Friday, December 28, 2012

Hope Springs Eternal

May your resolutions be within the realm of possibilities and not be broken by first thaw.

Saturday, December 8, 2012

'Twas Ever Thus

This was done for the Signs of the Times magazine (Jan., '00 edition) when it was widely believed that all computers would shut down at the stroke of midnight on 12/31/00. 
This December our main  concern is that the Mayans were wrong. Let's hope humankind still has a huge chunk of existence...


Saturday, December 1, 2012

Reflections of Spain

Manuel "Spain" Rodriguez (1940 - 2012)

“But he was alive just yesterday,” protested the youth.

  That Spain’s passing was felt in a visceral way by so many is
testimony to the greatness of his heart and spirit. I won’t add “soul”
because that might touch off an argument with him. Like others who
knew him well, we’ll be hearing his voice for the rest of our days and
even as I tap out these words I can feel him peering over my shoulder.
What a wonderfully explosive laugh he had!

  On the evening of his death day, the full moon loomed low over the
horizon in downtown Cincinnati. I was driving through the old city and
the crumbling facades were evoking Spain’s architectural studies of
Buffalo--those stark buildings which provided such compelling
backdrops for the ink-noir Road Vultures scenarios. It is the rarest
of artists who can enter our eyeballs, so that we apprehend visual
reality through their aesthetic sensibilities. Now those sensational
saucy sagas are finite in number. Had he lived until 2040, there would
be countless more because his youth was a constant fount of
inspiration. He had a phenomenal memory, going back to infancy.
Now that body of work can be parsed and footnoted, as it well
deserves to be.

  Who was the character that realized he had strong feelings for the
dame who had been the plaything of the entire Road Vultures motorcycle
gang? At a weekly meeting he testified of his devotional love to all
fellow members, threatening that he would no longer tolerate
disrespectful remarks directed at her. Does he show up in other
episodes?  Or what about those pizza proprietors in the African
American neighborhood who wore holstered pistols while they served
their dripping pies? You can’t make this kind of stuff up. Spain may
have majored in art and minored in writing, but I believe the
authentic social commentary and character development so pervasive in
his work qualify it as true literature. More Beat than Hippie, he
often coined phrases as he spoke with a casual vernacular
delivery that was uniquely his own (for example, Stalin “marshaled his
ass-kicking forces.”)

  Incredible as it might now seem, until the ‘80s you couldn’t write
for publication without a typographer getting in your business; nor
could you render oversize artwork for print unless it got processed by
a photostat worker. In ‘75 Spain and I were the stragglers for a
non-negotiable Arcade deadline. We had to bring our finished pages to
a South-of-Market photostat shop and then hand deliver them to the
printer. He arrived at my Noe Valley digs at dawn in his ‘53 black
Buick. Though exhausted from the all-nighter, I was honored to ride
shotgun in a mentor’s classy car that was vintage even then. He
suggested that we take a detour through the financial district. As we
wheeled slowly through the priciest real estate in town he spoke like
a jaded tour guide, “This is the best time of day to check out chicks.
They are totally buffed out in their finest clothes, fresh out of the
shower. You can almost smell the shampoo.” I surveyed the local fauna
with newly appreciative, yet bloodshot, eyes.  Then, onward to the
photostat place.

  While we were waiting to have our work reduced to print size, I
heard one of the clerks critique my “Gates Of Purgatory” panorama:
“This guy is a faker.” I would normally have let the remark go and
brooded about it for ten days, but in the presence of the great Spain,
I was emboldened to defend my work like I was a Road Vulture, too.
“Oh yeah?” I heard myself bellowing, “I’m a faker, huh? That’s
why I’m out here and you’re in there!”

  When I had to turn to sign painting for the survival of my new
family Spain never abandoned me as a peer. In fact, he appreciated the
art form. After the divorce, at the nadir of my life, he took me in as
his roomie. I was lucky enough to have had a Japanese girlfriend for a
couple seasons. We had major language difficulties, but she was
capable of zingers. My favorite was “Room mate is happy man.”
That was absolutely spot on.

  Fully engaged in his work, his community of friends and fellow
travelers, he was the polar opposite of me, a tormented religious nut
with OCD and major relationship problems. Our dynamic was replicated
in our drawing styles. He would be ensconsed in an easy chair in front
of a day/night TV, dashing off authoritative and bold ink lines from
minimum penciling. If I wasn’t painting a sign, I’d be hunched over a
standard drawing table. My preliminary pencil drawings would be the
pretext for halting tentative ink lines that would require additional
cross-hatching and a fair amount of white-out. In the years of working
near him, I made a quantum leap in skill because I gained some of his
pen command through osmosis. He was a cartoon Zen master. You’d have
to have some skin in the game to understand the courage it takes to
slash bare white space with a bold inking technique. And it also takes
a lot of guts to draw the title/splash panel first, then come up with
the story later, but once in awhile, he did just that.

