Category Archives: 1. Art

Film Vs. Video

Standard

I was watching the BBC Dracula with The Beard tonight, and realized something very important: I simply can’t forgive video. I love film. It seems to me that it is a virtual impossibility to create tone on video… anything shot on video has only one tone: shot on video.

And the problem, I realized is this:

Film has the capacity to bring us the universe in all its vastness, and video shows us a landscape as seen through a box.

And SAW (Where I Work)

Standard

I reappeared on the SAW site… check it out here:

http://sequentialartistsworkshop.tumblr.com/post/90692097040/preparing-for-next-years-saw-single-year-program

Though it’s my not so humble opinion that we oughta change Tom’s wording from “opinionated” to “divinely inspired with life-changing and immutable insights.” Well… perhaps that would be coming on a little too strong.

Posts and Comments

Standard

Hey, group, I have been told by more than one person that my site is not allowing people to post comments. If you have had this problem, please go to my “contact” link at the top of the page and send me an email so I will know how widespread this problem is.

‘Gator Bait & Me 2

Standard

To read “‘Gator Bait & Me 1″ follow this link: http://barefootjustine.com/2013/01/23/gator-bait-me/

gatorbaitThe story of my dinner with ‘Gator Bait creators Ferd and Beverly Sebastian.

I have been a fan of Ferd and Beverly Sebastian’s drive-in Exploitation classic… ‘Gator Bait for a very long time. The video (as in VHS) release poster I scored from a video store has been on my wall since as far back as the eighties; though the movie itself was released in 1973. For me, ‘Gator Bait was the perfect movie, it was love at first sight, right from the establishing shots and fabulously moody tone set by the opening song. First impressions aren’t always enough, the movie has not only held up through multiple viewings, but I have continued to notice little things about it that have continued to endear it to me. ‘Gator Bait is one in a million, and so are its creators.

‘Gator Bait is, at its simplest, a classic example of the (rape) revenge genre, yet it stands wholly apart and reveals its genre-subverting secrets slowly. One of its greatest strengths is its complete lack of cynicism and its warm and beating heart, which it always keeps in the right place… dead center. There is a depth of observation about the characters that always revealed a woman’s touch to me, after all, Claudia Jennings suggested the most rudimentary concept for the film to her friend Beverly Sebastian, who wrote the exceptional script. Beyond all of its obvious qualities ‘Gator Bait appeals to me for very personal reasons as well.

Firstly, Claudia Jennings as Desirae is not merely sexy, but strong and barefoot throughout, apart from a few shod minutes in the beginning. And she is not only barefoot, but a barefoot wild woman. Movies that fall under the “wild woman” category have long been favorites of mine–for I can relate to them. The problem with most wild woman movies and stories is that they more often than not reveal a deepset puritanical streak. More often than not the wild women in the movies must either be tamed and forced into shoes and submission, or worse… they must die for their wild “pagan” wickedness. See the otherwise wonderful Gone To Earth for just one example of the wild woman formula in action. In Gone To Earth Hazel, the wild woman, is severely chastised (frankly, killed off) for her “wicked ways,” while the men (of course) all walk away healthy and happy. ‘Gator Bait is a rare exception in that the wild woman survives with her wonderful wildness wholly intact–if not hardened a little through the course of her adventure. Two of the most important factors that make ‘Gator Bait such a shining example of Exploitation at its best are its insightful and compassionate portraits of both the heroine and the villains. The writing reveals a woman’s touch at every turn, and a strong and passionate woman’s touch no less, and that woman, Beverly Sebastian, is a powerhouse. The villains, five men who have set out into the swamp to hunt, try, judge and kill Jenning’s character Desirae, all have their own motives and are bound together through the intertwining of their sins, ignorance and mistakes. Along the same lines, Desirae is brilliantly portrayed as a strong Cajun woman who falls into none of the traps of what filmmakers today errantly consider to be strong women.

Claudia Jennings Gator BaitStrong women do not abandon femininity to become men. Modern films take a grotesque shortcut when trying to create a strong female character, they rob them of every ounce of their femininity and turn them into characters as shallow, flat and uninteresting as their male counterparts. Strong women in modern films walk like men, chew gum like men, sling big stupid guns over their shoulders like men, and act every bit the asshole the men do… but they have ever buoyant breasts. ‘Gator Bait takes a much more enlightened approach. Rather than dismissing or degrading the truly feminine, ‘Gator Bait goes against the grain, celebrates it and reveals the sublime strength of primal feminine power. Desirae is no doubt strong and courageous (and a damn good shot, too), but she is cunning, sly, quick and quiet, and most importantly, she largely plays a distinctly feminine cat and mouse game with the men who sexually abused and murdered her sister and are now pursuing her through the swamps for a murder she did not commit. She plays these testosterone addled men like fools and leads them to self destruction. As the film plays out we slowly watch the men become more and more unhinged and frightened not merely of her and her swamp, but of each other. Such subtleties are rarely seen in Exploitation films… and I have seen and loved tons of them. Setting all that aside, and perhaps every bit as important as such subtleties, ‘Gator Bait does not make any promises it doesn’t fulfill, in the words of we Exploitation fans… it pays off!

o_the-hitchhikers-1972-dvd-misty-rowe-5e1fOf course Ferd and Beverly have shot many tremendous and memorable films, even a second huge favorite, The Hitchhikers, another movie that made quite an impression on me. For a start, the lead is played by a woman, again, and she runs away from home barefoot. When I moved away from Ohio to Florida, I did so barefoot, and with nothing but the courage to take a leap of faith and the small envelope of cash I had acquired by selling off guitars, my car, and other stuff. As I walked out the door of my house in Ohio for the last time I could hear the music from The Hitchhikers playing over in my head. As you can imagine, the thought that I would one day meet the writer/producer/director team who created two such personally influential films was always a little faint daydream of mine. I have a longtime habit of seeking, finding, meeting and befriending my heroes, from the great artist Jeffrey Catherine Jones to French director Jean Rollin, whenever possible I have found my heroes and gotten to know them, thereby getting to know not only their work better, but myself as well. Those are the people I learn from. As an artist I haven’t spent much time with my contemporaries, not once I discovered I could shoot over their heads and aim for Masters and personal heroes–even in high school I was closer to my art teachers than the fellow students. For some time I had been trying to find Ferd and Beverly Sebastian, but they were elusive to say the least–read the attached and linked blog entry above for more on that.

