Jan 132015
 

In late 1996 I was in a mood to travel. There was an impasse in my life and, as with similar confusing junctions before and since, I hit the road, spending Christmas in Britain with friends, planning to head to Paris in the New Year, by way of the train through the CHUNNEL.

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Nobody was riding the EUROSTAR train that year, and with good reason. In addition to a recent tunnel fire, The IRA (an Irish terrorist organisation) had tried to blow up The Chunnel from the British side, and not to be outdone, The GIA (an Algerian terrorist group) had vowed terror strikes from the French end, while labor strikes (a Brit terror tradition) were threatened at British Rail. The general public was wary of being caught in the crosshairs of technical failures, industrial disputes, two terrorist plots and mother nature– being flung at high velocity through a claustrophobic tube beneath the British Channel was still a relatively new concept in 1996– and people who wanted to cross it flew instead. The panicked marketing departments of both British Rail and France’s SNCF offered great deals as an incentive to put caution aside and ride the flaming-undersea-terror-express, so I did, on a nearly-empty train from London’s WATERLOO INTERNATIONAL STATION (Eurostar service switched to St. Pancras Station in 2007).

This wasn’t my first time in a high-speed train. Earlier, when working in Paris in 1990 I’d ridden the TGV, and earlier than that, when living in Japan in the 1980s, I often rode the ORIGINAL Bullet Train, the SHINKANSEN (an Aussie friend in Tokyo hilariously observed; “that thing goes faster than a sharp stick!”) So my experienced eye was initially unimpressed by Eurostar. Though it looked the part, it dawdled till the coast because British Rail hadn’t yet upgraded the tracks from London to the Channel, and the Bullet Train couldn’t truly ’bullet’, lest its 1990s high-tech slickness was shaken to pieces on the 1890s tracks. Thankfully, it picked up speed in the Chunnel and when it made landfall in France hit a cruising speed of 176MPH for a remarkably smooth and speedy ride to Paris. I’d made the Paris-London flight several times before, and although the flight itself is markedly quicker than the train, that speed is more than offset by getting to your departure airport, check-in, customs, immigration and bag retrieval, and the journey from the airport into the city at the opposite end. The Eurostar was downtown London to downtown Paris in about 3 hours.

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Weeks earlier, when planning the trip, I’d told Tony and Dave that I’d lived in France, and smugly assured them that Parisian winters were mild.. cross-dissolve to: France’s frightfully cold winter that year. We spent most of our time indoors, enjoying Paris’ wealth of bistros, bars and museums with our pals Simon & Tanya, and had a great time. Nevertheless, we were in the “City Of Light” and felt obliged to see Paris, and occasionally braved the arctic weather to ‘enjoy’ the scenery through chattering teeth. After traipsing through the picturesque cold, Tony, Dave and I and paused to take in the view from the middle of one of the beautiful bridges across The Seine.

As we leaned on the guard rail, we saw some rubbish drifting by in the water below us; an LP record album cover of Simon and Garfunkel‘s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” floated into view in the swirling eddies under the bridge. We each saw this freakishly-apt moment of coincidence at the same time, looked at each other with a wide-eyed laugh, then watched “Bridge Over Troubled Water” meander in the currents of the Seine and float off under the next bridge. Cheered by this quirky piece of random chance, we headed into a nearby bistro to discuss the joys of synchronisity and 1960s folk-pop over a chocolate chaud and a croque monsieur..

A few days later, we three travellers went our seperate ways, and I took a side trip to Denmark before heading back to London on the Eurostar from Paris’ GARE DU NORD STATION. I entered a totally empty train carriage, put my bags in the baggage rack near the door, and took a seat up the other end. It seemed I’d have the luxury of an entire carriage to myself until just before the train pulled away, when a large group of largish men bustled aboard and occupied the back two rows. Brit athletes in suits, I thought, perhaps returning from a game in France? The Eurostar depated and I enjoyed the French countryside zipping by until the train entered the Chunnel, when I went to the dining car to eat and write letters (on-paper letters, remember those?) telling family and friends about Chartres Cathedral, the Catacombs and other tourist sites I’d seen in my brief forays into the frigid French winter. I finished my writing and went back to my seat.

