Dog flushing, rabbit smuggling, bookmarks and Batkids: A candidate Q&A

[SND officer elections are handled electronically and open to all members. Contact [email protected] if you haven’t received your ballot.]

With just one week to go before the 2015 officer election ends, I caught up with the two candidates for secretary/treasurer, Douglas Okasaki and Frank Mina, for a Q&A — trust me, there are things here you did not know.

What’s your favorite SND story?

WAN (World Association Newspaper) and UN (United Nations) sponsored the Iraq Designers newspaper workshop. The workshop was held in Amman, capital of Jordan. Afterwards, I went with my friend Ramzi Ramjab, the previous Emarat Ay Youm Art Director, to see the Dead Sea. It was an unforgettable experience.
On returning to our hotel, we passed the U.S. Embassy and our driver told us that it’s one of the largest American embassies in the Middle East. Like any curious tourist, I was photographing everything. After taking a few photos, I saw in front of me a huge placard: Photographs are forbidden!
Oops!!! I thought to myself when suddenly a police patrol blasted with a loud speaker: ‘Stop now!’ We were escorted to the police station. I was terrified, trying to hide myself and my shaking hands. The policeman asked questions in Arabic, which Ramzi translated as he also helped explain what happened to the police. All my photos were erased and I had to sign a declaration that I’d never take photos of the U.S. Embassy in Jordan again. In the end, everything was OK, but that scare was unforgettable.

I think my favorite memory was made at SND Vegas. Denise Reagan convinced me to dance on stage as part of the awards show. It was me, Shraddha Swaroop, Tiffany Pease and somehow we managed to convince Bill Couch that he should join us too. We would be called the Four Aces.
So Denise began running us through this elaborate routine. There were twists, spins and even props. I have no idea where she got the steps, but she had them down and managed to teach us the routine. At the end of an hour, I knew the steps. By the time we had stage rehearsal, I had forgotten them all.
With only a couple hours before the awards banquet, I returned to my room and practiced. When it was time to take the stage, I was certain I had this thing nailed. I donned my pink boa and found my mark on the stage. In those seconds of waiting for the music to begin, my mind went blank. Panic began to take hold, but then the music started and I started to dance.
For the sake of the story, I wish I could say I fell of the stage or tumbled into the other dancers, but it all went really well once we got going. It was even better when we were done.

Tell me something about you that only your family knows

Left, this is Uoli, an adorable pug who lives with Douglas' mother in Brazil. Right, Douglas at age 11, with Suzi, a dog that ate his mother’s sofa.
Left, this is Uoli, an adorable pug who lives with Douglas’ mother in Brazil. Right, Douglas at age 11, with Suzi, a dog that ate his mother’s sofa.

I was a well-behaved child, even when I became a teenager. My father was a lawyer and he liked everything right and organized, he had a strong character. My mother is the complete opposite; she’s very emotional but a good-hearted person. The mix of both my parents made me a little bit crazy (but in a good way).
When I was 5, my mother and I were at her friend’s house. Her friend had to go out for a while and asked my mother to take care of her Pekinese dog. But guess what I did?
I flushed the dog in the toilet bowl. Horrified, my mother rescued the dog and quickly dried it with hair-dryer to not leave any evidence before the dog’s owner returned.
I need to ask my mother if she told this story to her friend in the end.

When I was a kid I had a wide range of pets. We had a dog, but we also had a duck and a couple chickens. I even had a white rabbit named Snowball. Each time I got a new pet I was allowed to bring it to school for Pet Day. I would talk about my pet and then my mom would come and pick the pet up. However with Snowball, I decided I wanted every day to be Pet Day. So for a couple days, I snuck Snowball into a duffle bag and brought him to school with me. My parents didn’t know. My teacher didn’t know. I thought this was the coolest thing ever.
At recess, I would go to the far end of the school yard in order to play with Snowball. When the bell rang, I would go back into class place the duffel by my desk, and go sit at the front of the class for story time. My plan was working just as I wanted. That is until one day, while sitting at the front of class, I looked back toward my desk to see Snowball hopping around the classroom. I was terrified.
My teacher was immersed in reading a book to the class, so I began to slide back toward the bunny. Perhaps I could catch him and hide him under my shirt. As Snowball hopped closer to me and I reached back to pick him up, my teacher looked up and caught me trying to shove a white rabbit under my shirt. My teacher was not happy. My parents were not happy. And that was the end of Pet Day.

