Category Archives: 8. Guignol

All things Club Guignol, particularly the series of film festivals I am running in Gainesville at SAW. The Guignol was founded by myself and Joseph Blue Sky and was and is a celebration of cinematic crapulence and indulgence of every kind. Join us!

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.

Gauntlet of Bullshit Keeps Me From Going Home…

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My dear friend Joe (from Akron, not Joe Courter) offered to pay for me to travel to Akron Ohio for a movie con the weekend of April 4th through 6th. It was a delightful offer and I became filled with hope and joy in the promise of a lovely adventure… until we both felt our daydreams shattered by encounters with “THEM.”

Damn Them, for they are everywhere, like seemingly well organized bands of trolls composed entirely of bullshit held together by thick gooey strands of regulations and restrictions.

I had the courage to take the long road trip from Florida to Ohio all by myself. I had cleared the decks of other obligations, commitments and deadlines, had made the time and was doing all the numerous things I needed to do to make this happen.

Then we hit obstacle one. They told Joe he could rent a car with his credit card and I could pick it up and be on my way. But they told him I had to have a credit or debit card. Well, for a start I don’t want a credit card. I have lived without one for quite some time now, thank you very much. I haven’t had a bank account in years, either, but was going to get one after I finished working some magic in my own life that would have been completed on April 14th.

So, ‘screw it’ I thought, I’ll just open a bank account now ahead of schedule and get the damn car rented.

Obstacle two: the first bank absolutely positively would not allow me to open an account because I had not yet gotten my Florida driver’s license. I had made the mistake of telling them I had been here for a while, they said I had been here too long to be allowed to open an account with that license. OK, go to hell, I’ll go to the next bank and tell them I just got here and need to open an account. I was learning how to lie to work this abusive system.

So I go to the next bank and they want to do a credit check. Christ, I’m not asking for a loan, I’m trying to open an account to put money IN! My credit has been destroyed by the housing market. I had no other outstanding debts, but had managed to end up so upside down on my mortgage that I had to allow my home to be foreclosed on and I declared bankruptcy as I could not manage a home I owed $56,000 on that would no longer sell for any more than $20,000… not in the ghettos of Akron Ohio. Well, this bank employee spoke to management on my behalf, seeing that I had been anything but financially reckless and that the housing market was in fact the sole cause of my fall from financial grace.

I go home, call Joe, tell him I have a debit card and he goes to make the reservation. Well, suddenly now that I have a debit card, they all decide in unison, Avis, Enterprise, Budget and their cohorts will not allow Joe to rent a car as a gift for me. Obstacle 3 has now been fully engaged in.

We decide to put the car on my new debit card, so Joe wire transfers $800 to my account so I can get the car, pay for a hotel, and gasoline and we will be on my way.

I start calling auto rental places, and along came obstacle 4. The first one would not allow me to take the car out of state. The second place transferred my call to India, and after the fifth attempt to get their well treated and fairly paid employee to understand my name I hung up. I mean, really, if we can’t get as far as my name how are we going to manage the rigors of reserving a car? The next place told me I was not allowed to rent a car on a debit card. So finally I called another auto rental place and They told me they would have to run a credit check. OK, at this point I’m certain you remember how my credit looks. I explained my credit to them, wanting to know, whether or not I would get the car the day I went to pick it up or not. I was not going to go through the ordeal of reserving the car, making plans, prepping for the trip, and packing only to be denied at the counter. Of course, as this person was from Malaysia (also fairly paid with benefits, no doubt) they had no clue. I began picturing Them as grinning trolls with flaming hoops and myself as a tiny quivering poodle on a choke chain.

Sweating, sick, heartbroken, angry beyond all reason, I stopped. This was now OVER.

Here’s the thing, I was not going to let Avis, Hertz, or any other conglomeration of trolls make the decision for me, I was deciding. No, enough was enough. And add to this that for the past 2 weeks while we had been discussing this little adventure and working to make it happen I have been working tirelessly on a deadline, going to meetings, teaching, working working working to get everything done and done so I could go. I was exhausted, and to make matters worse, I was engaging in all of this madness still had no certainty as to whether or not this was even going to happen. I had decided in that moment that I was not going to be able to live in that uncertainty for another hour, day, or two more days. I needed to know once and for all, was I going or was I not going.

I was not going. I took the power from them. I decided.