Paris1996_97_SimonDrawing

Paris1996_97_Tanya

Pulling into LONDON a mere 3 hours after departing PARIS, I went to get my luggage from the luggage rack by the rear door of the carriage, and absent mindedly noted that in the midst of the large group of very large men was a smaller, rather ugly fellow. Perhaps he was the manager of this burly group of be-suited athletes. He looked like a balding Mr Bean with glasses… Wait, is that Rowan Atkinson? I did a double-take, I knew that face.. it was unmistakably SALMAN RUSHIE, surrounded by his bodyguards. For a time, Rushdie must’ve had the most recognisable ugly face in the world. His hooded-eyed mug was always in the media back then, after The Ayatollah Khomeini placed a Fatwa on him for writing the Satanic Verses. Many famous writers could be passed in the street without being recognised (it must be a pleasantly anonymous occupation for a famous person to have) but not so with Rushdie. He’s highly recognisable even now, but more so back then at the height of his notoriety, when his Bond villain gaze was on magazines and TVs almost daily. As I pondered these things, the rapidly spinning wheels in my mind must have been audible to Salman’s wall-of-muscle, and they gave me their undivided attention with intense alphadog stares. I grabbed my bags and scuttled away.

As I stepped off the train, I thought about my brief brush with fame. In the past, it had already struck me (as it has many others) that famous actors were much shorter in real life. Based on my brief meeting of Rushdie, I wondered if the similar principle with plain-looking famous folk is that they are even uglier in person? Being instantly recognisable must be one of the curses of fame even at the best of times, but extra uncomfortable when under a Fatwa; a game of “you’re it” with homicidal nutjobs weilding rocket launchers and Kalashnikovs.. Clearly, Rushdie’s security team had chosen this mode of travel precisely because there were less people on the Eurostar that year. Their entourage was less likely to be ’made’ by the loons, and there’d be less collateral damage if they actually were. Then it hit me; I’d not only had a brush with fame by meeting Rushdie, but had worsened my odds in my brush with terrorism too. As well as the two terror groups I already knew about, The IRA and the GIA, who’d vowed to blow the Chunnel and therefore had me in their sights by proxy, I’d been riding a train that had been a potential target of a third terror group; the deadly yo-yos unleashed by the Ayatollah. Had they known Salman Rushie was sitting behind me, they would most certainly have shown up, guns-a-blazin’..

a BULLET train indeed!

Nov 242009
 

Last year, during a visit to New York, my buddy Dave gave me a beautifully leather bound sketchbook he’d bought in Italy but never used. Despite being exactly the kind of posh sketchbook that I’m normally too intimidated by to actually draw in (the watercolour paper is clearly of a higher quality than my timid scrawls are yet worthy of) I’ve been trying my best to fill it with sketches done from life, and ONLY from life, over this past year.

Once upon a time I used to draw from life, and quite often, but over the years I lost the habit and turned instead to drawing from only my imagination. I enjoy this kind of doodling very much and I believe that is where my heart will always be in regards to drawing. Consequently, I have piles of recent DOODLE books, but hardly any true SKETCH books. Though my imagination is constantly active and relatively strong, I’ve wondered recently if it has less “food” to nourish itself and truly grow (rather than merely chew on old imagery from within) if I never feed it with any new real-world observation. So I decided to use this leather-bound book to try and improve my observational drawing skills and I’ve been re-learning what l already knew; drawing what you actually see is surprisingly difficult.

This attempt at a monochrome watercolour was done sitting in the park at the Yerba Buena Center. I didn’t get as far with it as I wanted it before I had to leave (to see a movie) so I returned another day at the same time (and hence similar lighting) hoping to tighten it up a bit, but one of those downtown loons that you’ll only find the likes of in a San Francisco park was sitting in the exact spot I’d used earlier and having a conference call with Aliens. So I thought better of working any more on the picture. So it is what it is. Voila.

