Saturday, March 28, 2009

The state of modern radio (hint: it's something like Montana)

A few weeks ago I mentioned the big suitcase record player/radio I used to listen to as a kid and how varied the playlists were back then. Soul next to rock next to progressive next to even some jazz, maybe some country...not so much nowadays. In fact, the state of commercial radio is well acknowledged to be in the bowels of the porcelain receptacle.

A few years ago, my wife was nice enough to give me a year's subscription to XM satellite radio and I was sooooo happy. I stayed that way for a long time, even did a presentation for a speech class extolling the virtues of XM in particular and satellite in general. The variety was incredible...XM alone had something like 130 channels, Sirius a comparable number (I never wanted to listen to Sirius because they had Howard Stern and I have always thought he was one of the biggest buttholes alive). Even though XM eventually got rid of their progressive rock channel, I stayed happy for a long time. Heck, I even did an XM annual report as a graphic design project (you can download the pdf here). Below you will see a group of illustrations I did in a new style for that project.

Recently XM and Sirius merged and although I still like my satellite radio, the variety has gone somewhat downhill...pandering to the lowest common denominator, I guess. There is still an exponentially larger amount of variety on satellite than terrestrial radio, but the golden days, the salad days...they seem to be a thing of the past.

I might have mentioned I have used my art to meet some of my favorite musicians...people like Don Mclean, Bruce Cockburn, Elvis Costello (twice), Todd Rundgren, Loudon Wainwright III, Tori Amos, Neil Finn, Jonatha Brooke, David Gray, Duncan Sheik, Peter Himmelman and X. Near misses, where I ended up with a signed print but couldn't meet them include U2, Sting, Springsteen, and Ani DiFranco and The Call. You can see a few of these pieces below.

There are still a few that I really want to "get." Musicians like Neil Young, Mark Eitzel, Joni Mitchell...but, living in Savannah for now means very few musicians come through on tours. San Diego was much better in that regard.

Have any of you met any of your favorite musicians? Got their phone numbers?

Friday, March 20, 2009

Books, Redux

Last week I talked about books that I bought solely because of the great covers they had. This week, I wanted to focus on books I have reread many times.

I would love it if any of my fellow constant readers would talk about the books that were loved so much that they demanded rereading. Have you read some more than twice? What brought you back to those specific books?

My list of books that were so good, once was not enough, is pretty I will only talk about a few.

Those of us into fantasy understand the attraction and sometimes the necessity of rereading books of epic proportions. These books seem new because the level of detail is so rich, the evens so numerous, you just have to go back for more. The most obvious is Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy (along with The Hobbit). I estimate I have read that whole series at least three times. The first time was almost like some sort of religious experience. I probably dreamt about Frodo, Sam and the Ents night after night. The books covered so much ground, had so many characters I could either empathize with (the diminutive Frodo and other Hobbits) or idolize (Aragorn and the elves). A similar series, but very different in tone, is Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant double trilogy. This one came later in my life and is intended for more mature readers, but it pushes many of the same buttons. It even has a magic ring! I also have read Stephen King's The Stand several times. Another book that is epic in scope, with a multitude of distinctive characters (see my version of Trashman below), I have probably read it four times or more. The last I will mention has nothing to do with fantasy, but is wonderfully fanciful, and those are the books of John Irving. I have read most several times, but The World According to Garp, The Water Method Man and The Hotel New Hampshire hold special places in my heart. No one can take the reader through such highs and lows and keep you coming back for more again and again.

Below you will see a few paintings of mine that were meant to be book covers or illustrations of favorite scenes. The first is the aforementioned Stephen King book, The Stand. The original is watercolor and about 12 x 16.

Below, you see a painting for the classic Portrait of Dorian Gray, which is one of several pieces I did for an educational magazine years ago.

Below is a cover for a recent book whose title escapes me.

Here is a cover for a collection of a comic book series that dealt with the mysterious death of Marilyn Monroe called The Red Diaries. The original is mixed media and about 20 x 30.

Lastly, below you see an early cover for a collection of horror stories called Chilled to the Bone. This is mixed media and the book cover itself has some 3d elements, such as a real spider as part of the art.

