Archive for the ‘Art’Category

Darwyn Cooke

This year is a bastard dog from hell in taking people who changed my art and craft. Bowie. Prince. Yesterday, Darwyn Cooke.

I fell in love with Darwyn’s art early on. Read an interview with him back when he was doing Selina’s Big Score. Loved everything he put out.  To me, he was a perfect, wonderful anomaly. A cartoonist from an earlier… better era. An era where the craft was everything. Where did the work. You didn’t kvetch or whine. You pushed yourself to be better every. Goddamn. Time.

First time I met Darwyn was at SDCC in 2008. Comic Book Tattoo had just come out.  I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off trying to get everything done as part of the release promotions, and Darwyn came by the table to say hello to some of the creators who he knew who’d worked on the book. I said hello and he said the book looked great, and that brief exchange was the best compliment I received during the entire show.  This guy is a master, and I knew by reputation that he didn’t offer hollow compliments or gladhanding.  To me, he was a perfect, wonderful anomaly. A man who said what he meant. Who believed in the value of his words and didn’t offer them without intention.

Shit went sideways in my life, and I ended up unemployed for three years. I saw Darwyn at the Long Beach Comic-Con and couldn’t bring myself to go over to say hello to him and Marsha because I felt like I was the biggest failure in the world.  I felt like I’d somehow “let him down” by failing. That’s how much his work, and his opinion meant to me. I couldn’t bear going up to him and saying to him “I’ve lost everything” when he asked me “What are you up to?”

A few months later, on Twitter, desperate for money, I offered a couple of the Artist Proofs of the limited edition for Comic Book Tattoo. Marsha DM’d me immediately, saying they loved the book, and they already had a copy, but wanted to buy one for a friend. Would that be OK?  I admit I cried.  I had met them in person once, was pretty goddamn sure they wouldn’t recognize me in a crowd, and yet that act of kindness and generosity made such a difference. To me, he was a perfect, wonderful anomaly. An old-school gentleman, who offered help and kindness when he saw the need.

The last time I saw Marsha and Darwyn was at Wondercon in 2015.  Satu and I had a drink with Marsha and Allison Baker at the hotel bar. We laughed and talked, and I told Marsha how much it meant to me… that she and Darwyn had honestly given me hope when I had none… when they bought that copy of Comic Book Tattoo.  Marsha dismissed it, saying it really wasn’t a big deal, and Satu and I said we’d come by Darwyn’s table later the next day and say hello.

The next day there was a crowd around his table, and he was busy, and we decided we’d come back later. We didn’t, thinking “We’ll say hello next time.”

To me, he was a perfect, wonderful anomaly, and now my heart feels crushed and broken, and life seems so fucking unfair.

Goodbye Darwyn. Thank you.

 

14

05 2016

Here’s the Thing – Part 2 (Thoughts about San Diego Comic-Con)

Continuing on the relationship I have to San Diego Comic-Con, which I started writing about yesterday. Trying to explain the mixed and somewhat conflicted feelings I have towards the show.  In the last entry i talked about the first time I attended in 1987.  I won’t cover every year… we’d be here too damn long, it’d be even more rambling and pointless than my writing usually leans towards, and it wouldn’t hit the 3 ‘notes” that I want to… like Gregorian Bells ringing out… either to announce Mass, or Funerary service, or perhaps a baptism.

 

So, then…

 

After the debacle of SDCC 1987, specifically my throwing away my job because I was so. goddamn. sure. I was going to work in comics, I did a move that actually displayed some degree of sanity.  I decided I “needed to work on it”, and so my intention was to go the the Kubert School in NJ.  I had missed admission for the upcoming academic year, but I moved back to Washington State, camping out at my Mom’s house, and proceeded to work on samples, and comics and drawings.  Trying to write stories, trying to draw stories.  Sucking very badly at the beginning.  getting a little better here and there. Bit by bit.  I had the advantage that it was the 80′s and the Black and White small press explosion was in full effect.  You did short 4-8 pages for companies like Innovation, or Eternity or Calibre, and you knew it was “small time” because those anthologies only sold around 40-60k copies each, which meant you only made around $2-4k for your crappy little Black and White story, but it was learning, and you were getting paid.

