Happy Birthday John van Hamersveld

Happy Birthday to my friend and mentor John van Hamersveld. While I have no great love for my years in Los Angeles (2000 to 2004), my time spent with John was something I will always be grateful for. In a town full of social climbers and fame addicted narcissistic idiots, John was a man of great wisdom and talent, a man who exuded a love of art and creativity.
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There are few I can credit with actually changing my thinking, but John did that, though not through argument or constant rants, but by posing questions, almost as if talking to himself, sometimes just loud enough for me to hear. His subtle engagement about the politics of the time, the war, whole horrible state of the country chipped away at my A-political stance. I hadn’t voted in over a decade, but ever since I’ve moved back to New Jersey, I never missed an election.
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I worked closely with John to restore images from his incredible career to print posters from a large format giclee printer I had in my studio in North Hollywood. He’d created some of the most iconic images of the 60’s and 70’s; album covers such as The Beatles Magical Mystery Tour, Rolling Stones “Exile On Main Street”, Kiss “Hotter Than Hell”, Beach Boys “Wild Honey”, Blondie “Eat To The Beat”, posters for The Velvet Underground, Hendrix, Cream, and possibly the greatest poster of all time: The Endless Summer.
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We spent long hours together in my studio, and he told me stories about meeting the Beatles, photographing the Stones, hanging out with Dylan, and the death of Rick Griffin. But the best stories were about art, about creating images. I’d always felt schizophrenic in my desire to explore a variety of styles. But when I looked at John’s body of work, I realized it was quite healthy to go off in different directions and not repeat one’s self. I also learned to be okay with my dyslexia, John said it was our advantage to see things differently.
screen-shot-2013-09-01-at-93055-amSo thank you John, for the time we spent, for your profound influence on my thinking. And a very happy birthday.
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Here Comes The Boom! After The Storm

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A lot of people are still doing a lot of good for the people at the Jersey shore after Hurricane Sandy. The band P.O.D came to the rescue and I was asked to do this poster for the benefit. This is my first post since running Asbury Park Comicon — I’ve had a lot on my plate since that glorious day at Convention Hall back on March 29th, 2013. I’ll have a few thoughts and some photos, but first, I had to deliver this art and a whole bunch of other things needed to be dealt with to get Asbury Park Comicon 2014 rolling.

Agent 88 For Heavy Metal Magazine Book

agent88xSome friends of mine out in L.A. are making a wild  webisode show called Agent 88. It’s been described as “Quentin Tarentino meets Mr. Magoo.”  They’ve asked me and other artists such as Jim Mahfood, Simon Bisley, Kevin Eastman,  David Mack, and many other talented humans to each contribute a page for a book that will be printed by the folks at Heavy Metal Magine. Looks like a groundbreaking show for the Web. Check it out at www.agent88films.com.

Do It For The Sea Creatures

marine_mamals2Here at the Jersey Shore, we have so many concerned friends who care for wildlife, but the future Animal Rescue Hall of Famer (if there was such a thing) is my friend Alison Evans-Fragale. It’s not enough that her day gig is being a nurse, but in her spare time, she’s rescuing beached  seals, dolphins, and anything else that swims, crawls or flies. So when she asked me to make a poster for a fundraiser for the Marine Mammal Stranding Center, I couldn’t refuse.

What I’ve Been Reading

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You may have heard David McCullough as the narrator on many of Ken Burns’ documentaries on PBS such as The Civil War,  The Brooklyn Bridge, and many episodes of the American Experience. McCullough speaks like the voice of history, probably because he’s not just reading a script, but because he’s steeped in the material.

His latest endeavor, weighing in at 752 pages is titled  The Greater Journey. It’s a collection of accounts of some the 19th Century’s greatest American artists, medical students, writers, thinkers, diplomats and scientist, who all were drawn to Paris for enlightenment. Such names as Mary Cassatt, Oliver WendelL Holmes, John Singer Sargent appear in their their formative years and go on to greatness. But my favorite was the story of the painter Samuel Morse, who invents the telegraph on a steamship voyage home from France.