Needless to say, having dinner with Ferd and Beverly several days ago was an unlikely and hard-won dream come true. And more than anything, that is really what this is about. I don’t care to review ‘Gator Bait, so many people have done that so badly already that I dare not cast my bait into those waters. Waters muddied by men (mostly) who would rather look down on the things they claim to love and laugh at them by using words like “Cheesy” or “Schlocky.” As for me, I would rather take the higher road and look up with respect and admire the things I love. If I am going to love something, why bother loving something I feel or see as being beneath me? I was never one to get together with people, drink, and laugh at movies, what a lowly and derisive pastime. The other thing such weak-minded reviews do is demonstrate that people do not know how to approach low budget, independent or “Exploitation” films. Most people come to them with eyes, ears and minds that have been brainwashed into only being able to view movies from a limited singular mainstream Hollywood-centric perspective. There are many ways to make, view, and consider movies, and in order to get all one can out of alternative, independent or low-budget film culture one must empty their cup before viewing a film like ‘Gator Bait. What I care to do here, rather than review ‘Gator Bait, is write about my evening with its creators and talk about how much it meant to me.

When I first contacted the Sebastians I had talked to Ferd on the phone, something their son Ben (who was also in ‘Gator Bait) had set up for me. Merely talking to Ferd on the phone flooded me with tremorous joy. As I hung up the phone, having set up a time and place to meet them, the anxieties crept in, the questions… will this be awkward, cordial, friendly, stiff, distant… or will there be a connection between us? When we (“The Beard and the Barefoot Girl”, i.e. me and my dearest friend and a fine artist, Joe Blue Sky) pulled up to the restaurant, within a few moments Ferd and Beverly happened to pull up right beside us. Shit! What are these people going to be like? I was set at ease by the warm and welcoming openness of our initial greetings. Ferd had looked at my artwork on this very site and was already impressed. That has been essential to breaking the ice for me. When I meet a hero I want to establish up front that I am not merely a fan, I am one of them, perhaps an equal. When one artist of skill and dedication meets another of the same skill and dedication the ice is instantly melted and a bond is easy to establish. This is never a manipulation on my part, nor is it boastful, it is merely my way of establishing that we are cut from the same cloth, that we can open up and communicate as equals. We must be at eye level, I cannot stand to be talked down to. Of course, Ferd and Beverly never once talked down to me, having seen my work made that impossible.

Once we all sat down together at the restaurant, Ferd and Beverly and Joe and I, I was astounded. ‘Gator Bait was now real in the sense that I had at long last connected not only to the movie, but now the man and woman who had created it 40 plus years ago were sitting with me and my very best friend over dinner! This movie was no longer something “other,” it was no longer some ethereal dream from the past that I would be forever at a distance from, it would now and forever be an actual part of “me,” of my life, it would be in my gravity and became ever so much more real. I like to get as close as possible to the things I love. It is a funny thing to think about, that until that dinner, ‘Gator Bait was always something distant, something I could watch but could never truly touch or take hold of, something I could never know intimately, it existed in shadows, like a dream. Now and forevermore, ‘Gator Bait will be something I have personally connected with. Moreso, it would now be something Joe and I had connected with together… this is a powerful bonding between friends and fellow artists.

mlc-607x335-sebastianFor a while at first we talked about their (primarily Beverly’s, I think) newer project, her greyhound rescue foundation–for more on that go here and make a donation: http://www.4greyhounds.org. Additionally, Ferd has been running a sincere healing ministry after a profound and mystical healing experience. Joe and I naturally assumed they would be more inclined to talk about their present rather than their past, but soon into the conversation about their greyhound foundation, Beverly became emotional and said, “Enough about greyhounds, let’s talk about movies.” God bless her for that, now we were off and running!

For the next 3 and a half hours, after a meal and cups of coffee, we talked with ease and openness, like (dare I say it) old friends. I realized that these people were both (up around 80 years old) very present in the now, still as vibrant and passionate as ever, so I figured they would not want to talk about their films much past this conversation, so I wanted to ask all I had ever wanted to ask so I could leave them alone about it forevermore. From that dinner forward, it would be easier for me to see them in the future and only talk about their films with them when they wanted to do so. I don’t know if they are always like this or not, but the floodgates opened up and I learned far more about not only ‘Gator Bait and The Hitchhikers, but about their other films and the Exploitation film business in general, their methods, and Claudia Jennings than I ever could have thought possible. The next 3 and a half hours were staggering, even mind-blowing. But the most important lesson I learned was that just because you’re 80 doesn’t mean you have to accept the trappings of old age, no, they were as vibrant and passionate as ever, and both of them sharp as tacks, and this was so because they made it so. I need no longer fear old age… it’s all in the mind, you know! I want to grow old like Ferd and Beverly Sebastian.

Though I loved Ferd, as a woman with few real role models, Beverly soon became my hero, the one I most wanted to talk to and learn from. As a producer, I learned, she was terribly serious, did her research and the innovative and hard thinking it took to market her films, right down to her marking all of the area drive-ins on a map and figuring out which ones would be best for her films, as at that time they only had 20 prints of ‘Gator Bait struck. Their ad campaign involved taking out teaser ads in the classifieds sections in the places they thought would be most likely to be spotted by their potential viewers… keep in mind this was all done before the main ads were ever seen. This sort of ingenuity and classic ballyhoo had been essential to the Exploitation film biz, a beautiful holdover from the carnival, circus and Vaudeville days. Sadly, in this time and in this culture, that sort of thing is dead, and they are among the very last practitioners of this lost way of thinking. I for one am rather romantic about such things, so am delighted to hear stories from those who lived such grand adventures.

Beyond that they were patient with question after question about ‘Gator Bait, and not merely patient, they often went far deeper than I had been ready to ask. As a barefoot girl myself, and a big fan of other barefoot women, I of course wanted to know if Claudia Jennings and Misty Rowe were barefoot in their films because that was how the actresses were, or if they were barefoot because that was how Ferd and Beverly wanted them to be. Ferd clearly stated that that was their doing as the creators. Funny, I don’t know if this was disappointing or satisfying… I’m gonna go with satisfying.

