Category Archives: 2. SAW

SAW (Sequential Artists Workshop) in Gainesville Florida specializes in teaching sequential art (“comics”), and it’s where I work, draw, and teach. Check us out: www.sequentialartistsworkshop.org

Am I Difficult To Work With?

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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

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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

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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…”

New Photo Gallery Announcement

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Hey group,

I’m delighted to say that Haley Stracher keeps taking lovely and amazing shots of me. I am THRILLED! Call me vain if you like, but I have waited FOREVER to have pictures like these taken of me… I am going to enjoy it!

I have created a new gallery under “Photos,” called “Barefoot Justine 3,” or you can find them here: http://barefootjustine.com/pics/barefoot-justine-3/

Below you will find my 3 favorite pics from that gallery as a preview…

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen "street fashion 6" (pic. Haley Stracher)

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen “street fashion 6″ (pic. Haley Stracher)

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen feet at work

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen subbing

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen "street fashion 11" (pic. Haley Stracher)

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen “street fashion 11″ (pic. Haley Stracher)

See more from Haley here: wix.com/haleys728/1

ZOARK ACTION ATTACK WARRIOR

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“Far out in the bleak reaches of the lesser Mellanganic Clouds the robot world of Theat Retrak 9 was devastated by a quark rust bomb attack from the barbarian world of Tobor in the Andromeda Galaxy. Theatans mining their systems asteroid belt survived the holocaust. Struck to the very depths of his bio-chemical heart, six inch Zoark has sworn to exact vengeance from all Andromedans. Zoark’s steel, blue and black colors, jointed arm and deadly proton propeller cannons are ready to kill. Can he save the milky way?”

Sabbatical Over!

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I have cleaned off my workspace, recovered my drawing table (that Joe Courter made) from storage, have turned the TV towards my workspace, because…

As of today I am a working artist again.

My long, terribly terribly long, sabbatical is over.

And wouldn’t you know it… after years of nothing… two jobs at the same time… and one of them with with an impossible deadline.

Oh yes, it’s good to be back!

(And in this moment I must be grateful to Lord Ganesh… for this is the outcome I had hoped for when I had my artwork blessed in the Temple before I left Ohio.)

Dan Adkins & Another Lesson On Mortality

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08adkinsphotoDan Adkins: March 15, 1937 – May 8, 2013

Here’s the thing, I hadn’t known until today that Dan Adkins, one of my mentors, had died. Stick with me, there’s a lot to this, so let me lay this on you slowly.

Lately you may have noticed a certain pattern in many of my posts; posts written prior to this latest loss. I have been thinking a lot about mortality and old friends. I’ve been thinking a lot about my own mortality and the death of many people I have known. Death is not something I generally like to focus on, but lately it’s been rising in my consciousness, I think I was supposed to have been paying attention. The universe, the Gods, have a way of sending us messages if we are smart enough to see them for what they are rather than taking the easy way out and using science as an excuse to ignore such things and foolishly dismiss them as superstition.

Just last night I was getting impatient with a friend who I love very much, but who has a rotten habit of living in a seemingly perpetual state of “one of these days” thinking, not that I’m unfamiliar with that. My grandfather was the king of “one of these days,” or, “I’ll get around to it.” Of course, now, he’s dead. I wonder, with no comic intention, how much he never got around to. I wonder that a lot, and not just about him, but about my friend, other friends, and myself.

I had been pressing my friend to come and see me here, and though I am generally highly emotional, for some reason this particular need to have him here has been pressing heavily on me, far heavier than is logical. Last night, after speaking with him and getting ready for bed I had a panic attack about it, and I realized in an inspired burst of clarity exactly why my emotional reaction is so strong in reaction to his “one of these days” stance–and that of others and myself.

People die. I will die. And it could happen at any given moment. The intimacy with which I understand mortality is something that only comes with facing your own… and that of many others.

