Thursday, December 25, 2008

How The Oaf Saved Giftmas

Meeaaarrry Giftmas!

Gather 'round, my children, as the oaf patronizes you from the third person. He is feeling mightily pleased with himself and is moved to share the reason as to why he is smugger than Halliburton on this moist midwinter morning.

Now may I suggest you read no further unless you can embrace the pure and true spirit of Giftmas. Any petty denominationalism may be parked just outside the door. It is the middle of the fucking winter and people need a little something to convince them that life is not a waste of time.

That would be a present.

A good present. There are presents where the best part of it is ripping off the wrapping or seeing someone's face when they open up the package. These presents suck.

A good present proves its worth over the course of years. It's something you use or run across periodically and it pleases both in itself and in the way it calls to mind a time, a place, and a person. A really good present is a physical expression of healthy love and an enhancement to life.

Well, the oaf ain't that cool. But this year he was able to let the healing rains of Giftmas fall on the parched plains of entrenched adulthood and the results will be visible for years to come.

See, what the oaf's family has done since the entre of the kids has been to get presents for the girls and then each adult would pick a secret Santa victim by drawing a slip of paper with their name from a hat. Trades and hustles were allowed; the oaf would typically insist on providing a present for his brother-in-law and then buy an art book he wanted but could not justify purchasing for himself.

This year the holiday was not planned; it occured, suddenly and shockingly. The oaf recalls a cracking noise like hot water poured into a cold glass accompanied by an odor of brimstone; he could be mistaken. But there was no time to organize Giftmas and alas!

Dismay and confusion, accompanied by a faint thin grayish feeling of impending decrepitude, a horrid sense of the essential disregard in which existence holds us, a taste in the mouth as subtle and pervasive as celery in a stew that spoke softly and insistently of the bleakness and thanklessness of life.

This was not helped when the oaf and an unnamed boon companion vanished for half an hour and returned visibly intoxicated with their volumes turned all the way up and the channel turned to weird.

There was an assembly of toys for the girls, suicide tools called Moon Shoes that required the use of many elastic bands. ("Those look like they were invented by a bone doctor," quoth the brother-in-law, and all nodded sagely as they hooked the elastic bands onto the hooks molded into the plastic tubes and the flat piece the child would have attached to their bodies with industrial-grade Velcro, tm.)

The sense of energy, of joy in one another's company that had been the hallmark of the morning had faded.

It was then that the oaf pulled out the fruits of his semester's labors. A portfolio, an art transportation tube spilled forth their contents onto the now pristine dining room table.

"Buffet rules," the oaf said. "Take all you want but frame all you take."

And then there commenced a period of basking in admiration, generous and open-hearted negotiations over particular prints, a brief kerfuffle over the participation of the children, signing was done, the phrase, "Of course you can have two; you can have as many as you really want," was repeated, and people felt as if they had gotten a fucking present. They glowed, they smiled, they were excited and involved and everyone was really, really into it.

And the oaf has every intention of feeling pleased with himself for quite some time.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Crit List 2: The Land Of The Lost

Ah, how rarely do we get to recapture the dreams of childhood!

Only a total dick would neglect to post a dinosaur (Gorgosaurus libratus) image along with a Land of the Lost post. And only a total dick would fail to acknowledge that he totally swiped the pose and proportions from one of Gregory Paul's skeletal diagrams.

There are a lot of people in paleo art who really should cut Mr. Paul a check... I don't steal from him in my serious pieces but can you spot him in my sketchbooks? Yes, you can.

Well, I hadn't intended to revisit another childhood memory for a while but Brian Switek's post on the upcoming Land of the Lost movie was too opportune to ignore. Let's talk about the original Land of the Lost.

See, back in the day I was a fan of the original show and I've watched it recently -- and it's worth discussing here.

When the show debuted in '74 I was a ten year-old Edgar Rice Burroughs fanatic. His Pellucidar series, set in a hollow Earth filled with a mishmash of prehistoric animals ranging from labyrinthodonts to mamoths, was my particular favorite.

(I might go into Burroughs in another post -- but I have to confess that I lost interest in his work for decades after a particular passage in Tarzan at the Earth's Core where a stegosaur gnashes its flesh-rending fangs and folds its plates into wings, using them to glide down a mountainside in order to attack Tarzan. I closed the book -- all the Frazetta-painted buttocks in the world weren't sufficient motivation to read Burroughs after that.)

Anyway, as soon as I was able to read I systematically hunted down every lost world fantasy in any library to which I had access. So when I started seeing the Saturday morning TV ads for Land of the Lost I was in heaven.

And the show did not dissapoint -- it seemed to me to be real science fiction, the characters were involving, and I was fascinated by the world they created. It was produced by Sid and Marty Croft, whose other shows like H.R. Pufnstuf and Sigmund the Sea Monster had always impressed me as kinda dorky and creepy -- but here, the creepy vibe really worked for me.

Flash forward to a year or so ago when I had been dragooned into going to Best Buy, where I spotted the first season of Land of the Lost. After a brief and pathetic tussle with economic reality and the question of whether or not this was something I needed to own I grabbed that sucker. As soon as I got home I put it on to play.

