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

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?

Om-symbol-purpleOm-symbol-purple

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)

Thanking the Masters

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It’s Thanksgiving, a day I really don’t give much thought to. I always enjoyed it, the feast and all, but it was never a day that inspired me to feel gratitude. I try and feel gratitude for someone or something every day and at every opportunity, and I try and put words to it as often as possible. Even most of my meditations before Shiva, Ganesh and Durga are more often than not merely me projecting gratitude towards them. I grew up in a Christian tradition where I was taught that God was, for all practical purposes, dead, retired, no longer all that evident; so now, as a practicing Hindu (of the Western variety), I have been shocked at how much more involved the Deities have been in my life… and for how much more immediately I feel grateful.

Today, for Thanksgiving, Joe and I went out for lunch… I had no other plans or invites, which was fine by me, I would rather eat with one than with 12 anyhow. I know how to behave around 1, I’m clueless around 12… so I hide and plan my escape… whereas with 1 I can relax and be content. We went to Boston Market, as I knew they’d have a decent Thanksgiving spread, and not only was the spread decent, but the employees were kind and joyful. I hope and assume they were pleased to be there getting time-and-a-half pay… they were awful smiley about something. I was thankful for the food, the pleasantness of the experience, and the lack of pressure and stress I would have felt in Ohio with my family. The whole experience was simply good and easy.

After that my only other plan was to meet with a student, who, like many of our students, are somewhat displaced here, like I, far from what was once “home” and family. As I was heading out I was bellyaching a little inside… wondering why I was going off to the school (SAW) to meet with a student on Thanksgiving day. Who the heck else is doing that on Thanksgiving? Well, the joyful souls at Boston Market were doing that… but again, I assume they were getting time-and-a-half.

What was I doing?

Well, I know what I was doing. It came to me as I was about to leave my house and get into my car. My thoughts went first to Saraswati (Goddess of arts and Knowledge–among other things), and I thanked her, and I decided to drop all my bellyaching thoughts, realizing that it was my duty–and not in a dreadful way, either… it is simply my duty to draw and teach, and more importantly to pass along all I know. It is a duty of the highest order, one that must be fulfilled in gratitude, especially on Thanksgiving.

And I realized why else I was going: to pay thanks to my teachers, to the many artists who befriended me, who tolerated me, who got me through, who gave far more to me than I had any right to expect. I was going to pass along all they had passed to me, and that is a divine duty, one worthy of Saraswati, Thanksgiving, and my time. As I set my mind on Saraswati, my duty, and gratitude, I realized how happy I was, how content, and how brilliantly the sun was shining. I was bowing in gratitude before my teachers, my Masters, my gurus, as I drove to meet my student. I was going on Thanksgiving to thank them… thank you…

P. Craig Russell – for being the first, for tolerating my ignorance and youth, and for teaching me to get over myself, to love Disney, and for showing me through example the power of grace and elegance,

Val Mayerik – for the obscene amount of time you devoted to me, to my development, for teaching me to kick ass with hands and fists, and for being my father when I had none,

Dan Adkins – for learning from Wally Wood, for passing it along to Craig and Val, and then for showing me that you could spend the rest of your life in love with the brush, and for the stories… dear God… those Dan Adkins stories,

Jim Steranko – for the most profound and chillingly insightful portfolio reviews ever,

Frank Thorne – for being a God when I needed one, for the warm glow of your charming wife, for revealing the secrets of your work, and for the warmth of your home when I so needed you,

John Workman – for the gentle knowledge and compassionate enthusiasm for the things that really matter in art and comics,

Tom Hart – for showing me that teaching is as grand a life purpose as the making of art, for patience, and for seeing how much I had to offer in a world that has so often overlooked and dismissed me,

Jeffrey Catherine Jones – for so much more than I could put to words, for teaching me the Yin Yang value of white as well as black, for allowing me to trust my work, for showing me the path I needed to follow, and mostly for treating me like an equal,

Jean Rollin – for a love of Sadeian decadence, and for that amazing weekend in New York, I will treasure forever having known a legend such as you, rest in peace, you and dear Jeffrey both.

And to my students… thanks for giving me the chance to keep alive the lessons these Masters taught me. Thank you, in a world that values little of the past, less of tradition, and far far too much of modernity; thank you for letting this old broad rant and fill you with a love of craft and discipline, for the chance to argue that sacrifice and discipline matter, for letting me swim upstream with the message that artistic limitations and ignorance are not to be embraced as stylistic victories. Carry it on into the future, no matter how much the rest of the world of comics and art slips and stumbles into the sewage of the post-modernist cult of self-expression… thanks for carrying at least a little of what matters with you. You can have as much of it as you like, even on Thanksgiving day.

Why Justine Is So Scared

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Why Barefoot Justine Is So Scared (crop)

Why Barefoot Justine Is So Scared (crop)

I’ve been working on and posting images from my web-comic (see under “Why Justine Is So Scared” in my web-comics gallery), and am hoping they shed some light on important issues. The problem is, they are painful to draw. I slipped into a pretty bad place a couple weeks back when I was immersed in producing them. I had to back off to give myself a break. Working on these pages had reduced me to a nervous wreck (moreso).

The decision I made to NOT labor over them was my only saving grace. Had I approached them in the same fully illustrated style that I prefer, I never would have even gotten started. The choice to just “DRAW” them was not only a liberation but a salvation. They are raw, remain raw, and will continue to be raw. Even the writing is raw, naked, mercilessly honest… and that made me feel as nervous and vulnerable as the undisciplined visual style. I am uneasy looking at them, uneasy reading them, and was uneasy making them.

I have encountered a few people who cannot bear to read them, which got me to thinking that if some can’t even read over the black and white comics… how would they handle having the experiences? And why might it be expected that I might not feel overwhelmed at times? Wouldn’t that only be natural… dare I say… “normal?” If some of you can’t even read them, imagine the shock and turmoil of living through them.

Unfortunately these pages create a tunnel-vision experience that is not entirely representative of the totality of my life experience, this is the dark side only (and that is not a constant), though it is the side that perhaps explains why, at times, I am “the way I am.” These pages explain what my daily battles are, explain partly why I don’t go out much, and why I have PTSD symptoms that cause me to be socially anxious–which I fear some people read as my being aloof or snobby. I’m not snobby, just in a hurry to get from one comfort zone to another. Unfortunately, add to that, I have rarely had much in common with most people (I was that way as a kid, too), and have never been able to conform enough to any subculture to “fit in,” so I simply spend a lot of time alone, including in public… and that right there… is where the danger is. Bullies and bastards like nothing more than the chance to be assholes with no one around to witness the wretched things they say and do.

I miss my dear friend back in Akron, someone to walk with and to be my anchor, my dear friend Joe–perhaps the one person with whom I share an understanding and profound trust. I am so sorry, too that he has to live through the aftermath of these experiences when we talk, and am so grateful that he is so patient and loyal. I often wish that I had someone to have adventures with here. I have acquaintances, loved ones, but no one to truly travel with from day to day, no one to lean or rely on when I am out, no one to understand and whom understands in return. Love you, Joe! Miss you profoundly. Two misfits like us rarely cross paths, and it is a blessing from on high when they do.

Don’t stop here, don’t stop at the dark side… read my blogs, look at my smile… you can see Lake Newnan in it, you can hear the birds and feel the soft lapping of the water.

See ‘em here: http://barefootjustine.com/webcomics/why-justine-is-so-scared/