Tag Archives: drawing

Damn Lies, White Lies, Stretchers, and Wild Hoo-Haws

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**This is a classic post from January, 2015 that is still somewhat relevant… Unless I’m lying.**

There are limits to what people will believe.  No really, there are, I promise.  You can believe me because I’m a fiction writer, a story-teller, and I therefore tell lies all the time.  I was a teacher for thirty-one years, so I not only tell kids how wonderful they are in order to get good behavior and real learning out of them, but I have been told some of the most convoluted, inside-out, purple-in-the-face hoo-haws that are ever told anywhere in human culture throughout human history, and told them by a child with a straight face, perfectly seriously, and with little red horns holding up their crooked golden halos.  We are taught to misrepresent the truth from early childhood on.

“Do you have to go potty, sweetheart?”

“No, mommy, I jest like to dance.”

“Do you love me, Mortimer?  Or do you just want to get me alone in a car after the prom?”

“Oh, I love you, Alicia.  Really I do!”

“So are you in favor of taxing the oil companies at a fair and balanced rate, Senator, so we have more money to spend on Education and public works?”

“Why, I most certainly do, young voter.  Ignore that man with the “I Love Exxon” button trying to bash me over the head with that Tea Party campaign sign.  Let me kiss that darling little baby of yours.”

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This post was inspired by all the lies told in the State of the Union speech last night by President O’Bama (He’s Irish and a conservative like Bill O’Reilly, isn’t he?)  Now, I am well aware of the white lies the President buttered our bread with.  The economy has actually improved, but not nearly as much as was claimed.  And not nearly enough for someone like me, a white male retired educator with significant health problems living in a Red State under Republican-Nazi governor/emperors who want to privatize education and spend my pension money on tax breaks for billionaires.  But those lies are nothing compared to the damn lies told by the Republican response lady, Ernst from Iowa.  She laid out a plan for undoing everything that’s been done to improve my life by the government since 2008.  The Affordable Care Act is to be repealed.  Tax breaks for “job creators” are going to be re-instituted.  We are going to heal the middle class by deregulating industry and predatory banks and by giving more benefits and goodies to the rich folks who will treat us better than those horrible Democratic liberals who want to turn us all into socialists.  This is coming from the Iowa Senator who won her seat by promising your average pork-eating Iowan to use her “hog-castrating skills” to motivate Democrats in congress to see things her way.  Iowans (of which I once was one of) know good fertilizer when they smell it.  It makes you want to shout, “Hoo-Haw!”  (Yes, it’s true, I once knew an old farm hand that, when he heard a ridiculously contorted lie, would shout “Hoo-Haw!” as a sort of derisive laughter to hear such a funny truth-twister.)

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Lies are our way of life.  We lie about what we think.  We lie about what we feel.  We lie about how we view the world.  We lie about whether or not we tell lies.  Could we live a life without ever lying?  I hate to tell you this, but if I say, “yes”, then it might not be entirely truthful of me.

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Native Americans Invade My Artwork

I don’t know if you’ve seen enough of my colored-pencil Paffooneys to tell this, but for an old white guy, I draw a lot of Native Americans and am rather deeply in love with American Indian images.  You may have seen this dream painting I posted before.

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The girl in the painting is a combination of this warrior’s daughter and myself.  I was naked in the dream and a female, facing this huge ghost-stag.  The dream came while I was reading Hanta Yo by Ruth Beebe Hill.  Maybe that book was the beginning of my Native American obsession.  Who knows?  I am a crazy dreamer.  But that wonderful book turned me on to the rich spiritual life that the Dakota people lived.  I identified with it so completely that I dreamed myself into their culture.  I was also struck by the manner in which a Native American culture handles education.  The grandfather is in charge of the boy’s learning.  He teaches by story-telling.  Here you see the grandfather in Sky Lodge teaching his grandson.  The girls would learn very different things from their mothers and grandmothers.

Skye lodge

I am also entranced by the life of the people expressed in dance and ritual.  Dance has deeper meaning than we white guys normally assign to it.  Dances could be magical.  Of course, the notion of a “rain dance” is the result of too much simplification in movie scripts and ignorant popular white culture.  Dance could connect you to the Earth, the Sky, and the Spirit World.  That’s what this most recent Paffooney shows.

