Apr 292018

I just tidied up and scanned some sketches drawn a few months ago while staying in Sonoma.

My Brother Jo and his wife Priscilla were visiting Northern California wine tasting with a group of their friends, and invited Julia and I to meet them on the Sonoma leg of their trip. Julia found us a posh AirbnB near Sonoma town square, and off we went for a weekend of dining and doodling. While Jo & Priscilla and their crew were visiting wineries during the day, Julia and I got in a drawing sesh in the square just a few minutes walk from our lodgings, then met them later for dinner. I also drew a study of the twee knick knacks in our B&B. 

It was only a quick trip but one of the fantastic aspects of living in the Bay Area is having so many wonderful day trips so close to home.

Aug 092014

My Brother Jo and his family recently invited Julia and I to join them, and my Dad and his wife Wendy, for a holiday in Mexico. We’ve had a rocky time of things the past few years, and this was a wonderful opportunity to relax. Despite feeling ill the entire time, I did some sketching, and broke in a beautiful new sketchbook that Julia got me for Christmas a few years ago.


A few days before we were due to fly to Mexico, I came down with an asthmatic chest cold, and it was touch and go whether we would fly at all. The morning of our departure, I felt a little better and so off we went.. only to arrive in a Puerto Vallarta that was astonishingly hot and humid. Wow. I felt immediately drained by the brutal heat and felt sicker almost as soon as we checked in to our hotel. The next morning, a doctor came to visit me in my hotel room, diagnosed me with Bronchitis, and pumped me full of antibiotics. This certainly helped, but didn’t heal me 100%. In fact, a few days ago I was put on another round of antibiotics here in the USA.


Unfortunately, being sick, my sightseeing was confined to the hotel itself, but I was very happy to spend time with my family, who I do not often see.  While the others would go off on tours, I would draw in the hotel or try to sleep off my chest-bug, and it was lovely to see my family each evening for dinner. On about the 3rd day, there was an absolutely spectacular lightening storm and the torrential rain on that and a few subsequent afternoons thankfully cooled the temperature a great deal, making the trip much more pleasant. Just as I started to feel a bit more human, Julia got the bad news that her division is to be closed and she will soon be out of a job. I’m not sure why it is so, but all of our attempts at holidays in the past few years have been fraught with illness and bad luck, and I’m afraid of what this Holiday Curse will escalate to next.


I had visited Puerto Vallarta once before, in 1989, and I remember a quaint little seaside town of cobblestone streets, but sadly this time around I only got to see the grounds of the hotel, and the nearby beach, because of my illness. The nexus of the hotel was a huge network of swimming pools, some with a bar right inside the pool itself,  blasting Euro-beat rave music around the clock. We favoured the much quiter family pool, which was a new concept for me; I’m used to the kids area being rowdy, but at this hotel it was the grownups who were the boisterous ones. (Must’ve been the Magaritas).


When we finally found a spot to sit poolside (where chairs are jealously guarded) we met one of the pool regulars; the POOL IGUANA. I’ve exaggerated his size here, making him look as big as a crocodile, but although he was not that big, he was surprisingly large; at least as big as a medium sized dog. It was quite a surprise when we finally nabbed a poolside spot to have this guy dive into the pool, and make a beeline for us through the water, crawl out of the pool and panhandle us for snacks. (For the record, he liked guacamole and salsa but declined our offer of “Fruit Loops”).


The Iguanas were not the only colouful wildlife. There were many racous screeching birds, most notably the PEACOCKS. I did not think to sketch them, but they kept up an almost constant squawking, day and night, reaching a frenzied pitch during the thunderstorms, when I think they lost their tiny feathered minds. They had the run of the place, and their favourite trick was to walk up and snatch the BUTTER off your breadroll right under your nose. BRAWK! After that first night, we always chose a table inside the restaurant.


On one of her visits to town, Julia found a pretty little figurine. When she bought it, she found out that it was the MOTHER MARY figure of this Nativity SET. We didn’t have room for this many dolls, either in our luggage or our flat, so we gave the set (minus Mother Mary) to my Dad and Wendy (they planned to have one of the other female figurines stand in for Mary). I decided to sketch the nativity group before they were bundled up for their journey to Australia.