What was your best day as a designer?

Douglas' first printed masterpiece: a bookmark for school
Douglas’ first printed masterpiece: a bookmark for school
An Olympic medalists mega-poster from the Gulf News in Dubai
An Olympic medalists mega-poster from the Gulf News in Dubai

I am very lucky and I thank God for having this profession. We spend half of our lives working and it would be a waste of our precious time if we did things that don’t make us happy. I can proudly say that every day is my best day because I love what I do.
My first masterpiece work ever printed in my life was a bookmark I designed in college. There was a competition for bookmark design and my entry won. It was so delightful to see my creation multiplied and distributed to everybody. It is like a piece of me given to the public. Since those early years, I’ve felt this power and responsibility because our work can somehow touch people’s lives. As a designer we can have a voice through our work and this is very powerful.
I can mention some moments or work that were more intense.
When I was in O Globo newspaper in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, one day there were a horrible attack in Rio’s favela and it became Brazil’s deadliest urban massacre. The local editor said in the morning meeting that she needed an infographic artist to follow the situation with the reporter that was already on scene. That day I was the only designer available so they choose me to go. A favela is a slum with no map or guide location.
I could never have imagined what was going on there. When I arrived, I needed to look for our reporter. Around the place, there was a barrier of civil police and the army. I met the reporter, who started explaining everything that happened step by step. I entered in the favelas and saw the dead bodies of men, women and children lying on the ground. It was terrifying and saddening. I was so shocked. It was the first time in my life I left the newsroom for a graphic, but I managed to make the notes and collect all the information.
I realized how different and important our work is when you go out in the field. You feel the atmosphere, you feel the tragedy and you see the graphic details. After that, I realized the responsibility of the infographic artist’s work.
Working at my current newspaper is really cool. There are plenty of creative opportunities and they are open to great ideas and innovation. See below some of the projects that I enjoy doing. I am very blessed and happy, and that is the most important part of my life.

The Gotham City Chronicle, featuring 'Batkid.'
The Gotham City Chronicle, featuring ‘Batkid.’

From a design perspective, I would have to say my most recent best day had to do with Batkid. For those who don’t know, Batkid is Miles Scott, a 5-year-old boy in remission after battling leukemia since he was 20 months old.
Through the Make-A-Wish Foundation and San Francisco, Miles was able to act out his dream of being Batkid for one day. Thousands of supporters flocked to the city to take part in this one day for this miniature caped crusader. I made a front page of the San Francisco Chronicle which we renamed the Gotham City Chronicle. The page was presented to Miles and his family along with a key to the city. The Chronicle also printed 1,000 copies, which they handed out at the ceremony. The Gotham City Chronicle was snatched up by the crowd in minutes.
There was this incredible feeling of goodwill in San Francisco that day. It ended up being this amazing shared experience that people still talk about. For me, it’s thrilling to think my work might be some small part of Miles’ memory of the day his wish came true.

Miles Scott holds up his fist in victory while on stage with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee after Scott's Make a Wish experience as "Batkid" in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Photo by Raphael Kluzniok, The Chronicle
Miles Scott holds up his fist in victory while on stage with San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee after Scott’s Make a Wish experience as “Batkid” in San Francisco, Calif. on Friday, Nov. 15, 2013. Photo by Raphael Kluzniok, The Chronicle

About Stephen Komives

Previously served as Executive Director of the Society for News Design, from 2009–2019.

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