  Back then, the only mouse in our house was a real one. Everything
was hand-made, even Lost Dog notices. We didn’t think of ourselves as
“content providers,” though in the new computer age we would all
gather under that umbrella. It still surprises me that he was one of
few original Underground artists able to transition to the computer,
while still maintaining the integrity of his traditional craftsmanship.
But long before he became a master of Photoshop we had parted ways.

  I never knew him as a family man, either. By the time I moved, his
roving eye became locked on a certain beautiful and talented woman who
would later bear his child. I started a new family, too. Large chunks
of time passed between our visits or calls. But when we connected, it
was effortless. His lively intelligence and political awareness revealed
that his zest for life had only increased. His output continued to be prodigious.
His taking on the Che project when well into his ‘60s is the crowning
achievement of a career that never faltered. Spain was productive to the
very harsh end of his life. More importantly, he remained kind and conscious,
forever to be beloved by friends and family.

Justin Green

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Hobo Hieroglyphics

This is "Sign Game" strip that appeared in Signs of the Times, Sept., 2003.

Monday, August 27, 2012

The Dying Penman Introduction

  To those following this blog, it may seem odd that posts sometimes appear from a work-in-progress, a technical manual (to be published by the See Sharp Press) on using the dip pen, titled "The Dying Penman." The entries appear out of context, so it should be no surprise that the opening page suddenly appears. The work is slowly unfolding from many sketchbooks, notebooks and files.

 The great French artist Theodore Gericault said that one should be able to draw a body hurtling from a burning building before it hits the ground. I agree, if the word “doodle” can be substituted for drawing. Even within the field of pen and ink, there are so many types of drawing that the term is almost meaningless. When reading this book, please note the context of the advice that I offer. What may be true for one kind of imagery or style is not necessarily true for another. There are always exceptions to every rule, and no relative truth about art is universal.

  What is a virtue in a successful work may also be perceived as a limitation. An artist who excels at bold studies of athletes in motion may lack the light hand so necessary for drawing children. And speaking of sports—please disregard the idea that art is a competitive enterprise that should or will be acknowledged with trophies and public merit. Regardless of the auction value of any artist’s work, living or dead, there is no ultimate winner or “best artist.” People who keep the records, historians and critics, bring cultural and personal bias to bear. Forget consensus opinion, too. Art is not a democratic enterprise. It is my intention to set forth clearly dynamics of pen handling that will be helpful to both beginners and artists at every level.
  With due respect to my publisher, this book would never see the light of day if I thought it could be a cash cow. We bring this work to print at a critical time in history for the conscious penman (and even for the print medium). I am seeing what I regarded as a slowly-evolving craft suddenly become eclipsed, corrupted and finally, subsumed by the new computer technology. This revolution has occurred in a mere generation, revolutionizing every purview of hand craftsmanship, from medical illustration to architectural rendering.  I've already lived through this debacle in another field—as a traditional sign painter. It took less than five years for the field to implode after the new computer-generated vinyl letters were introduced in the mid-‘80s! I stubbornly clung to the traditional craft, chasing jobs that involved pictorials and complicated logos; yet even this niche suddenly became dominated by the new dot matrix printers in the early ‘90s. I returned by necessity to pen and ink for a livelihood, never dreaming that its existence would be seriously threatened so soon afterwards. Basic and refined principles of pen drawing are being relegated to historical footnotes. I feel an overwhelming need to describe the dynamic nature of the pen drawing that I have pursued all my life, in the hope that those who are opting for seductive shortcuts will realize what they’re overlooking.
   I know by heart the many pitfalls and misconceptions that a beginner might encounter along the way. Before I had any professional training, I entered the field by stealth as an auto-didactic. This is a gift being sent back to myself half a century ago. To my peers, I offer these insights as reference material for the preservation of our craft.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Entry Level Cartooning

Excerpt from "The Dying Penman," a work in progress.