I had heard that Beverly had written ‘Gator Bait in a weekend after Claudia Jennings had asked her to write a film where she could do a lot of action but wouldn’t have to speak much. Beverly confirmed that she had written the script in a weekend, but it was in no way tossed off by her, it became very clear as she talked about it that the script was positively inspired. She referred to ‘Gator Bait as “autobiographical,” so she understood those characters and their lives quite intimately. This film was easier than others for her, as she did not have to do so much research. She talked about the importance of research in regards to her other films, especially in learning how the people she wrote about talked. Beverly said if she made a film about prostitutes, she spent time with prostitutes. I, being a classicist and a big fan of research and disciplined approaches, was delighted to learn that we shared this thoroughness. This also explained why the characters in ‘Gator Bait all had such intense personal histories and motives… she was writing these characters from the inside out. And the closer I got to understanding how heartfelt and thorough their methods were, the more I understood why we were all getting on so well… we all created our works in the same spirit of dedication and sacrifice.

ferd2Of course Ferd had exciting stories about directing, especially about directing the actor who played the demented and tormented Leroy in ‘Gator Bait. Evidently, as convincing as the actor was, when they met him he looked like a little frail English professor. He had to prove to Beverly that he could frighten her, so he took a moment at the audition, mussed up his hair, grabbed a ruler and came at her as if it were a knife and he were Leroy. Hired! But our Leroy’s problems didn’t end at the audition, Claudia’s first day on the set involved shooting the scene where Leroy comes at her to finish her off, but Claudia had told Beverly that she just couldn’t be frightened of this guy, so Ferd gave the actor a brilliant bit of direction. He told him that as he stalked and approached her, to pretend he had a metal plate in the center of his skull, and a small metal ball bearing was rolling around on it, and if it touched the sides, it would blow his head off. The brilliant part is, when you watch that scene in the end when Desirae has set a trap for him, that he easily foils, as he comes down through the brush you can see in his eyes and posture that the threat of that ball bearing rolling too far to the side was ever present in his mind. And, of course, you could see the fear in Claudia’s eyes!

I learned a lot about Claudia Jennings, who I have always been fond of, too. What their stories about her did was wholly humanize her for me. In my mind, up to meeting with Ferd and Beverly, Claudia was something of a creature created by the media. What I learned from the Sebastians was that far from the vulgar and truly exploitive way Claudia Jennings was portrayed as a drug-hazed party girl on E True Hollywood Stories, Claudia was quite an innocent, another dedicated professional, and a very dear friend to the Sebastians. Far more than a friend, I think they were family to her. Of course I learned lots of other things and we talked about how misunderstood she and her tragic and untimely death were, but the Sebastians are still loyal and protective of Claudia Jennings, so I will honor that and talk about little beyond her professionalism. Besides, all we really need to know, and all that really matters, is that Claudia Jennings was wholly serious about her work, research and training, innocent, kind, and loving. And for the Sebastians to pass that along is an act of great love, after all, what greater gift can one do for a departed loved one than make other people love them as well?

Claudia’s dedication ran deep, she spent a couple weeks learning to drive that boat in ‘Gator Bait. They said she even wanted to do her own jumps over the logs and such (which they absolutely forbade), but she did do her other stunts all by herself, even going so far as to steer with her foot in the scene where she stands in the boat and shoots at the men. Similarly I learned that in Truck Stop Women Claudia demonstrated the same dedication in that she took the time to learn to drive a truck. These people, none of them, from the actor who played Leroy to Claudia and the Sebastians, were half-assing hacks… they were devoted and disciplined in their approaches, and any review of ‘Gator Bait that uses words like “cheesy” or “schlock” are to be treated with dismissal and contempt. It was important for me to learn that their working methods and philosophies were so disciplined and sincere, primarily because I had always hoped that was so, and it would have broken my heart to find out otherwise. Simply put, these are my kind of people, which explains why I have always been so drawn to ‘Gator Bait, The Hitchhikers, and will no doubt feel the same as I become more familiar with their other films.

So here it’s been almost a week since I met the Sebastians, and they invited me to call them again to come to their house in a couple weeks, and I am certainly hoping this happens. They are good people, and I need friends like them, but then again, don’t we all? Claudia Jennings certainly did.

gator-bait

My Latest Project

Standard

The latest project I have been working on (as one part of a really great team of artists, writers and such) made Yahoo News. The part of this that is relevant to me is Bryan talking about the Odysseus graphic novel adaptation that I have contributed to through Tom Hart and SAW. It has been designed as a therapy tool for veterans with PTSD. The work is amazing and will be available fairly soon, but for now, check this out…

http://news.yahoo.com/ancient-myth-helps-veterans-battle-ptsd-153531485.html

Soon I hope to publish a few pages from that project on my site, so stay tuned for lots more! In the meantime, for a preview of a couple unfinished pages, check out these:

http://barefootjustine.com/2014/04/19/on-being-back-at-the-drawing-table-2/

http://barefootjustine.com/2014/04/23/am-i-difficult-to-work-with/

Saawariya

Standard

Sonam Kapoor in Saawariya 1 facebook timeline cover 849 X 312 Sonam,Kapoor,SaawariyaI knew I had the evening all to myself. This is not really a good thing. I tend to be fine so long as I’m out, about and productively occupied, so long as the sun is still shining. The problem is, as soon as it gets dark and I’m left alone for the evening (which happens about every evening), the demons rise up and whisper my deepest fears into my ears until my head is filled with dreadful words dripping with worry. One of the ways to banish the demons is to become engrossed in a movie, in a movie that is truly more of an experience. Simply put, a movie that can take me away from all this… this fearful “self.” I wanted to see a particular kind of movie, you know what I mean, certainly you’ve looked for the movie that would be just right for your mood, a movie that you’ve never seen, a movie that creates precisely the right atmosphere and contains just the right amount of fantasy and drama for your needs… you know, a movie that doesn’t exist. I have wasted a lot of my time seeking “that movie.” Of course, the tone and texture of that movie changes with my moods, but I never seem to be able to find a crystallized version of that specific but incorporeal movie that only exists in my head. This night I wanted to see something as colorful as a Disney cartoon, as fantastical as a fairy tale, romantic, maybe exotic, oh… and wouldn’t music as tuneful as the songs of Harry Nilsson be nice, too? And of course, this movie had to be full of women I can relate to. I can’t really relate to “the modern woman” as she exists in America, especially as she exists in American pop culture, so this is an especially immoveable challenge. Needless to say, once I got to the video store I realized the absurdity of my quest and just started looking for something that might keep my restless mind occupied. I picked up everything from Pixar, to the fifties movie “Lilith,” to a collection of Gerald McBoing Boing cartoons. In the end I wound up in the Bollywood section at Video Rodeo, and I settled on “Saawariya.” I figured at best I could simply endure it, which would at least be a distraction.

18035007yr5
MCCARTNEY2Being a Western Hindu, one might assume I am a huge Bollywood fan, or a huge fan of all things India. Not exactly, I mean I am fascinated by the romantic promises of India, but unsure as to whether I could weather the realities of India. And so far as Bollywood goes, I have seen plenty of great Indian cinema, though rarely do the films I like fit into the Bollywood category, a notable exception being the classic “Sholay,” which is rather like a Bollywood “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” This one, “Saawariya,” turned out to be a shining example of the sort of magic only possible in a Bollywood picture… anymore. No doubt my unconditional and instant love of this movie was greatly assisted by the fact that the lead actor looks a helluva lot like a young Indian Paul McCartney from the White Album, or perhaps straight off the cover of McCartney II.

I mean… that would be enough, right? Enough to elevate this to a fave. Just imagine, a romantic movie with a young Indian McCartney. Swoon! I’d like to say that that wasn’t why I liked the movie, and actually it isn’t, but the similarities are strong. For one, the lead actor is not afraid to be silly, ditto McCartney. For another the music is melodious in the film, as it is with McCartney’s. And there is not a shred of cynicism in this film, nor is there any of that in McCartney’s music. I know this comparison may seem absurd or obsessive, but it isn’t, McCartney embodies those things I value most, as does this film, as did this film right from the establishing shot!

tmgsaawariyabd720px2640zw7

I surrendered myself to the film from the opening scene, and I decided to trust it and let it take me where ever it wanted to.

The story is based on the Dostoevsky story “White Nights,” and I don’t know much about the original story, but the film plays the story out like a wondrous fairy tale, and that, right there, McCartney stuff aside, is why I fell in love with this film at first sight. “Saawariya” is a fairy tale of the highest order. The imagery, the colors, the lighting, all create a world bathed in the sort of beauty I could sink into, never to be seen again. The visuals are opulent, as only films made by Indians can be (See Mira Nair’s sensual delight, “Kama Sutra”), any visit to a Hindu Temple would prove that the Indians know something about rich sensual beauty. The Indians, like no other, know how to celebrate beauty. Beautiful stories, beautiful costumes, beautiful boys, and stunning women. How could any people born under such beautiful Gods be anything but admirers of beauty? Perhaps I generalize, but in my experience, Indians know something about beauty that the rest of us seem to have forgotten.

“Saawariya” was a treat to my weary eyes, especially in the grim mire of modern American films which seem to be getting more and more obsessed with the dark side of reality, with being “realistic,” films which more and more seem hellbent on being colorless and drab. I loathed Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” for that very reason, every damn moment in the film was olive drab, brown, or a cold and depressing blue. So it goes with the cynicism of our age, our art, and our culture. Fortunately India hasn’t turned its head too far West for too long. The Indian’s have not forgotten what fairy tales look like, not like Tim Burton has, as evidenced by his perverting Willy Wonka into his own twisted world of cornball (ahem) “dark” gothic fetishism. “Saawariya” is bathed in blues and greens, the backgrounds, I must confess, are close to monochromatic in some scenes, but even those blues and greens are not the blues and greens of depression and death, not like Jackson or Burton uses, no, these are the blues and greens of springs and valleys, of moonlit nights and magic! And these blues and greens always make way for warmer colors, and these blues and greens celebrate rather than mourn. There is so much to mourn in life, I don’t need to spend any of my time steeping in the mournful drab of Jackson or Burton’s visions. I would much rather dance in the light of “Saawariya.”

That, for me, is what truly set “Saawariya” apart, there is not a hint, trace, or even whiff of cynicism in the air. The film is unrelentingly romantic, emotionally tragic at times, but only so much as all the great fairy tales often contain a mix of romance and tragedy. Some might see “Saawariya” as mere fluff, I do not. The skill, inspiration, craftsmanship and artistry displayed in this film, the total commitment to beauty, were enough to leave me swooning for more.

I admire anyone today who dares to strive to create beauty in this culture, a culture that has forgotten how to approach or even admire beauty. We have confused beauty with our fragile attempts to make believe that ugliness is beauty, that the mundane is beauty. No, beauty is an elevated state, it is to be worked for, yearned for, earned for, and above all, treated with the deepest of spiritual respect. God how I dread modern photography, full of sober shots of banal American slobs in their filthy or spartan and visionless cages. We have forgotten the value of romantic ideals, of beauty for beauties’ sake. This film’s sole purpose seems to be to breath life into us through it’s sheer beauty. The backgrounds look like the very best of vintage Disney, but brought to life. “Saawariya” is shameless and unapologetically beautiful.

saawariya-2007-17b-1_1190632094One of my other pet passions is bare feet, especially other barefoot women. There are a few barefoot scenes in the movie, but there is not one barefoot character, nor extended scene of any character barefoot outside of their dance scenes or homes, and though I mourned that personally, it was hardly going to put me off the movie, but it certainly would have enhanced the movie for me, though this is hardly a criticism, and is much more of a personal confession.

