Archive for December, 2009

Butch – R.I.P. Tough Little Buddy

Saturday, December 26th, 2009

This has been a strange Christmas in the Stout household for a number of reasons, the biggest one being that our little dog Butch died last night on Christmas after a long struggle with Cushing’s disease. He was about 12 or 13 years old.

We rescued Butch from the pound. Actually, I should say that Butch was rescued by my wife and sons from the pound.

At the pound he was all charm and cuteness and licking. He was half American Eskimo, half Cocker spaniel. Early in his life he looked all American Eskimo; later on the Cocker in him began to surface and his coat turned from its initial soft, fluffy snow white to more of a caramel/butterscotch color. When we first got him, he looked a lot like a fox with his pointy nose and erect fox-like ears. As he got older his nose rounded and his ears got more prone to floppiness.

They brought him home and presented him to me. My wife was a little embarrassed to have brought home what she called a “little froo-froo dog.”

I took a look at this diminutive devil and said, “No. This guy’s not a froo-froo dog. Look at him. His name should be ‘Butch’.”

I was right. Butch was a tough little street dog. He had obviously had a difficult first few months. Despite his friendliness at the pound (a clever ploy on his part to bust out of there), at home he was reserved and distrustful.

If Leave it to Beaver‘s Eddie Haskell had died and been reincarnated as a dog, he would have come back as Butch. In his youth Butch seemed to have a perpetual wise-ass grin on his face. He always seemed to be laughing at us and our innocence, snickering at our rarely successful attempts to control his behavior. I think he truly enjoyed outwitting us (especially me) and found it absolutely hilarious when he did. He followed such behavior with a sort of “Take that, schmuck!” look on his puss. The expression on his aged mug for the past year, however, was more like “What the hell do you want?”

Butch approached the world on his own terms. He was extremely smart but never so smart that he took the easy path. He was the most difficult dog I’ve ever owned. He rarely hesitated to bite people if he thought it was appropriate or if he found you annoying. He HATED shoes for some reason and often viciously attacked them — even if they were still on someone’s feet.

Butch was more like a cat than a dog. Sure, he liked being petted. But he didn’t NEED affection. Like a cat, he would accept affection and then depart after he had been satisfied with the amount he had received. Unlike most dogs, he wasn’t eager to please anyone except himself. To contradict and badly paraphrase Ray Bradbury, for this dog, at least, everyday was NOT Christmas.

Woe to anyone who tried to come between Butch and his food (this must have been because of his hard life on the streets). Any tampering with his access to food was met with sheer rage.

He never knew he was a little dog. He would take on all comers, no matter what their size, dog or human.

For some strange reason, though, he ignored the squirrels in our yard.

Butch was an escape artist par excellence. He loved to escape and then relish my total exasperation in attempting to recapture him. He’d pause until I was almost in reach and then bolt out of range once again. He often evoked murder in my heart.

We tried many (often expensive ) systems to keep Butch from escaping our yard. The one that finally worked was a cable system. We suspended a cable the length of our yard from our roof to the top of our old swing set. A line with a roller on one end attached to the cable came down and attached to his little harness. That allowed him freedom of movement around our backyard; the line connected to him kept Butch from getting close enough to our fence to leap over it.

His high pitched yapping could peel the paint off a wall. One neighbor finally threatened to sue us and take our house if we didn’t do something about our dog’s incessant barking. Frankly, I was on their side and contemplated suing myself. I was having trouble getting any work done because of his constantly irritating barking.

Reluctantly, my wife took him to the vet to have his vocal chords clipped. He healed quickly, his voluminous bark now a soft rasp.

It didn’t slow him down for a second. At the sight or sound of anyone approaching Butch would launch himself toward our fence with an energy so powerful that he would career several feet into the air, his flight (and rage-filled attack) ultimately restrained by the tether that was shaking our entire heavily anchored swing set.

In his youth Butch sported the perky flag-like tail of an Eskimo. As he got older his tail was held aloft less and less.

As I said, except when it would benefit him most, Butch was extremely smart. He easily learned tricks. His strangest one was his response to the command, “Walk like a seal!”

He would flatten himself to the floor and extend his hind legs straight backwards, like the tail of a seal. Then he would crawl forward on his elbows, simulating the fore-flipper walk of a harbor seal.

Cushing’s Disease changed him from a taut, buff little fellow into a slightly larger dog with a tiny head and a huge round belly. He could no longer jump fences with that belly, so we untethered him and gave him the run of the yard. He began to get slower and mopier.

