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Memorial Day

I received an e-mail yesterday morning from Curt Wittenberg, the son of my fifth grade teacher Eliot Wittenberg. I dedicated my book THE DINOSAURS–A Fantastic New View of a Lost Era to Eliot Wittenberg. I was sorry to hear that Mr. Wittenberg had passed away. I thought the situation that led to my dedication and my response to his son’s e-mail would make an appropriate Journal entry on Memorial Day.

Eliot Wittenberg was one of my favorite teachers at Shirley Avenue Elementary School. He was extremely bright, had a great sense of humor, lots of charisma and in my mind he looked like Clark Gable (mostly because he had a Gable-style moustache — or “cookie duster” as he called it). Nevertheless, one day he caught me drawing in class when I should have been listening. Most other teachers would have punished me. Instead, Mr. Wittenberg looked down at the dinosaur I had drawn and asked if I had any more drawings like that at home. My best friend, Gary Best, laughed and said, “Oh yeah! He’s got a whole book of ’em.”

“It’s my Monster Scrapbook,” I added. “I love drawing monsters.”

“Would you bring it in so that I could see it?”

I agreed. By the end of that school day, though, I realized that Mr. Wittenberg and I had different definitions of “monsters.” I was thinking Frankenstein, Dracula and the Wolfman. He assumed I meant dinosaurs.

As soon as I got home I filled the remaining pages of my Monster Scrapbook with drawings of dinosaurs, so as not to disappoint Mr. Wittenberg. I brought it in the following morning. My teacher carefully perused each drawing, then handed me back my book (which I still have, by the way; I included a few of the drawings from that book in my two Monsters Sketchbook volumes. Thanks, Mom, for saving that book!).

Mr. Wittenberg knew that I had an interest in medicine and wanted to be a doctor. He began to assign me extracurricular activities that involved drawing. He asked me to draw charts for the class depicting the human skeleton, the human musculature system and cross sections of the human eye and ear. I didn’t realize it at the time but those were my very first anatomy lessons.

I believe this careful attention and simple kindness on Mr. Wittenberg’s part were integral to my becoming an artist; hence, the dedication of my first book to him.

Here is the letter I wrote to his son:

Hi Curt,
I am sorry to hear your dad passed away. I had lost track of him (his passing explains why) but still hoped to reconnect with him and tell him again how important he was to me. There isn’t a month that goes by in which I don’t relate the tale of his positive influence on me and, ultimately, my career — usually to teachers I meet, hoping it will have a positive effect on them and the way they see their kids.

When I visited your father and presented him with my book, from the twinkle in his eyes I got the feeling that I was not the first to be so positively influenced by this great man. He had an amazing ability to look beyond the wild, mischievous qualities of youth and see the real person (or their potential) that dwelt inside each kid. He knew that each of us was faced with different paths and choices in life, particularly in our part of the socioeconomic strata back then (my family and the other families in our neighborhood were extremely poor). In his role as a teacher he saw and took advantage of the opportunities to gently guide each of us down the right paths.

Your dad knew I wanted to be a doctor. He had me draw charts for the class depicting the human skeleton, the human musculature system, cross sections of the eye and the inner workings of the human ear. I didn’t realize it at the time but these extracurricular activities were teaching me human anatomy, knowledge extremely valuable to both doctors and artists. I remained a science/math major throughout school with a career in medicine as my goal. I love math and still do algebra problems in my head when I run each day. I use my science background nearly every day to interpret information in scientific papers so that I can apply that knowledge to my reconstructions of prehistoric life.

Ironically, bad teachers can sometimes have an unintended positive effect. My first year was spent at Reseda High School, where I received an outstanding education. Then our family moved to Newbury Park where I went to Thousand Oaks High School. The teachers were pretty awful there. Unlike the L. A. Unified School District in which I had new teachers every semester, the Ventura County school system had us taught by the same teachers for the entire school year. If I got stuck with a bad teacher I had that same teacher for both semesters. Most of the teachers at T. O. High were tenured and could care less whether the kids in their charge were taught or not. A TA in my art class actually asked to borrow my portfolio to pass it off as his own for a college class (I refused)! I regularly received detention for studying in the library instead of attending the mandatory pep rallies for our school’s football team (a misguided attempt by T. O. High to enforce school spirit; it had the opposite affect on me). In my math class, as an experiment, I turned in the same homework everyday for a year. My math teacher never noticed. I realized just before my last semester that I had “lost” two valuable years of math and science education. I felt I would be two years behind my fellow college students if I continued to pursue this direction and changed my major to Art (I had never stopped drawing).

