The Artist Leaves Underground.
January 7, 2008 1:55 PM   Subscribe

No Tourists, No Artists. Tourists at Atlanta's Underground didn't realize they were working with an real live artist, but they were. Tom Richmond, Caricaturist Of The Year for 1998 and 1999, recipient of a Reuben Award in 2003 , one-time comic book creator, and frequent artistic contributor to Mad Magazine (movie parodies, mostly), supported his freelance work for almost 18 years by doing cartoons-for-hire in historic Underground Atlanta. Despite many efforts to "save" it, Underground continues to fade in popularity and the tourist traffic just dwindles on down, leaving folks like Tom no choice but to pack up their paints and leave. Tom's story makes for interesting insight into a job that most of us might take for tourist-trapping huckstery. (via Radical Georgia Moderate)
posted by grabbingsand (13 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
When I lived in Atlanta, I went to Underground twice. Both times I gravitated to this booth. It really was the only interesting thing happening there. I love caricature art. It's fun to capture someone's face in the most crazy way possible while still maintaining the essence of the subject.

I don't think of it as huckstery at all. Most people are self absorbed and they get a kick out of it when artists draw them and the artists get paid doing something they enjoy. Both parties benefit from the experience.
posted by strontiumdog at 2:35 PM on January 7, 2008

Well I think this leaves that burger joint, the Braves shuttle, and about seventy tshirt shops...
posted by Pants! at 2:51 PM on January 7, 2008

Underground had a happening club scene when it first opened. We used to hit the Fat Tuesdays to get a cheap buzz before heading into the clubs, Kenny's Alley I think it was called? I must have walked by the caricaturist cart more times that I can count. Sadly I never gave it a second thought. Then again, I wasn't the target market so I probably shouldn't feel bad.
posted by COD at 3:01 PM on January 7, 2008

Tom's story makes for interesting insight into a job that most of us might take for tourist-trapping huckstery.

Thanks for that. Made me think of how we (myself included) can automatically reduce individuals to a transaction or a feature of the landscape. In my walk through Central Park yesterday I didn't stop to think about the no doubt rich array of stories behind every artist on the path. Next time, it'll be hard not to think of this article.
posted by jefftrexler at 3:42 PM on January 7, 2008

My brother and I had one of these done, but it was lost in the flood.
posted by eustatic at 3:58 PM on January 7, 2008

I went to Underground Atlanta a few times. What an odd place. It never occurred to me it would (or should) be any sort of tourist attraction, though. It's just a dimly lit, slightly older shopping centre with a roof. Nothing special at all except the mildly (at best) interesting fuller reason behind it's history. The massive proportion of shite shops in there pretty much killed any mystique it may have had.

Oh, and as for the guy drawing funny faces? Meh.
posted by Brockles at 4:07 PM on January 7, 2008

> It's just a dimly lit, slightly older shopping centre with a roof.

I took a very interesting trip there once with my grandmother, who lived to be 94 and who remembered the area from before it was "underground" (i.e. before elevated streets were built at second-floor level over the railroad and trolly tracks. We found a way to slip out of the sad "redeveloped" area--I was too young to worry about "No Trespassing Keep Out Danger" signs and she was too old--into the larger part that was dim and filthy but otherwise pretty much as it had been in the early part of the last century. I couldn't read any of the storefront signs, too encrusted with dirt, but she rattled 'em off as if she were a young lady who had just been shopping there in the bright sunshine. (I checked the ones I could remember later on a historical map and didn't find but one disagreement.) She also talked about what Atlanta was like in the pre-automobile era: vast numbers of horses of course, but also the immense clouds of sparrows that made their living off horse droppings and spilled feed. Her time-travelogue, if you can call it that, transformed the place for me from spooky to Neil Gaiman spooky.
posted by jfuller at 4:42 PM on January 7, 2008 [3 favorites]

posted by fandango_matt at 5:24 PM on January 7 [+] [!]

Whew! For a second there I thought he had died!

Underground Atlanta is scary. It's dangerous. It's boring. It's beneath the surface of the earth, but it is not in fact "underground." More like mainstream, and that sucks.

I had the opportunity to scout around it in the '80s before its re-opening. Wow! Was that place scary. If you saw Will Smith's recent blockbuster I Am Legend (sorry, so did I) the part where the dog runs into the subway utility passages? It was JUST like that! I mean, it's exactly what I thought of when I saw it. And there were no CGI zombs skirting around, there were real living things! Yikes!

Anyhow, when it re-opened it was fun for a while, but no biggie. Then it got left on auto pilot, and hip hop became different and somehow more aggressive, and that was that. Instead of dancing everyone wanted to fight. So Underground became un-fun.

Anyhow, I am glad to hear Tom Richmond is still alive and well, with or without a caricature stand at Underground. But my guess is he'll find something else cool to do.
posted by humannaire at 4:56 PM on January 7, 2008

It never occurred to me it would (or should) be any sort of tourist attraction, though.

Yea, it's weird. Back in the day when relatives visited us in Atlanta, we always had to go to Underground. Then again, this must have been at least 10 years ago when it was still somewhat happening. I don't remember much besides my Aunt buying me some good candy and getting one of the "old west" family pictures.
posted by jmd82 at 5:15 PM on January 7, 2008

There are so many interesting, vibrant and fun parts of Atlanta, slumming in the irrelevant for decades Underground is just sad. What a waste.
posted by kjs3 at 6:49 PM on January 7, 2008

tourist-trapping huckstery

You say that like it's a bad thing. What else are tourists for?
posted by anewc2 at 5:42 AM on January 8, 2008

Yeah, Underground Atlanta really kind of sucked last year when i was there. It's a mall.

I enjoyed the coke museum a lot more.

I'm going to have one day free next week in Atlanta, what should I do there?
posted by Kickstart70 at 7:13 AM on January 8, 2008

I'm going to have one day free next week in Atlanta, what should I do there?
It's no Planet Coke, but you should go to the MLK historic district... Or just leave. That is, go walk up Stone Mountain or Arabia Mountain. Or, to the north, hike around Sope Creek. Or, to the west, Sweetwater Creek.
posted by micropublishery at 10:36 AM on January 8, 2008

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