Exhausted as I was, heartbroken as I was that I was not going to get to enjoy time with my dearest friend in the world (who I have not seen in over a year), sad and crushed as I was that all the work I (and we) had done to get this to happen, I felt all the same an enormous relief. There was no more uncertainty. I was NOT going. I was not jumping through one more fucking hoop. I, the quivering poodle, turned my back, stepped out of the choke chain and left that grinning troll to stand there shaking the hoop, a dumfounded look on his face.

And I began to think… this is the world we have created. This is the world we live in. Why do we put up with this? Is this the world you want to live in, a world where “customer service” means the customer jumps through hoops and performs endless tasks and endures numerous ordeals to please the gatekeepers of banks and rental car places? Why have we allowed this perversion to persist, to come to this? It’s madness, we are now working entirely for “Them” at every turn.

Well, fuck Them.

This is why I have largely turned on, tuned in, and dropped out, this is why I have renounced ordinary society and have followed my own path. Fuck ‘em, just plain fuck ‘em.

Now, I sit here heartbroken at home, and I ain’t goin’ nowhere no how.

Today

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Today I am sitting in my purple chair, feet propped up on my coffee table, watching it pour down rain. My palm tree (and I do mean “MY” palm tree) is waving in the wind, pelted with rain, the fronds dripping. In the background I am listening to the lovely soundtrack to “Sirens,” a film about artist and eroticist Norman Lindsay, a man I could and have learned a lot from. Norman was quite sure of himself, and I doubt he ever gave second thought to his unconventional ways, even in the face of a judgmental and conventional culture. Therein lies the rub, huh? The second guessing that goes on in my head is never in my own voice, it is in the voice of my mother, the culture as it is, it is the voicing of the expectations of others. These thoughts are impurities that dilute my vision, little demons that work to root out my dreams from the inside, pollutants that, if left unattended, can infect me from deep down inside. It doesn’t seem Norman Lindsay allowed such impurities or pollutants to knock him astray from his course. Sadly, I have often been knocked astray, blown too far by far from Ithaca.

Art by Norman Lindsay

Art by Norman Lindsay

Abandon, purity of vision, sensuality, hedonism, liberation. Norman Lindsay, Brigitte Bardot, the Marquis de Sade, Rose O’Neill, Harry Nilsson, all saints and skewers of the standard moral compass, all rockers of boats. People like them cause trouble and get into trouble, or so it is believed. What they really do is choose to live as they please, choose to follow dangerous muses, choose to see their vision through, they choose to tell the truth about themselves before a world of people who have never bothered to look deep enough to see if there are deeper truths in them. They are people who chose to live their lives and damn the consequences, but there were consequences, there are always consequences. As it turns out, it would seem most of the trouble caused by them is rather caused in reaction to them. They muddy the waters, splash, make waves, without ever once meaning to shock or annoy. They do all this simply by having the courage to be honest about their true nature, they do all this merely by liberating themselves from the bondage of their times, they do this by transcending and by renouncing. They do this by dreaming their own dreams and daring to live them.

I believe in dreams and dreaming, and I believe in following dreams, perhaps to a fall and a fault. I’ve had a checklist of dreams, and it seems I have pursued them at the expense of all else. I have certainly pursued my dreams, my vision for my life, at the expense of security and stability, at the expense of acceptance, and most definitely under the threat of consequences, consequences which rain down and drip from my limbs like the rainwater dripping from the fronds.

I dreamt of being a comic book artist… check.
I dreamt of swimming with a dolphin… check.
I dreamt of SCUBA diving… check.
I dreamt of visiting the Philippines… check.
I dreamt of making erotic comics… check.
I dreamt of being a barefoot girl… check.
I dreamt of living a life of hedonism and sensuality… check.
I dreamt of being an exhibitionistic woman… check.
I dreamt of meeting my many heroes… check.
I dreamt of traveling and working Medieval Faires… check.
I dreamt of living in a place with palm trees… check.
I dreamt of running away to be a carnie… check.
I dreamt of being a musician… check.
I dreamt of publishing topless photos… check. http://barefootjustine.com/pics/barefoot-justine-4/

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

nilsson“It’s an artists prerogative to be indulgent to himself, he owes it to everyone else to be indulgent to himself, and if it’s at the cost of what he thinks is what the public might think it might result in, that’s tough luck.”
Harry Nilsson

I, we (my heroes), we are like sin-eaters, we do these things so others won’t have to. We take the leaps of faith, live the dreams, make dangerous decisions so that everyone else can sit back and watch, can shake their heads and cluck as we deal with the storm of dire consequences… or for many… they sit and wish with all their might that they had the courage to live their own dreams, to see their visions through and state their true opinions. I talk to these people all the time, and I encourage them to do it, to rise up from the mire of expectations and just go for it! But they don’t, they slide back down in their chairs and bring their favorite habits back up on the internet. I feel sorry for them, but I envy them, too, after all, it’s a lot easier to just shove ‘em down, those contrary opinions, those scary visions, those disruptive dreams… isn’t it?