Pueblo Bonito

So, you can see, I don’t really understand the concept of moderation when it comes to my obsessions in the world of colored pencil art.  Hanta Yo!  Clear the Way!  In a sacred manner I come!

child of fire

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Chuck Dickens and the Origins of Writing

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Don’t make the mistake of thinking I have any earthly idea where writing comes from or how it began.  I am only talking personal history here, nothing grander or more meaningful.  This post is only self-referential hoo-haw, which is a fancy way of interpreting “conceited crap”.

So, the truth is, I am writing about Charles Dickens because he is the author I most want to become.  True, I rant on and on about Twain and his humor.  And a good deal of my artwork owes everything to Disney, but everything I am good at in writing is based on Dickens.

The first actual Dickens novel that I read was accomplished during my extended illness as a high school sophomore.  I read in bed, both at home and in the hospital, from my library copy of The Old Curiosity Shop.  I was enthralled by the journey and subsequent tragedy of Little Nell.  I thoroughly loathed the villain Daniel Quilp and was roundly thrilled by his well-deserved fatal comeuppance.  It was my first encounter with the master of characters.  I followed that reading with a biography of Dickens that revealed to me for the first time that his characters were based on real people.  Mr. Micawber in David Copperfield was actually Dickens’ own father.  Little Nell was the cousin he dearly loved who died in his arms.    The crafty Fagin was a caricature of a well-known fence named Soloman, a Jew of infamous reputation, but not without his redeeming quality of caring for the orphaned poor.  So it is that I have chosen to make my silly stories about real people in much the same way Dickens did.  If you are now worried that since you know me, you may end up in my books, never fear.  I change names and splice characters together.  You will have to make an effort to recognize yourself.  And, besides, nobody reads my books anyway.

I also like the way Dickens uses young characters and follows them over time as they grow and change.  Oliver Twist was the first child protagonist in English literature.  David Copperfield, Nicholas Nickleby, and Pip in Great Expectations are also like that.  David Copperfield, in fact, is Chuck’s own fictionalized self.  I fully intend to do the same.  It is the reason my books fall into the Young Adult category.  I also intend to employ the same kind of gentle, innocent humor that Dickens used.  I mean to portray things that are funny in a disarming, absurdist way rather than resorting to attack humor and bad words.

There it is, then, my tribute to Charles Dickens, a writer who makes me be who I am and write what I write.  I am not supposed to do Christmas posts because of my avowed religion, but you can consider this to be as close as I can come.  The author of A Christmas Carol… it doesn’t get much more Christmassy than that.

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Yes, I Throw a Moose or Two

I thought that this silly poem needed to be re-posted because school is ending.  The need for silliness is absolutely imperative.  I also need to throw a few mooses… er… moosei… er… meese?  How do you pluralize the word moose?

Life is as Hard as Bowling with a Moose (A Poem)

Life is like Moose Bowling,
Because…
In order to knock over all the pins,
And win…
You have to learn HOW TO THROW A MOOSE!

As the days count down, I have had to exercise my moose-throwing muscles more and more.  Today I have five days left in my teaching career.  So many precious kids I have to give up and never see again…  So many teachers will tell you that every year the kids are getting worse and worse, and their attitudes are turning more sour, disrespectful, and violent.  But those teachers don’t know the secret.  You have to throw a moose or two at the problem.  Real discipline is hard work.  Harder than demanding that kids sit in rows and be silent… heads down and pens scratching away.  You have to actually talk to kids and learn who they are… what they feel is important… what their problems are, and what they want you to do about them.   You have to be honest, give them a hook or two to draw them into the whole learning thing.  You have to actually care. 

So, I do.  I care.  And I let them talk.  It’s a moose that has to be tossed.