Other great accounts are the horrors and stupidity of the Franco Prussian War and the surgery school that fed human remains to a cage full of dogs. Those were the good old days!

Digital Comics and Comic Shops Not A Zero Sum Game

I don’t believe the proliferation of digital comics sold on tablets will destroy brick and mortar comic shops. I didn’t used to, but I’ve changed my belief on the subject of the demise of the comic shops. Comic shops are not record shops, which they’ve been compared to and may not suffer the same fate. Many experts and fans have predicted that as MP3s decimated the CD retail market, so too the comic shops will fall because of comic apps. While there are similarities in their shared participation in the digital revolution, they are also very different markets. For one, comics are a much smaller industry. CDs had become wildly overpriced and many consumers grew to despise the record industry, feeling no guilt in stealing music from greedy corporations. Here’s a few reasons why I feel comic shops won’t be wiped out by apps:

1. Use: Relatively few people own the tablets to read comics on apps. Up until just recently, a tablet cost a minimum of $500. With the introduction of the Kindle Fire, the price drops down to $200, but they’re not for everyone. They’re buggy, awkward, and only 7 inches, which is too small to comfortably read a comic compared to the iPad. It will be several years until the devices are ubiquitous and as elegant (if ever) as the iPad.

2. Price: comics on tablets are not cheap. Unlike, MP3s, they are not perceived as being fairly price. Unlike ebooks, they’re not cheaper than their physical version.

3. Portability and Ownership: Digital comics can’t be moved from one app to another. They can’t be shared, and we don’t really get to own them, again, unlike their cousins the ebook.

4. The Artifact: So much of the activity at comic conventions has to do with signings. Many comic shops also have signings. Physical books are required for these signings to create a documented interaction between the fan and the book’s creator. The artifact, in this case a comic book, becomes a cherished item, a memento of a moment shared between the fan and the artist. There is a bond with the creator that many fans experience, which never fades. It is a connection with someone they admire, and they will remember it and speak fondly of it over decades. They can reach for the artifact, and show it to friends or simply look upon it in a quiet moment by themselves and recall the events that led to them attaining the prized signature. There is no such interaction with an app based comic.

So what’s wrong with so many of America’s comic shops? For one, they’re not in the comics business, they’re in the super hero business. The super hero business is strangling the comics business. Most comic shops (not all) in America are focused disproportionately on super heroes. Believe it or not, there are many people who don’t give a rat’s ass about anything that Marvel and DC are publishing. There are a lot of people out there who’d rather read about history, humor, fantasy, crime, mystery, sci-fi, young adult, horror, romance etc. While Marvel and DC may touch upon those categories, their primary thrust is super powered, costumed characters.That leaves the vast majority of potential comic readers with little to no reason to ever enter a comic shop.

Bergen Street Comics's inviting interior is devoid of clutter and dorkyness.
Bergen Street Comics's inviting interior is devoid of clutter and dorkyness.

Recently, I visited two comic shops that had a very small percentage of comics about super heroes — and the shops were busy, packed, thriving. The owners were friendly, enthusiastic, talkative, helpful. They carried graphic novels, trade paperbacks, obscure comics, weird comics, funny comics, comics for kids, comics not suitable for kids, arty comics, mini comics, indie comics, hardcover collections, comics by local artists, comics from abroad… Wow! I’m speaking of course of Brooklyn’s Desert Island Comics and Bergen Street Comics — two very different stores in appearance, presentation, and offerings, but similar that they both operate under the assumption that super heroes are only a tiny portion of what the public wants when it comes to comics.

Desert Island Comics's light-hearted interior.
Desert Island Comics's light-hearted interior.
Surprising exterior of Desert Island Comics retains the sign of previous inhabitants.
Exterior of Desert Island Comics retains the sign of previous inhabitants.

