them to embrace who they are. We are largely indebted to Grant for his contributions to HMI both academically and through his continued support through countless donations personally and professionally via his beautiful art.”
Shaffer, whose next project is a collection of his NYC cartoons that is now in discussion with possible publishers, muses about what it means to be an artist and the nature of success.
“There are so many talented artists,” he states. “Whatever your goal is, you have to have that passion and drive.”