The comment was made this morning that you have to keep them working right up until the end of the year.  Doing no formal lessons in class is actually a lot harder and more risky than continuing to plod through the textbook.  But in five more days there are no more classes, no more books, no more teachers’ dirty looks… school’s out forever.   I haven’t done any lessons since two weeks ago.  Grades are in the gradebook.  I have been showing kids my favorite movies.  Especially movies from the eighties.  (Truthfully, I have not been well enough to actually teach.  My body aches and I can’t breathe very well)  I have been talking to kids about those movies… what they think about them, and what they think about life in general.  Kids are telling me they are worried about my poor health.  They say they are interested in my books and my writing, even though they don’t actually read just for pleasure and will never buy what I write… or even look at this blog.  They tell me about their troubles, their hopes and dreams, their most significant relationships, and they tell me that they will miss me next year.  Five days… will I make it through without breaking into tears?  No, I won’t.  I may not even try.  That’s one moose too heavy to throw.

But I have no regrets.  I have touched more than two thousand five hundred lives (a pretty close estimate… I don’t have a good enough memory to actually count.)  They have touched my life in return.  No other thing I could have done with my life would ever mean as much.  Doctors save lives, but teachers shape real people.  So what does it all mean?  I mean, really?  It means I have thrown a lot of mooses… er… moosei… er… well, you know what I mean.  And if my arms are growing weary, then it is for a very good reason.

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Rooster Riding

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Do I believe in the little people?  Of course not.  If Tinkerbell depends on me, she is dead meat… or maybe dead fairy dust.

But if they do exist, then they are like the rooster riders in my picture, exploiting the world in the same way the big old slow ones do.  

They are not our inferiors or our superiors.  They are us.  They mirror us and our beliefs, our dreams… our nightmares, and all the things deep within us that could ever possibly go bump in the night.

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That Silly Old Writer, Me!

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I was invited to take part in the “My Writing Process” blog tour by a fellow young adult fiction writer, Stuart West.  (https://stuartrwest.blogspot.com)  Stuart is the author of the Tex, the Witch Boy series of paranormal YA thrillers.  He is something of a mentor to me, and easily the best published author I am personally acquainted with.  Before you take me seriously, you should definitely check out his blog.

For this little exercise, I have to answer four questions, then invite three other authors to do the same.  I’m a little slow on getting others to agree to this plan, but I am shameless when it comes to opportunities to talk about my own writing.  I will post the three authors later this week, after I am done begging and bribing.  

Step 1: Acknowledge the person and the blog site that invited you to take part.

As you can see, I’ve done that above, but here is the second mention; Stuart R. West .  (https://stuartrwest.blogspot.com

Step 2: Answer four questions about your writing process.
1)      What am I working on?
2)       How does my work differ from others of its genre?
3)       Why do I write what I do?
4)       How does your writing process work?

