Happy Birthday Dr. Seuss

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What can I say?

It is your day.

If I could,

I suppose I would,

say it in a special way.

But who can do it better

with each and every letter

the way you say what you say?

Happy birthday to the man,

from all his friends and fans.

Learning and laughter you produce

so thank you, Dr. Seuss.

Bruce Mitchel : Private Eye

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My only worldly escape, sleep, came clamoring to a bitter end by the clanging, chattering telephone across the room. Like some sugared up kid, it was attempting to free itself from the clutches of the hook. The covers, over my forehead protecting my eyes from the piercing morning light, defensively crumpled up against the wall as I gave them a few angered shoves. After slumping off the bed and shuffling across the floor, spears of sunlight pierced through the slated blinds, amplified by the hundreds of beaming cars driven by incompetent, impatient workers and the puddles in the consistent water that loitered on the streets below.

Clang Clang.

There are only three seasons around here, raining, rained, and looks like it will rain. It does actually rain, but more often than not it has just rained, like it waits until you have turned your back. The streets bleed rain or something.

Clang Clang.

Sure is an insistent, sugared up kid, that phone. I switched the alarm clock off which was due to execute its daily abuse in just twelve minutes. Of course the telephone couldn’t have waited another twelve minutes. Who was I kidding; it was just like any other day. The sirens blaring, horns and engines fighting each other as peeved drivers insist right of way with a curse word or three, often punctuated with the help of the tallest finger on the hand. I don’t know where the hell it is, that everyone feels they need to be immediately at every instant of the day.

Clang Clang.

“Alright, alright already, shut your head,” I thought while scratching my well matted hair. It seems people make an extra special effort to avoid eye contact and conversations with everyone on the street, and yet practically pray for phone calls. Every effort is made to create quicker, more efficient communication with others all while making it more and more impersonal with each step. No one puts up with another person yelling for attention and surely doesn’t put up with children poking and pulling for attention, so why anyone allows some box on the wall to rattle its damn brains out for your attention is beyond me. And yet, despite my observation, my own feet still shuffled towards it.

Clang Cla-

“Yeah?” I muttered.

“Erm, no ma’am.”

“No, there is no one by that name here.”

“Yes’m, I’m sure.”

“That is the number, yes.”

“No, no one by that name.” I reassured.

“I have had this number for some time now.”

“Yes’m. This is an apartment, but…”

“No ma’am, I know everyone else in the building. There are only six flats and none by that name.” I insisted.

“Yes, I’m sure.”

There seems to be a divine belief that technology does not make mistakes, baffling to say the least. Normally this would have been the surrender point, or at least for one to become embarrassed over her multiple accusations that I don\u2019t know my own number. But instead, the woman on the other line went soft.

“I’m very sorry ma’am.”

“Please, uh, pl-please don’t.” I hesitated, not knowing how to react.

“Cry…” I sighed.

In any situation which ultimately leads to a woman crying is a situation with which I don’t want to be involved. Other than children, crying women put me in an awkward sort of place. My natural instinct then, was to just try and make it go away.

“Look, why don’t you give the operator a ring, and ask her to help you out, maybe the number got redirected.”

“Yes, I know you said this is the number.” I flustered.

Just as the lady on the other line began to respond, I clenched my teeth and held my breath to say the words.

“I’m sorry ma’am, this is simply the wrong number.” I winced and paused for a moment, and then hung up.

After only a brief thought, I trudged along the usual morning path to the far half of the room, or what the landlord like to refer to as the kitchen. The landlord, Frank Melchings, stood no taller than a parking meter, and took money just the same. As the first of the month encroached, a mass of spotty greased leather as an excuse for skin, a handful of coarse oily hair crawling along the scalp, and a neck that was eating itself, would assemble itself at your door earlier than the birds wake. And certainly more incessant than the clang of that morning’s telephone. What were supposed to be words, dripped from his crooked lip which offset his uneven mustache as he glared through his smudged glasses that slipped to the tip of his greasy, potato nose. No noises from him were necessary, as the only reason for his presence was either someone owing him money, or his excuse for why he shouldn\u2019t pay for a repair. Most have since stopped making such repair requests, so be it now, only one reason for his presence.

Leaning over what Melchings called the stove, I emptied the contents of the tarnished pot into a, probably unwashed, mug. The ebony substance oozed from the spigot in what felt like a near solid piece. I agitated it with a spoon, in hopes of giving it life, but the cold, bitter brew was good enough, as always, to survive the day. Surely, despite the early interrupted awakening, I could still be my usual ten minutes late for work. With my back turned on the world, I closed the door reading 3A, while scuffling with the keys on my ring in search of one that would fit the lock.