When his companion Katy died, he was inconsolable. Katy was our Bassett/Doberman pound dog. She looked like a Bassett that was colored like a Dobie. Katy was dumb as a rock but with a heart as big as any I’ve ever seen in a dog, a real sweetheart who lived solely for food, sleep, attentive scratching and the occasional walk.

Butch loved to tease and torment her, stealing her favorite toy and then playing with it right in front of her. If Katy made any attempt to repossess her toy, Butch would grab it and dash out of range.

As soon as Katy died Butch sank into a deep depression. He expressed this first by searching everywhere for her, and then by peeing a huge puddle of strange urine (strange because it was voluminous and didn’t smell) on the kitchen floor every night. As soon as we got our little long-haired Dachshund (Spunky), Butch stopped his nocturnal floor peeing.

In his later years Butch became a crusty old curmudgeon. He put up with Spunky’s youthful playfulness — but just barely.

My wife investigated Cushing’s disease (which humans also get, too, although it’s not contagious) and found that there was medicine for it in the UK. She bought these expensive pills and they began to work almost immediately.

Unfortunately, they also increased Butch’s aggressiveness and he began to become dangerous to be around. He bit me on a number of occasions.

We stopped his meds and then would occasionally add them when we thought he needed them, trying to strike a kind of balance between health and aggressiveness.

We knew something was seriously wrong with Butch yesterday when he threw up his breakfast. We offered him food throughout the day but he refused it — a first in the entire time we’ve known him. He moped around like Katy did before she died. He was oblivious to us and our attentions. He seemed to be pondering another world, one that none of us could see. He’d take a few steps and then stare off into infinity.

Typically, my family and I don’t spend Christmas day at home. We spend Christmas Eve at my brother’s house, then go to my mom’s house to spend the night. We have an early Christmas dinner there, watch a movie and then head home. This year, though, my mom visited my brother Dave up near Stockton, CA this Christmas.

It was extremely lucky for both us and Butch that we spent Christmas day here at home, having both of my sons at home and all of us lavishing Butch with attention on what would become his last day on earth.

We had just watched the emotionally powerful (both my wife and I were crying) “Ode to Joy” sequence in The Immortal Beloved. I put on an episode of the old Boris Karloff-hosted show Thriller. We were five minutes into it when my wife entered the room.

“I have an announcement to make,” she said. “Butch has just died.”

He was lying down in our service porch, in between our house and the backyard. His little body was still warm. My wife had placed his head on a pillow. My wife, sons and I took turns stroking and petting him, saying our goodbyes.

She called the Humane Society (from whom we got Butch) and they sent over an extremely kind, gentle and thoughtful Animal Control officer who retrieved his body.

As I said, this was a different kind of Christmas for us.

Dan O’Bannon, Part Three – Bits & Pieces

Tuesday, December 22nd, 2009

Dan and I attended the cast and crew premiere of Lifeforce, a film that Dan had written (with Don Jakoby) that Tobe Hooper had directed. I much preferred the film’s less pretentious and more honestly descriptive working title, Space Vampires (its title in the UK). In many ways, Lifeforce was a space program/sci-fi version of The Return of the Living Dead. I highly recommend Lifeforce, if only for the abundant nudity of the exquisite Mathilda May.

I was working with Tobe on the remake of Invaders From Mars (that Dan had written with Don Jakoby) at the time. Early on, Dan would visit me in the Invaders art department and suggest things to include in the film. I could tell that Dan was creatively frustrated and eager to direct again.

If you haven’t seen Dead & Buried, a 1981 film Dan wrote with Ron Shusett, definitely track that baby down. It’s got one of the best openings in horror cinema. The rest of the film plays out like a classic Twilight Zone.

Dan told me he wrote Blue Thunder in response to the police helicopters that would hover over his abode at night. They drove him nuts. He used to stand on his rooftop and angrily flip off the cops above him as they shined their Night Sun down on him.

Total Recall was a Philip K. Dick adaptation (from We Can Remember it For You Wholesale) by Dan and Ron Shusett. Originally, the lead character was a meek little Walter Mitty kind of guy (which makes much more sense, dramatically, than the film’s final incarnation if you think about it). When Arnold signed on for the lead (which turned Total Recall into a hot “go” project) nearly everything had to change, script-wise, obviously.