  1. What I am working on now is a story that is sequel-requel-prequel to my novel Catch a Falling Star.  That means that it uses characters from that novel, a bunch of new ones, and some from other stories of mine as well to tell what happened before that novel, during that novel, and after that novel.  Silly plan!  Believe me, I realize that while sweating over re-quel details (a phrase that here means a retelling of parts of that novel – I do also realize I stole this particular conceit from Lemony Snicket).  The book will be called The Bicycle Wheel Genius about a scientist who is a super-genius inventor trying to live incognito in a little Iowa farm town after leaving government service.  He is trying to live down a family tragedy while at the same time befriending the boy next door, avoiding government agents and assassin robots, dealing with an alien invasion by invisible alien frog people,  juggling time travelers, creating rabbit-men, and engineering old-fashioned high-wheel bicycles. 
  2. How does my work differ?  You have to ask?  Unlike all the careful plotters, step-by-step writing crafters, and picky editor types out there, I put words and ideas in a blender, mix on the “Are you insane?” setting, and then let it all come pouring out into pages and scenes and chapters (although I call them cantos for some bizarre reason).  I also have to admit that I base a lot of my characters on real people that I either grew up with in Iowa, or met over my thirty plus years as a mostly middle school teacher.  And these stories have percolated in my head for twenty to thirty years.  Did I mention already that I am not a person who thinks in straight lines?  You can tell by the shifts, reverses, and loopty-loops in this paragraph that much of what I call humor comes from my purple paisley prose (a phrase which here means overly ornate, wordy, and down-right convoluted sentences and paragraphs).  (Thanks again, Lemony).
  3. Why do I write it?  Let me think.  Could it be because teaching middle school students for too long leads to insanity, and if the insane are going to be useful in society, they have to do something at least mildly interesting for people who live in the real world?  I mean, if I just sit in a room all day drooling and counting and re-counting my Pez dispenser collection, that wouldn’t be entirely helpful.   Writing honors all the people I have known, alive and now departed, who touched my life and made a difference to my heart.  It also helps me make sense of things that have happened to me over time and shaped me as person… hopefully a person you might like to get to know.  And you can know a person through their writing long after they are personally worm food.  How could I live without Mark Twain or Charles Dickens in my life, and both were dead long before I was born?  And I know you’re going to ask yourself what makes me think that other people couldn’t live their lives better without knowing me?  But don’t ask.  I have developed a certain amount of wisdom over the course of my life, and I know I really don’t want an answer to that question.
  4. How does my writing process work?  I have taught the writing process in the classroom so many times, that the only answer I am still sane enough to give is that everyone’s process is entirely different.  I can, however, drop an insight or two on you.  First of all, everything I have ever written is still a part of what I call Prewriting… with a capital P.  Everything ever written can be rewritten and improved.  Secondly, it is important to re-read what you write.  I hate typos and mistakes in what is supposed to be “finished” writing.  It is the reason I hate the entire experience of my first published novel, Aeroquest.    That writing will never be okay until I have a chance to re-write it and re-tell it and re-everything it.  Dang it.  Thirdly, you must carefully consider who to allow to have input on your rough draft and re-worked copies.  Even some professional editors don’t bother to try to see things in a way that reflects the fact that they care about what you have written.  You need someone on your side to share it, and love it, and cherish it the way you do.  Only that person will give you input that is worth listening to.  Fourthly, if you reach fourthly your list is too dang long.  And finally, publish it.  Share it.  Don’t put it away in a drawer for the mice and spiders to read when you are long gone. 

So, Stuart, how did I do?  I hope at least it proves what you have known all along.  That Mickey guy writes like his hair is on fire and his pants are unraveling… in front of girls.

(Three writers to be named later will take up this same blog tour… I hope.)

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Mangaphile

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My wife brought treasure back from the Philippines for my kids and me.  She spent over a thousand Filipino pesos at a book store over there and apparently bought out the store’s entire supply of “How-to-Draw-Manga/Anime” (though the amount she spent is not so impressive when you realize the exchange rate for a Filipino peso is .025 of an American dollar).  Anyway, I happen to love the Japanese anime-style cartoons.  I have since I was a kid in the 60’s watching Astroboy in black and white on the old Motorola TV set.  So, just as you would expect, I had to go on a drawing binge, copying ideas from the books, but putting my own spin on them.

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It is not the first time I have gone on anime-drawing binges.  Let me provide some proof of that from past posts;

So, there’s my original content for today.  The day after the 4th of July, I am celebrating one of the ways that Japan conquered the United States after World War II.  Yes, manga-style cartoons have far more kids carefully copying a cartoon style with big, cute eyes than probably ever tried to draw like Walt Kelly or Al Capp.

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Thanks for the Memories, Mr. Disney

This post is going to sound an awful lot like stuff and nonsense, because that is what it primarily is, but it had to be said anyway.    Last night my family took me to see the movie Saving Mr. Banks, a deeply moving biographical story of P.L. Travers, the creator of Mary Poppins, and how she had to be convinced to surrender her beloved character to the movie industry which she so thoroughly detested and distrusted.  It is also about one of my most important literary heroes, Walt Disney, and how he eventually convinced the very eccentric and complicated authoress to allow him to make her beloved character into a memorable movie icon.

“We create our stories to rewrite our own past,” says Disney, trying to tell Mrs. Travers how he understood the way that her Mary Poppins character completed and powerfully regenerated the tragedy of her own father’s dissolution and death.  This is the singular wisdom of Disney.  He took works of literature that I loved and changed them, making them musical, making them happy, and making them into the cartoonish versions of themselves that so many of us have come to cherish from our childhoods.  He transforms history, and he transforms memory, and by doing so, he transforms truth.