This ball-point, brush-pen and colour pencil scrawl was drawn while sitting on the kerb in front of St. Cecilia’s Church in the Sunset district. I am a life-long pedestrian and walk as much as I can, but lately I have been walking even more, traversing neighbourhoods I’ve never strolled through in the past. Taking a rest break is a good excuse to draw a little, but despite the pleasure it always brings, I still have to force myself to do it for some reason.

These pencil sketches of a grave-sculpture angel were done during a Halloween inspired trip to Cypress Lawn Cemetery in Colma, a city largely comprised of cemeteries (17 in fact) meaning that dead people out number the living by a factor of thousands. The place is full of beautiful old sculptures, such as this one, and Julia and I plan to go back there again to do more drawing, perhaps even some more of this particular angel. I would like to do some more sketches in paint, as the coarse paper isn’t best suited to a detailed pencil drawing. Thus far, I have been timid about showing my drawings from this book but lately I realised that I should post them, come what may, to record my progress (if any at all). So be warned; I will be scanning and posting more in the near future.

Aug 312008
 

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Lately I have been running around a lot traveling hither and thither. Last week was spent in New York City, visiting my pals Rhode and Dave. This photo shows us all sitting in central Park sketching the local scene, which happened to be teeming with eccentrics on that particular day, including a guy dressed as Batman riding around on a customised Bat Bicycle.

Jul 132008
 

This sketch of my buddy Dave Gordon was done in early 1997 when he, I and mutual friend Tony Stacchi all visited Paris during a very chilly winter indeed. We ‘d just ordered chow in our shitty French, and this is my attempt to render Dave’s ‘dialect’. This was just after I had quit Colossal Pictures, and was traveling a little, while I tried to figure out my next brilliant career move.

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I recently found some photos and sketches from that trip, when I was sorting through some boxes of old stuff, and I have been on a scanning and archiving kick lately, organizing the old photos and drawings. This round of activity was inspired when I finally received some boxes I had sent myself when I was in Australia for Christmas 2007. After going home to attend my Dad’s wedding, I had helped my father and his wife Wendy move into their new house, and along the way I was obliged to sort through several boxes of my old junk that I had left at his house all these many years that I have lived abroad, including some stuff from my years of traveling, that I had mailed home for safe keeping. I threw a lot of it away but mailed the rest to myself here in San Francisco. It was sent SEA MAIL so it took quite a while to arrive, many months in fact. Apart from some stuff sent home to Australia during my traveling years, the box also contains some of my childhood drawings and other things that I may post here later.

Mar 052008
 

My good pal David Gordon has been writing and illustrating charming children’s books for a few years now (such as THE THREE LITTLE RIGS and THE UGLY TRUCKLING). His latest story is a collaboration with his girlfriend Susan and, appropriately enough, it is a charming love story between two articles of lost laundry; a sock and a mitten, entitled SMITTEN.This is my favourite of Dave’s books thus far, which is really saying something, because I have liked all of them. Apart from being a great book for kids, it would also make a great gift for that EXTRA special grown-up in your life.

Jul 102006
 

Normally at this time of year, leading up to Comic Con, I would be powering up my personal Hype Machine and trying to whet your appetites for one of my own books. This time however I haven’t cooked anything new (or rather, it is still baking) but you don’t need to go hungry as I have some recommendations of other tasty treats that will be on sale this year…

MelvinMELVIN BEEDERMAN books 1 & 2, Illustrated by my booth-buddy mr Rhode Montijo. These are the first in a series (lots more on the way!) of chapter books, which are lavishly illustrated novels designed for young readers not yet ready for “Harry Potter” but already growing self-conscious about reading “picture books”. The MELVIN books are full of Rhode’s charming black and white illustrations for the stories (written by Greg Trine) about a boy who is trying to be a Super Hero in Los Angeles (because LA hasn’t had a hero since Kareem retired).

MelvinThese books are SUPER appropriate subject-matter for Comic Con, and perfect for any young kids (I plan to get some for my nephews). For your even younger readers, Rhode will also be selling his colour picture book Cloud Boy which he both wrote and illustrated himself. I already have my copy, (which I have raved about before), but if you don’t have one yet, then I suggest that you come by our booth and pick one up. (Plus, we both have left over comics and sketchbooks from years gone by… or you could just come by to say “hi”).