My first thought was that the effects were shockingly bad -- the rafting trip that runs through the credits is hilarious. And the overacting was pretty amusing as well. They only had a few clips of rubbery malformed dinosaurs in action which they repeated over and over.

But I kept watching. And something strange happened.

I started to enjoy it not just as camp but as adventure fiction. As science fiction. The kids started to ask for it when they came to visit. The missus started wandering away from her video poker and succulent websites when I was watching it.

This was the H.R. Pufnstuf take on The Lost World and it was, in an admittedly very limited way, good. How the hell did that happen? How did they do that?

Hey, if anyone associated with the entertainment industry is reading this, it's simple. Two words. And with these two words you can conquer any production limitations that have been placed on you and produce something entertaining and involving -- something that has a legitimate shot at success. Those two words?

Good writing.

I'm not talking about great writing. I'm talking about solid conventional storytelling coupled with a degree of genuine creativity. Good, professional commercial fiction. Land of the Lost had the perfect TV combination of the big overarching story and complete stories in each individual episode. Series like Lost and Heroes could benefit from the study of Land of the Lost.

And if you're a SF reader, here are some people who wrote scripts for the show. Ben Bova. Larry Niven. Theodore motherfucking Sturgeon! Of course as the story man for the first season David Gerrold deserves the lion's share of the credit for this.

(Hey, if you aren't in the know, Sturgeon at his best is one of the best short fiction writers America has produced thus far. No shit. Vonnegut fans, think of the name Kilgore Trout. Then read the name Theodore Sturgeon. Then hie thee to a bookstore or library but pronto.)

There are a few specific factors in the writing that are worth pointing out. First off, while the show had a very conventional moral center (which isn't an issue for me -- there's nothing wrong with the perrenial values of love, humanity, and self-sacrifice) it allowed its characters a degree of moral ambiguity you rarely see in storytelling addressed to children.

The characters could be short-tempered with one another. They could have moments of despair and fear. They could be unreliable allies -- and allies didn't have to be friends. And friends weren't always allies.

Also, the mythology of the show, the world it built, showed a quality of depth and imagination that was really involving. The slowly revealed nature of the technology behind this strange artificial world and the story of the mysterious lost race that built the land were actually interesting. They could easily have been used as the basis for a story for an adult audience.

There was a willingness to put the characters in real danger that I never saw in any other children's show. It had a quality of high drama that really impressed me as a child -- and that quality was still there when I watched the shows again as an adult, once I got past the cheesiness and found myself sucked into the story.

Speaking of cheesiness, the hilarious overacting I mentioned at the start of this? Turns out it's very effective. It's not the work of amateurs. It's a different style of acting and one that works in this kind of thing. More stage acting than film acting, if you know what I mean.

When the characters fight with each other, especially the two juvenile leads (Kathy Coleman and Wesley Eure, for the record), you get the sense of a real squabble. And Coleman's scream comes from the Fay Wray school -- she sounds scared and that makes things scarey.

All the actors were able to portray fear, anger, and concern in a way that brought (and brings) an unexpected emotional weight to the show.

Again, this is strictly on a pop-culture Saturday-morning level of achievement but it's still worthy of respect and appreciation -- if this is the kind of thing you like, you'll like it.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

So What Am I Going To Do With My Other Site?

Here's the evolution of my hand/eye logo. First I started off with a sketch, for which I'm not going to look. I had trouble getting a satisfactory squeezy quality to the eyeball so I had the missus take a photograph of me squeezing one of her exercise balls to use as a reference. (Squeeze the eyeball! Squeeze the eyeball! NNNNGGGGRRRGGGHHH!)

Next I went and painted over it in Photoshop and turned it into a .gif for use on my old site. After a while I found the crudity of the execution disappointing but I still liked the image.

So then I retraced it in Photoshop and used the Illustrator live trace function to turn it into a vector image. It's too big, the colors vary -- at some point I'm going to do it over again as a vector image right from the start.

Still, I'm pleased with it. It works for me both as a writer and an artist. And it also calls back to some important influences -- it's got a little of Hunter S. Thompson's double-thumbed fist Gonzo logo, the Resident's dapper eyeball guys, and I recently realized that the combination of the red hand and the eye was a sort of Sauron/Saruman sandwich. Go figure.

This blog isn't my first website. Here's the first one. It's more focused on being entertaining -- but since I started my blog I've done very little to it. Time constraints, you know?

So I'm wondering what I should do with it. It's more work to post to -- I've got to do all the intertube stuff myself rather than just plug the words and pictures into Blogger. The gallery pages are a nightmare to work on. On the other hand I kinda like it. And I don't want to let go of the rights to

I'm thinking that I might stick to posting stuff about the arts and my participation in them here on the blog and then using the site for the personal and humorous posts and then just put links up here.

I don't know at this point. I'm really not sure. And while I don't have a counter up there I think it garners some hits from time to time. So this morning I put a link to the blog at the top of the page and for now I'm just gonna let it go while I ponder.