Paul460x276“We can do what we want,
We can live as we choose.
You see there’s no guarantee,
We got nothing to lose.”
Paul McCartney

One thing I’ve learned… we’ve definitely got nothing to lose if we follow our dreams, state our unpopular opinions, our follow our unconventional visions for our lives through, not in this culture of disparity… the deck is stacked, my friends, and it is stacked in THEIR favor, in favor of the 1%. You’ve got nothing to lose, there’s no security, no retirement… just more time on their fucking treadmill. Besides, really, what good are unfulfilled dreams? What good is a life unchallenged? What good is it being accepted by THIS time and this culture? That, my friends is nothing at all. This time and this culture is shit. It’s full of shit art, shit music, shit news, shit TV, shit-gray movies, shitty derivative ideas, shitty cell phones, shitty texting, shitty products, shitty rules and shittier rulers. Shit.

But it still hurts, the consequences still seem as dire as ever. The real question is not, and ne’er should be, “why do I do the things I do?” nor, “why do I make the decisions I make?” no, the questions is, was, will be, and always damn well should have been and should be… why do I worry? Why do I suffer over the consequences? Why do I long to be accepted? Why do I have second thoughts?

That’s the real rub… why do I have second thoughts?

I don’t have an answer, but the rain has moved on, nothing left of it but the gentle pitter patter of the last few drops on the metal roof above, and the winds and the gray left in the wake of the storm. It’s the gray, isn’t it, that’s what these people do, the dreamers, create gray in a world that prefers black and white. They show that there are no books or leaders with one-size-fits-all answers, they show us that for many of us, the answers come from within, not from without.

Perhaps I, too, succumb to black and white thinking, but it’s my black and white, it’s the clarity I have found from the inside out rather than from turning the outside in. The only clarity in my life comes from the inside, it comes from me, never from the logic of the world, never from a club or organization, laws or leaders, and especially not from fashionable cultural norms. My opinions are contrarian to say the least, but contrary to what, I ask? I’ll tell you what, contrary to this shit culture. My vision has led me at times through the dark forest, my dreams have led me down some dangerous paths. But in the end, I have to say, it’s all been worth it.

But sometimes… still, I can’t sleep. I wonder how many nights Norman Lindsay stayed up, fearing, worrying, second-guessing. My guess… not many, Justine, not many.

Sigh…

(This just in… I just saw an otter run across our backyard! Hell yeah!)

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?

Daring New Pics By Haley…

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I have created a new gallery (http://barefootjustine.com/pics/barefoot-justine-4/), and you may want to just click that link and check it out now.

But, I do want to talk about these photos for a moment. Haley Stracher, who I trust to take caring and romantic pictures of me, has been doing a project on how cancer changes a person… I am that person, and anyone who knew me before cancer and my terrifying SCUBA diving experience in Thailand, knows just how much I have changed.

Well, here are two of the photos, for the rest check out my “photos” section, gallery 4.

And if you’re my grandma… uhm… yeah… love you, but cover your eyes and look away!

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

(Barefoot) Justine Mara Andersen, photo by Haley Stracher

Plenty more of these in my photo gallery…

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?”

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

Shawn’s Poem About Me… Justine!

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Sweet Justine
by Shawn Allen (shawnallen50.wordpress.com)

Oh my sweet Justine,
always chasing a dream
and trying to put it to paper.
Hey, barefoot Justine,
these streets can be hot and mean.
Oh, sweet Justine.

Sitting alone in the park,
trying to leave just a mark
on the virgin-white page,
to escape from the cage,
and the dogs as they angrily bark.
Don’t they know you can see in the dark?

And the stupid ones point, and they laugh.
Can’t see the whole, just one half
of the things that you are.
Always chasing that star,
and you go where there isn’t a path
and you’ve laid down that dark, heavy staff.

Oh my sweet Justine,
tell me, what’s it all mean?
Don’t you know that they won’t understand?
Hey, barefoot Justine,
kick up your heels, girl, and dance.
Oh, sweet Justine.