Read over my prior blogs, and you will find plenty on that 6 month period when I had not only been diagnosed and treated for cancer, but nearly drowned in Thailand. I had faced my own mortality in a very hard way twice in 6 months. Add to this the gruesomely personal experience I had with my ex-father-in-law’s death, the suicide of my childhood friend Andy, the hanging I witnessed in my backyard, Tom and Leela’s loss, the loss of one of my jamming buddies Joe, the loss of George (who died of the same cancer as myself), the loss of Scott from the Folkatorium, the loss of Phil to obesity, the loss of my grandfather, of Jeffrey Catherine Jones… and so many more. Keep in mind the risk I am under of bloodclot, stroke and cancer… and I think you can see that I have looked into the eyes of death one-on-one.

One of the losses that I feel that lacks the most closure was with Jeffrey Catherine Jones, yes, THE Jeff Jones! I have written an entire unpublished graphic novel about that loss. Catherine was one of my dearest mentors. A few years back I decided to reconnect with her, and I tried, oh how I tried, but nothing much came of it. Then, in the midst of my final efforts to get back in touch with her, to find her, she died! She died before I could say goodbye, she died with our friendship unresolved. This has haunted me for some time.

About a year or so ago I started realizing a certain urgency in all this, and I began reconnecting with people, especially people who were as important to me as Jeffrey Catherine Jones. I reconnected with Frank Thorne, and he said to me over the phone, after I had vanished for almost a decade, “We were really close once.” That hurt, to know that he had missed me in my absence. It also hurt that I was not able to make out how dear Frank felt about me now. He seemed a little upset with some of the changes I have gone through. I simply do not know where we stand now.

Shortly after that I decided to reconnect with another of the great artists who helped form me, who offered support, criticism and encouragement, the great Jim Steranko. Fortunately that conversation went well. Jim was clear in his gracious acceptance of me. He suggested with some urgency that I reconnect with Dan Adkins. I took Jim seriously, did some digging, and found my old rolodex and address book, but could not find Dan’s number anywhere. I wanted to call Dan. Dan, after all, was the end of the line, was as close to Wally Wood as my lineage got. Dan taught P. Craig Russell and Val Mayerik, and Dan learned from Wally, and I learned from Dan, Craig, and Val. But I could not find Dan’s number. I took it for granted that he would be there. Like a fool I figured that “one of these days” I would call Jim and get Dan’s number.

146536dan_adkins_conanIt’s far too late.

I just learned today that while I was one-of-thes-days-ing… Dan died.

Just like Jeffrey Catherine Jones, Dan died, and I never had the chance to reconnect and say goodbye.

And this is entirely my fault. Entirely. And that is a bitter pill to swallow. I’m not sure I ever will swallow it, it will just sit there bitter in the back of my throat. I’ll have to choke on it, forgive myself, and live with the fact that I blew it. I alone blew it.

I met Dan thanks to Val Mayerik. Val took me to Dan’s studio in Reading Pennsylvania many many years ago, decades ago. I had heard a lot about Dan, all of it eccentric, weird, and wholly loveable. A few of the Adkins stories had become legends among his circle, stories that were confirmed in the first hour of our meeting.

I can’t pretend to have known Dan well, but I knew him well enough to love him. Funny thing was, you didn’t have to know Dan well to know way too much information about him. One of the very best stories about him involved a detailed recounting of the way he almost died masturbating. Yeah, you read that right. Everyone I knew knew the story, recounted it, and recounted it in Dan’s voice. He was entirely too easy to imitate. When I went to meet Dan in his wonderland of a little attic studio, he poured over my work and within in a hour of meeting him he said, “Eh… your work reminds me of Vaughn Bode. You like Vaughn Bode? You know how Vaughn Bode died?” I nodded, of course I loved Bode, of course I knew how he died (who didn’t? though Frank Thorne insists the legend of how Bode died is entirely false and the truth is actually somewhat more unpleasant… which is hard to believe considering how unpleasant the legend is). “I almost died like that, you wanna hear about it?” Dan asked. Well, of course I wanted to hear about it. I had heard the story second-hand and had repeated it verbatim myself, but the chance to hear it from the man himself, from the Master, was far too grand to pass up, so I didn’t let on that I knew the story and nodded eagerly. And let Dan tell the story in his own words. As far as I can recall… it went like this…