  As print vehicles become increasingly harder to find, it’s a great paradox that the boom in wi-fi tablets has created the optimum showcase for cartoonists: a brilliantly backlit field that enhances the look of rich black-line drawings. And the colors of the so-called Golden Age of comics are washed-out pastels in comparison to the brilliant hues that the new technology offers.
  Yet the tactile quality of a printed page, the sheer look and feel of ink on newsprint, will never be completely subsumed or forgotten. In a crowded field where there are virtually no jobs advertised, one entry-level position remains. Every town and village has at least one sad little tabloid funded by its local merchants. Every city has dozens of these neighborhood rags that barely deserve to be called newspapers. I’m not talking about “Alternate Weekly” papers—even there the cartoon venues are already taken. The odds of a newcomer getting a gig with an A.W. are almost as formidable as getting into an actual newspaper. Yet if you break in with a humble Neighborhood paper, you’ll have a much better shot at seeing your work in an Alternate Weekly, your next stepping stone.
  The challenge will be to come up with cartoon ideas that have a broad popular appeal. But humor is never truly centrist, so you’ll be forced to learn how to become as edgy as possible without being offensive. That will help you improve your game, as restraint is every bit as vital a tool as unbridled self-expression in this hybrid word/image medium. It will be gratifying and sometimes humbling to get “real time” feedback from people who see your comics in print. Learn from everybody. It’s also a good discipline to learn how to respect a deadline. No matter what’s going on in your life, you’ll have to produce your strip. Give it your best shot! Pretend like you’re working for the New Yorker.
  If you’re lucky, you might be granted a little ad for all your troubles. Most likely some of the merchants will want you to do spot drawings for their ads, too. Though you might have to fend off criticisms from friends and family (“WHAT? You’re doing it for FREE?”), rest secure in the knowledge that you’re building a tangible portfolio, not a merely virtual one, that will surely lead to better things. It may also be just the ticket to convince you that you don’t really want to be cartoonist. If that’s the case, the sooner you know it, the better.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Be A Cartoon "History Detective"

U-Haul trucks without flashy digital graphics and use of old-fashioned telephones aren’t the only things that date this strip from ‘93. These days Summer job opportunities for teens are almost non-existent. Everything else is plausible. In fact, the beef stroganoff punch-line is literally true and I can underwrite that in a court of law!


Thursday, June 28, 2012

Eagle Day Approaches

As the big annual spectacle looms, it seems ironic that a certain proud and loyal 
constituency among us shows the same righteous fervor as our avowed enemies... 

Monday, June 18, 2012

No Time Like Zen Time

  Here's one from '75. Kind of brash, but punchy. Perhaps the chicken should be a carrot.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

A Change Of Pace

The ascent begins boldly but soon falters on the ancient stairs, which present living and iconic barriers that appear to impede progress. The enterprising suitor may take a shortcut at the top, avoiding the penetrating wisdom of the Buddha. However, there's no way around the winding hallway displaying portraits of previous gents who made this formidable quest. The descent is direct and swift, guaranteeing a sadder, but wiser, orientation to life itself.

 Pen and Ink with watercolor, Photoshop. 6.5" x 11.5", 1998-'12

Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Last-Ditch Attempt

  In a last-ditch attempt to avoid working on my taxes (not due until the 17th this year), I thought this would be a great time to post an image I drew of Amelia Earhardt (1897-1937). This image was part of a fundraiser for that great little NJ station WVXU, which has a signal strong enough to reach Manhattan. I want to say…’93? It was a straight pen and ink piece that they colorized from my notes. It was part of trading card series (“Crackpots & Visionaries”). The Cat’s Paw heel is a reference to an artifact found on a little island near her crash site many decades later. She is back in the news. There will soon be new evidence released on the mysterious details of her demise. Lads and lasses of each new generation continue to be enchanted by the daring aviatrix.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

An Old Devil's Angel

S. Clay Wilson Update
(most recent, and very disturbing, 6/11-at bottom)
  Readers of this blog and those with a general interest in Underground comics know all about the terrible circumstances in which S. Clay Wilson and his devoted wife Lorraine Chamberlain have been living these past few years (see earlier entry “7/25/11 S. Clay Wilson Turns 70”). The quality of Wilson’s remaining life is dependent to a great extent on the energy that Lorraine is able to give him. She needs us to help her continue this difficult and relentless work. The most effective way to do that is to make a donation to the Trust Fund. Please do what you can.


S. Clay Wilson S.N.T. (Special Needs Trust)
P.O. Box 14854
San Francisco, CA 94114

4/21 post...This follows one that I omitted, in which W took a sudden nosedive and the situation looked extremely grim. This one is from the following day. There was also a note thanking all who donated thus far. 