And when they close their doors to you,
it’s because you’re already inside.
It’s just envy, you see -
the Justine they won‘t be.
The divine fool they once knew,
that dream they long ago slew,
the truth from which they still hide.

So just smile when they whistle and jeer,
ignore them, turn a deaf ear.
You know what is real,
and the things they can’t feel -
they’re so worried about looking queer.
You are always much more than you appear.

Oh my sweet Justine,
just keep on living the dream
and show them that it can be real.
Hey, barefoot Justine,
just keep on living the dream.
Oh, sweet Justine.

1-20-2014

(I hadn’t known that this poem by Shawn had been written about me until Joe Blue Sky alerted me to it. I found it quite moving, and was tickled to read it. Shawn is one of our mutual friends from Akron.)

Guignol’s Eye View

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Barefoot Justine, Guignol's Eye View

Barefoot Justine, Guignol’s Eye View

Ever wonder what you look like, or even who you are, from another person’s point of view? I do. I, in fact, worry about that far too much. Avoid living like that if at all possible. I can’t, I’m stuck in that place. It’s a heavy burden.

The photo above is me, as seen from a Guignol’s eye view. That is how my dear friend Joe sees me from his Guignol. What, you ask, is a Guignol? Fair enough. And what it is also depends on one’s point of view. To a casual observer the Guignol may merely be two full grown losers wasting hours in front of the TV. Of course it is far more than that. An historical perspective might well help. The Grand Guignol was both a style of theater and a physical theater in Paris France, was founded in 1897 and expired in 1962. The Grand Guignol Theater experience was wholly unique, it was splatter cinema before there was splatter cinema. It was horror, effects, but also comedy and balance. It was spectacular and well ahead of its time.

But that is not the Guignol of which I speak. The Guignol of which I speak is, trust me, far more than two losers wasting away in front of the TV. The Guignol is quite simply… The Idea Place. It is where two friends go to drink from the waters of inspiration, a spring from which flows clarity, support, and healing waters. It is a corner of Maya that has been cleared free of THEIR Maya and has grown large enough to hold our Maya. It is the home to the illusion of our choosing. It is where I returned to drawing after years of wandering, it is where Joe learned to edit and make little films. It is sanity, it is madness, and a hallowed hall of Saints. Among the Saints of the Guignol you will find Ghoulardi and his offspring Hoolihan and Big Chuck; Paul McCartney and Serge Gainsbourg; Brigitte Bardot and Gandalf; Boris Karloff and Jonathan Winters; Jess Franco and Hubert Frank, Harry Nilsson and Badfinger; King Kong and Sorceror’s Apprentice; Ray Harryhausen and Ultraman; Nat King Cole and Soledad Miranda; Claudia Jennings as ‘Gator Bait and the many faces of Sinbad. The Guignol is where all manner of crapulence and indulgence are mandatory. It is where we, The Beard and The Barefoot Girl, go to seek shelter from the downpouring noise of demons demanding submission and conformity. It is an escape from the rat race, from Nike and the Tea Party; from Hip Hop and Garth Brooks; from everything that has gone wrong.

So much has gone wrong. The Guignol is a fortress that keeps them in their handbaskets and allows us to soar! And we soar together over a sea of ideas. The Guignol is home. It is where we can go to seek shelter from the worst of our ordeals, it is sacred and it has been there through bankruptcy, foreclosure, devastating sickness, separations and divorce, through a loss of identity and rebirth, together or apart the Guignol has become a rock, though remains forever fluid as the Tao. The Guignols have been held in a ceramics studio before a massive screen, in an attic, the Guignol expanded to consume the first floor of a house of broken dreams, the Guignol traveled, and even as the founding and only two members were parted by the landmass of a nation… the Guignol remained where it always was. The Guignol remained in that space between two people that would have torn lesser friends apart; not us, not the Guignolites, we held hands across that space and erected a monolith in place of the distance.

And in that photo you see me as Joe sees me. I see beyond me the attic Guignol, a poster of King Kong, off screen above that Brigitte Bardot, the bottom of a lava lamp, a shitty old TV, and many many things that are his, mine and ours. Mostly I see in that photo that I am alive with my dearest of friends in Akron, and he is alive with me in Gainesville. I see that of all the the mires of molasses and miracles of the modern age… two friends can remain together, if they really want it.

And I can see that from Joe’s point of view… I look pretty good.