I received a full California State Scholarship to any university in the United States, a result of my near perfect (I got a perfect math score but missed one of the English questions) SAT scores and my family’s dire financial situation. To the horror and disbelief of my fellow students, instead of choosing Harvard or Yale, I decided to use my scholarship to attend the Chouinard Art Institute (California Institute of the Arts). I never looked back; it was one of the best decisions of my life (many of my friends are doctors and they all agree with the wisdom of that decision).

At the end of August I will become a grandfather. As one grandfather to another, I would like to send your grandson a copy of my latest dinosaur book, New Dinosaurs A to Z. It was written as a kids book (adapted by me from my adult version, Dinosaur Discoveries) and depicts and examines 31 dinosaurs discovered within the last twenty years.

Please send me his name so that I might inscribe the book to him (and provide a shipping address) and I’ll get a copy off to you ASAP.

You were lucky to have such a great dad. I wasn’t quite so lucky in that department but I was extremely lucky to have such a great teacher. His memory will live on as long as I have the breath to tell my little tale about the fifth grader whose life was changed forever by the clever kindness of his favorite teacher. What a nice note for me to receive on Memorial Day weekend…Thank you!

Most Sincerely,


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Dennis Hopper, R.I.P.

I met Dennis Hopper a couple of times. It was probably inevitable. In fact, I’m surprised our paths didn’t cross more. We inhabited a lot of the same worlds.

I first noticed him as a child actor on an episode of the TV show Dragnet. His performance, voice and face stuck in my mind, so much so that I was well aware of him for almost two decades before he became internationally famous with the success of Easy Rider.

We both worked making small indy films as well as large studio projects. Roger Corman gave the two of us (and many others) breaks in the film biz; Roger bought my first screenplay and kept Dennis employed as an actor after he was blackballed by most of the major studios. We both ended up working with David Lynch. I worked on Dune; Dennis made a huge cinematic comeback after that in David’s bizarre Blue Velvet.

Dennis and I were both involved in the L. A. Pop Art scene, which faded from its peak in the 1960s, then bled its way via the underground and Robert Williams back into the mainstream once again in the 1990s. Dennis was a heavy collector of the three main 60s guys: Billy Al Bengston, Joe Goode and, especially, Ed Ruscha. The first great love of my life was Joe’s ex-wife Judy Goode. We met at art school (the Chouinard Art Institute) where Judy was a ceramics major and ten years my senior. She taught me most of what I know about design. When we first met she was living in Joe’s Hollywood apartment, as she was estranged from her then-current husband, an ad design instructor at Chouinard. Ed Ruscha was the Best Man at Joe and Judy’s wedding.

We were also involved in the thriving Los Angeles rock music scene of the 1960s. Dennis based his Easy Rider character on David Crosby of The Byrds.

The first time I met Dennis I was working at Skywalker Sound as the production designer on what would turn out to be a horrible film, Theodore Rex. I was walking toward my office after lunch when I saw Dennis. He did a double take when he saw me walking toward him, because at the time, believe it or not, I got mistaken a lot for Peter Fonda.

We met again just a couple of years ago when I was working on my murals for the San Diego Natural History Museum. I was painting them at ThemeScape Art Studios out in Chino. While I was working on my murals, the Themescape guys were painting gigantic banners featuring blow-ups of Dennis Hopper photographs for a show of his photography that Dennis was having in Europe. Dennis came by Themescape to check out the banners and approve them. He tensed as I approached him (I no longer looked like Peter Fonda) but relaxed as soon as he found out I was an artist. I showed him the murals I was painting and complimented him on his photography. We talked a lot about art, and a little about film. He was in his Distinguished Gentleman of the Arts period then; his wild hellraising days were long past.