Let me end with a bit about my experience with Dan in recording the commentary for The Return of the Living Dead DVD:

Dan and I met at the recording facility. He was anxious. Dan was carrying what looked like a large briefcase. I got distracted by one of the producers. When I turned back to Dan, he had vanished.

Getting close to our taping time, I decided to use the restroom. I found Dan inside. His case was on the sink, opened. It was a thoroughly stocked professional makeup kit.

“I just can’t trust anyone to make me look good, so I always do my own makeup for camera.”

I watched as he skillfully applied various substances to his neck and face.

“You know,” he confided, “I’ve never done this before, this commentary thing.”

“Don’t worry, Dan,” I replied. “I have. I’ve done this live at conventions. They’d begin our film and hand me a microphone. I did live commentary throughout the entire movie. It’s not so hard and the fans love hearing all of that behind-the-scenes stuff.”

“But I’m worried I’ll just clam up, that I won’t be able to think of anything to say.”

“You’ll think of things.”

Dan seemed truly worried.

“You’ll cover for me if that happens, won’t you? I’ll be depending on you. Really.”

“Sure; not a problem, Dan.”

We entered the sound stage. Each of us were miked and our volume levels were set. They projected our film on to a huge screen. All we had to do was begin talking about whatever came into our mind about the making of the film, triggered by the images we were seeing.

Dan had no need to worry. From the very first frame of the movie, Dan was off and running; I could barely get a word in edgewise. He was stepping all over my favorite TROTLD stories but I figured Hey! — this is Dan’s movie, it’s his moment to shine. So, I pretty much just filled in the few gaps where Dan took a break to breathe or when he actually paused for some other reason.

That same day we shot the DVD’s Designing the Dead documentary (on my production designing of the movie), so I ended up getting my own proper face and voice time anyway. We both had a lot of fun that day.

And that DVD of our little film became MGM’s biggest selling DVD of the year!

Bless you, Dan. I’ll always think of you with amazement, awe and a smile. I am very, very lucky to have known you and to have counted you as one of my friends. Sleep well, my brother, at last.

Dark Delicacies Signing Today!

Sunday, December 20th, 2009

Hi, Local Fans! Last minute holiday gifts, anyone?

Today I’ve got a signing of my new dinosaur books over at Dark Delicacies in Burbank from 2:00 to 4:00 PM. Yes, I will be doing sketches in books purchased.

(If you haven’t caught my recent drift, I actually have been drawing sketches in all of the Deluxe Edition Dinosaur Discoveries purchased from me on this site as a nice little holiday surprise for my fans.)

See you there!

Dark Delicacies
4213 W. Burbank Blvd. Burbank, CA
818-556-6660 / 888-darkdel
www.darkdel.com

Last night I was happy to catch my friend Ray Bradbury at the Fremont Center Theatre in South Pasadena. I was pleased to present him with his Christmas gift: a signed copy of the Deluxe Edition of Dinosaur Discoveries with a sketch of a Tyrannosaurus rex….and a big kiss on his cheek. Bless you, Ray; you’re one of America’s Living Treasures.

Dan O’Bannon, Part Two

Saturday, December 19th, 2009

O’Bannon Tale #1: Dan was fastidious in regards to climate control. He constantly was messing with (and breaking) the thermostats in the Burbank warehouse where we were shooting the interiors for The Return of the Living Dead.

His climate concerns were not limited to the set. They carried over into his home life, too.

One day he got into a conversation with the fellow who was fixing his air conditioning. He quickly discovered that the repair guy was my Uncle Buddy (small world, ain’t it?). My uncle always has done excellent work; he knows his stuff when it comes to heating and cooling systems (he’s retired now). So, whenever anything went on the fritz in the O’Bannon household, which was often due to Dan’s own attempts to “fix” things, he called the air conditioning company, always demanding that “Billy’s uncle” (Dan couldn’t remember my uncle’s name) be sent out (my Uncle Buddy still calls me “Billy”; he’s known me since I was a baby). My uncle loved working at Dan’s home and he loved Dan and his eccentricities.

O’Bannon Tale #2: I mentioned in yesterday’s Journal entry that Dan’s tales often emanated from his own intense neuroses. O’Bannon was probably the most paranoid guy I ever met. He tapped that paranoia as a writer, creating classic scripts for Alien and Blue Thunder.