14adkinsphotoThe first bit of information is to know that however it was that Bode died, it involved masturbation or sex. Dan’s story involved… well… wait for it, let’s not get ahead of ourselves here. Dan started by telling me that his wife Jeanette (pictured at top and to the left, stunning woman) didn’t approve of pornography, so Dan had pornography on slides that he would view with a slide projector as the slides were easy to hide from her. Dan was in the bathroom sitting on the edge of the tub projecting his porn on the door. At some point in the middle of these… er…uh… proceedings he smelled something burning! In the midst of his… uhm… passion(?) he realized that it was the electrical chord burning. He, pants around his waist, reached down to unplug it, but the part where the chord attached to the plug had melted and when he grabbed it the volt-n-jolt blasted him back into the tub… pants down around his ankles. As he laid akimbo in his tub, pants down around his ankles, he thought, “I coulda died like Vaughn Bode.”

Of course I had many other adventures with Dan, he was possessed of a natural vaudevillian humor that was one part sarcasm, one part exhaustion, one part insight, and one part a shameless knowledge of what was funny. I recall him picking at his food in a dreadful “country cooking” restaurant in a mall, the concerned waiter (flamboyantly gay, and with a runny nose) had become terribly concerned about Dan and his uneaten but incessantly picked at meal. About the fourth time the overly-concerned waiter came over to ask him if he wanted to order something else, an exhausted and depressed Dan just said to him, “Tell you what, I’ll write a book and let you know how it all turned out.” The mystified waiter sniffled twice, turned, and left Dan Adkins alone to pick at his food all he wanted.

Dan was very much a fifties rock sorta guy. Check out those great pics of him in his T-shirt and fabulous hair! And Dan wasn’t just an ordinary rock fan, but a passionate one. He had a wide variety of tastes, and from a wide variety of decades, but he liked his stuff straightforward. God bless him for it, too!

tumblr_m5f3zvvpMe1r93mfqo1_500Dan was one of the classic inkers, as straightforward and classic an artist as the musicians he loved! Dan knew his way around the brush, and his drawing style was simple and spot-on. Not a lot of flash but twelve tons of substance! Dan was an amazing person to show work to. Dan was an amazing person to learn from, and generous, so generous that it brings tears to my eyes. I should have contacted him before he died. He was down, Jim told me his wife had died. Dan deserved better from me.

When I was deep into life as an inker, Dan sent me a couple brushes. Of course I had gone out to see him several times in his studio, but we also corresponded by phone and mail. The brushes Dan sent me were immaculately mounted on cardboard in a side-by-side comparison complete with instructions in perfect and stylish cartoonist handwriting. He was teaching me how to singe the extra hairs from the end of a brush with a lighter. The brushes he sent me, two brand new Winsor Newton Seris 7 #2 brushes, were examples for me to use. One brush had not been treated with a lighter, the other had, and he sent me the two so I could use both of them and understand the difference.

Every time I went to see Dan I walked away with an original or two. Add to this that when he worked for DC Comics on their Olympics-related tie-ins, Dan mailed me a couple lovely drawings, my favorite was of Wonder Woman in a pool swimming laps competitively. It was one helluva a delightful little illustration. Wow… this is hard to write about.

Dan, of course, stepped up to the plate and inked a drawing of my favorite character, Mara, a character of my own creation. If I recall the story correctly Dan had liked the pencils and asked if he could ink it. Of course, of course Dan could ink it.

And now that he’s gone I am filled with regrets, with a total lack of closure, and sense of shame and guilt that will stick. Oh, it will heal, but it will leave a scar, just like the scar left when Jeff Jones died, just like the scar left when the great French director Jean Rollin died without my ever doing the comic that I had agreed to do for him. And I am left feeling a little too ashamed to call Jim Steranko. I have some explaining to do, don’t I, Jim? Your friend, your dear friend deserved better than a “one of these days” from me.

I hope this is the last time I have to live with these sorts of regrets. I hope this is the last time I take anyone for granted and assume that they will be there when it’s convenient for me, and I hope that some of my readers will learn that lesson from me rather than having to learn it the hard way.

People die. One of these days… often before you are ready for it, they will die, and people need to truly understand this.

One of these days, one of these days.