Dennis was in a lot of great films. He never delivered less than his best as an actor on screen. If you’re not familiar with his fine work, here are two films of his I highly recommend. He is not in either of them for long, but his screen time in each is a high point in both movies.

In John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now Dennis portrays a war reporter/photographer living deep in the jungle with Marlon Brando’s Colonel Kurtz. Watching Dennis was like looking into a mirror while experiencing LSD. His face in that role is a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of rising, falling and morphing expressions, perfectly capturing the effects of that drug.

The other film is my favorite Quentin Tarantino film of all time: True Romance. In this film, brilliantly directed by Tony Scott, Dennis Hopper plays Christian Slater’s father. The Mob, represented here by Christopher Walken and a few big heavies, comes to visit Hopper in an attempt to find the whereabouts of Hopper’s son. This scene between Hopper and Walken is one of the greatest moments in cinema history. I’ve watched it so many times that I can perform both sides of their conversation from memory.

I wish I had had more time with Dennis. I’ve still got a thousand questions to ask him. Now, those questions will be forever unanswered.

Thanks for the fine work, Dennis. You lived life on your own terms, paid the price, yet kept arising, a human Phoenix with more lives than the black cats you often portrayed.

Peace, Brother.

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Deluxe Hallucinations: Going, Going…

YIKES! The pre-orders for Hallucinations have been pouring in. It looks like the limited hardcover (the ONLY hardcover edition) will be sold out upon arrival (my publisher just told me to expect my copies in three weeks).

Please don’t procrastinate if you’re considering the purchase of a Deluxe edition. A lot of my friends and collectors are kicking themselves for not getting the Deluxe Dinosaur Discoveries before it sold out. It doesn’t look like the Deluxe Hallucinations will be available at Comic-Con; they’ll be sold out before then. There are only a few dozen of the 500 left.

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Hi Friends and Fans,
I look forward to seeing everyone who attends this weekend’s Rock’N”ComicCon (beginning tomorrow) in my home town of Pasadena. If there’s something special you’d like me to bring, please drop me an e-mail.

Meanwhile, work progresses on what I think will be one of my most important landmark works. It’s the image representing a show on animals in art that I am co-curating for the Forest Lawn Museum. It’s loaded with creatures and is quite whimsical.

As soon as it’s finished, I’ll post a series of step-by-step progress snapshots of this painting so that you can see how one of my pictures develops.

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Advice for Young (and some of you old) Artists

I occasionally get e-mails from art students asking for advice. Caleb Kelley from the Art Institute of Atlanta recently asked me some good questions. I’d like to share his questions and my answers with any young artists (as well a a few of you old timers) out there who might need this kind of advice.

How long have you been Illustrating?
I have been supporting myself from my art since 1968. I was still in art school (The Chouinard Art Institute/ California Institute of the Arts) at that time. The Illustration Department had a wonderful policy: if you got any real work on the outside you could turn it in in lieu of your homework. Everything I was turning in my last year at school was real jobs, so it made my transition from the school world to the real world seamless.

Which artists or illustrators have influenced you the most?
At first, it was the DC comics work of Gil Kane, Carmine Infantino and their talented inker Murphy Anderson. I was about 14 when I started copying their work. Then I got hit hard by Frank Frazetta. Jean “Moebius” Giraud affected me in a big way, too. Investigating the influences and origins of Frazetta’s work led me to to my most lasting influences, the painters of the late 19th century and the illustrators of the early 20th century. My comics work and visual storytelling style have also been very informed by Harvey Kurtzman, Will Eisner and Alex Toth. I learned a lot working as an apprentice/assistant to Russ Manning, Harvey Kurtzman and Willy Elder.

Do you self-promote and if so how?
Yes, I do a lot of self promotion — but almost nothing in the trade books that ask for a lot of dough to publish your images. I appear at lots of conventions (over 12 this year, but that’s unusually high for me). I think it’s important to meet the people who like your work and make a personal connection. I self-publish sketchbook collections of my work every year (it’s always important to have new product). I don’t hesitate to do interviews, especially TV interviews. Fame does not tend itself; the public has a very short memory (I’m astounded how often I have to explain who Frazetta is). I always enter the Spectrum competition each year. I occasionally send out press releases (I should do more of that).

