Category Archives: 3. Hinduism

Hinduism has become the most significant force in my life. For years I had been lost to agnosticism and had sought relief in Taoism, Buddhism, revisited Christianity, and had eventually given up on spirituality altogether. I was no longer seeking, then, quite unexpectedly I was called by Lord Shiva. Here is where I will tell that story and share those thoughts. Om Namah Shivaya!

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.

My Home Temple

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ganesh2While my life has greatly improved since leaving Akron Ohio to settle down in Gainesville Florida, there has been one aspect of my life that has suffered greatly, and that is my spiritual life. My spiritual practices are infrequent at best, yet the Deities I am faithful to have been ever loyal, ever responsive, and ever patient as I have languished alone in my faith. There is no Hindu temple here in Gainesville, merely a Krishna temple–which I do not find satisfying in the least. This lack of a community of faith has most definitely had a crippling effect on my devotion. I feel terribly alone down here in Gainesville, and though my home altars are beautiful and ever present, I am not engaging in regular meditations or prayers, though I try frequently to, at the very least, bow in gratitude.

Without a spiritual community I have faltered and in some ways my faith has become less vibrant. This bothers me, this particular solitude, far more than other forms of solitude. In Akron I was less than an hour away from a temple, and I used to go there at least twice a week, sometimes three or four times a week, now I have nowhere to go but my own little altars in my home. I miss the temple itself, temple life, the many magnificent murti in the temple, the inspiring and beautiful sight of other fantastic beautiful Hindu women, and I miss the temple food. Not having access to a temple, to that temple in particular, is a loss I feel keenly and deeply.

For two years now I have been in Florida, entirely too far from my home temple.

I just took a trip back to Ohio and returned to Florida one week ago today, and through the course of that visit I managed to visit my home temple, the Shiva Vishnu Temple, twice. The experience of going home to that Temple was profound, even ecstatic. I knew I would miss it when I left Ohio for Florida two years ago, but I had no idea how badly I needed that temple, and I had no idea how intense the experience of returning would be.

Shortly before leaving Ohio and the temple for this final move to Florida I had my artwork blessed before Ganesh by the Priest. My hope was simply that the work would be published by a small publisher somewhere, little did I realize that Ganesh had much bigger and better plans for me. Without going into great detail, my work was not published as such, but said work led to and generated far greater opportunities. It seemed that the many obstacles that had been before me in life had been removed and I was now able to walk into opportunities that would have remained closed to me previously. It is difficult to explain, but people respond to me very differently and much more openly than they had several years ago. When I left Ohio for good over 2 years ago I drove all the way to Florida with my own Ganesh murti at my side in the car. The entire trip to Florida was a leap of faith, and I was very much leaning on Lord Ganesh and my faith to carry me through, and I was especially hopeful that Ganesh would remove the expected obstacles… I had no idea he would remove so many more and so many larger obstacles.

I settled in Florida and one of the first things I did was search for a temple, but there is none nearby, and my car does not allow for many trips to Tampa or Orlando where the temples are. I quickly began to miss temple life. And as I have mentioned, feeling so hopelessly alone in my faith has wreaked havoc with my spiritual life. It is difficult to follow a faith in complete solitude. I miss my sisters and brothers in Hinduism. And no, Krishnas won’t do, Unitarians won’t do… not even close.

After two years in Florida, a couple weeks back, I was finally able to go back to the Shiva Vishnu Temple in my visit to Ohio! I had a feeling it would be moving and powerful, but I had no idea just how moving or just how powerful it would be. With that same Ganesh murti that travelled at my side when I first came to Florida, I returned to Ohio and to my home temple.