Salmon Falls (Harry Nilsson)

Each drop of rain falls a million times its own length
To crash upon this floor, and with its pain cause life to start anew
Each second fights its way magically through your entire life
Like a salmon traveling upstream to its final destination
And with his goal in sight, life ends – to start anew
Each man lives far beyond his span
And writhes the life of all mankind
And not until his kind has passed will he…
And not until he dies
Each second of your life conclude
And not until it crashes against the Earth
Will a drop of rain have fallen
Not until all men are dead
Will you die
And life will start anew
And you will have traveled a million times your own time
And magically
And magically
Salmon falls

Magically

Lunch With Margaret & the Invisibles!

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So, I went out today with Margaret Tolbert for lunch… poor as could be, she had to both drive and pay. Sitting in the Indian restaurant with her she handed me her lovely hardback book “Aquiferious,” to look at, and I became madly envious. Imagine… a hardback book with your art in it! HARDBACK! It seemed like a delightful and pride-worthy glory.

We discussed projects and possibilities over chai, that beautiful heavy thick book to my right on the table. After lunch she drove us out to see the sandhill cranes, then on home we went. As I got out of the car she gifted me the lovely hardbound book–that I had so privately envied.

Approaching my room I noticed a box, a heavy little wholly unexpected box, waiting for me.

Puzzled, I took it into my room, having absolutely no idea why I was sent this box. I was expecting nothing. I opened it, and of all the ironies, there in the box were three copies of a brand new hardback (HARDBACK!) collection of the Invisibles from Vertigo at DC Comics! There I was, in hardback on the very day I was so envious of Margaret’s victorious harbound beauty.

Funny how life works in such cosmic symmetries.

Now I’m thinking, screw the hardback books… I want a big fat royalty check!

I guess some people are just never quite content.

(By the way, hardback books or not, I’m still poor and in need of prescriptions, so if anyone out there wants an autographed copy of the book, I have two to spare at cover price of $30.)

George Harrison

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feinstein-07I’ve been watching bits of “The Concert for George,” as well as playing “All Things Must Pass,” both magnificent. And for me, full circle. Who is George Harrison to me? I ask that question because he has been part of my life since my earliest memories, a powerful force in my growing up and getting through the heartbreaks of high school and college, and his music still fills me with a sense of the sublime and sacred… and now more than ever.

When I was a kid the very first music I remember hearing was Johnny Cash, Simon and Garfunkel, and George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.” Of course I still love Cash, and have written at length about my relationship to Simon and Garfunkel’s music, but I haven’t yet touched George. His music was forming and shaping me from the moment I could walk and wonder. My old man, a self-proclaimed hippie-hater from his days in Vietnam, came home and had what, sorry dad, I could only describe as hippie parties. I don’t remember any pot, my old man would not have allowed that (too bad, that asshole could have used some), but I do remember a very heavy sixties feel in the air, especially when “All Things Must Pass” fueled the parties. My old man was a parks and recreation director in Akron Ohio, he loved table tennis and making little movies, and I am convinced that had he been able to listen quietly to himself and hear the truth over all the dogma he held in his throat, he would have made one hell of a hippie. But it wasn’t to be, he was far too attached to his obsessive desire to be “normal.” “Normal” was a very important word to my old man, it was what he aspired to be, regardless of the depths of his potential. And I saw that potential most clearly in those days when I would stand up on tiptoes and stare out the window, “All Things Must Pass” blaring from behind me on enormous speakers, out through the open windows to bathe the party below in gold and God. It seemed like every weekend he had a swarm of kids from the park over for sloppy Joe’s and blackberry pig (both specialties of my doting mother), and of course the backyard parties, which I would oversee from the window, Harrison’s music enveloping me as I dreamed of joining those kids, those much much bigger kids. I know “All Things Must Pass” was playing the day they took a queen-size sheet, one to a corner, and held it over the fire, they did this a lot, letting it fill with hot air, then let it go. It would float like a ghost, and I remember the day it caught fire and caught the tree on fire as it passed, but no harm was done.