While making The Return of the Living Dead, I was in the process of buying a house with the Conan the Destroyer money I had squirreled away while living on my per diem down in Mexico City during the making of the film. Dan had just been through the process of buying a house.

Now, Dan was a researcher. He loved to research everything. Buying a home was no exception. On our hair-raising drives (when Dan was driving we ALWAYS missed our freeway exits) together to location scouts, Dan gave me the benefit of all of the house research he had just done.

Dan had determined that the absolute best house to own was a Spanish adobe-style home. He told me, though, that Spanish adobes had one drawback.

“The walls aren’t machine gun proof.”

So, at enormous expense, after purchasing his very expensive Santa Monica Spanish adobe abode, he had the house’s walls taken out and had steel plates inserted inside of them before replacing them. Now they were machine gun proof! Problem solved!

O’Bannon Tale #3: Like I do, Dan O’Bannon loved comics. Before he died, I had enthusiastically agreed to drawing a whole series of comics with him. We were both very excited at the thought of collaborating again. I had read so much of Dan’s work and knew him so well that I was convinced we were going to produce some great things together and make history in the world of comic art.

You may or may not know this, but Dan O’Bannon wrote what was to become one of the most influential comic book stories ever published. No, it didn’t do a lot to influence other comics. But it changed motion pictures forever.

The story is called “The Long Tomorrow.” It was illustrated by Dan’s friend Jean Giraud — better known to comics fans as “Moebius.” I believe it originally appeared in the French comics magazine Metal Hurlant and was reprinted here in the States in Heavy Metal.

Hunt it down. The entire look, ambiance and feel of the story was used by Ridley Scott as the visual template for Bladerunner. Scott even duplicated some of the panels as shots in his magnificent film.

That was not the first time that Dan had changed film making forever.

In the mid-1970s Dan was hired by George Lucas to design the onscreen computer graphics in Star Wars. Not long after that, Dan was hired by Alejandro Jodorowsky to work on Jodorowsky’s filming of Frank Herbert’s Dune. The phenomenal cast that was slated for this epic sci-fi adventure included Orson Welles and Salvador Dali. Together, Jodorowsky and O’Bannon assembled an amazing art department that boasted Moebius, Ron Cobb, Chris Foss and H. R. Giger.

I have to halt this story for a moment to emphasize the historical importance of what Dan and George Lucas have done for the art of cinema, art direction-wise.

History lesson: The first production designers were originally called “art directors.” The two most important art directors, William Cameron Menzies and Anton Grot (I borrowed heavily from Grot for my production design of Masters of the Universe), came from an illustration background (they have been reported to have been children’s book illustrators but I have yet to find a single copy of any book they illustrated. Their work does look like early 20th century children’s book illustration, however). Menzies began in the silent era with Douglas Fairbanks; Thief of Bagdad; Grot designed the Errol Flynn swashbucklers.

Later in his career, William Cameron Menzies not only designed Gone With the Wind, he storyboarded the entire film in full color. On top of that, he directed a third of the film, including the famous “burning of Atlanta” sequence.

GWTW‘s producer, David O. Selznick, had a problem. The film’s other director, Victor Fleming, did not want to share directing credit for the film.

Selznick came up with a solution.

He approached Menzies, explained the problem, and then presented Menzies with his solution. Although Menzies would not get a director’s credit, Menzies would receive the on-screen credit “Production Designed by William Cameron Menzies.” That was the first time the title “production designer” was ever used. It quickly caught on and soon there were both production designers and art directors on movies.

Here’s the basic difference now between the two (and this varies from picture to picture): The production designer is responsible for everything you see on the screen except for the performances of the actors. That’s sets, costumes, make-up, special effects, props, etc. The art director usually is in charge of the Art Department’s budgeting and scheduling, with hands-on involvement in regards to the entire Art Department.

Decades later, the backgrounds of Production designers and art directors had changed. No longer were they from an illustration background. Instead, nearly all of them came from the world of architecture. In the studio system, set designers slowly worked their way up the ranks to become art directors. If they were lucky (and careful politically), some eventually became production designers.

George Lucas changed all of that by hiring illustrator Ralph MacQuarrie to design Star Wars, along with a team of other talented artists (although Ralph didn’t receive the production designer credit; neither Moebius nor Syd Meade received the production design credit they deserved for Bladerunner).

Jodorowsky and O’Bannon shared the same vision, using comic book artists and illustrators to design Dune.