Do you have an agent?
I never use a rep or an agent; I have yet to meet one that can get me more than I can get for myself. I’ve found most (but not all) of them to be incredibly dishonest (anyone can become a rep, agent or gallery owner; no test, degree or license is required for the job). Unless you’re a complete social idiot, it’s always best to meet your clients in person to establish a personal relationship with them (dress well). I also prefer to negotiate my own deals and write my own contracts. Artists need to stand up for their rights. It helps to be your own biggest fan.

Can you offer any advice for an aspiring illustrator who is just starting out?
Continuing from the last question…Be aware of the value of your rights and fight for them with each contract. Each successive contract you write should get you a little bit more for yourself. It doesn’t necessarily have to be money. It can be a prime parking spot, free samples of your published work, stacks of tear sheets, First Class travel (if travel is required), samples of the products you’re promoting (I did a beer poster and had the beer company throw in a case of their beer as part of the deal), etc.

Hang on to your copyrights. 20% of my annual income comes from licensing images from my back catalog of work.

Never sign “work for hire” contracts.

Always keep a paper trail and don’t start a job until you’ve got a P.O. (Purchase Order) number. That will protect you if you have to go to Small Claims Court to collect your fee. I usually don’t start a job without an agreement (short contract), either. Run from any client who says you two don’t need contracts. Contracts spell out your obligations to each other and protect the both of you. Why wouldn’t anyone who’s not a thief want that?

Learn to negotiate. Pick up books on the subject and read them. If you work with an attorney ask him about every line he puts in your contracts and why. The goal is for you to eventually be able to write your own contracts instead of paying someone $400 per hour to do it for you.

Always be able to walk away from a negotiation. If you can’t walk away, there is no negotiation.

Never be arrogant in your negotiations. Be firm but polite and understanding of their side.

Young illustrators say this is all easy for me to do because I’m famous within our field. Not true. I’ve maintained this healthy business attitude from the very beginning, even when I was a complete unknown.

After the negotiation is over, always do your best work. Give 100% on every job. You’ll never have to look back in shame on anything, knowing you could have done better. And your clients will be very, very happy.

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HALLUCINATIONS Pre-Orders Now Available!


I have just received an advance copy of both the hardcover and softcover versions of my latest book from Flesk Publications: Hallucinations. It looks stunning! Once again, my publisher John Fleskes and designer Randall Dahlk have done an incredible job.

This full color book gathers loads of my fantasy illustrations. They are all executed in what I call my “ink and watercolor style,” an art technique I learned from studying the works of early 20th century children’s book illustrators Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Edward Detmold, William Heath Robinson, John Bauer and Gustaf Tenggren.

The limited edition hardcover will be the ONLY hardcover edition of this book. It includes an extra full color plate depicting John Carter about to battle a Barsoomian plant man. This edition is signed, numbered and limited to just 500 copies. I expect this edition to sell out even faster than my previous Flesk limited edition of Dinosaur Discoveries. The hardcover is priced at just $30.

Also available is an unlimited softcover edition of the book for just $20.

As an added incentive, I’ll be drawing an extra sketch in each of the pre-ordered books. Order through the William Stout Bazaar on this site NOW!

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Frank Frazetta 1928–2010

Right now I have one of the most horrific series of deadlines of my career but I couldn’t let the passing this morning of Frank Frazetta go without at least some brief comment here.

I have just learned of the death of one of the most important and influential artists of this last century, my friend, Frank Frazetta.

Frank’s art inspired and launched thousands of careers, including my own. I patterned many of my choices as to what fields of illustration to pursue after what Frank had done. I learned from his successes; I learned from his mistakes.

I am very glad that Frank’s long and ugly family dispute got resolved (just days) before his passing, although I can’t help but think that the stress of what he was put through was a major contributing factor to his sudden demise.