But if you like the blog, go take a peek. Go on. It's got some amusement value. I promise.

Oh, and I saw a prototype for my card -- it's gonna take a few weeks before I get the real thing but the prototype looks pretty damned good. The front and back work out better than I'd hoped and the interior is better than the print I based it on. I'll turn it into a print of its own next time I'm in the lab.

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Truly Horrid Idea and Applebee's Is Just Plain Nasty

You used to be able to get these Japanese felt-tip brush pens -- they had a terra cotta-colored rubbery exterior and a fine brush on one end and a thick brush on the other. When they started going dry you could pull them open and dose 'em with more ink. I loved those pens. Where did they go?

This piece was fun to do -- just whip it out in ten minutes or so. Working fast was the point. No sketching, no preconceptions -- just let the hand do what it will. I need to start sketching again.

It used to be that the words used for verification of hominid status for purposes of spam blocking -- the kind you find on comment pages and so forth -- were usually just smears of random consonants.

But a while ago they started sounding like words -- usually the kinds of words you'd see used in really bad fantasy or science fiction novels, the kinds that come with a map and a glossary.

When I mentioned this over on Glendon Mellow's site he called me on it and said I had to write that book. God help me, I think he may be right. So I've started saving the verification words in a document on my desktop.

I've got four words so far. Bactrin, Flediton, Plogu, and Pulas. See what I mean?

This can't possibly lead anywhere good. And it's not like I need another project -- but there are times when something reaches out and beckons to you irresistably. God only knows I read enough of the bad old stuff in my youth -- I've always loved pulp fiction and as a youngster I wasn't what you'd call discriminating.

This could be the start of something terrible.

Speaking of repulsive messes, I had one of the worst meals of my life today.

I cook. I'm a good cook. My food tastes better than what you can get in most restaurants. My grandaughter won't eat eggs unless I make them, when my sister was married she asked me to make stuffed mushrooms even though the event was catered. The caterers ate almost all of them before they got set out for the guests. My brother-in-law has been known to call me the day after he's eaten one of my meals and try to talk me into going into the restaurant business.

So today when I was taken out to lunch at Applebee's it was, quite literally, the first bad food I've eaten in years.

I mean, I had forgotten what bad food was like!

It's going to take me a long time to forget this.

The missus has a broker. Her old broker would send her chocolates and champagne every year. Her new broker just sent her a twenty-five dollar Applebee's card. When we walked in the door there was a sign on the outside of the building that said that the purchase of one of those twenty-five dollar cards would get you a bonus five-dollar card. Which figures.

Jesus, it was disgusting. I knew I was in for a disaster but I'd hoped it would be like eating a sack of chips -- you don't feel good about yourself but you keep eating it for the taste. Nasty, regretable, and yet oddly pleasing.

There was no pleasure. There was no taste, aside from the buffalo wings, which were actually frozen chicken nuggets bathed in this sauce... plastic? Cigarette butts? There was a harsh chemical tang to the red-orange glutinous paste that clung to the horrid little wads of breading and the look on the missus's face when she took a bite of one justified the entire meal for me.

The midget bacon cheeseburgers were utterly without flavor of any kind. No onions, no mustard or mayo. No flavor to the bacon. How do you get bacon with no flavor?

The side salad came with stale croutons and a huge mound of cheese and more of the soul-free bacon. The whole thing was assembled as if the people working in the kitchen hated food. When they were kids they saw food kill their dad and they've been seeking vengeance ever since. Or something. You couldn't get food that bad without a motive! And a can opener. I swear, the lettuce was from a can. Every dish was assembled from packaged processed foods. It wasn't a meal, it was a fucking industrial byproduct.

The idea that we were surrounded by people who had come here expecting a good meal was depressing. The idea that they thought they'd been served one was appalling. Partway through the meal I whispered to the missus and granddaughter, "Hey, do you think our waiter would eat out at a place like this?"


It doesn't matter how many Rachel Ray recipes they put on the back of Triscuit boxes, it doesn't matter how much truffle oil they have at Costco. If a restaurant like Applebee's is flourishing in America then our national palate is a shame, a sham, and a disgrace.

Time to slowly sip a quart of water and reflect on tomorrow's lunch -- which, with luck, will be at Bo McSwine's barbecue. Brisket, blues, and Belgian ale will wash the last pasty oligineous taint of Applebee's from my mouth and restore my parched and weary soul. And if it ain't at Bo's, it'll be at a decent burger joint, Al's Big Burger or The Red Onion.

Please, oh please let it come to pass.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Another Tiny Step: A Business Card

So the idea is that this is folded in half, with the eyeball logo in the front and my contact information in the back. When you unfold it you find this...

It's been adapted from the big print I posted a while ago. The practical nature of vector illustration comes into play here -- all the elements in this are separate objects that I can cut and paste and manipulate to my heart's content and they'll print cleanly at any size. Rock on, Adobe Illustrator.

I've got to say that I have had a few thoughts about whether or not it's really a good idea to have a business card that features, well. Gore.

But if you can't handle a dinosaur fight you probably shouldn't think about working with me. Right?