Christmas 2012, Julia got me these two beautiful leather-bound and monogrammed sketchbooks, but I didn’t feel capable of doing them justice until recently, as I lost my drawing ability the day after I was given the sketchbooks, when my right hand became paralysed. Although my drawing skill is still not where I would like it to be, after filling a big sketchook with left-handed doodles and drawings from life, I now feel ready to crack open these handmade beauties and do some drawing in them. The pages are about half the dimension of my previous sketchbook, and therefore the drawings in these will probably be more gestural, and hopefully looser, more stylised and ‘cartoony’ than the painstaking drawing I’ve been doing lately.

I look forward to filling them both up.

May 022014

Here are some left-handed drawings from recent TV sketch nights drawing Star Trek. The bright colours and simple shapes, not to mention the broad characters and melodramatic action of James T. Kirk and his iconic space-faring crew can be quite fun to draw.


I remember the very first time I ever saw Star Trek; it was 1974, I was 10 years old and my family had just moved to England where we had, for the very first time, a colour TV. One of the first colour shows I ever remember seeing was Star Trek, which I’d never seen before, even in black and white. The bright primary colour scheme is obviously designed for the primitive colour TVs of the 60s/70s. Subtle it was not, but the comic book palette, hammy lighting, and the spaceships and aliens, made a vivid impression when I was used to black-and-white and only 10 years old. I was inspired to build a crude model of the starship Enterprise, using bits of junk around the house: 2 aluminium pie-tins as the saucer, some ’Smarties’ tubes as the nacelles, and a paper-towel roll as the fuselage, all connected with Icy pole sticks. Despite the hilariously naff image you must now have in your mind’s eye as a result of that description, the Pie-Tin Enterprise was the sleekest and fastest starship in the TeeveeRoom quadrant of the OurHouse galaxy.

The first episode of Star Trek I ever saw has the memorable image of the starship Enterprise being menaced by a giant HAND in space. The hand is attached to none other than the Greek god Apollo, who was merely another alien for captain Kirk to clash wills with. I credit this episode for a ’Chariots Of The Gods’ fixation that kept me reading cheesy paperback theories about aliens building the ancient world, from ages 10-13 (to the amused disgust of my father, the classical humanist). Of course, I’d missed the point; the message of Star Trek is that we HUMANS are capable of big things, and in this very episode we learn that no trumped-up Greek God is a match for James T. Kirk and the humanism of Star Trek. Despite his pompous posturings, Apollo gets a regulation Starfleet boot up his Olympian toga.


Starfleet encountered a lot of robe-and-sandal wearing aliens influenced by the ancient Greeks and Romans, when captain Kirk swaggered about the galaxy in the Enterprise. In fact, many aliens and locales encountered by the human race in the 23rd century looked coincidentally very much like whatever the Desilu/Paramount prop department already had lying around from old shows in the mid 1960s. Kirk and crew warp away to the Turkish-harem planet.. Then teleport down to the Medieval-castle planet, visit the 1940s Nazi planet, or drop in on the Cowboy planet, Or the 1930s-Chicago-Gangster planet.. ..well, you get the idea.

In the 1960s, the most famous Star Trek alien villains, the Klingons, were just swarthy, ambiguously-ethnic dudes with Fu Manchu moustaches. In the later movies and spinoff TV series from the 1980s and 1990s, Kirk’s nemeses were made to look properly alien, and had their own language and customs, but in the 1960s show, Klingons were merely a race of nefarious ‘Ming the Merciless’ types. This had long been the formula for baddies since the beginning of pulp literature; make them remind the audience of non-specific foreigners, and you’re done. This may have been budget limitations, as such lazy xenophobia is at odds with the inclusive casting of the crew of the Enterprise, who represent many races and nationalities. This was quite forward-thinking in a 1960s America which had not long ago been in a World war, was currently in a both a hot AND a cold war abroad, and wrestling with civil rights conflicts at home.


Leading the Enterprise crew is none other than James T. Kirk, sitting in his Starfleet captain’s chair like a smirking king upon his high-tech throne. I imagine a ‘real’ starship captain would never leave his command post, and would control things from afar, like modern commanders do, but like any good warrior king, captain James T. Kirk spends as much time on the battlefield as in the throne room. He accompanies many an away-team mission, where the red-shirts inevitably get charbroiled, while Kirk’s tunic gets torn in pec-revealing two-fisted judo action. My friend Steve once made the hilarious observation that captain James T. Kirk was essentially President John F. Kennedy in outer-space. Perhaps J.T.K’s strutting-rooster showdowns with Klingons, and slap-and-tickle sessions with green alien babes were indeed inspired by J.F.K shagging Marilyn Monroe while playing games of nuclear-chicken with Kruschev.