I had hoped I would not break down and cry the moment I walked through the doors and laid myself prostrate on the floor. I did not, but I did lay there warm and wholly at peace. The first thing I did was walk to the back of the temple to bow before Ganesh. I bowed in the deepest gratitude, and as many times as I have thanked Ganesh for his many blessings, bowing before him in that temple flooded me with the most powerful feeling of gratitude I have ever experienced! My chest filled with gratitude and my eyes became wet with blissful tears. I was in awe, never having known the true meaning of gratitude before, never having felt it in such purity and intensity. I circled Ganesh chanting, fighting back tears, trying to simply focus on the words and on my gratitude. I was vibrating yet totally at peace.

durga31Next I bowed before Durga. When first going to the temple I had responded to male Deities, and I had been searching for a Goddess, though none embraced me as completely as I had hoped. No, the others were not slighting me, they were gently nudging me away until I found the Goddess that was meant to travel with and empower me. That Goddess was Durga, and I knew she was the right one for me as the sign I received upon returning home that day was unmistakeable. I have been devout in my loyalty to Durga ever since. Bowing before the Durga altar once again, I thanked her for her strength, and I began to cry.

Finally I bowed before Lord Shiva, and I could not control the flow of ecstatic tears.

Bear in mind that throughout the entirety of my life I have only twice experienced the bliss of ecstatic tears… only twice! The first time was in a small temple in Ocala Florida during a Shiva service, and it was quite unexpected. The Pandit was leading the devotees in the chant “Om Namah Shivaiya” and I quite unexpectedly found tears of bliss streaming down my cheeks. I had never expected such a thing could happen, and had no idea how elevating an experience it could be. I was blindsided, wholly unprepared for the experience. It was direct experience of God! It was pure bliss! And of all the funny things, at that very moment the Pandit (not having seen my tears) said that if a devotee cries such inspired tears before Lord Shiva he cannot help but come to the aid of his devotee. At that very moment I knew what it felt like to be in Lord Shiva’s embrace. Words cannot describe such a sublime moment, and nothing in science can explain it away… however hard one tries. To have the experience is to know what it is, and it has nothing whatsoever to do with math or brain chemistry… those are mere symptoms, not the cause of the experience. Science can measure the symptoms, but they cannot explain away the truth of the experience. The brain thinks it is in charge (which it is not), and it needs to explain away anything that threatens its dominance.

Here I was, back in my home temple and suddenly before Lord Shiva I was helplessly crying such pure tears again! I could not stop them, I did not want to stop them, I simply let go and let the bliss, the tears, the gratitude and the love of Shiva flow through me. Om Namah Shivaiya… Om Namah Shiviaya! I knew in that moment, in all those moments in the temple, that however much my faith has suffered in my solitude down here in Gainesville, that the Gods were with me even when I was not with them. The experience I had returning to my home temple was one that will remain with me forever as clarity in the face of doubt and solitude. That visit reminded me with a certainty unspoiled by doubt that I have found truth, I have found God, and I have found my way.

It was good to go home.

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…”

Barefoot Justine At UF Holi!

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Hey group, last week I enjoyed UF’s Holi festival. For those of you who don’t know, Holi is one of Hinduism’s most beautiful, symbolic and vibrant Holy days. As is common with Hindu holy days and festivals, the event is a thing of beauty, a celebration of life, love and color… and that is why I am a Hindu by choice.

Unfortunately, some of “Lord Shiva’s Nectar” was not made available to the attendees of the UF celebration, it would be a better world by far if it had been.

Holi in a nutshell is a celebration of Spring and love, and is always the way with my beloved Hinduism, the event is celebratory and spectacularly beautiful. Those taking part throw colorful dust and colored water on each other, and everyone is encouraged to participate as one with no distinction being made between friends and strangers. I went alone (as fucking always), but my solo trip was made more beautiful when at the very end (while I was talking to Haley, who took these fine photos) an Indian boy with the most charming and ornery of smiles (I think I fell in love at first sight) ran up to me–just as I thought my hair was going go go unmolested–ripped off my hat and smeared red dust all over my hair and scalp. I thanked him for including me.

Happy Holi! Holi! Holi!

The pictures below are from that event.