 

(and yes kids, the irony is completely dripping off of that previous paragraph)

 

Roy had gotten hooked up with a guy who put out Kung Fu magazines, and who decided that since this comic book thing was taking off, he wanted in on it, so Roy and I ended up editing Tales of the Ninja Warriors, Tales of the Kung Fu Warriors, and… inexplicably… a skateboard-themed comic called SHRED.  Neither Roy or I skateboarded. Neither one of us knew crap about martial arts. Didn’t matter. Each month we were doing 16-24 pages of comics across three different books.  we used our editorial position to get friends some of their first gigs, and to hire people that we admired or dug (since the book actually paid a page rate).  Getting Ted McKeever, pre-Plastic Forks to do the cover for Shred #1. Getting Bernie Mireault to ink my pencils for Street Rott… these were golden moments for us, and I found myself drawn more and more to the “stories about the people”.  The struggles of “normal humans” were the stories that I was becoming obsessed with drawing and writing, and the Spandex Overblown of the pre-Image-exodus Marvel just struck me as cold.  I was becoming an Indie-nerd when it came to comics, and by that point I was smart enough to know that if I didn’t have a “real job”, then I couldn’t do the kinds of comics I wanted to do.

 

In summer of 1990, I asked a couple of friends from when i had lived in LA back in 86-87, Andrew Brandou and Tori Amos, if I could “couch crash” for a couple weeks at each of their places while I tried to line up a steady storyboarding gig either in animation or on Rock Videos.  They were incredibly giving and helpful and said “come on down!”

 

May turned into June, turned into July, and I hadn’t found a gig.  Klasky Csupo said I wasn’t “quite right” for storyboarding the Simpsons.  There were some rock videos for Marty Callner here and there with the Scorpions and Aerosmith, but nothing steady, and my finances had fast reached the point where I would have to make a choice of fish or cut bait.

 

I decided to go back to school. This time, I’d go to a “real” four year college. Get a full degree, maybe a Masters degree and teach while I made my comics.  Because at that point, that was the motivation… i just wanted to make the comics. I wanted to tell people stories. I wanted to make them laugh or make them cry, or fear, or love.  I wanted to reach out and say “hey… this is what being human is, don’t you think?”  I registered for WSU in Pullman, Washington and would head back a couple weeks after Andrew and I went down for SDCC that year.

 

Now…

 

Over that 3 month period of job hunting, I had basically been camped out on Tori’s couch.  It was one of the hottest summers in decades, and her apartment had NO AC, so she and then-boyfriend Eric Rosse had ensconced themselves up at his climate controlled place in Tarzana while they worked on new tracks, trying desperately to produce some 11th hour miracle songs that would get Atlantic to agree to put out the incredible music she’d been working on for the last two years.  During the days, Andrew and I would drive to Hi De Ho comics in Santa Monica or Golden Apple, and I’d pick up issues of Grendel, or Sandman, or Taboo, or Beanworld, or try to complete my back issue hunt for issues of Cerebus.  These expeditions… multiple times a week… resulted in 12 stacks, 3 feet high, of comics and graphic novels, neatly arranged around Tori’s apartment, like monoliths.

 

One evening Tori came by to pick up some stuff, and was stunned at the stacks of comics.  She wasn’t a comic reader, had no interest in them, but she asked “OK, so if I was going to read ONE of these, what should I read?”  I thought for a second, knew the frustration she and Eric had been going through with the new songs, and handed her issue #17 of The Sandman. “Calliope”.  She sat down on the couch, I went back to sweating over color and line samples for an animation company. A few minutes later, she’s looking at me wide-eyed… “Do you have MORE of these?!”  Within hours she had all of the single issues I had with me, plus one of the trades, and was on her way back to Eric’s.  I was stoked that I had gotten a friend to like A comic book.  The first step is always the hardest…

 

A week later, Tori showed up at the apartment with a tape with 5 new songs.  She asked if I wanted to hear them.  I said of course, and the notes rolled out… blue shiver of something undefinable as I heard her tell someone goodbye by saying “If you need me, me and Neil’ll be hanging out with the Dream King. (Neil says hi by the way…” I might have cried. I know I shuddered.  I told her “this is GOLD. This is AMAZING.”  She wasn’t sure, but I knew, good god I knew.  She left the tape.  SDCC was the next week.

 

And Mr. Neil Gaiman… he was going to be a guest.

 

I didn’t tell Tori I was taking the tape. I certainly did not tell her I was going to give it to Neil.

 

Andrew and I had, for the last few years, been putting together an annual mini-comic called “OUCH!” that contained two 8 page stories, where we would each draw the story the other wrote.  Each year there would be a “theme”, and other than that, it was wide-open crazytime.  We’d “release” these each year at a room party held at the Hotel San Diego… a fleabag dive that cost $32 per night for the two of us. No AC, roaches the size of Texas… and usually the day before the party we’d hand out flyers to pros we admired or knew to try and get them to come to our sketchy dive of a party.