Unfortunately, the financing for Dune fell through and the project was dead. At that same moment in time, though, O’Bannon’s (and Ronald Shusett’s) script for Alien was greenlit. Ridley Scott brought Dan to London to work on the film. Dan mentioned the aborted Dune project and the great art department that had been assembled. Dan suggested that Ridley consider hiring the Dune Art Department to design Alien. Scott looked at their work and agreed.

The success of Star Wars and Alien briefly opened the doors for guys like me to enter the film business. I didn’t have to become an architect and slog away for decades in the hopes of becoming a production designer. In 1979 Ron Cobb (a production designer after five years in the business, beginning with Dan on Dark Star) hired me to work on Conan the Barbarian. That led to other films, and within three years (and with the mentoring and guidance of Ron Cobb and Pierluigi Basile) I became the production designer on an American Godzilla film (sadly unfilmed) and then The Return of the Living Dead.

The door pretty much slammed back shut not too long after that, although there have been a few exceptions (my friend Tim Bradstreet, known for his Punisher covers, just designed a film).

Dan O’Bannon had that vision, though. He knew that visual excellence in one medium could transfer and translate well to another medium. Bless him.

More to come…

Dan O’Bannon, R. I. P.

Friday, December 18th, 2009

I am really sorry to have make two postings today. Immediately after my Rocketeer posting I was saddened to learn that writer-director-artist Dan O’Bannon passed away yesterday. My heart goes out to his loving wife and son.

Dan hired me to production design “The Return of the Living Dead.” In doing so, he made me the youngest production designer in film history. It took an enormous leap of faith on his part to hire me for this huge, intense job. I’ll be forever thankful for his trust in me.

We met at one of Ron Cob’s parties. Dan had known Ron a long time. Ron designed the spaceship for Dan’s first film, “Dark Star.” Ron also painted the presentation art for a little film that Dan and his co-writer, Ron Shusett, were trying to pitch, a small sci-fi project entitled “Alien.”

Dan was at some of Ron’s parties at which I had brought the drawings and paintings from a work I had in progress at the time, my book The Dinosaurs–A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era. Dan was especially effusive about my work at those parties.

His effusiveness turned into a life-changing job the night I showed him a cover I had done for the “Alien Worlds” comic book. Unbeknown to me, Dan was considering me as production designer for his first film as a director: “The Return of the Living Dead.” He knew I’d have no trouble designing unique zombies for the project but he wasn’t sure I could handle the high-tech design aspects of the film.

Dan later told me that seeing my “Alien Worlds” cover was a revelation. “Stout CAN do high-tech!” he excitedly thought to himself.

Designing that film was one of the hardest things I ever did (I temporarily left the film biz for nine months after we had wrapped). It wasn’t the work that was tough; it was dealing with the bigger-than-life personalities, egos and power plays that were going on throughout the production. I came very close to committing felony assault on several occasions.

I saw myself as Dan’s protector on that show. I was always the first one to arrive at any meeting, making sure that Dan always had the “power chair” in the room. When several of our team conspired to take control of the film away from Dan, I stood by the guy who had given me this big break and warned him in advance of what was coming.

Dan saw stuff in black and white. You were either a friend or an enemy. He had decided quite early on that I was a friend (which I actually was). I was also a friend to the film, though, too, and often had to conspire to convince Dan somehow that what he wanted wasn’t going to be the best thing for our movie (like painting the mortuary walls bright red).

We got through that film and remained good friends. The two of us flew to Louisville, Kentucky (the film’s setting) to promote the movie at RiverCon. On the way back I got to meet Dan’s parents on our stopover in St. Louis.

We sporadically kept in touch over the years (I’m not the best at that and Dan was notoriously reclusive). Whenever we would get together we always expressed joy in being in each other’s company. We were extremely proud of our little film and were pleased and amazed when it became a huge cult classic. In recent years, Dan and I (and the great cast of the film) were guests at cinematic celebrations of our little horror comedy gem. It was always great to see Dan.

At our last meeting (at a Clu Gulager film festival) Dan took me aside. After the show and our Q & A, he asked if I would like to collaborate on a several new creative projects, including a new film, a board game, video games and a complete (and brilliantly inventive) revamping of his website. I excitedly agreed to all of the above. We hugged and departed.

Dan was a real true character in my life. Like a lot of the film people I’ve worked with, Dan was outrageous — bigger than life. There is too much that I’ve experienced with Dan or know about him to be contained in this one posting. I’ll be happy to share more of Dan’s character in forthcoming posts.