Barefoot Justine (Mara Andersen) enjoying Holi 2014 - pic by Haley Stracher

Barefoot Justine (Mara Andersen) colorful at Holi 2014 – pic by Haley Stracher

Barefoot Justine (Mara Andersen) enjoying Holi 2014 - pic by Haley Stracher)

Barefoot Justine (Mara Andersen) enjoying Holi 2014 – pic by Haley Stracher)

Being Bold Dillemma

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I’ve had mixed feelings about posting the topless pictures for a few years now. The thing was, for all the sensible reasons I could think of not to take them or post them, underneath it all was a burning want–if not need–pose and post those photos. (see photos here: http://barefootjustine.com/pics/barefoot-justine-4/) Deep down, I needed to document my body now while it still looks good, so I had them taken.

The photos are raw, totally honest, right out of the camera, no adjustments, no touch-ups, no Photoshop… they are simply pictures of me, in the real world, no tricks, no bullshit. Hot or not, they are all me. That’s my body, that’s my face… and I’m not doing so badly, after all. No, I’m not Bardot, I’m no Soledad Miranda, but I am Justine. I can accept this, at last. All of them were taken by another woman, Haley Stracher, who is doing a story about the way life changes for a cancer survivor… I am her subject. But cancer isn’t the point, I am, Haley is. I trust her implicitly, there is nothing tricky nor any artifice in the pictures, she just knows how to keep me and catch me at my very best… and she has captured on film what I always hoped might be the truth.

I don’t even care that the topless photos aren’t perfect, I don’t like the belly in this shot, I hate my face in those shots, what the hell face am I making? in that shot… and on and on and on. I’m no model… but those pictures, they are ALL ME! Totally honest, and yes, I could look at them and see the ugliness, the awkwardness, or I can look at them and see the beauty, the journey, the healing, the woman. That’s the thing, what you see, it’s a choice. As Nilsson’s Rock Man from “The Point” said, “You ever see a Pterodactyl… You ever want to see a Pterodactyl? That’s it man, you see what you want to see, you hear what you want to hear.” What a person sees in these pictures will say a lot more about them than it will about me. It’s about how you choose to see, it’s about whether or not a viewer has a shard of the Devil’s mirror in his eye or not. It’s about which of the wolves my viewers are feeding. It’s about which story you prefer, which I think we all learned from “Life Of Pi,” it’s about deciding whether or not to believe in God… which story do you prefer?

And me, which story do I prefer? Well, I’m forever plucking bits of the Devil’s mirror out of my eye, but now I know when they are in there, and I know it’s up to me whether or not I pluck the bits out, whether or not I feed that wolf. I prefer to pluck those bits out of my eye and side with the Romantics, the beautifiers, the dreamers. And now, I look at those photos, those terribly honest photos, and I see an amazing journey, a lot of healing, a hopeful smile, fresh skin, a woman with a ton of character, something to look back on with pride and a smile when I’m older, and a body that’s fucking good enough… and maybe even… dare I dream it… pretty hot! Well, a girl can dream, can’t she?

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.)

More Barefoot Justine Pics…

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Haley Stracher has been taking tons of lovely pictures of me for her assignment, and I plan to upload my favorites… she takes hundreds of photos, so there are plenty to choose from.

So, why all the pictures? Because I need a reminder that I’m OK; because I have waited a long time to see myself in this light; because some people want to see them. Of course, those of you who don’t need to see them… it’s pretty easy not to look, so as far as I’m concerned, this is harmless fun, so plenty more where these came from.

I plan to create a gallery featuring the very best of these once she is done shooting. Check Haley’s stuff out here: wix.com/haleys728/1 and note that I chose these ’cause I like myself in them, these pics are, again, unedited, never retouched, and totally raw from her camera, she may have picked photos that pleased her more as a photographer, these pics were solely my choice.

My altars are before me, Shiva, Durga, and Ganesh.

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen bowing before Lord Ganesh

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen bowing before Lord Ganesh

Meditative pose… and me looking like my Aunt Sharon!