 

THIS was social networking in caveman years.

 

Once at SDCC, we located the Spiderbaby Grafix booth, where Neil was signing with Michael Zulli for their adaptation of Sweeney Todd that was being serialized in Taboo. Clive Barker and Steve Bissette were there as well to promote the adaptation of Rawhead Rex.  I waited in line to see Neil… only 8 or 9 people deep, but to this date it is the ONLY time I have waited in line to see someone… and when I finally got to the front, I shambled and rambled and muttered about the release party, giving him a flyer and wouldn’titbegreatifhecouldcomebutdon’tfeellikeyouhaveto, and I finally gave him the cassette with Tear in Your Hand, Precious Things, Little Earthquakes and a couple other songs on it, telling him “This is a friend of mine… she’s got a label deal so she’s actually ‘real’… she sings about you and she loves Sandman, please don’t sue her!”

 

Neil did the patented “Curious Neil” headcock, not unlike that of a Westie or Scottie dog, grinned and said “OK”, and I moved down the line to Mike Zulli.  I stopped, and Mike looked a bit startled.  Most people in line went from Neil, then exited, not bothering to stop, but I loved the Puma Blues.  The last few issues were MAGIC and dear god I wanted to be able to create stories like that.  I asked Mike if he was doing sketches, and he said yes, what did I want.  I told him “please draw what YOU want, what would make you happy.” He sat back a bit, looked a bit surprised, then happy, then drew the most beautiful Puma in ink and colored pencil and chalk for me and it’s still one of my favorite pieces of art I’ve ever gotten.

 

Two booths down from Spiderbaby was TSR, who had decided to get into comics, and were doing “theme” lines… horror, Sci Fi, Fantasy, etc. with games in the back of each issue. Roger Silfer was running the place and saw my portfolio and called me over.  I went. This time no Eeyore Presence.  I’d been published enough times that I knew I could do comics. Maybe I wasn’t great, but I didn’t suck complete ass. I wasn’t a “plumber”.  He really liked my stuff, wanted to hire me to do 4 issues… I’d be working with Doug Moench as the writer and my editor would be Steve Gerber.  Two of my favorite comics of ALL time are Howard the Duck and the Moench/Sienkevitch run on Moon Knight. So, being told “hey we want to pay you a page rate to work with these two” out of the blue, with no warning… that was some kind of small, wonderful treasure stumbled upon.  We could go home and not even have the party that night, because it couldn’t possibly get better.

 

Oh, but it did.

 

Andrew and I expected maybe 5-6 people to show up to that year’s “OUCH! Release Party”

 

Maybe.

 

Instead, by 10pm, the one 20 x 10 foot room was packed with dozens of people, and dozens lined out into the hall.  The room fridge had broken, there was no AC, two of the three windows had been painted shut.  It mattered not in the least.  It was a Great Time.  Neil had come along, telling pretty much EVERYONE over the course of the day about “this interesting party”, so Bob Schreck, Neil, Kate Worley, Heidi MacDonald, Pia Guerra (at her FIRST SDCC), Reed Waller, Derek McCulloch, Mike Dringenberg, Chip Mosher, and dozens of others came in, did drawings, shot the shit. Got to know each other.  Friendships were formed that night that last to this day.
 
Wasters

Neil & I argue dead mystics over warm beer


 
At one point, Neil and I sat on one of the beds, sweating our damn asses off, drinking warm Miller Beer, arguing the relative merits or the writing of Aliester Crowley.  There was the infamous “shirt swap” (A story I’ll leave up to Neil to tell).  At 3 or 4am, the last of the folks petered out and it became one of those parties that, again… to this day… has become one of those “oh, holy shit you were there too?!” events at SDCC. An event that happened because I handed someone a tape and a flyer to a party for a minicomic no one knew of.

 

That was 1990…

 

Part 3 to come…

Moments from 1987

This isn’t a story I’d intended to tell until my “memoirs”… I’d held it inside as one of those great stories to tell “someday”, but a couple things recently changed my mind.

The first is that I recently read Steven Tyler’s autobiography; “Does the Noise In My Head Bother You”.  I’d been reading research and project-related books at a rate of 4-5 a week, making copious notes during the process, and found that I wanted… desperately… to read something “light and mindless”.  Tyler’s book wasn’t mindless, but the humor and insight he brought to the page served as the “break” I needed, and also reminded me of my experiences with him back in 1987-88.