Until then: Dan, rest in peace. Let loose those inner demons at last. Perhaps they will settle as inspiration in the soul of another creator, perhaps not. All I know is that you, Dan O’Bannon, were one of a kind — and you were my friend.

The Rocketeer

Friday, December 18th, 2009

This week saw the release of The Rocketeer–The Complete Adventures by Dave Stevens.

This is a magnificent book, beautifully designed by my favorite go-to design guy, Randy Dahlk. The early stories have been magnificently re-colored by Laura Martin (Dave’s personal pick) so the book maintains a high, classy quality all throughout.

My (and Dave’s) friend Thomas Jane wrote a wonderful, heartfelt introduction that gives the readers a tantalizing and warmly human peek into Dave’s very guarded private world.

There are two versions of the book. I know the economy is tough right now but, if you can spring for it, go for the boxed Deluxe Edition. It adds more than 130 extra pages of sketches, rare obscurities, pencil drawings, layouts, notes, etc. that are very well worth the extra coinage of purchase. It gives readers a rare glimpse into Dave’s methods and thought processes, a window into how he created The Rocketeer.

That section brought back a lot of memories, as I was there for the comic’s creation. Dave was working in my studio at the time, subletting a chunk of Richard Hescox’s space. Richard and I were often grabbed to pose for Dave’s photo reference. Not mentioned in the book is Richard’s wife Alice, who posed for Millie, the waitress at the Bulldog Café. Dave was never a slave to his photo reference, as you’ll see when you compare the photos he took to the finished art. Dave always made everything he did his own.

In the later stories I was surprised to learn that some of the penciling and inking were done by other artists (whom Dave obviously trusted with his baby). One of Dave’s best friends, Mike Kaluta, drew a lot of the latter books’ layouts.

As fussy and particular as I knew Dave to be, I think he would have heartily approved of this fine book collection…after a bit of grumbling and grousing about elements of the reproduction that only he could see, of course.

If you’re looking for Christmas gifts, you can do no better than this fine book.

And that’s coming from a guy who has got some new books out of his own!

Merry Christmas, Dave.

TV Week

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

I was recorded for two different television programs this last week. One will be on national television early next year. The other is part of a large project of historical documentation in one of the areas in which I work. Both were fun!

As soon as I can talk about either of them, I’ll fill you in.

I saw “The Road” the other night. Very good but relentlessly depressing film. The boy looked like his mom (Charlize Theron) but looked too well fed and apple-cheeked to be starving.

I also saw “Bruno”, finally. Yikes! It looked like he had some very close calls…

I’ve been picking up various Richard (“Pirate Radio”) Curtis DVDs to study his writing. He likes to do that Richard Price thing, the emotional sucker punch. He has you laughing , then laughing even harder, when WHAM! he connects with the saddest punch possible to your emotional gut. Or sometimes, the reverse. “Muriel’s Wedding” (written by neither) has a lot of that.

OK; back to work on this Todd Rundgren cover…

Mea Culpa

Saturday, December 5th, 2009

Two days ago I did something really stupid (even for me).

My friend Josh Olson wrote a savagely witty essay for “Written By,” the official magazine of the Writers Guild. I’m a WGAw member, so I get the magazine.

The article’s Suessian-cadenced title was “I Will Not Read Your Fucking Script.” It’s an extremely barbed but funny rant about the many ways he gets put upon by writers who demand that he read their scripts and give them his input or a critique. It’s out there on the internet. I recommend you Google it and track it down.

I immediately wrote an e-mail to Josh in response to his essay. In that e-mail, I told Josh about parallel abuses I sometimes have had to endure at conventions.

I was primarily inspired by one incident that occurred in Texas (Austin, I believe). Shortly after the convention opened to the public, a guy I’ll call “Corn Boy” (that’s what the convention organizers called him, as at their previous show he was first in line at the convention banquet’s buffet table. He proceeded to take every single ear of corn on the cob from the serving plate, piling them all on his own plate and leaving none for any of the other convention guests or attendees. Hence, the name: Corn Boy) came over to my table. Without asking my permission, he opened up a huge leather portfolio and spread his art all over my table, completely covering the books and art I was trying to sell. He insisted I carefully examine each and every piece that he had brought (and, believe me, he brought a lot). If I was a little too quick in perusing something, he’d shout, “WAIT! You didn’t really look at that one!” and shove it back in front of my face. If I made even the slightest bit of criticism (in an attempt to help him to be a better artist), he would turn on me viciously. Needless to say, my sales dropped to zero with this guy firmly in place.