Okay, and as silly as those insights are, here’s a sillier one.  In H.P. Lovecraft’s dreamlands, on the shores of the Cerenarian Sea, north of the Mountains of Madness, there roam three clowns.  They are known as the Boz, the Diz, and the Bard, nicknames for Charles Dickens, Walt Disney, and William Shakespeare.  These three clowns, like the three fates of myth, measure and cut the strings of who we are, where we are going, and how we will get there.  They come to Midgard, the Middle Earth to help us know wisdom and folly, the wisdom of fools.

Why have I told you these silly, silly things?  Do I expect you to believe them?  Do I even expect you to read all the way to paragraph four?  Ah, sadly, no…  but I am thinking and recording these thoughts because I believe they are important somehow.  I may yet use them as the basis of a book of my own.  I enjoy a good story because it helps me to do precisely as Mr. Disney has said, I can rewrite my own goofy, silly, pointless past.

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Maxfield Parrish Pictures

Much of what I draw is inspired by Maxfield Parrish, the commercial artist who created stunningly beautiful work for advertisers in the 1920’s and 30’s, and went on to paint murals and masterworks until the 1960’s.  He is noted for his luminous colors, especially Parrish Blue, and can’t be categorized under any existing movement or style of art.  No one is like Maxfield Parrish.  And I don’t try to be either, but I do acknowledge the debt I owe to him.  You should be able to see it in these posts, some of mine, and some of his.

Mine; (In the Land of Maxfield Parrish)

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His; (Daybreak)

Daybreak_by_Parrish_(1922)

Mine; (Wings of Imagination)

Wings of Imagination

His; (Egypt)

Egypt

Believe me, I know who wins this contest.  I am not ashamed to come in second.  I will never be as great as he was.  But I try, and that is worth something.  It makes me happy, at any rate.

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Wally Wood

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A self-portrait by Wallace Wood.

I am a bit of a cartoonist for a reason.  I started drawing cartoons at the age of five.  I read everything in the Sunday funny pages, not just for the jokes.  I poured over the drawings and copied some.  I drew Dagwood Bumstead and Blondie.  I drew Lil’ Abner and Charlie Brown and Pogo.  Cartoonists were heroes to me.

But my parents wanted to protect me from the evils of comic books.  Superheroes were off limits most of the time.  Things that are associated with evil were out of the question.  So Daredevil was beyond reach.  And Mad Magazine was full of socialist ideas and led kids down the dark path of satire.  So the truth is, I didn’t discover Wally Wood until I was in college.  His corrupting influence didn’t take hold of me until I was older and full of hormones.  Ah, youth and the propensity for sin!  Wally taught me that cartoons could be real.

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Wally Wood was one of the original artists working for EC comics who formed Mad Magazine with it’s spoofs and irreverent humor.  Wood worked together with the Great Will Eisner on the Spirit.  He went on to work for Marvel on the comic book Daredevil where he innovated the red suit and double-D logo, as well as doing the primary story-telling that brought that comic book from the bottom of the Marvel stack to almost the very top.  His work on Daredevil resonates even until today where there is now a big controversy that the popular show on Netflix does not list Wood among the creators of Daredevil in their credits.  I must remember to complain about that later.

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But the thing that drew me to Wood more than anything was the realistic style that he brought to the unreal realm of cartoons.  The man could draw!  He did marvelous detail work and was a leader in the development of dynamic composition in an artistic industry that tolerated and even often encouraged really poor-quality drawing.  He took the comic book from the age of the glorified stick figure to an age of cinematic scope and know-how.  Here it is revealed in his classic break-down of innovative comic-book panels;

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But it is also important to realize that the more power you put into art, the more it can blow up and hurt people.  Wood had a dark side that went a bit darker as he went along.  He had an issue with the kind of false front comics had to throw up in front after the anti-comics crusade of psychologist Fredric Wertham’s book Seduction of Innocents.  He is probably the artist behind the cartoon poster The Disneyland Memorial Orgy.  He started his own cartoon studio that produced increasingly erotic and pornographic comics like Sally Forth, Cannon, and Gangbang.  He became increasingly ill, lost the sight in one eye, suffered severe headaches, and eventually committed suicide in 1981.  With great power comes great responsibility, and we are not all superheroes in the end.  But I will always admire and emulate the work of this great artist… and selfishly wish he could’ve lived to create more of the wonderful art he gave us.

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