When I arrived today, Wilson was sleeping. I kept bugging him, saying it was his 1pm forced feeding, which made him smile even tho he didn't open his eyes. I finally got him to take some bites of his lunch. He managed some grapes, pineapple, the top of his sandwich, and some milk. Better than nothing! Then Ace arrived, and he really did wake up. Ace told some jokes and made him chuckle. Still couldn't say his own name, nor mine, but he was more alert than yesterday and his color had returned. The ct scan showed no change from before, so that was sort of good, at least. Later on I got him dressed and we took him downstairs in a wheelchair and practiced getting him in & out of the bathtub with a transfer bench. He was really cooperative. Then I got the car and we tried to get him in & out of that....but I couldn't get him back out. The therapist finally had to lift him. That will take more work, strengthening his legs. (I won't be able to take him out in the car without help til he gets stronger.) I had been pulling him out of there for the past month without help, nearly killing myself. I can't continue to do that, obviously.
Thanks to everyone who wrote & called. It made me feel so much less alone.
I'll find out next Monday or Tuesday if I'm bringing him home next weekend. They may want to keep him a bit longer to stabilize him and also give me a break before bringing him home, where it will now be more difficult to take care of him. We'll see....
I want to give him many more years of a happy life at home. I believe it's still possible.

 FORWARDED MAIL ADDED 5/3 from Lorraine to Ron Turner
It has been a process, getting the staff at the Tunnell Center to understand how to deal with Wilson.
Even though I have spent at least 6 hours a day there.
The doctor at this new place has changed his meds, even though they lowered them at Davies a couple of days before they discharged him. So yesterday, he mostly just stared at me. (This was disturbing, as he always answers YES or NO to my questions, at least!) The doctor saw him for the first time on Tuesday, as he wasn't there on Monday. That's only 3 days he's known him, so this staring thing was a puzzle to the staff until I tracked him down and told him this was extremely unusual behavior. They didn't know him well enough to think otherwise. They've taken him off Trazadone, which is mostly for sleeping, and lowered his anti-psychotic meds to one dose at night. This is to get him more perky, and willing to get up out of bed. He has walked each day a little farther, but it's still only about 150 feet. In light of this, they plan to keep him for another couple of weeks, so he will presumably be stronger when he comes home.
The hard part is he is so uncooperative with anyone but me. Most days I end up giving him his meds when I get there, as he refuses to take them from the nurse most mornings, even though they call me to speak to him. 
This puts a burden on me that has got to stop. I am exhausted from all of this, and don't have the time or energy to do anything else in the course of a day. I get up and get ready to race over there, and leave just in time to get a parking spot at home at the end of the day. I do emails when I get home, eat something, and have to lie down for the rest of the night.
I'm on my way there soon, after I take a shower. Yesterday, by the time I'd helped clean him up, get him dressed and take him for a walk, got him to eat his lunch, put him in the shower seat, washed him down, got his diaper & gown back on and got him back in bed, my back was a mess. But with all that attention he was finally smiling and answering me in the afternoon. I stayed to introduce him to another therapist, and finally got home at 5.
I am excited to see if he's more cooperative today after having possibly adjusted to lower meds. I'll let you all know.

 FORWARDED MAIL ADDED 5/29 from Lorraine to Ron Turner

The night nurse just called. I've been waiting ALL DAY for the techs to arrive to do the ultrasound. Since lunch time, they've been saying they're "on the way". From a neighboring GALAXY? I finally came home with the assertion they call once the test was done.
Anyway...he DOES have DVT. I couldn't understand the answer when I asked where the clot is, but will find out tomorrow when I go. If I hadn't been in the habit of looking him over every day, this could have killed him. And still could til the Cumadin kicks in. Thank god I took photos and insisted it wasn't a SUNBURN on one leg, (like that would be real) and insisted they do an ultrasound. I'm glad I told my sister about it last Wednesday, and she said it sounded like a blood clot. I had no idea WHAT it was. I only knew it looked like an emergency, and told them right away. And it's now a whole week later.
I am relieved that they have found it, but outraged at what it took to get anyone to pay attention. Even today, they were saying "well, it isn't red any more, so it's probably not a clot". I reminded them that he's been bedridden since Thursday, with it elevated. Jesus.
Now I need to talk to a real doctor to find out what the next step should be. I'll try to get ahold of his Dr in the morning, and if nothing else works, I'll go up and ask to speak to the Dr in Davies....the nice one. I need some real advice on how long he should stay in bed, and what to expect. I have a discharge meeting there on Thursday, and am interviewing caregivers. I need to know if he should go back to a hospital, or if he can come home in a week.
I'm exhausted.