Please, comment on the books that meant so much to you, that grabbed you so tightly that you had to go back and read them again. If you are like me, the list is long and gladly so!

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Books, part 1: Judge them by their covers

When I was about 13 and living in a small town in Minnesota where my grandparents also lived, I detasseled corn as a summer job. When the job was over and I got what seemed at that time to be a huge paycheck, I made a mad dash for the fantasy section of the mall bookstore. I knew one author I would be looking for-Edgar Rice Burroughs-but other than that, I don't know if I had any specific plans. I just went in and looked at the covers that looked cool and bought something like 20 paperbacks. Many of them were those great Ace books of the 70's, like the ones you see below with covers by Roy Krenkel and the incredible Frank Frazetta.

Frank Frazetta tends to be overlooked outside the fantasy community (where he is justifiably a god). The fact that he illustrated comics and genre fiction seems to relegate him to the back room of pulp illustration in the mind of art critics and historians. But I challenge anyone to find a fine artist who can match the intensity, the constantly smart compositions as well as do each piece in a few hours (in oils, no less). Below you will see a few of the seminal Lancer Conan covers he did, as well as Rogue Roman...a sexy gladiator romp I bought just for the cover.

Have you bought books just because they had covers you liked? There are many others I could list if I had the time or space...many of them by Frazetta. The publishers knew he could sell a book, no matter how good or bad the contents were, and they used him relentlessly. I have heard stories of him doing a painting overnight, and drying it in the oven to get it done faster. And he had such an amazing visual memory, most of his work was done without reference. The guy deserves a same place of honor in the halls of fine art that he has in fantasy art.

I am no Frazetta, but I have done my share of book and comic covers. In the 1990's especially, I did a ton of covers for Revolutionary Comics (unauthorized bios of rock stars, mainly) and Caliber Comics. You can see a few below.

The painting of U2 was the first one they ever used, after having seen it in the San Diego Comicon art show sometime around 1990 or so. I remember for some reason having to meet the guy from Revolutionary in a Subway sandwich shop in the general area of their offices in downtown San Diego...I guess they were having some sort of trouble and were keeping mum on their location. Sadly, that same guy I met with, Todd Loren, was killed not too long after that. I continued to work for Revolutionary, which by then, was being run by his parents. A few more below...

I consider the one on the upper left (Metallica) one of the best ones I did for them. Below, you will see some of the wacky combinations that came about when they decided to reprint stories together. I mean, come on...George Clinton and Winger???

Some, like the Metallica and a few others below, were fun experiments in multimedia. The Elvis on the right has many collaged elements, along with both watercolor and acrylic paint. The one in the middle (girls of rock, including such hard rocking girls like Paula Abdul...oh boy) has an actual belt glued to the board. Also, the McCartney piece above has actual dirt and flowers sitting on the painting.

So, tell me...have you ever judged a book by it's cover...and then bought it?

Friday, March 06, 2009

Old guy rant, be warned!

Hey all you Twitters, or is it Twitsters? Let's just say Twits, that seems to fit. Too convenient, huh?

Does anyone really care what you or I are doing every friggin second of the day? We have cell phones, we have email, we have facebook, we have texting, and now we have...Twitter.

I have friends that use this thang, but I refuse to give in to it's insidious attempt at world domination. I mean, really, how much can you really say in 140 characters (or however many it is...I am going by a Jon Stewart report and my own crappy memory on this one)? Can it really be that important? When I heard of those ding dongs at the State of the Union (or whatever it was) twittering while Obama talked, that was it baby, the final straw.

We have gotten to a state of too much information, too much sharing, too much self importance. Do you really need a cell phone receiver stuck in your ear? And a pager on your belt? And a twit saying "I just walked into Wal-Mart, and boy does it stink?"

I guess I have to somehow bring it back to art, don't I? Well, there was an assignment I did awhile back that related somewhat to this, though it focused more on gaming, as you see below. Really, it's pretty much the same thing. And hey, for 200., it's yours (negotiable)!