Danny wore tortoise shell glasses with plastic, non-prescription lenses so he would look smarter, and a yarmulke so he would look more Jewish. He started dating the daughter of an orthodox Jewish real estate shtarker who had a weekend place out in The Hamptons, and on Friday afternoons, he'd put on his little kippah before leaving the office early in order to get there before sundown. Ironically, he was more ham-fisted than kosher, and my clients were taking notice that it wasn't me doing the work they were paying for. I was out there selling the capabilities of Inhouse, but they were buying and expecting my creativity and design sense. I didn't need a guy Friday, what I needed was another Mikel.

At ArtCenter, a discipline I had taught myself in order to be able to get all of my work done, was working two-day-days. I'd get up, shower, go to school, work all day, come home around 4:00 PM, eat something, and go to sleep. I'd set my alarm for four hours later, get up, shower, work 'til 4:00 AM, eat something, and go to sleep, again, for another four hours, and repeat the routine every day - until Sunday's reprieve. Some of that scheduling habit reared its head at Inhouse, and working nights became a regular thing. Danny and I would leave the office earlier in the afternoon, go to our respective homes to take a nap, and come back in the early evening when everyone else in the building had left for the day. Our nightshift began by turning on the neon light, cranking up the tunes, and ordering disco-fries and subs from Brothers Pizza. The new delivery boy banged on the metal door of the fire escape stairwell that led from the back of Inhouse down to the rear parking lot of the building, where his TransAm was still running. Seeing, and maybe even smelling, what was going on, his bright-eyed, ponytailed response was, "Wow! What do you guys do in here?" After a little show 'n tell, I asked him his name, "My friends call me ‘Zig,” he said, "but my real name is Mike."

Trading drawings for sandwiches, candy bars, and cassettes, from my European counselors at summer camp, was the beginning of my career as a commercial artist. It seemed simple enough - I make this for you, and you give me that in return. By tenth grade, I had moved on to painting classic rock album covers onto the back panels of guys’ denim jackets, and the Boys Room in the Junior Wing of Clifton High slowly transitioned into a living gallery of my wears. To me, it was free money, because all I had to do was spend hours and hours doing what I loved doing. At that time, my time, wasn’t money, and let’s just say the school was ‘donating’ my acrylics and brushes, so I had no outside costs. I was charging about forty-bucks a jacket, simply because that’s what the going rate was for an ounce of weed, and I knew the stoner market would have the cash. Needless to say, I painted quite a few Grateful Dead pieces, but my rule was simple – no doubles. If I did it for someone already, I wasn’t doing it again. Every piece remained a one of a kind, and in doing so, it increased the demand for one of my jackets.                             

Before leaving the office, Zig told me how he was “taking art” at William Paterson University, but it wasn’t going great and he really wasn’t sure what direction to go, but he had an interest in graphic design. I gave him a generous tip and an invitation to come back in a day or two with his portfolio. “I’m not sure what to put in it,” he said. “Just bring whatever you have that you think is your best stuff. Anything you want to show me is fine,” I told him. A couple days later, Zig came back, nervously so, with his big black plastic portfolio case for his turn at show ‘n tell. After the expected couple of decent high school renderings, he took out the very unexpected production mechanicals for a logo and business card he designed for his cousin’s mobile car detailing business, “Just Like Magic.” “There’s one more thing I have, but I’m not sure it’s anything you want to see,” he said. And with that, he takes out a denim jacket with Iron Maiden’s “Killers” album cover painted on the back - and, just like that, I hired him on the spot, not as an intern, but as my protégé.


  • Michael Zigman

    Thank you for being my mentor, but most of all, thank you for becoming one of my oldest and dearest friends.

  • Michael Katz

    Teaching is the highest for of learning 😊

  • Deb B

    How much I love reading your life story. Just like magic!

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