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Artist Kyle Webster on Jared Loughner, Mental Health, and Illustrating This Week's Cover Story

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What do you see in the image above? Breathe easy: This is not a test.

This week's cover story, Unbalanced, Amy Silverman and Paul Rubin explore the state of mental heath services in Arizona following Jared Loughner's shooting spree in Tucson, which killed six people and injured 13, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords at a local Safeway.

They write:

As society at large ponders the question, here in Arizona we hardly have the luxury. Here -- just days after a spree that now has its own logo, "TUCSON TRAGEDY," in bold red and black in the daily newspaper -- it's apparently back to business as usual.

Tucson hosted a big gun show over the weekend. And in Phoenix, Governor Jan Brewer ended the week by announcing she wants to cut $35.9 million in mental-health services, according to a coalition that includes the Arizona Chamber of Commerce, Children's Action Alliance, and Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Alliance ... Full story.

Content aside, every story has a visual. And as Kyle Webster, a North Carolina-based artist, sat down to illustrate the story of Loughner and mental health services in a Rorschach manner, he says he knew exactly what he saw.

Rorschach or ink-blot tests were developed by Swiss Freudian psychiatrist and psychoanalyst Hermann Rorschach in 1921 to test psychological responses to open-ended images that often resembled spilled ink or milk, depending on perception.

Using Rorschach-inspired images in such a dark manner was a departure, says Webster, from his typically bright, toon-y work that's seen the covers of The New Yorker, TIME, ESPN, and The Wall Street Journal, to name a few.

The project took a few days to complete, between conversations with New Times creative director Peter Storch and details added as news fed into the CNN ticker Webster left running on his desktop.

He describes the process as "eerie."
 

"I usually listen to old time radio when I work," Webster says. "But I honestly couldn't listen to anything while I looked through images of the crime scene, the victims, and the shooter to get inspiration. It was absolutely draining ... and it was completely silent."

The third image Webster drew was a portrait of Loughner (above), flanked by the profiles of two women.

"I had to look at that mugshot, that face, for hours as stared back at me," says Webster of Loughner's photograph, "I don't like thinking about it. I actually never want to look at that picture again."

The last image (below) was the most challenging -- both in conceptualization and creation -- for more personal reasons.

Initially, Webster says the idea was to illustrate a young girl in the likeness of Christina Green, the 9-year-old who was killed, surrounded by bullets. Webster says he couldn't do it, and pauses -- he had just put his own daughter to bed.

"President Obama said in the speech that Christina was in that 9/11 book that portrayed the children of a new generation," Webster says. "He repeated the phrase under her photo in the book, 'I hope you jump in rain puddles,' and I knew that's where I wanted to go with the image. I don't think her family would want any more violent imagery associated with their daughter ... I wouldn't."

To see more of Webster's work, check out his website, and to read this week's full cover story, click here.

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