He showed no signs of leaving until I came up with a plan.

“Do you know my friend Mark Schultz?”

I glanced across the room at Mark and caught his eye. Mark gave me a smile and a friendly wave.

“That’s him right over there,” I said as I grinned and waved back. “Mark’s a great artist who absolutely LOVES to look at artwork like this.”

Corn Boy reassembled his portfolio almost instantly and made a beeline for Mark’s table, where Corn Boy repeated his overwhelming act of intrusion.

Obviously, cruelty is not completely foreign to my nature.

But back to the mess I created: I was so in love with my own bit of self-indulgent navel-gazing (my e-mail to Josh) that I thought it would be a dandy idea to post it right here on my Journal.

Big mistake.

Whereas Josh’s essay was funny, mine was not (although I thought so at the time of posting). Whereas Josh’s essay was instructive, mine came off as hurtful, cruel, smug and mean, four attributes I never intentionally wish to project to anyone of my acquaintance.

My sincerest apologies to anyone out there who read it. There are no valid excuses for what I had written. I did indeed have a cold (as I explained the following day) and was pretty miserable that day (note to self: don’t write ANYTHING when you’re sick) but I should have known better.

The next day (yesterday), I tried to soften what I had written with a misguided attempt at humor.

I had a pretty sleepless night last night, worrying I had hurt someone with what I had written. As soon as I got up this morning I deleted both the posting and its follow-up.

Sure enough, there was an e-mail from a young artist who had recently sent me a link to his site. He thought what I had written was meant for him. It wasn’t, but there was no way of him knowing that until I had promptly e-mailed him back with an explanation and an apology.

I actually don’t mind giving out free advice, especially over the internet when I can do it to fit my own time frame/work agenda or schedule. Plus, looking at artwork on websites is as easy as making a click; very convenient. And the art I see on the net is never pale, barely legible pencil drawings on little dog-eared scraps of paper.

Counter to the attitude projected by my misguided rant, I often volunteer my time to groups of young artists, giving free lectures on negotiating, artists’ rights and writing contracts. I also don’t charge for the instruction I give at my figure drawing workshop.

I’m sorry if any of you took what I wrote that day personally; please know that it wasn’t directed at any of you, my loyal friends, fellow artists, fans and readers.

Please, just chalk it up to my gross insensitivity on one bad day.

Thanks.

Dinosaur Discoveries are IN! Mural Deluxes are OUT!

Wednesday, December 2nd, 2009

Yesterday I drove up to San Jose to see my publisher, John Fleskes. He had phoned me the previous day with the news that our new books, Dinosaur Discoveries (deluxe hardbound edition), Dinosaur Discoveries (softcover) and New Dinosaurs A to Z had just been delivered.

I told him I’d drive up the following day to sign the limited hardcover books. It was about a five and a half hour drive. I immediately plunged into signing the books. As soon as I finished, we broke for a nice lunch, then returned back to his place. We loaded up my car with my share of the books. I made it home by 9:00 PM. The drive back took about five hours.

My wife thought I was insane to drive up and back in one day. She tried really hard to talk me out of it. I told her I needed to get my pre-ordered books so that I could ship them ASAP (especially with the holidays looming). She said that could wait. I told her I didn’t know how many of these books were going to wrapped and re-sent as holiday gifts. I explained I always try to put myself in my customer’s shoes and ask myself how I would like to be treated. I know that if I was going to send the books out as presents that I’d want them shipped to me sooner rather than later.

Today, I’m packing and shipping my pre-orders of the book. I’m going to extend the pre-order deal on the deluxe editions of Dinosaur Discoveries (I reimburse your shipping fee) through Friday. I also personally sign ALL of the books you order.

The Deluxe Edition of William Stout–Prehistoric Life Murals is SOLD OUT. A few stray copies are for sale on my website catalogue for $100 each. The Dinosaur Discoveries Deluxe Editions (the only hardcover edition of the book) is selling even faster than the murals book —- and they are fewer of them. If you’d like the hardcover version (with its extra color plate), I’d order NOW. I expect them to sell out before Christmas.

I am so pleased with these new books! John and Randy did a fantastic job of making my work look as good as it could possibly look.

Pre-order customers: When you get your book(s), let me know what you think!