 FORWARDED MAIL ADDED 6/11 from Lorraine to Ron Turner

Today's ultrasound showed that Wilson's DVT has not responded to medication, and the doctor now advises sending him to the hospital. I believe he will be moved to St Mary's tomorrow. (thanks to Ron Turner for his reassurance about that place....I only know I don't want him returned to the hospital he was in before!). I am very worried. The clot is extremely large. 
Not much else to say. I'll go at noon, and hopefully they will move him shortly after I arrive. (I only know they're not moving him before that.)
Another hard night.....

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Hero Revisited, Revisited

This originally appeared in the premier issue of PRIME CUTS, published by Fantagraphics in 1986.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

A Jamaican Switch

When these pen drawings came tumbling out of the archives, I thought of this old street lingo. It’s a method of duping a “John,”  a guy who's in search of a prostie. One pimp promises to deliver the goods, then cajoles the hapless fellow out of a deposit. He is then led into a waiting room or bar where his quest for fleshly delight proves futile. It was ’97 when I got a call out of the blue from an author who had written an American history of cruel misdeeds that had been perpetrated by the military, science, industry and government. “We saw your work in the New Yorker and loved it. We absolutely want you to illustrate our book. We just need a couple illustrations to show the publisher.”
  I had yet to grapple with Photoshop, much less Quark. This was my attempt to provide a certain ultra clarity of line that was increasingly becoming the stylistic norm. I did this through a series of tissue overlays and xeroxs’. I worked hard on these to prove that I could still keep up with the latest technology, though in a John Henry sort of way. More importantly, I badly needed a freelance gig that would allow me to work while on the road. But I was blindsided by the rejection. Another artist had been given the same line by the author and we were both unwitting competitors enlisted to submit finished art for free.
  The first illustration shows the intentional radiation poisoning of a test subject in a military hospital during the mid-'40s.
  The second is an actual pygmy who was housed at the Bronx Zoo near the turn of the 20th Century.
  Not shown is me sitting near the phone, an old-fashioned black cradle type, waiting for that cash call that was to be my imagined salvation. But the other guy got the girl.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Fate is kind, too

  I am constantly amazed by the seeming randomness of events which bring delays or petty annoyances that are ultimately fortunate. This strip was one of the 100+ Musical Legends biographies I did for Tower Records’ PULSE! Magazine during the ‘90s. (The collection is still available from Last Gasp.) It describes how an improbable series of actions and non-actions led to an occurrence that was perfectly timed. I recently experienced such a remarkable chain of events on a long auto trip. All the stops and detours along the way determined the exact time of arrival. Salvation came in form of a slow school bus ahead, that suddenly made the scenic route unbearable. The difference of ten minutes (gained by getting back on the freeway) would have been a matter of life and death. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A Name That Should Be An Adjective

This one was done in watercolor and pen and ink back in ’93 after an intense study of Thomas Nast. It was part of a freebie fundraiser project for WFMU, the great little station in NJ that has a signal strong enough to reach Manhattan, from where the Great Prevaricator holds forth daily. I am amazed that he’s still standing, on the top of the world, no less. Busted for Oxycontin abuse, this pudgy pundit’s credibility among his vast Republican audience is never questioned. Almost 20 years later, all I would have to do to bring this image up to date in Photoshop is whiten the hair, add some wrinkles and “lasso” the pile of shit, then  “free transform” it to about ten times its current scale.
  Much is made of the Diebold theft of the previous election and the earlier Florida cabal that sealed Gore’s (and Iraq’s) fate—both by such close margins. But what about the low IQ, racist, xenophobic, superstitious sector of voters that this blowhard delivers into the Republican fold every single election? Speaking of campaign finance reform, what are the economic tendrils which reach beyond his mere advertisers?

Friday, January 20, 2012

"Must" Reading

This charming bookplate will be included in the whopper (about 250 pages) anthology NO ME, which will be released this April at the Stumptown Comics Festival in Portland, OR.  
  The black & white extravaganza will feature line works by scores of pen-pushers personally invited by Jason T. Miles to submit work in exchange for three free copies.  These will no doubt fetch a pretty penny at auction, should cash-strapped artists decide to pay rent rather than bequeath bagged copies to their heirs. A very small edition will be available for sale to the public.
  A longtime employee of Fantagraphics, Miles soldiers on there, wearing many hats. This project, though, is his sole production. Good luck to all of us!

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Wretched Excess

This one appeared as the back cover of Fantagraphics' Zero Zero. Mid '90s, but I don't remember the exact year, only that 100 MB was considered to be a lot of memory back then. So to bring this up to date you'd have to include cell phones (20); digital devices (50); DVDs (1000); I forgot Sports Memorabilia (100 lbs.). I'm sure there's other stuff I've forgotten, but memory--the biological variety--is maxed out.