The morning sun forced its way through the gaunt windows that lined the street end of the hall. Winding rectangular stairs repeated down the five floor rental building. Melchings lived in 1A; being the first, he was probably staring out the peephole of his door waiting for late payers to pass. Melchings received his from me check the night before, so I should get a free pass on the troll bridge. As the key twisted to my apartment, I half listened for the clack of the tumblers clenching the door frame, usually only done so to avoid another necessary payment to Melchings for careless “non protection of the rental unit security fee” otherwise what do I have that anyone would want to steal? I turned away towards the oblong stairs of the main hall. Apparently more alert than my usual mornings, probably due to the molestation by said telephone, something seemed insidiously wrong. I smelled it, and saw it from the corner of my eye. Peering over my shoulder, the room spun to a halt, centering on the neighboring remains of the door 3B.

The lock was jimmied, wood splintered, and the door frame was smashed. The door slumped into the unit, held only by a warped lower hinge. Bitterly, the first thought that came to mind, was that he didn’t pay his rent and Melchings got the best of him, though doubtful he would impose any such damage to his property, regardless of the cash involved. Snapping from a deer-in-headlights state, I took a step forward, careful to not disturb the perfect chaos before me. Upon entering the unit, the scene unraveled its horrible explosion of events. Furniture lay dismembered, the sofa gutted, lamps decapitated, and the icebox left bleeding out, yet the bulb still burning its last bit of life.

Pictures hung crookedly noosed from the walls, signs of dirty footprints crawled to the back room, and a smell stained the air I breathed. In the back room, newspapers were scattered about, the telephone off the hook, and thick dust particulates, like witness bystanders, hovered in the air aroused from the scuffle and filtered the dim light bleeding from the slats of the single window. Shuffling my way through the back hall, I felt the depth begin to close in, narrower, and narrower still.

There, in the center of the frozen moment in time was a bloody, battered, body strewn over the solid oak desk. The arms laid straight off either edge, wrists limp, as did the head.

Happy Birthday Charlie Dickens

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Happy 200th Birthday Charlie Dickens!  He is probably my favorite “classic” author.  The imagery and moods he builds are so robust, not to mention the themes and brilliant characters he designed are right up my alley.  London, smokestacks, chimneys, murders, dry humor, smart humor, dark humor, despair, hope, fear, shadows, chases, rooftops, thievery, spying, seedy underworlds, gangs, wars, and ghosts, all in tailed coats and top hats; what’s not to love?

The Island and the Plough : Contact Sheets

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I am quite excited to say that I am nearing the very last stage of “The Island and the Plough.”  Editing and formatting proves to be quite an arduous process.  I had a first round of contact sheets proof-printed and had a few people review them.  One person in particular who is a writer/director (on the film side of things) had some really great final editorial remarks.  I decided to take a few into account and rework some small things here and there, adding one extra idea right at the climax of the story which I think will really accentuate the central tone and punctuate the climax better than what I had.

Here is my nearly completed, revised set of contact sheets.  I apologize for making them so small, but being so near completion of this project, I still don’t want to give away the story.  But there is something very interesting about viewing the pages at this size.  It gives a very clear sense of the progression of tone, contrast and balance, not to mention a great macro view of each page’s composition.  It brings the process to a full circle back to a “storyboard” format to really review it once again.

I am still in the throes of deciding how exactly to distribute this project as contacting/meeting with agents and publishers is a very slow process.  Many of the people I have talked with, even in the publishing industry, still suggest self publishing.  At some point I will be doing a small run of prints for proofing purposes as well as for family and friends, which I will make available to sale.

The Angler Boys

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Lament the story of the Angler Boys.  Surprise and joy befell the Angles household when Mabelle and Hank Angles announced she was expecting.  The excitement grew further when Mabelle learned it would be twin boys.  But, at birth, something was revealed as strange.  The doctors called it “Acute Lophii-deformes” and it would seem the bouncing baby boys shared undisputed features of the Anglerfish.  The Angles were advised to shut them away, home school them, and to investigate special therapies and operations to remove them of these “features.”  Mabelle and Hank didn’t feel right about shutting them off from the world, so they decided to go on as if nothing was the matter.

Things were rocky, here and there, but the two boys lived together in a happy, loving home.  It then came time to enroll them in school.  Little Luke Angles did quite well; the other children thought his “lightning ball” was cool.  He was the best to have sleepovers with because he could keep the blanket fort lit nicely.  The girls thought it was cute too and they would sigh and dreamily stare, saying, “To be with Little Luke Angles was like being under the twinkling stars.”