ROSE AND ISABEL Book 2, by Ted Mathot. The conclusion to an epic story of two sisters who join the American civil war to find their brothers who are missing in action. Ted is a master storyteller, who normally uses his considerable skills in the service of animated feature films (I bet he has even storyboarded some of your favourite sequences). It is a real joy now to see him do his own thing. There is a lesson for me in every drawing I’ve ever seen of Ted’s and this book is like college; it has 160 pages of them.

DEREKMONSTER ANNUAL 2oo6 by veritable art-monster Derek Thompson. Derek is yet another friend who constantly inspires me with his upbeat energy, productivity and his always amazing artwork. He has a broad range of things that he can do artistically, but his passion has always been for designing monsters and I don’t think anyone draws them better. This book, like the first, contains 365 monsters, so you could snack on one for each day of the year, but my bet is that you’ll want to gobble them all down the minute you turn the first page.

MASSIVE SWERVE by Robert Valley. If you enjoy seeing the human form drawn with both an eye for figure drawing and a flair for stylization (which don’t always go together, let alone so well) and aren’t squeamish about unbridled sexual fantasy, then you should get this book, just don’t show it to your kids, your grandma or anyone with Victorian sensibilities. The stories can be raunchy, but are truly hilarious, drawing upon Robert’s real-life booze-addled adventures in club-land, but placed in a more extreme, fun cartoon-fantasy world.

GHOULASH by Sam Hiti. Instead of an epic graphic novel or a charming mini comic, Sam now serves up an art book; a stew of monsters, deities, cowboys (and Rambo!) all rendered in Sam’s fearless brushmanship. An aside; Have you noticed how many sketchbooks have a food-themed title? “Scribbles and Bits”, “Ice Cream”, “Candy”, “Croquettes”, “Gourmet Gruel” and now “Ghoulash”… Surely this proves that art satisfies some kind of hunger? I find artbooks pretty tasty myself, and I can’t wait for a hearty plate-full of Sam’s cooking.

SKETCHCRAWLINGS vol. 2 By Enrico Casarosa. The creator of the worldwide art craze that is SKETCHCRAWL has another of his charming Sketchcrawl books in the pipeline, due to pop out in time for the comic-con feeding frenzy. These books feature a 50/50 blend of Enrico’s superb, “on the spot” pencil and watercolour sketches, and hilarious autobiographical comics co-starring his two tiny alter egos, Nude Angel Enrico, and Nude Enrico Devil and starring full-sized Enrico himself, fully clothed (sorry, ladies) though emotionally naked.

AFTERWORKS 2, by a collection of artists from Pixar Animation studios. I have seen the galleys for this beautifully produced book. there are 360 full colour pages just chock filled with gorgeous artwork by artists whose names you may not have heard of before but whose work you have been seeing for years in all of Pixar’s films. The book has stories by artists from the story, art, and animation departments so it represents a broad cross section of the creative community of that powerhouse studio. And for only $25.00 how can you NOT pick this up?

OUT OF PICTURE by artists from Blue Sky studios, including my buddy David Gordon. I have seen (thanks to super-talented contributor Daniel Lopez Munoz) this beautifully packaged (big format, hard cover) and reasonably priced ($25) book and it is a “must have”. Is this a new trend of anthologies of personal work by animation artists? (How ’bout it Dreamworks artists? Disney artists? Sony? ILM?). It’s a sign of a healthy studio when the artists have surplus creative energy to spare for their personal projects.

And of course, I want a copy of FLIGHT 3 (to keep the first two company on my bookshelf). The Flight collections have probably inspired this recent spate of beautifully produced, bargain priced, colour comics anthologies; a trend I hope will continue for some time. It could be the beginings of a new way to distribute comics and get them to a wider audience… Comics can be cool! Plus, apart from this list, there is bound to be stuff that I don’t know about YET but will crave when I see it…

Anyway, I look forward to seeing all of that and all of you (plus pudgy people in purple spandex) next week at the NERD PROM: Comic-Con!