I often wonder what effect it had, “All Things Must Pass” flooding through my toddler consciousness. I know this, it set the bar very high regarding what I feel music and art should be. The impact of growing up under the shroud of that album and its monolithic mysticism runs deep. How could I have become anything other than what I am? Those moments, that music, gave me no choice. It was formative. At a very young age I learned that art and music are sacred and should be treated with the utmost respect by both the artists and the audience. Art and music were things worthy of sacrifice and devotion.

tumblr_mw9mm4IZZE1s034tqo1_1280As a child, growing up and away from the promises made by the tail end of the hippie era, I have to admit that as the world moved on I wasn’t thinking all that much about George Harrison, I didn’t even know who the Beatles were, dad didn’t play rock in the house, only rarely, it was mostly Country and Western (as they called it then), Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings. But as happens in adolescence… I was wandering from my father’s identity and finding my own, finding bits of myself, and I knew I had found a very large bit of myself when I finally realized who the Beatles were–and as it turned out, unbeknownst to me, they were the creators of the greatest songs I had ever heard. Rifling through a piano bench full of 45′s, playing one after another, I came across the Beatles, I Am the Walrus. I remember that swooshy gold and orange label, and I remember how the hair on the back of my neck stood up as I felt the magic of the Beatles enter my being forever. I was hooked, and nothing less than the Beatles were ever going to do. There were several dozen sides in that pile… I don’t remember any of them, just the Beatles.

It just so happened that George Harrison was a Beatle. It was a powerful connection, going from my toddler connection to “All Things Must Pass” to innocently discovering I Am the Walrus as a preteen, without yet knowing a thing about how all that connected. of course, as a Hindu now I realize that this was not a coincidence, this was consciousness connecting to consciousness, this was Godhead to Godhead.

I leaned on my Beatles to get me through the dreadful drudgery of high school and college, a hopeless misfit, no less so today, but I had the Beatles to go home to. I never felt that they understood me, this was love, not delusion after all, but I most definitely understood them–or so I thought. I realized as I grew that they and their music grew as well. I did not grow out of it, but my relationship to them, their music and how I understand them has changed time and again. Just as my relationship to George Harrison’s music changed from my staring out through the window at the very sixties-like goings-on to the profound disappointment I felt when listening to George contemporary music in the new world of my teens. That world, was NOT the one I had so longed to enter–though I already wrote about that in my piece on Simon and Garfunkel.

george_harrisonOf course I got older, and so did George Harrison. I followed every one of his solo albums, sometimes being disappointed in them, as they never lived up to my juvenile expectations. It took years for me to meet Harrison’s later solo work halfway and realize that, just as McCartney had done, Harrison had gone on ahead of me. Perhaps that is why I never went astray, perhaps that is why I still find them fascinating… they were always ahead of me! They were a challenge. It’s easy to love the Beatles, it is much more challenging to love the solo stuff, it’s all just as inspired… but nothing could bear the weight of the people’s expectations, especially where the Beatles and their solo work were concerned; it has to be what it is. Sex is like that, too. I recall reading Colin Wilson relaying in his book “The Misfits” how real sex with an object of desire is always a disappointment, as the real sex can never live up to the imagined sex. Reality cannot always compete with our fantasies, and that goes for music as well as for sex. Let sex be sex and music be music without letting our fictions come between us and them. Harrison’s music mellowed significantly in tone. Certainly the lyrics were as profound and intimidating as ever, but the sound did not please my young ears… the sounds most definitely please my ears now. I accept them for what they are independently of the fictions, expectations and bull I’d had had wadded in my ears for so many years.

When George released “Cloud 9″ in the eighties, my enthusiasm for him as a solo artist bloomed anew, an enthusiasm that remained in place all through the delightful adventures of the Traveling Wilburys. I started to realize what a gifted poet Harrison was.

Grand as all this is, the impact Harrison had on me was nothing compared to what he had done for me without my knowing.