All was not so well for Young Leopold Angles, who inherited the unfortunate features of an anglerfish teeth and tail.  The girls were all scared of him, and the boys called him snaggletooth, jaws, and walrus.  He was a favorite target for the bullies and often found himself escaping to the far end of the playground to be alone.  Luke would try to stick up for him and include him in their games, but no matter his efforts, the other children would shove him away.

One day, Mabelle Angles came to wake them for school, but Young Leopold was gone.  Hank, Mabelle and Luke looked all over town and asked everyone around, most of whom just laughed.  Days passed, weeks passed.  Leopold was nowhere to be found.  Luke would search through the night with the help of his lightning ball.  And thus, began “The Riveting Adventures of Angler Boy.”  (A follow up to “Flashback: Angler Boy“)

Gypsy Jazz

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I have long been inspired by the “Gypsy Jazz” musicians of the twenties and thirties, specifically Jean “Django” Reinhardt.  One might say he invented the Gypsy Jazz style (sometimes called “Hot Jazz” stemming from his home venue, “The Hot Club” in France) and it could very well be all because of his handicap, which I think is quite incredible.  As a young man, he was in a fire which literally seared the last two fingers of his left hand together, fingers that are obviously very important to a guitarist.  Being greatly inspired by Spanish Folk, Gypsy music from eastern Europe, and American Jazz which was in full swing at the time seemed to have helped lead way to his two finger quick style; it is unmistakable and often replicated.  The fact that he worked with his handicap rather than letting it overcome him, much like Ray Charles or Stevie Wonder, is simply astounding.  If you have yet to hear any of his music, you simply must.  Below I have included some of his songs as well as other artists like him including the new wave of more eclectic gypsy jazz revivalists such as Caravan Palace and even DeVotchKa.

 

Django Reinhardt: “Belleville”:

Django Reinhardt: “Minor Swing”:

Opa Tsupa: “Les Deux Guitares”

And something a little more contemporary:

Caravan Palace: “Jolie Coquine”

Caravan Palace: “Suzy”

Bah Humbug

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The cantankerous old grump hobbled his way home through the blustering snow and dangerous ice, completely unaware his life was following in his wake.  A young weak flame, his past, hovered right behind him.  A giant lumbering man, his present, walks careful aside him as not to fall out of step.  Ahead of him, creeps the shadows of his future and into them he ventures.   A lingering cry haunts the alleys and the streets, chains clank and rattle of warnings to a ruined man as he bitterly  scoffs off the world, heading home to sulk.

    Here is this year’s rendition of Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge along with all four ghosts.  I stayed with the traditional flame character for the Ghost of Christmas Past.  I had to do three or four thumbnails, and a nearly full render of another drawing to get a composition that I liked since I wanted them stacked, using the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come as the backdrop.   I haven’t really seen Scrooge done with a beard, sometimes Victorian chops, but usually clean shaven.  I thought it might be fun to give him a cranky old beard and make him stout rather than long and lanky.  I had a lot of fun doing this one, hope you enjoy.

“Darkness is cheap, and Scrooge liked it.” – A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens.

The Miraculous Marvelous Marvin


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Come witness, the amazing, brilliant, shocking, stunning Miraculous Marvelous Marvin!  For one night only watch this one man show; no assistants needed!  You won’t believe your eyes and you won’t believe the astounding, wonderful, thrilling, mind bending, brain boggling tricks, illusions and feats of disaster!  Watch a single man appear, disappear, eat fire, blow fire, jump through fire, juggle knives, dazzle with costume changes, practical illusions and perform his most incredible illusion of sawing himself apart!

(For Illustration Friday : “Separated” )

A Word of the Wolf

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    Say it a villain, but I like the wolf; I think he is rather dapper.  Fables, rhymes and fairy tales unanimously agree that the wolf (or fox) is a mean, shrewd, cunning, coy, heartless villain, a thief, a robber, and a murderer.  There, of course, are a few humorous attempts in looking at the wolf’s side of the story such as “The True Story of The Three Little Pigs,” but I declare justice is not served.  I do applaud Roald Dahl for allowing us into the life of Mr. Fox; however, he is still hunted and villainized by the farmers of the land despite being the hero of the story.  Certainly stories of the natives include heroic, god like wolves but American culture would much rather idolize the lion over the wolf.