Mar 082006
 

Toiling away in the creative vacuum of my apartment I sometimes need to jolt some ideas into my brain. Like a tired old geezer in the ER room, who needs a blast of electricity to bring his ticker back to life: “CLEAR!” ZAP! Here’s some stuff that I’ve been getting a BLAST out of lately:

3 little rigsTHE THREE LITTLE RIGS is the latest children’s book by my old pal David Gordon. This is the 2nd in his charming series loosely based on classic nursery rhymes and fairy tales, with the twist being that in Dave’s versions the protagonists are all cars, trucks and other humanised machines. The first in the series was “The Ugly Truckling” and he has ideas for many more. While the appeal to gizmo obsessed little boys is perhaps obvious, the classic story-lines and charmingly-cute artwork should appeal to little girls as well. Dave draws trucks so cute you want to give them a saucer of milk and cuddle them.

BLUTCH is an artist that I’d heard about but only recently got properly aquainted with. Sam Hiti repeatedly told me of his admiration for this French comics artist and since Sam has never steered me wrong in any of his comics recomendations, I went in search of this “Blutch” guy… without any luck. Next thing you know, I get some copies of Blutch’s “MITCHUM” books in the mail. Sam had kindly picked up a few copies for me when he was in Canada. Then I spotted some copies of Mitchum in at MELTDOWN comics (so if you live in LA you can buy Blutch too).

Blutch’s drawings are energetic and use either a scribbly pen or a fluid brush. Some of the books are drawn in a very crude fashion and some with a fluid grace but all show a bravery and boldness to the fearless throwing around of the ink. Most of the stories are dreamlike atmospheric and surreal and many of them have no dialogue, so don’t be put off buying them just because you can’t read French.

NICOLAS de CRECY is yet another French comic-book artist who’s work I admire. He also happens to be one of the two that I have actually worked with (at the DISNEY Paris studio where we did layouts, along with TAO BANG’s Didier Cassegrain). I remember seeing some pages for a graphic novel that he was working in his spare time, and being very impressed with the rich intricate artwork. Years later, while on a visit back to France, some artwork on a book cover caught my eye. Picking it up, I realised that it was the finished work of the pages seen years before. That book is called FOLIGATTO.

Lately I’ve been looking at Nicolas de Crecy’s books again, both ones bought years ago and a few acquired recently. Along with Foligatto I’ve got LEON LA CAME, PRIEZ POUR NOUS and BIBEDUM CELESTE. His brush line-work is superbly crazed and spidery but his detailed compositions never become messy, partly due to the use of a simple duo-chrome palette (usually using shades of two opposite colours) which has a beautifully clarifying effect over his agitated line. Some of the books he has illustrated were written by Sylvain Chomet who is best known as the writer/director of the Oscar nominated “Triplettes of Belleville”. Later, de Crecy and Chomet also collaborated on an animated short. If you enjoy the quirky visuals of Chomet’s films, then seek out de Crecy’s books from the 1990’s and you will see the visual motifs that later appeared in Chomet’s films. De Crecy’s visual world has had a lasting impression on Chomet, or perhaps it more fair to say that they have influenced eachother, having collaborated on both books and animation.

I have also been reading stuff that will be more familiar to fans of American comics.

ESSENTIAL SILVER SURFER. The B/W printing puts a focus on the beautiful drawing and inking. Yes, the dialogue is overwrought and corny (portentious pulse-pounding prose) but entertaining nonetheless. Plus, I like the character; he is not the typical superhero… He’s “sensitive.” Don’t despair Silver Surfer! I understand your pain, unlike all those guys shooting cannons at you…

LOVE AND ROCKETS. I just got “The Lost Women and other stories” and I’ve also been reading “Locas in Love.” and ““WigWam Bam.” The artwork is clean; every panel is a lesson in how evocative simplicity can be. The writing is entertaining too; the richness of Jaime‘s world is very engrossing. No need to go on about these; everyone else is way ahead of me.