The other thing is that I love Indian Pop! The stuff is always such an experimental mix of cultural influences all filtered through the purely Indian sense of melody and rhythm. The melodies in the film’s songs are bright, fresh, and moving. The melodies, though at times filled with influence from Latin ballads and pop culture, are truly things of beauty. This is music, great melodic film and pop music without the banal crud and clamor that has polluted the cheap chincy world of market-driven drivel and computer-ravaged aggression that is American pop. The dance numbers are visionary, rather than being an odd or even incongruous interruption in the narrative (as with many Bollywood movies), this music is integrated beautifully, and wholly essential! This really is a musical in the most glorious sense. A beautiful romantic musical!

tumblr_le4it4RWBc1qc5gejo1_1280

The characters are in and of themselves not merely archetypal, but charming and nuanced. They can surprise you.

Lilipop, the old woman who runs the inn where our hero stays, is quite a delightful character. The lead actor charmed even me, and most boys leave me rather cold, but this one drips with good nature and a certain unearthly, if not simple, wisdom. He does not swagger with testosterone-fuelled ego, no he plays, like a child, like Peter Pan, though far wiser, far more insightful and touching. Gulabji, the prostitute is also a charming character, vivid, full of life and confidence. Gulabji left me wondering what the boy saw in Sakina, who was by comparison rather sad and even gratingly devout. The one thing that I found most enchanting about the movie was that every single character seemed possessed of some sort of easy magic. There is a subversive nature to the film’s characters. At first glance it appears the boy is charming every woman he encounters, but we soon realize that he is wholly at the mercy of each and every one of them. These are powerful women. These are ultra-feminine women. These are women I can relate to. These women have style!

There are moments of wisdom throughout the movie. The boy hero, Raj, is not merely adorable and charming, like any lost boy, he is possessed of some wisdom, and certainly plenty of magic. He has come not only to fall in love, but to teach, to open up the people who surround him. He is there to speak of God, when he says that God never takes everything from us without giving us someone to take care of us. How true I know this to be. I had to be reduced to nothing, to absolute hopelessness myself, before landing in the arms of those who helped take care of me. Of all the things I have lost, I regret nothing. Everything I have lost was taken from me so that I might see beyond my attachments and move closer and closer to where it is I need to be. I never needed to remain in the company of the things I have lost.

of course, none of this writing was really about the movie, it was about my reaction to the movie, about how delighted I was to see it. I haven’t researched the movie, frankly, I don’t want to know. I don’t want or need to know if it was a hit or a flop. I don’t want or need to know what critics and cynics think. I don’t feel any need to allow that silly gob of pudding in my skull to shout down my heart. What is the point, I often wonder, of checking in with critics or writers, to meet what end? I have learned to trust my heart over my brain. My heart is telling me that this film made me feel warm and completely joyful, what business is it of my brain, of some critic, of some controversy to jump in and shit in my happy place? It is enough that the heart knows it has been filled with joy, I do not need or crave any approval from that self-righteous patriarch… the brain.

What this blog entry was about was, quite simply, that on this one day I went out looking for that movie, that specific movie I had created in my head, that ONE movie that would take me exactly where I wanted to go, that one movie that would wholly fulfill my needs. That movie was “Saawariya!”

Saawariya_By_a_Zib_34

It’s nice, isn’t it, to know that once in a while a movie can really hit the spot? And it’s nice to know, isn’t it, that consciousness has a way of connecting artists with those who most need to see their work? Consciousness, our Godheads have spanned that distance between Flordia and India, and the artists that made this movie and I, we have shared in this beauty together.

Am I Difficult To Work With?

Standard

Some artists get a reputation for being difficult to work with. Fortunately, for me, as challenging a I can be as a person, as an artist and illustrator, while I can be passionate and emotional about my work (and what good is an artist that isn’t?), I’ve never had the reputation for being difficult to work with. Oh, certainly I have given some of my art director’s a hard time, but they always came back, why? They came back because I delivered, I was dependable, I was fun even for my excesses and emotions, and because in the end, however hard I would fight and bitch about revisions I felt were detrimental to the piece, in the end I knew my place.

The illustrator’s place is to give in and fulfill the needs of the client. In other words, in the end, no matter how strongly I may feel about a requested revision, I always do what the client asks. What’s best for the project is not in every single case (though usually is) what I have drawn, and just as often what is best is not always what the client wants, that is why it is essential for both sides to battle it out. It is the illustrator’s responsibility to fight for their work and for the project if they feel their idea is better. Any artist who is not willing to fight for their work is not doing the client any real favors. I have occasionally managed to convince a client that I was right in the first place, but far more often I have had to back down and do what was asked, and just as often the client has been right and I have been more than happy to make the changes.

In my mind, though, the bottom line is, illustrators are really in the service industry and we have to accept that. We have to serve the needs of the project by fighting, but in the end our real responsibility is to fulfill the client’s needs even if we feel it is not in the best interest of the project.

As I said before, my clients always came back and were quite loyal, knowing I would never blow a deadline and I would never take on a project I could not complete on time. I worked with the same art director’s for years sometimes. Peter Whitley (formerly of WOTC) was my favorite, and we would have many back and forths about proposed revisions, the thing was, Pete and I loved working together no matter how quarrelsome we could get over a piece. Once Pete said to me, “Just shut up and do the revision,” which I of course was going to do however hard I had been fighting not to.

This has come up again, upon my return to the world of freelance, and the specifics of it have all fallen rather into place for me, and I thought might make an interesting entry, and perhaps a fascinating insight into the realities of a freelance illustrator’s life, process, and struggles.

I have been working on a fabulous project, an adaption of Odysseus for comics. Thing is, as a kid I loved Greek Myth! I read and studied tons of it, and of course, I always adored Jason and the Argonauts (Ray Harryhausen). I came to this project already knowing it well, and having clearly imprinted ideas on the emotional reality of certain scenes. One of the first disagreements in interpretation I had with the writer/editor/art director was over the scene where Odysseus’s men open the bag that controls the winds when Odysseus, who had been guarding it, falls asleep. The winds blow the ship far from home and out into nowhere… the middle of the sea. I recall the scene as being heartbreaking, and I recall being so angry with the disloyalty of Odysseus’ men. It seemed quite a dark and awful scene to me as a child reading it. I saw his men as villains when first I read this. Of course, all these decades later and I communicated that in the illustrations. The writer/editor felt that I had gone too far, that the men were more curious than mutinous, that these men had travelled this far with Odysseus, that this was not evil or a great betrayal. I, however, had seen the men as possessed by their own evil. But, in this case I realized that however much this reading of the scene betrayed my powerful emotional attachment to the scene, that under the circumstances, the writer was correct. This particular project is intended to help work as a therapy tool for soldiers, so this reading of the scene absolutely made more sense in this circumstance.