    We have a lot to learn from the wolf, and not just about how to dress.  We see ourselves in him which perhaps gives reason to villainize him.  By some social mythology structure, the goat, or the pig has inherently done no wrong and even in mistake can be forgiven, actually idolized for learning a profound lesson.  The wolf, however, gains no such glory.  His very presence is greeted by hiss and boo.  Perhaps the sharp teeth, or sleek eyes have gained him no ground.  The story could equally be rewritten to warn of tattle tale little girls, men with guns, forgetting to look in the clock, and snarky construction working pigs.  Just look how regal, how clean and cunning, dapper and dashing, steady and stark, alert and acute is the wolf.  If he were human, he would be a knight, or a Robin Hood at least.

    Certainly there is an elephant in the room.  I may be carefully avoiding the fact that the wolf is, indeed, a predator and the goats and pigs certainly should be afraid of him.  He is their villain, I cannot argue that.  Yet, the wolf has a villain as well, as do we all, and despite the long held cultural structure of an innocent goat, perhaps we should write a story about The Three Grass Brothers, or The Daisy and the Tulip.  We will see how cute and innocent that goat remains.

The Island and the Plough : Cover Art

Things are moving really fast for this project; I love it.  Here is the cover for “The Island and the Plough.”  In keeping with the entire style, the cover is, of course, black and white.  The format is going to be square, likely 8″x8″ but it will mostly depend on the publisher/printer specs.  I have seen other square sizes in either 7″x7″ or 10″x10″.  I’d love some feedback, so by all means post any critiques or comments.  Cheers, Jack.

The Cover Art for "The Island and the Plough"

The Island and the Plough : Hard at Work

My inkings in progress.  I have a fire under me this weekend for some reason; I hope to accomplish a large majority of the illustrations for “The Island and the Plough” (or “The Island and the Plow”) so I can get into the computer at do the typography.  I specifically designed this project to have a lot of negative space, which plays into the story, to keep the project manageable since so many of my past projects quickly become overwhelming.

SketchbookJack The Island and the Plow Workspace

"The Island and the Plough" inkings in progress

Character design

Here is the more or less final character design for the protagonist in “The Island and the Plough.”  He is a father, but I want him to have a weathered and wise look, so the thick beard adds that I think; however, it is integral to the story that he learns and is not too wise, so I still want to maintain an innocence which I think can been achieved through the large simple eyes.

SketchbookJack The Island and the Plow Fiep Design

Character design for Fiep from “The Island and the Plough”

The Island and the Plough

Here is the very first image of my current project, “The Island and the Plough” or “The Island and the Plow” (I’ll have to decide on the spelling shortly.) done on a notepad as an expressive gesture drawing but turned out to say more than I thought it would.  The story revolves around this farm house built on an island where a small family lives.  I have begun writing the story; it will be told in a children’s fable style.

Fiep, a farmer and father lives, basically stranded, on an island where they have a large apple tree, their house, and a small farm.  The family lives quite happily there until the winter comes along and they realize this year’s harvest did not yield enough to get them through the winter.    I won’t reveal the rest of the story, but it involves Fiep getting off the island but in a very unusual and unexpected way.

I hope you will follow along as “The Island and the Plough” unfolds.  Cheers, Jack.

SketchbookJack The Island and the Plow

The very first gestural concept for "The Island and the Plough"

A Drawing

I sit back in my chair to look at my work and the tuner crackles slightly from my movement disrupting its signal, and my flow of work.  That fat of my lower palm and the rounds of my knuckles shimmer from a sheen from a coating of graphite.  The joints in my fingers sigh with relief as I let them from their crumpled, curled pose and the tip of my thumb throbs around an indentation left by a pen.

Although I deeply love my computer and the tools it has to offer, I can never seem to replace the raw energy it takes to create a drawing.  The computer is clean and precise, and allows for infinite error correction.  A master of perfection, a king of magic tools.  There is something; however, raw and unfettered, real and with personality about the physical medium.   It’s as if the thoughts flow out of the mind, through the nerves, out the fingers and directly through the pen.  Nothing is sacred, no line is perfect.  There is a bit of wobble in every stroke, an extra dot, too long of a line.  Nothing seems to look quite right until you pull back from the final stroke and it finally takes on the life you had hoped.   With the pencil or pen and paper at hand, comes a bit of uncertainty and acceptance.  You direct the drawing a little one way, and it directs you a little this way.  There is no undoing and no refining the line once it is on the paper.  You have to be willing to accept where the drawing takes you; it is a bit like a wave.  You direct the drawing a little one way, and it directs you a little this way.

Somehow in the end, it is never exactly what you wanted, but it is always exactly what you meant.