That same cocktail of political tensions, machismo and sex created James Bond too, so it must have been a 1960s thing. (Apparently, Ian Fleming was President Kennedy’s favourite fiction author, and it’s a scary thought that Fleming’s overblown and undercooked James Bond novels of the 1950s influenced real-world 1960s politics, by way of an avid fan becoming the US President.) James T. Kirk would have undoubtedly approved of John F. Kennedy’s handling of the Cuban Missile Crisis. “Well played, Jack.” “Thanks, Jim.” Then the two of them could have met James Bond at the Playboy club on StarBase Alpha for some 3-dimensional Venusian Baccarat and zero-G hanky-panky with Orion cocktail waitresses.


In a few episodes, we see that some women have joined Starfleet just to bring James T. Kirk coffee in his captain’s chair. This show is set in the 23rd century, but we are often reminded that the writers themselves lived in the 1960s; the era of Mad Men. Female Enterprise crew rarely have leadership roles, mostly being nurses rather than doctors, and assistants rather than department heads. Lieutenant Uhura is indeed a Starfleet officer, and I am told that it was revolutionary at the time to have an African American female bridge officer as a main character. Yet, in the 1960s, even the imaginative powers of science fiction writers could not envision a 23rd century female Starfleet officer as doing anything more useful than essentially answering the phone and operating the switchboard. But, I have to remind myself, for a 1960s audience the fact that there were women AT ALL on a military vessel was progressive; the US Navy did not have a ship with a mixed male-female crew till 1972.

The Star Trek pilot from 1966; ‘The Cage’ can now be viewed on Netflix or DVD. It was never broadcast in this form, though re-cut as the 2-part ’Menagerie’ episode from season 1. The original ’Number One’, the Enterprise’s first officer, was envisaged by series creator Gene Roddenberry, as a capable and logical woman; a wise, captain’s counsel role, not unlike that which ultimately went to Spock. (Interestingly though, the original captain was a goon). The original female Starfleet uniforms were closer to the more practical unisex style of the later Star Trek spinoffs, and it’s clear that earlier than 1966, Roddenberry wanted not just a racially integrated show but with an attempt at progressive gender roles too. But the network (or perhaps mid 1960s focus groups) wanted this changed. So we have bee hive hairdos, go-go boots and mini skirts, and this decision to make the show more ‘hip’ to the standards of 1966 makes the portrayal of females the most dated element of Star Trek by far.


In Star Trek episodes, it is often mentioned in passing that 23rd century Earth has defeated poverty and racism. That would seem more of an achievement than the Star Trek adventures themselves. I would certainly like to see the solutions to these problems that have beset the human race since day one. In fact, it is remarkable how little about Earth we actually know, given how many episodes of Star Trek and its various spinoffs there have been over the almost 50 years since it first aired. Future Earth is apparently ‘fixed’, but we only see that world through the eyes of a regimented military organisation patrolling the fringes of human interstellar civilisation. Ultimately, which political solution worked? For obvious reasons, they kept the details vague, in the TV show at least.

Star Trek gives me nostalgia for an old idea of the future. I have an unmistakable affection for this show, despite, or perhaps because of, all its cheeseball budgetary limitations, and its dated vision of quaint, retro-futuristic optimism. There’s a strange blend of forward-thinking, and old-fashioned, cold war, bone-headed, machismo. Starfleet is ostensibly out there in space, to learn from the universe, but smugly bustles about the galaxy telling aliens what to do and bashing heads with them if they don’t see things our way. “Prime Directive” PC cultural sensitivities rarely hampered James T. Kirk from cockily brawling his way from one end of the galaxy to the other, and shagging his way back again. Yet, there’s an underlying likeable quality, a confidence that the human race will prevail, and we’ll eventually solve our problems with rationalism. There’s no problem we can’t fix with a technological dingus, no alien so powerful we can’t lick, or better yet, make friends with.