Additionally there were numerous other little changes that mattered little to me, but mattered to the continuity, so I had no problem changing them.

But then came this page:

Barefoot Justine Odysseus

Barefoot Justine Odysseus

OK, there’s a lot going on in here, but the long and short of it is, the powers that be want me to remove the third panel.

Oh how I did not want to remove that panel.

For a start, I had thought exceptionally hard about not only the page, but the emotional arc of the panels. Panel 1 shows Odysseus essentially in shock or denial that they have been blown so far from home. Panel 2 shows Odysseus in grief, and panel 3 shows Odysseus getting himself together, as it is and was his responsibility to lead, however horrible he feels. They felt the panel was redundant and rather stunk of bad acting, that it added nothing and had to go. I just wanted them to leave it alone.

Add to this that this entire project has been a huge stretch for me, I mean a HUGE one. I have been experimenting with noir-style lighting, especially on the faces, and I never used to draw like that. Also, due to the fact that this was supposed to be a “testosterone” book (that word was used), and most of the artists are women, that I would try really hard to hold back my feminine preferences and ways of drawing and try and deliver that, so I changed my approach. I had been stretching myself by trying to model the faces more in the tradition of an Al Williamson or a Hal Foster. Those men became my icons. That page (11), and that panel (3) were struggles and victories for me. I had reached for something and felt I had taken hold of it and figured a few important things out.

I drew and redrew panel 3, trying to get it just right, so it would have a real sense of solidity and form, a definite emotional center, and a bit of Al Williamson’s grace and style. I had erased, researched and redrew. At one point I had even gotten up out of bed to rework it well after I had quit drawing for the day. I never do that!

So, as you see, I was rather attached to the panel.

So, the first time it came up that they wanted it removed, I fought for it, and I won. All parties agreed that it was fine and could stay. I was, of course, happy, as I have rarely won any such battle. Usually the client wins hands down, however right or wrong they may be. But this time… hell yeah… I won!

(insert that needle scraping across a record sound here)

Uh… no.

So, I came home today from working for a client, and discovered that the traffic ticket that I was told was not in the system and I therefor did not have to pay for was not only now in the system, but it had been there all along and my license was now in the process of being suspended! I mean, really, this battle had been won in my favor, the ticket was lost and I didn’t even have to pay it! And now, not only did I have to pay it, but there was a penalty and my license was in the process of being suspended. Fuckin’ aye! So I had to hustle up the money (which I didn’t have) and go to the bank to deposit money (which I took from my rent envelope… I have NO rent money now), so I could pay this ticket and try and stop them from suspending my license. And this was all a battle I had thought I had won, I thought it was over. In the end Joe insisted we go to the courthouse to fight it, which I was not prepared for. Problem was I was already on the road towards the bank in shorts and barefoot! I’m always barefoot, but when I go to courthouses and stuff I discreetly hide my feet under bell bottoms or long skirts. The cop stopped me and told me I could not go in barefoot. We managed to talk him into letting me by. I have NO idea how I managed that, but I did!

I came home after this ordeal, feeling utterly helpless, but ready and eager to draw, only to open my email and discover that they had all changed their minds and panel 3 needed to go. I felt even more helpless now. I was helpless against the county regarding my ticket, and now I was helpless with my own work and was going to have to erase this drawing that I was attached to.

OK, group, I lost my cool a little. I pitched an itty bitty of a white girl hissy. I was not up to going from the helplessness of one won-then-lost battle to a second won-then-lost battle. I fought it hard, perhaps too hard, but I was seriously torqued up! I now regret that I hadn’t just nodded and let it go, but it’s like that sometimes. The other thing is, yes, I am not only passionate about my work, but highly emotional (like I don’t know how annoying that can be to people), and sometimes as hard as I try… I just boil and can’t seem to help myself. My responses were certain and perhaps too strident, but they were measured.

So, the question is, am I difficult to work with?

I don’t know, I sure as hell hope not.

I erased panel 3.

On Being Back At the Drawing Table 2

Standard

Well, it’s been a long time coming, this whole wild and bumpy full-circle ride… and yes, the people in the front row did get wet. I’ve frequently and long felt as though at this point in my journey that I have still turned out horribly incomplete. I thought that feeling of completion was going to come from somewhere else, but in a rather unexpected way it came about through returning to the one thing I knew about myself to be true from the age of 8 or 10. I knew and frequently announced that, “I am going to be a comic book artist or a dolphin trainer.” OK, so there were a few surprises along the way, but I had eventually landed squarely on comic book artist. Then, I burned out and wandered through many adventures before coming home to the drawing table again. How prodigal of me.

I’ve written on this topic once already, but it seems I feel the need to speak on it again. This process of getting and being back in the saddle is not so simple as one blog entry. I am not looking back at the prior blog entry as I write this, I don’t know how much it will overlap, and I really couldn’t care less anyhow. Stop reading if you hate repeats or capsule (“clip”) shows.

There is a lot of new information. For one, I have finished the pencils on the Odysseus job for DARPA (part of the DOD), and I gathered tons of steam throughout, and slowed down towards the end, but I had accomplished my goal all the same. My goal with these pages was to just draw them. Just draw them. I didn’t want to torture them into existence, I didn’t want to research and reference. I simply wanted to trust myself and channel all I have internalized, and I have internalized plenty. Below you will find pencils (yet to be inked) of my favorite page:

Barefoot Justine's Odysseus for DARPA (Lotus Eaters)

Barefoot Justine’s Odysseus for DARPA (Lotus Eaters)

Yah… it’s a good page.