Frank was always kind and generous to me; I felt it was important to treat him in the same manner. I first spoke to him in 1972 when I was living in the New York area working for Harvey Kurtzman and Willy Elder on Little Annie Fanny for Playboy. One of the reasons I accepted Kurtzman’s offer was because Frazetta had also assisted them on the strip. It was another path of Frazetta footsteps that I could follow. I called Frank up when I got to New York. We hit it off. Within minutes of speaking to him, he offered to get me work painting paperback covers. I was stunned by his generosity. Eventually I learned of Frank’s deep passion for the music of Frank Sinatra (Frazetta knew Sinatra’s body of work like Frazetta’s most rabid fans know Frazetta’s every piece). This gave me a chance to finally reciprocate; over the years I sent Frank annotated CD collections of everything Sinatra ever recorded.

When Frank was living in Florida, he learned I was going to be a guest at Orlando’s MegaCon. He drove across the state to see me. We were invited on a tour of Disney studios. A Q & A was scheduled after our tour. Amazingly, the only artist the Disney employees wanted to hear from was Todd MacFarlane. After sitting there questionless for some time, Frank and I decided to duck out and explore the Disney studio on our own. We saw lots of cool stuff and had a great time together.

Once Frank moved back to Pennsylvania, Frank made me promise that if I ever got back east again that I would visit him. I took him up on his offer when I was in New Jersey for a Chiller Theatre convention. After Chiller I stayed back east for awhile. After visiting my oldest son at Yale I headed for East Stroudsburg, Pennsylvania, where Frank and his family lived on over 60 gorgeous acres in the Poconos. Upon my arrival, Frank lit up. We spent the whole evening talking about everything imaginable. He showed me what he was working on as well as work he had around the house. Frank proudly showed me his ribald watercolor comic masterpiece Toolonga (which I was devastated to hear he destroyed recently). He asked if I would return in the morning. I happily agreed. The following morning I loaded him up with a set of my sketchbooks, something I thought he could enjoy at his leisure after I’d left. To my amazement, he sat down and looked at every single picture on every page of every book.

“Have you seen my lake?”

“No; it was dark when I got here last night.”

Frank took me outside. He was very proud of his lake. While quietly sitting on the edge of the lake, watching the morning mist rise from its surface, Frank whispered to me.

“Slowly turn around.”

A deer and her fawns silently walked right past us. Frank broke into a big grin.

“It’s always like this.”

I asked Frank what he wanted to do.

“Can we go see my grandkids?”

“Of course we can see your grandkids, Frank. I’ll drive.”

I drove Frank in my Hertz rental to each of the houses on the Frazetta compound. Frank’s grandkids were the delight of his life. It was Halloween day. The kids were all trying on their costumes. I did dinosaur drawings for each of the little tykes. I could tell Frank was in heaven. It felt so good to give back to the guy who had provided me with such artistic inspiration over the years.

For my money, Frank Frazetta was the ultimate line man of all time. In my opinion (one that was shared by Frank) his pen and brush work for his Edgar Rice Burroughs line illustrations in the early 1960s were the finest images he ever created. Mark Schultz and I still gaze upon those pieces in awe. We have spent decades aspiring to rise to their level — and still do. Frazetta’s famous paintings are wonderful — but no artist has surpassed Frank’s line work.

Hopefully, his work will be preserved forever and it will find its way into the great museums of the world for all the public to appreciate.

Frank was a scrapper who grew up on the mean streets of Brooklyn. His talent revealed itself at an early age. Frank was like an artistic sponge with a photographic memory. Fortunately, he had Roy Krenkel and Al Williamson as friends in his formative teens and early 20’s. They gave Frank an incredible art education, using their vast collections to expose him to the finest art and illustration of the 19th and 20th centuries. Frazetta soaked up everything he was shown. Somehow he managed to absorb and filter all of this great art and have it subsequently come out through Frank’s brushes as pure Frazetta. I know it was hard work, but Frank made it look so damn natural and easy.

Frank always marched to his own drummer. Like his hero, Frank Sinatra, Frazetta did it His Way.

You’ll be missed, Frank — but you will never be gone. Your rich artistic legacy will live forever.

Rest in Peace, my friend.