Which brings us to reason #2 for writing this…  Namely, that there have been a lot of deaths lately. Actors, artists, musicians, and astronauts… people who inspired me or brought something to my life over the 40-some years I’ve been stomping around on this Earth. With each unexpected passing, I’ve been served up the painful and brutal reminder:

Don’t assume you have until later to tell a person of the impact they have had upon you.

So, whether he sees this or not, I think it’s important to tell the story while he is alive.*

(*Not that I am assuming his death is eminent, of anything of that sort, mind you. I just… urgh… I’m going to stop explaining the logic behind it before I dig this hole any deeper.)

So, then… it’s 1987.

I had just finished my first year at Art School (Otis/Parsons, which was located in sunny South Central LA at the time), and rather than head back to the safety of my Mom’s house in small-town Washington State, I decided to spend the summer working.  This was partly driven by ego… proving I could “make it” on my own in a very sketchy part of one of the biggest cities in the US… and partly driven by the cold, practical reality that if I didn’t, I would have no way to pay for the upcoming 87-88 school year.  Mom couldn’t really help out financially, and even with Student Loans, State and Federal Grants, and work study, I would still need to raise around $7,000 before September if I was going to attend my second year.

Through an ad in the LA Weekly, I’d found a job at an “adult” magazine as a “Paste-up artist” (Go ahead and make the pun-based jokes now, I’ll wait for you.).  The job, which sounded great on the surface… Mon-Fri, $700 a week, working in an actual art production department for a publisher… ended up being horrific.  This was 1987, pre-indoor smoking codes, and EVERYONE (myself included) chain smoked in the 20’ x 20’ enclosed room that was the art department.  I was scared shitless to spend ANY money, as I worried incessantly about that huge $7,000 total looming in September, and so I lived on a box of Mac and Cheese or a pack of Top Ramen a night, staying upright during the day through non-stop black coffee and cigarettes.  By the end of July, I had dropped down to around 120 lbs… you could see every rib through the skin in my chest. The chemical and alcohol abuse (provided for free by helpful friends) didn’t help matters.  By August, I knew I’d have the money I’d need for the coming year at art school, but I was also hyper-aware of another fact…

If I stayed in LA for another year, under these conditions, I likely wouldn’t live through it.

I spent weeks tormenting myself about this… leaving = failure.  I’d set out to prove that everyone I went to High School with was wrong.  I was meant for bigger and better things than small town life and a job at the mill.  I was meant for the Big City.  Now, I was facing the struggle of… do I go back and live, or do I stick it out and die?  To say that I hated myself by that point, would be an understatement in the extreme.  Self-loathing however wasn’t enough to overcome the tiny part of survival instinct, and so I decided to pack up, head back to Washington, and try to figure out a different school to go to… a different route to take. One that wouldn’t end with my premature death.

I was in the process of packing up when I received a phone call from John Caldwell.  Two summers prior, I had worked for John on an “extended form rock video” called Motown’s Mustang. It was basically a 90 minute commercial celebrating the 25th Anniversary of Motown and the Mustang, tying the two icons together in a narrative that spanned from the 50’s to modern day. It was the first professional art gig I had ever had… doing over 200 pages of storyboards… the summer before my sophomore year in High School.  I have no idea how John tracked me down, or got my phone number… this is WAY pre-internet, and so it was very easy to lose contact with people, especially when they moved frequently… but he was calling to see if I was available because “they need a storyboard artist who GETS rock”.  The gig would be a couple of weeks, and would pay a pretty sizable hunk of money, so I agreed to it without even finding out what band it was, wrote down the address in Beverly Hills, and made arrangements to meet them the next day.

After getting stopped twice by Beverly Hills police officers (who wanted to logically know what the long-haired junkie-looking weirdo in the Datsun spray-painted with zebra stripes was doing in the “respectable” part of town) I made it to the location… a secluded and stylish house with a Frank Lloyd Wright feel in dark woods and stone.  John introduced me to Marty Callner, who had become the “man of the hour” for directing videos in this seminal era of MTV such as Whitesnake’sHere I Go Again” (With Tawny Kitaen writhing about on the hood of a sports car) and Cher’s infamous “Turn Back Time” (on the Navy Destroyer).  Marty and I had a long talk, shooting the shit about the visualization of music… what videos worked, what didn’t… what bands we liked (both old and new) and after a while, he evidentially decided I “passed” as he began to talk about the video they were working on.