So now it is time to ink this beast, all 17 pages, and I can’t wait. I love the process of taking that wooden handle in my hand, dipping the hairs into wet ink, and making marks on good ol’fashioned paper. I just can’t, won’t, and don’t get the playtime attitude of a lot of my contemporary artists and students; this compulsive need to use toys and playthings like brushpens, pigma markers and computers. Toys, just fucking toys. When I pick up a brush I am spiritually connected to the Masters, to every artist I have ever admired, to every artist who ever picked up a brush. I believe that the truly great art involves all 4 aspects of the human experience. The great art is not imbalanced, it contains a mix of the spiritual, the physical, the emotional, and the intellectual, to concentrate too heavily on one aspect creates art that is sick, sickly, neurotic, just as is true in life. Think of all the sickly intellectuals you know, think of all the intellectually bankrupt jocks you know. This to me is why the Beatles will forever be greater than the Rolling Stones. The Beatles were a brilliant mix of the physical, the intellectual, the emotional and the spiritual, all of those elements were available and essential to their work, the Stones were heavily concentrating on one aspect, the physical, the penis to be precise… and THAT bores me. It bores me in visual art as well. And consider this, all the artists who work away on computers… there is NO physicality to what they do or produce, the work is a fiction, an abstract, numbers in space, and immediately out of balance. And worse (consider this) no one can convince me (not even Bjork) that said computer-created work is spiritually connected to anything but ones own mind. I am not suggesting that my work is great or all that well balanced, but that is what I admire, and it is the mark toward which I aspire. Nope, no toys for me, just wood, hair and wet stuff on paper.

It seems that when it rains it does indeed pour. I am simultaneously finishing out the semester teaching at SAW, creating an animated infographic for UF, and starting a new project for DARPA all while finishing the first one. How did this happen? When did this happen? Well, without putting too fine a point on it, and I fucking hate to do this again (as I have so many times before), but I have to give much of the credit to St. Thomas of Hart, who has rather unwittingly become something of a guardian angel. Quite a responsibility for the poor guy, considering what a handful I can be sometimes… but I’m worth it (right Tom… RIGHT?). As Tom has said more than once, “Let Lakshmi and Tom provide.” He may pretend to be humble, but deep down he knows that he and we are all working for Gods. I bow before my Gods frequently in gratitude, to Ganesh who has removed so many obstacles and who has continued to send good fortune my way, and to Saraswati who provides inspiration and the energy I need to teach when I feel discouraged by certain students at certain times. I have more than once started out my door in the morning in a foul mood or in a fit of obsession over some dark shadow in my heart only to stop and bow before beautiful Saraswati as she reminds me that I have a duty to perform, and that duty is to teach no matter what else is going on in my life or the depths of my often self-inflicted suffering. She gives me the strength to set it all aside and do my duty. Her glories and grace have given me strength I never could have found on my own.

But back to the material world, yesterday Tom and I had a meeting with the staff at UF regarding our animated infographic, and though he was a tad anxious about it all, somehow I knew we had won this battle prior to even entering the meeting to show them our progress. As I had hoped, they were blown away by what we showed them… as they should have been, problem is, most clients are too thick to see what they saw. Most clients want what they want however lame what they want is. These fantastic women at UF have been open, warm, and have trusted us as artists to do what was best. I always feel it is a sure sign of incompetent and unconfident managers who do not trust their own judgment. What kind of lousy manager hires a person they cannot trust? These women chose to work with us, and they have been wise enough to trust their judgment and allow us to do what we were hired to do rather than riding us and meddling. No one likes or trusts a meddling manager. If a manager can’t trust their judgment enough to trust who they hire, then how can I trust them? Well, anyhow, fortunately these women are confident enough to trust their own judgment. The meeting was victorious, and we not only satisfied but delighted and moved them! That is how it should always work with clients, and that is how it can work, so long as clients trust artists to do what artists do, and trust their own judgment in who they employ.

And next, I have to balance all of this with more work on a new project from DARPA, and I couldn’t be happier. Oh, sure there are days I don’t feel it and the work is workmanlike at best, but most days are good if not inspired. Sure, there are days when I’m exhausted and I really feel and worry about the pressure of having to produce so much all at once, but for the most part I trust myself and I trust what I teach enough to live by it. I have internalized the hard lessons.

There is a crossroads students must face: choice one, to grind away and internalize the hard lessons; choice two, spend time playing with toys, dabbling, experimenting, indulging ones fancies. The choice a young artist makes at that crossroads is critical to their future. Sure, you can be a dabbler, a player, focus on the fun and “creative” parts, but it sure as hell is gonna cost ya in the end. Or, you can sacrifice a little on the front end, focus, learn anatomy and perspective, torture yourself a tad, and in the years to come you can rely on all the hard lessons you have internalized, it’s up to you. I will say this, if one chooses the hard way, to learn a more academic and classical approach, that makes ones later experiments far easier; however if one becomes a dabbler, said artist may never learn how to draw properly and will find themselves boxed in by the limitations of having chosen poorly at the crossroads. In the end I don’t really care what path my students choose, whether they choose to put their carts before their horses or not is their choice, but I know, I know deep down the truth of such things, and I know deep down that I am whole heartedly committed to what I teach. I teach what I know. I don’t know much, but I trust the few things I do know. And I know that I am an artist, and I know what path I took to get there, and I know it was the right path. It feels good to be on that path again, even when the path wends uphill and through the dark and tangles of briars. Just because a path is right, doesn’t mean it will always or ever be easy.

The more one struggles uphill, the closer one gets to God.

On Being Back At The Drawing Table

Standard

Before I’d left for Korea (this was years ago, folks) I swore off drawing. The business had slowly broken my heart, gutted me over the course of years, none of which had stopped me from being prolific as only a true diagnosed obsessive can be right up to the moment I burned out. It was madness. The last few times I tried to draw shortly before swearing it off, I would sit down and battle blocks the size of watermelons, not our watermelons, the ones you find if you climb the beanstalk and visit the giant’s garden, that’s how BIG my blocks were. Yet it got worse than that, by the bitter end, whenever I sat down to draw I would experience such pain in my neck that more than once I sat at my drawing table and cried. It wasn’t what most people think, I hadn’t “quit,” no, drawing quit me shortly after the industry shoved me out. I was actually told by an art director at Wizards Of the Coast that it had come down from on high, by committee mind you, that my work–and notice I’m quoting here–wasn’t… wait for it… “badass enough.” Dear God, really, how could I work in a climate where that was the prevailing mentality anyhow? Damn those prevailing dumbassterly winds! Yes, folks, my work was disliked and my art directors were encouraged not to work with me because my work wasn’t badass enough. Similarly while working for Image (Jim Lee’s Wildstorm) I was told the guys in the office were laughing at my inks because my inks looked like old DC inking. Uh, sure, that’s an insult… being compared to the fucking masters of the industry! Yes, folks, I was officially surrounded by idiots.