While there are many innovative comic retailers around the country, these are the creative ones I’ve recently seen firsthand. I’ve been in many of the old model: dirty, sloppy, poorly lit, with their narrow-intrest inventory, and the sweatpants-wearing retailers who believe showering is optional. These shops are the sad temples of the all-boy’s club of nerd world. The artform of comics has been monopolized and ghettoized by the dorks for the past 30 years. It’s exciting to see pro-active shopkeepers re-inventing comic retailing for a new era of expanded customer base. One where females feel welcomed in by an attentiveness to detail and variety of genres. Where nerds and normals can shop under the same roof. Where comics are treated as literature rather than collectables.

It is the Bergen Street’s and Desert Island’s who are cultivating a clientele for the comic shop of the future, where super heroes are only one category in a wide variety of comic book offerings. Along with a customer friendly environment, special events, and ever changing displays and stock, these places become much more than comic shops. They are a part of a community, dare I say a scene. Super hero comic book sales in shops will diminish, and the smart retailers won’t try to make up for it with T-shirts and toys, they will make up for it by selling more comics to more different types of shoppers.

Newt Gives Me The Creeps

Lobbyist, liar, leaver, lard-ass load. Regardless of party affiliation, I can’t believe anyone would trust this guy to be President of the United States.

I was listening to WNYC FM the other day, and they were talking about Newt Gingrich. I just started sketching him from memory — a memory that goes all the way back to when he shut down the government during the Clinton years.

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What I’ve Been Reading

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Margret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake is a sad and imaginative near-future sci-fi about the downfall of humanity and those who bring it about. I love stories where the reader goes in completely blind, and gradually more and more is revealed until an entirely unpredictable turn of events leads to the scene of page one. The story is narrated by someone name Snowman, a pathetic lone human survivor of a manmade apocalypse. He shares what’s left of the world with the  strange humanoid creatures he calls “crakers” who were somehow created by his once friend Crake. Snowman recalls the events that lead to the downfall of humanity during his years of personal development as a teenager in the age of global warming. Atwood’s real strength is creating a range of totally believable characters. Good stuff.

Has It Been 20 Years Since Nevermind, Already?

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Almost 20 years ago I made the above T-shirt as a humorous response to the rise of two alt-rock juggernauts: Nirvana and Matt Pinfield. While Nirvana was  all over the radio and MTV, Pinfield’s star was just starting to rise. In New Jersey, Matt was a local hero; serving as programming director and afternoon record jock at the Jersey shore’s 106.3 WHTG and DJing at the Melody Bar in New Brunswick three nights a week. Matt and I had crossed paths several times, but when he was DJing at a wedding reception I attended around 1989, we got into a long discussion about new bands. He asked me if I liked The Wonder Stuff and we’ve been friends ever since. Years later I would take him to his audition in New York for MTV.

When I first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit” I thought it was a new Pixies tune. I later found out that was exactly what Kurt Cobain was going for. The song seemed like it was everywhere, yet I never grew tired of it. I never really appreciated the rest of the album, but I always felt Teen Spirit was one of the greatest rock songs I’d ever heard. Some months later, I received a frantic call from Pinfield, “…how fast can you get into the city? I’m at NBC studios! Nirvana is doing their soundcheck for Saturday Night Live  at Rockefeller Center!”

Since I was only 45 minutes out of Manhattan, I raced up the NJ Turnpike, bolted into NBC, found Matt and we were whisked through glass doors past a group kids on a class trip. I’ll never forget how wide their eyes got as the doors opened and Teen Spirit blasted out into the hall. The doors closed behind us and the kids pressed themselves against the glass to here more. We entered the Saturday Night Live studio and there was G.E. Smith, the legendary bandleader and music director of SNL. We sat in the dark with a few people from CMJ magazine. There was Nirvana, bashing out Smells Like Teen Spirit for the five luckiest people in New York City at that moment in time.