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen meditating

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen meditating

Me at home…

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen always barefoot

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen always barefoot

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen happy at home

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen happy at home

Working at SAW (Sequential Artists Workshop), barefoot, of course (see other pics, too).

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen at SAW working

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen at SAW working


(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen barefoot at work

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen barefoot at work

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen at work teaching

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen at work teaching

And more climbing pics… again, my room below and behind me.

Treetop (Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen

Treetop (Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen

Treetop (Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen 2

Treetop (Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen 2

Treetop (Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen 3

Treetop (Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen 3

By and on Newnan’s Lake…

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen lakeside

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen lakeside

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen on the water

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen on the water

If you dig these… more to come, if not… a lot more to ignore!

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

Why Did I Come To Gainesville?

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(This entry is a continuation of “Why Did I Leave Akron,” which you can read at: http://barefootjustine.com/2014/01/24/why-did-i-leave-akron/)

Lord-Ganesh-9I am often asked, “Why did you come to Gainesville?” or “Why did you choose Gainesville?” Of course I did, in the end, choose Gainesville, but it was not a destination… I didn’t even know there was a Gainesville. As I elaborated on earlier, my ambition was not to get anywhere in particular (though I’d always dreamed of living in a place with palm trees), my ambition was to escape the gravity of Akron.

Up to March of 2012 I had been continuing to live in a foreclosed home… waiting. It was not a home worth fighting for, beautiful as it was, it was situated in a place that was getting more and more dangerously “GHETTO” with every passing year. Still, it had been a home for a very long time, so losing it hurt. I knew, though, that I needed out of Akron, and not simply because of what my doctor had told me, but because the city had become dangerous for anyone, especially for a woman like me.

I had been mugged at gunpoint a mere few blocks from my home, and slowly the predators were learning where I lived. One day, after going out to find two of them leering at me from the corner, waiting for me to walk their way, which I often did (and you can see more of this in my web-comic “Why Justine Is So Scared,” under web-comics). I turned around when I saw them, got in my car and never again walked anywhere in my neighborhood.

I had been working as a cleaning girl, and scraping by… so long as I didn’t have to pay mortgage or rent. I had quit my job at ACME after starting my cleaning service. I was gathering clients, but never enough to make a living of any sort. One of my clients, a couple, had mentioned that they were moving to Florida. Up to that point those two were my favorite clients. I asked them, jokingly, if they needed a live-in cleaning girl. They said, sure, I could go along. We all laughed and I went home.

The next week I asked if they were serious about my going with them. They, as it turned out, had very real need of a third person. You see, he was sick and needed to move to a warmer climate, and she had to stay back in the Akron area until their home sold, primarily to hold down a job. I, of course, was going to be responsible for getting her husband around on errands and doctor appointments, for being around in case of emergencies, cleaning and painting their entire house, and to help get their dogs back and forth to the vet and stuff, and in return for all this I was given an empty room with a deflating inflatable bed in it–you can see what’s coming… right? We came to an agreement, talked out the major potential complications, and I walked away ready to take that leap of faith.

First thing you have to know is that we were not headed to Gainesville, but to Ocala (for Christ’s sake!) I had no connections in FLorida, no work prospects, nothing. I didn’t even have any money to speak of. This was going to be a major leap of faith. In fact, my faith played an important part in all this. I had just converted to Hinduism, and was wholly in love with the religion, the Hindus, and the Temple. before going I expressed my misgivings to one of the most dedicated devotees, who simply said to me, “So long as you have your faith, you will be fine.” Leap of faith indeed. I had the Temple Priest perform a blessing before Ganesh. I had brought in my art, art that I needed to find a publisher for (I never did, but I found something wholly unexpected, as it turned out) and a beautiful ceremony was performed over my work. I had also recently had my murti of Lord Ganesh blessed as well, and it remains one of my most holy objects. I carried that Ganesh with me as a passenger the whole trip.

Barefoot Justine's feet... pretty pink polish.