The first shocker was that the band was Aerosmith.  Being a musical addict, devouring both music and news related to it like a starving man, I had heard the rumors that Joe Perry was back with Aerosmith after the less-than successful outing without him, “Done With Mirrors”.  I had no idea however that they had a new album in the works, much less that it was DONE.  I had been a fan of Aerosmith for years.  I thought their swagger and gritty mix of the street hustler and carnival barker was something that never got enough credit.   So great was my appreciation for the band that, when I inexplicably was elected Senior Class President, I insisted on having “Dream On” as our “Class Song”.  When one of the “popular girls” protested that “It sounds negative! Like ‘you think you can graduate? Oh, dream on’!” I (barely) kept my patience when I suggested that she needed to actually listen to the lyrics, and that perhaps she was the one suffering from a negative world view, as the song encourages the listener to follow their dreams, not give up, and “dream until your dreams come true.

Marty put on a “Studio copy” of the album… a blank white cassette with the names of the songs typed on the cardboard liner, and watched me as I listened.  The tape rolled, blasting through the surround speakers in Marty’s home editing bay and right from the start, I was stunned… this was the Aerosmith I knew… but better.  Song after song, you felt like the band had something to prove, that they were determined to show the naysayers that they weren’t has-beens.  That in a world populated by Aqua Net, Poison and Great White, that THEY were the real deal.  Song after song played, and I got more and more excited.  The taped ended, and Marty asked me point blank;  “Which song do YOU think should be the first single?”  I said that there were a lot of great tracks, but that “Dude” seemed the obvious choice, especially as a “Comeback” song.  Marty settled back with a smile… I’d passed the test.  “Yeah, that’s the video we’re working on right now. You’re doing the ‘boards for it.”

Over the next two weeks I drew Joe Perry and Steven Tyler.  A. Lot.  Close-ups of Steven kissing a woman’s taut belly. Pictures of Joe bursting through a Promo Poster on a brick wall.  A worker with a jackhammer that turns out to be a woman.  It was a joy.  I was getting paid to draw out the scenes for a new video from one of the bands I loved.  Marty and I talked a lot about music, about the album, about how we thought it would do when it came out.  Both of us thought it would be a monster if the label got behind it. That it would push the band into the upper stratosphere.  The label, however, wasn’t behind it.  As we were wrapping pre-production and all the storyboards, Marty called the team in to explain that Geffen wasn’t willing to pay the budget.  The shots were too expensive for a “Band that was risky”.  All of us were pissed and we dug in.  Boards got re-drawn, concepts got thrown out or re-worked, scenes were scrapped or added, and locations got changed.  Finally we had boiled it down to two days of shooting… one for the “story” sections, and one for the “performance”.

When I arrived at the set for the “performance” shoot, I still hadn’t met the band in person.  I didn’t want to be a “fan”, or an annoyance, because I knew how tight our shooting schedule was so I hung back and watched… even though the “little kid me” inside was very excited to see Joe, Steven and the rest of the band walking around, checking out the length of the stage, and the like.  Marty called me over and introduced me to Joe and Steven… Joe gave a polite nod, while Steven told me how much he dug the storyboards, saying he loved comics and that the drawings I had done made him feel “like a superhero!”  I stammered my thanks, told him that I thought the album was the best they’d done since Toys in the Attic, and backed away to let them finish getting ready.

That would have been enough of a cherished memory for me, but moments later, as the crew was setting the lights, Marty yelled to me to “Get up on the stage”, so they could do the lighting for Steven (since I had long hair, and was about the say height, and skinny-no-eating-build).  I made my way on to the stage, struck by how weird and surreal this was… me standing in for Steven Tyler… while he’s right below me, watching and getting his makeup done.  Me, the small town escapee who wanted more from life than the fate of becoming another drone at the Mill.  Marty told me to “Move around, rock out a bit” so that they could check the lighting… the music started blaring over the speakers, and I started moving around, doing all the “rocker moves” I’d practiced so many times in the mirror as a kid.

The music cuts, Mary yells “OK, that’s good!” and then Steven yells to me from his makeup chair;

“You look great, kid… like you belong up there!”

I managed to stammer out my thanks as I stumbled off the stage, and they went on with the business of the shoot.  I’m sure that, for Steven, it was just a bit of polite banter. Something said to show appreciation, and to break up the long, boring process of the shoot.  For me… at that time in my life… when I felt worthless, a failure that was leaving in defeat… Having the man who sang “Dream until you dreams come true.” telling me with a grin that I looked like I belonged on a bigger stage… that was fuel.  Fuel that gave me power and strength during some very cold days.

So, to Steven Tyler… thanks, man.  Truly, thank you.