And if the manifest-destiny of Starfleet eventually meets THAT God a few galaxies over, and discovers that it too is an alien, will it be Yahweh or the highway for our favourite starshipful of ‘boldy-going’, busy-body humanists? Stay tuned for next week’s thrilling episode!

Jun 102007

I spent the last month in Europe traveling about. The main purpose of the trip was to be at my sister VICTORIA’s wedding in Paris, which all my family members managed to attend. It is no easy matter getting all of us far flung Bakers in the one place at the one time either!

Before and after the Parisian nuptuals I was able to visit friends living in Germany and Sweden. My pals of many years the McClenahans have been living in Munich, where they had just finished work on an animated film. When I showed up they dropped everything and went with me on a trip to Venice. What can I say, I loved that city. But believe it or not I had the worst Italian food I’ve ever had right there. Thereafter I made my way to Florence and back to Munich where I caught the train to Paris.

It was a real blast spending time with my small-town family in that wonderful city. I never stopped getting a kick out of it. Despite the terrible summer, the city looked beautiful in the autumn. After spending some time together we all had to go our seperate ways. The group that came over from Australia went home via Vietnam, which I am jealous about as they had a bunch of adventures there.

Once alone, I went up to Sweden to visit my old pal Annelie who I first met in the Orient when I was travelling there years ago. It was late in the year to be travelling around Sweden but I gave it my best shot, despite the sometimes grey weather. Stockholm is a truly beautiful city, I’m not sure why I haven’t heard more people gush about it… Perhaps the high prices keep them away… I briefly visited the Filmtecknarna Animation studio to pick up a new copy of one of my favourite ever animated shorts; REVOLVER by Lars Ohlson. My previous copy went missing a few years ago…

After Sweden I headed straight down to Germany via a train that drove straight onto a ferry. I spent a bit of time in Stralsund and then on to Berlin, and back to Munich where I flew out of Europe. A few days in New York hanging with my buddy Dave Gordon and the trip was done… whew!

Aug 252006

I have just spent two enjoyable weeks travelling around Pennsylvania, Maryland and Virginia with my Dad and my brother Jo, who have both become interested in the American Civil War. This daguerreotype (taken at Gettysburg) shows the members of the Lost Brigade:

(from left to right): Major Screwup, General Malaise and Private Parts.

In addition to Gettysburg, We visited other Civil War sites at Antietam/Sharpsburg, Manassas/Bull Run, Petersburg, Richmond and the Shenandoah Valley. For me it was a crash course not just in the Civil War, but also in a broader history of the USA, because we also took in some sites that were not directly related to the Civil War. All throughout the trip we drove through some amazingly beautiful countryside but the most picturesque by far was the Skyline drive along the Blue ridge mountains. We spent an evening there staying in some very beautiful accomodations in Shenandoah National park.

I enjoyed visiting Yorktown, historic old town Williamsburg and Jamestown, which was the site of the first permanent English settlement in the United States (dating from 1607), and the original capital of the colony of Virginia. The city was abandoned last century and there isn’t much left above ground these days apart from a ruined church and a museum housing the artifacts dug up by an ongoing archeological excavation.

But the place was vividly brought to life for me by a living history guide we met inside the national park. He was dressed in early 1600’s garb, and told a group of us the history of the site, and fielded questions as he stayed very much “in character” as an actual historical figure known as John Rolfe, who was the husband of Pochohontas and was instrumental in establishing the tobacco trade. I found out later that the guide is actually one of his descendants.

I’m always a sucker for people bold enough to play act in silly costumes!

After about a week of touring around, we then headed back to my Brother’s home in Columbia Maryland for some quality time with his family, which included quite a bit of time drawing cartoons with my two nephews.

But we also managed to fit in some more US history field trips, including a visit to Fort McHenry in Baltimore, which withstood a massive British naval Bombardment during the War of 1812 and inspired an onlooker to write the National Anthem. Also, after 15 years in this country, I finally had a chance to visit the nation’s capital; Washington DC. The highlight of the visit for me was the marvellous monument to Abraham Lincoln. Seeing Honest Abe sitting in his chair after I had just spent several weeks absorbing the history of the Civil War, and the legacy of that particular President, gave the visit more meaning than it otherwise might have had. After a few weeks of blazing humid heat it is certainly refreshing to be back in the cooler climate of the Bay Area.