Barefoot Justine’s feet.

I started selling guitars, or whatever I could do to get some money. In the end I budgeted out what little money I had into envelopes, enough envelopes to help me get by in a bare minimum sort of way for 3 months while I tried to find some way to make a living in Ocala. I sold my car before leaving Akron and packed that money into an envelope so that I could buy a car in Florida. That was it, I packed my stuff in poor old Joe Blue Sky’s house and a storage unit. It was a total do-over on my life, no home, no spouse, no strings, no responsibilities, no prospects, nothing but a no-net reckless free fall towards (fucking)Ocala, and off we went! Oh… yes, indeed, I had gone off barefoot, no shoes! That at least was a divine liberation.

We landed in Ocala, and though I tried to establish myself there over the first two months, nothing there was working. For a start things between me and the couple I had traveled with were uncomfortable. I won’t go into those details, but let’s just say that I began to feel a certain kinship with Cinderella as my inflatable bed began deflating and I realized that I was supposed to be their grateful barefoot maid of all work in exchange for this empty room and leaky inner-tube of a bed. I soon found myself down to one month’s worth of money and absolutely no prospects for work or clients or anything. It was a depserate time, as I also knew that come the end of our agreement in a few months… I was also going to have nowhere to live. Things were looking grim. But at least I wasn’t in Akron!

I was trying all manner of things to get word out and find work. I was trying to find a place to have classes, was trying to find clients for cleaning, was trying to find students for private lessons, was trying all I could think of. At one point I was passing around little portfolios at the local college in an attempt to get a show of my work, an opportunity to lecture or teach… anything. I walked into the gallery at the college and this lovely dark-haired girl jumped up with a huge livewire smile and said, “Where the hell did you come from? RUN!” Meaning, Ocala is not up to you, girl. I had come to realize this, but this girl, this signpost, this Avatar of God, was telling me something very real behind her hip and energetic hotness. I was going on to the copy shop in Ocala after my brief encounter with this tattooed savior. I didn’t know anyone in town, not a soul, but I had talked to this guy at the copy shop a couple of times as he was a fan of the sort of illustration that I do and did. I told him I was getting no play in Ocala, and he said that he loved Ocala, but it wasn’t going to work for me, that I needed to go to Orlando or Gainesville. Well, I knew I didn’t want to be a guppy in the Orlando land of sharks, so I asked him about Gainesville. Basically he told me it was known to be very hip and progressive and that I would do well to look to Gainesville as a better fit for me.

I had nothing else to go by, so I took the copy guy’s advice (I don’t recall his name, but he was wearing a blue vest and an orange name tag, so I figured he was qualified to give far-reaching advice in regards to my future), and I planned a trip to Gainesville.

And that was exactly when the uncomfortable crap between me and the couple I had travelled with started to turn way weird. Things had been deteriorating, but soon they were working together via the phone, creating this paranoiac cabal, planning the strangest passive-aggresive attacks I’ve ever endured. Again, I won’t go into details, but I will tell one classic story. SHE Who Must Be Obeyed had come down from on high (Akron) for a visit and invited me to have dinner with them. I agreed, eating only veggie kabobs, as I was vegetarian at the time. Me, thinking this was some sort of reconciliation or peace treaty, thought nothing of it. The next day around the pool they asked when I was going to pay for the share of vegetable I had eaten during dinner! I think with that little story told, there is no need to go into further details. This was a pettiness of titanic proportions… which ironically matched the titanic proportions of her fat ass. Oh my… I think I just got a tad catty!