71RlogJIHpL._SL290_I was raised going to a fundamentalist church… complete with a right-wing agenda. At one point in my teens, one of the youth ministers gave me the choice between the Beatles and Christ. The choice was easy, what was hard was filling that hole–NOT the hole God had filled in my heart, that version of God never filled my heart (and was not meant to), no, what I was missing was a sense of purpose. Suddenly death was the end, and no more. It was a terrifying place to be. I did not believe in Hell, but I did believe in absolute death now that I was no longer a Christian. I sought, I wandered, I tried on Taoism, Zen, wandered Ireland in search of ancient preCeltic tombs and monuments–felt the presence of the fey–journeyed into shamanism, paganism, and even had dinner with Buddhist monks in the mountains of Korea. But none of it stuck, I was left agnostic. For many years I had simply quit looking and accepted that I was not religious or an atheist… I simply had no idea at all. It was not comfortable to me.

Hinduism never once crossed my mind as a possibility, it was too close to taking the Beatle thing too far. In fact, I knew NOTHING about Hinduism beyond what was in Harrison’s lyrics, I didn’t know one God from another. Quite honestly, I wasn’t even avoiding Hinduism, I was simply not even allowing it to cross my radar. Of course, many unexpected things happened, too profound to go into here, but I had to go where I was being led, and I was being led to Hinduism.

George Harrison in no way converted me to Hinduism, he did something much more important, what he had done was far more elegantly profound. When I finally realized where I had to go, and that I needed to follow Shiva’s call, the world of Hinduism was not foreign to me. Thanks to George Harrison… Indian music, food, and spirituality were already warm and comfortable to me. George Harrison had made Hinduism home before I ever knew I had a home. This was God at work, just as it was God at work when that youth minister let me know I was ultimately going to have to choose between Christ and the Beatles–God knew the Beatles were going to help me get where I needed to go more than Christianity. Christianity–full of meaning as it is for many–never fit me, Hinduism has fit me like a glove, and I was being called, and thanks to Harrison, I knew how to answer that call.

george-harrison2One of the multitude of signs that India was calling was the first time I saw “The Concert For George,” and heard Ravi Shankar’s composition in honor of George, Arpan. It reduced me to the warmest tears I had ever cried! I have never tasted tears so warm and sweet, they came over me like chai! The whole concert touched me, the love that projected from the stage was thicker than honey. There are so many sublime moments in that concert, so many emotions shared and experienced through the music. Watch carefully during Arpan… watch the interaction between the musicians, Anoushka Shankar and her father. Beautiful. Warm air like a balloon inflating in my chest fills me every time I see those musicians connect.

Today I watched some of the bonus features and was moved by the lack of show-biz tributes coming from Harrison’s circle. When they came to pay their respects to Harrison a curious thing happened, every single person who took that stage forgot they were famous, forgot the tribute routines, and simply became people, became musicians, became friends of George Harrison’s.

It’s a beautiful thing to behold.

The wonder of it all is not knowing what George Harrison is going to mean to me in the future. I won’t even try and predict it, but I am smiling, warm, and welcoming whatever’s next.

All that… and he’s always been pretty damn sexy, don’t you think?

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20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Lost Animation

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hqdefaultI may have just seen the most beautiful animation sequence I have ever seen in my life, and I say that without hyperbole. The elegance, dignity and grace of the animation nearly brought tears to my eyes. The sequence was animated (no doubt by a team led by) Josh Meador. His name may be familiar, he was a Disney veteran, one hell of an effects animator. You know… Josh is the guy who put all those delightful sparkles around everything. Anyhow, like them or not, he did a fantastic job. Additionally you can see Josh Meador in the Disney short “4 Artists Paint One Tree.” It was a little art documentary in which four Disney artists go out and paint the same tree. Actually, I wasn’t that excited about Meador’s painting on that outing, but everything else I’ve seen him do has been masterful, and this bit of animation is his masterpiece.

It was filmed for Disney’s “20.000 Leagues Under the Sea,” but never used. The scene depicts life in the ocean depths, and includes some breathtaking passages. It is all too short, but packs a visual wallop. I suppose you could find it on Youtube, but that just won’t do it justice. I have the 2 DVD set from Video Rodeo now, so when I’m done with it, you can find it there. It’s tragic that such a masterpiece of animation has been relegated to the status of a nearly forgotten and lost bonus feature… but am I ever grateful it has been saved and shared.

If you love animation… you have to see this piece.

(No link posted because I know this post will outlive it on Youtube, the video will not doubt be pulled and uploaded in endless circles)