For two years I couldn’t draw, didn’t want to draw, and had no interest whatsoever in thinking about or even missing drawing. I started drinking and learning to play guitar and sing songs by Sarah and Maybelle Carter instead. Hard times.

Then, quite suddenly, I felt compelled to draw, it was a force. Out of nowhere, after two years I wanted nothing more than to sketch in a sketchbook, something I had NEVER been able to relax enough to do before. I had cancer, but didn’t know it. It seems the disease was trying to tell me something, and that thing was… “You are an artist.” I had surgery and radiation treatments, but It seems that when they removed the tumor they removed my newfound desire to draw as well. To this day I do not understand any of this terribly well.

Many years later I got the horrible news that my mentor and friend Jeffrey Catherine Jones had died–and just as I had been trying to reconnect with her. It hit me far harder than I could have expected. It compelled me to draw my ass off. That was the turning point for me, the death of Jeffrey Jones, I knew at that point that I would draw, in some fashion, for the rest of my life, even if I ran hot and cold on it. Not only had her death convinced me to draw, it inspired me to tell the story of our long distance friendship, but mostly it told of my strong emotional reactions to that friendship. It was an inward journey spilling out onto the page. I accomplished over fifty pages, told the whole story and had started working on even more autobiographical comics to flesh out what would have been a new graphic novel, then I felt my heart break again.

There was no way, absolutely no way I wanted to step back into that grinder, into the juvenile lowbrow biz that is comics. The very thought of sending out such a meaningful project and such a statement of liberation to have it meaninglessly judged, picked at and rejected killed the project dead. I could not go through the submission and rejection process again. There was no way publisher after publisher was going to send me lame post-its with flippant apologies explaining why they rejected the project. No, no one was going to have that power over me again. Once was enough. The project died. It now sits in a pile of art in storage at SAW, unfinished, unpublished, dusty and done.

But, I kept drawing here and there, a few more comic pages on this, a few doodles, some hard work, some fun work, and here and there a job or two would pop up. I was drawing again, but not like before. I was no longer drawing as I once had: like my life depended on it, I was drawing because I was good at it and it was now easier and more fun than before. But nothing, and I mean nothing, gets me to the drawing table like money. Sell-out, huh? Well, what if my dream, my life dream since childhood was NOT to make pretentious gallery art, but to make a living as a comic artist? MAKE A LIVING! That was my dream, to get paid to draw. So, if that was my dream, and if I pursued that dream doggedly, how is it a sell-out to live for and accomplish that dream? Besides, I always say that the only difference between an illustrator and a “fine artist” is that illustrators are smart enough to find a buyer before they make the work. And I also like to remind people that all of Rembrandt’s portraits were not “fine art,” they were commissioned illustrations, ditto the Last Supper and the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. Yet none of this stops this pretentious asses in the art world from co-opting the work of these great illustrators while shaming other illustrators.

But now, here I am at last, not merely teaching drawing, but drawing my butt off. Thanks to Tom Hart from SAW, I am now deep in two rather sizable projects with very real deadlines! I mean, DAMN, that’s what “getting back” looks like. I’m back, working for clients, getting paid, suffering under deadlines, just like I always wanted, and I have to draw a lot in order to get all this done.

Project 1: is work for a DARPA commissioned project, a graphic novel adapting Greek Myth to be used to help soldiers with PTSD. It’s a great project, good pay, and what could possibly be more fun than illustrating Greek mythology? I’ve been watching “Jason and the Argonauts” over and over… what torture!

Project 2: is an “animated” info graphic for UF. We are explaining a complicated and dry series of facts about an essential and important program at UF, and we sold them on the idea of making it entertaining. The angle Tom and I pitched and are working on is that we will be telling a cartoon version of the dry information through the visuals. We are doing a Tom & Jerry like version of the information underneath the narration. Our characters will all be robots. Hell yes! I’m drawing Greek myth and cartoon robots! Frankly, Ive never had better work, so far as fun subject matter goes. Not only am I back and drawing my butt off, but I’m working on two of the most fun projects I’ve ever been commissioned to do.

A person is not different from their nature, and is obliged to act in conformity with it: paraphrased from the Bhagavad Gita

So, what does it feel like to be back at it? Simply put, it feels great. I feel a lot more complete as a person. A hole in my life has, quite unexpectedly, been filled. Funny, but though I enjoy drawing just to draw, just for fun, it’s nowhere near as deeply satisfying as when I’m getting paid for it. It feels good to have something to do with my once ample free time. It feels good because I am doing my duty, which is one of the dictates in the Bhgavad Ghita, that one should do their duty and not the duty of another. It feels good to do my duty, and it is my duty to be an illustrator.

“Following one’s nature is the only way to work out one’s karma.” Lord Krishna

Oh, there are struggles along the way, all week I’ve been upset with my Odysseus pages because they aren’t as good as Wally Wood’s art, or Milt Caniff’s art, or Alex Toth’s art, or Al Williamson’s art, or Hal Foster’s art. My standards have always been punishingly high. And contrariwise, I have been upset that the pages aren’t loose enough and that I have fallen back into the safety net of how I used to draw rather than forging bold new territories for myself… all of this, of course, I expect myself to master on a deadline! And then with the robots I’m a little upset because the backgrounds don’t all look like Maurice Noble designed them. Hmm… maybe I should cut myself a little slack here. And my students think I’m hard on them… wimps!

All said and done, what really matters is that I am an illustrator and I am illustrating.

I’m good at it, it’s fun, and… in the words of one of the great sages: “What’s wrong with that? I’d like to know, ’cause here I go again…”