I went to Gainesville for the Spring Arts Festival, took one look around and thought, “I could live here!” Of course I had no idea how to make that happen. I had tried to work my way into a similar community in New Hope Pennsylvania, but that had not worked at all. I was wondering how I could possibly find a way to get by in Gainesville before I ran out of the 4 to 6 weeks worth of money I had left before I quite literally was hopelessly penniless. I had researched Gainesville a little and had discovered SAW (The Sequential Artists Workshop) and thought that a place that taught comics might be a good fit for me, the problem was, the comics biz never thought I was much of a fit for them, so my hopes were rather timid. I walked into SAW unannounced off the streets that very day, doing all I could to hold down the stink of desperation that must have been oozing from every pore. Tom Hart (SAW founder and fearless leader) was a bit taken aback at what he later described as “this crazy barefoot woman coming into my school looking for work,” and began working up the right words to tell me that he was running a small school and didn’t really need me. Fortunately, Tom is an insightful guy, and when he looked at my (frankly stunning if not staggering) portfolio–the same portfolio blessed by Lord Ganesh–he saw something in it that most other people have routinely failed to see. Tom saw that I had not only talent, but a very disciplined and professional variety of talent–something rather rare these days in the anything-goes world of contemporary comics. His eye saw not merely an artist, but a professional who could actually function in a classroom setting. Add to this that I had quite a teaching pedigree as well.

Tom said to me, “Let’s get you a class and get some money back in your envelopes.” Which, of course he did. Tom may remember it differently, but he took my class, and after the first session sent me an email that literally said “I am begging you to commit to teaching our first one-year drawing program.” Poor Tom, I don’t think he realized what he was getting himself into. Handful that I may be, at least I deliver!

From that point I began to sleep and see my obligations through in Ocala, but lived for Gainesville. This was when things in Ocala began to get weirder and weirder by extremes.For some strange reason I felt the need to see this agreement I had made with this strange couple through to the end, I think my anger at being in this abusive situation was being overwhelmed by my sense of decency in regards to the responsibility I felt towards this sickly pathetic man and the dogs (who I loved dearly). I also knew that there was nothing in this situation for me. They tried to change their game plan and their passive aggressive bullshit became less harsh, as they realized that at this point they needed me more than I needed them.

I wanted out of their house and into a place in Gainesville, so I began hunting around for a cheap place to live until I could get on my feet. Over the next month or two I was shuttling back and forth between Gainesville and Ocala. Things between the man in Ocala and I were getting very hot and contentious, we were fighting like a couple on the verge of a messy divorce. We were having the kinds of marital battles that I remember seeing on seventies cop shows, problem was… we weren’t married. Unmarried or not, I wanted a fucking divorce! I had just gone through the end of a marriage to someone I loved, so this just plain sucked… sucked like a Yoko Ono record.

By this time I had met Joe Courter through Tom and worked out a deal where I could rent a room in his house super cheap (thank God for Joe!), the problem was, I was still obligated to this Ocala situation for seemingly ever. They had not yet even come close to selling their home, and the deal was that I was to stay with them and care for him until they sold their home.

During one of our laundry outing I had gone to a little spiritual shop outside of Ocala and bought a lovely statue of Ganesh–remover of obstacles, as I had obstacles that needed removed. By now I had scored my room in Gainesville at Joe’s and had started to stay there a couple nights a week, but I was itching to get loose from this Ocala situation, problem was, they had to sell their damn house. The day after I bought that Ganesh I started to notice that the murti was chipped and broken, and intended to take it back the next day. This Ganesh was of profound importance to me, considering what I was up against, and I did not want a chipped and broken Ganesh. This Ganesh had work to do. I had a major obstacle in my life, and it was this awful situation in Ocala, this long and interminable wait for them to sell that damn house in Ohio. How terribly profound and auspicious that on that same day I was to return that Ganesh, I was pulled aside and told that they had sold the house! I was free to go!

And that, is how I cam to be in Gainesville. And by the way, that chipped and broken Ganesh I placed high and in a place of prominence in my room. He stands back there like a sentinel watching all who pass through my door, standing watch over my life, my room, and my dreams.

Om Gum Ganapatayei Namaha!

(And remember to read the first half of this saga at: “Why Did I Leave Akron,” which you can read at: http://barefootjustine.com/2014/01/24/why-did-i-leave-akron/)