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The Firesign Theatre

Phil Proctor of the Firesign Theatre invited my wife and me to a Firesign Theatre show last Saturday night at the Barnsdall Gallery Theatre.

The Firesign guys and I go way back. I was a fan, first and fourmost, of their first four LPs (1968-1971). They were the audio equivalent of reading a Harvey Kurtzman MAD comic. Peter Bergman cited Kurtzman’s MAD as one of their influences. They were the only comedy act whose records could be listened to over and over again, each new listening revealing a comedy gem missed on previous listenings. That’s because their comedy was densely layered (like Will Elder’s MAD work with all the little peripheral “eyeball kicks” as Kurtzman called them) with comic audio. Listening to their LPs is like experiencing a rich comedy movie for your head and ears.

My friend and comic dealer Dave Gibson got permission to reprint a collection of the fanzines the Firesign had published in the late 1960s entitled The Mixville Rocket. Dave asked me to draw the cover. I happily agreed.

The Guys were so taken by my Mixville Rocket cover that they asked me to draw their next LP cover for the album In The Next World, You’re On Your Own, much to the chagrin of a very nervous Columbia Records (“Unknown artist? Why, he’s just a kid!”). I came through like a champ, though, which led to my being asked by Columbia’s art director, Nancy Donald, to create many more LP covers for the label (my foray out of the bootleg world and into legitimacy!).

I was invited to the Next World recording sessions and became friends with The Guys (as they are known to friends and fans). This led to my creating a series of Firesign Theatre T-shirts and to work on their movie, Everything You Know Is Wrong (my first feature film work). With David Ossman as an overseer, I designed and built props and appeared in the film as an extra. At the show I was asked if I would draw the cover for the DVD release of the film (Of course!). It was Phil and Oona Austin (and their friend Harry Shearer) who first introduced me to the films of Preston Sturges (Phil ran an actual print of The Great McGinty at his Laurel Canyon home; this was in the pre-videotape days) for which I will be forever grateful.

As I got more involved in The Film Biz we drifted away (although I did a few more LP covers for records they released on the Rhino label) but I never lost my fondness for The Guys.

All four of the original Firesign gave fine performances on Saturday, both as a group, in duos and in solo bits. Their material was as sharp as ever. Like their records, I had to listen real hard to catch all of the funny bits (I maybe caught up to half, I reckon) in their still heavily layered humor.

I very briefly chatted with all four Guys after the show. They were in great spirits and seemed as happy to see me as I was to see them again after all these years.

I consider the Firesign Theatre a National Treasure. Guys — You’re the Greatest (and Oona, too!)!

The official Firesign Theatre website is at

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Baby Tattooville

I’ve got some catching up here to do. I’m going to start with Baby Tattooville.

No, Baby Tattooville is not a place where we tattoo babies…

Baby Tattooville is the brain child of publisher Bob Self, the owner of Baby Tattoo books, a line of beautiful art books illustrated by the cream of today’s crop of picture makers. For the past four years he has put on an event entitled Baby Tattooville.

Here’s what that is: Ten of the country’s top artists are invited to participate. The event takes place at this phenomenal hotel, the Mission Inn Hotel and Spa, located in Riverside, California. This place is like a Byzantine Spanish castle designed by M. C. Escher by way of the Winchester Mystery House. Every room is different. I was still getting lost there on the fourth day.

Bob comps the artists and their spouses/significant others. He takes care of their hotel room and meals, and pays them a fee as well.

In return, Bob gets to sell 45 tickets to fans and collectors worldwide. The tickets are about $2500 each (spouses/kids are $300 extra); less, if you’re returning (the return rate for this event is very high). It costs more the longer you wait to purchase your ticket. There is no advertising. The event sells out in about a month through word of mouth (there are just a few tickets left for next year).

Besides being able to spend a weekend with full access to your favorite artists, each attendee who pays in full gets a goody bag. The goody bag contains about $4000 worth of art, prints and art objects created especially for the event (I drew an original ink drawing of Mickey at 60 for each of the 45 attendees’ goody bags, each with a different word balloon). In addition, the ten artists work on a large jam painting. They keep adding to it right up until 10:00 PM on Saturday night. At 10 the painting is declared finished. It is whisked off to a professional photographer. Then a digital fine arts printer works all night long on producing high quality large giclee prints on canvas of the jam painting. Each of the full payment attendees get a giclee canvas print of the jam painting the next day, signed by all ten artists.

In addition, the fee that the attendees pay covers their hotel stay at the Mission Inn as well as the gigantic Sunday brunch at the hotel and all of the talks, panels and other activities.

We also all ate at a Mexican restaurant half a block from the hotel. Sitting on about an acre of land, this place has to be seen to be believed. It is covered with folk art created and found by the owner. There are giant robots, huge creatures made from car parts, a teepee made out of bottles…I’m telling you, this place is fantastic. It dovetails perfectly with the Mission Inn experience.

During that weekend the attendees are invited to the opening of an exhibition of the ten artists’ works at the nearby (and walkable) Riverside Art Museum. This exhibition is up for three months (in fact it’s on right now).

The artists this year were handpicked by this year’s special artist guest: Robert Williams. Bob selected Suzanne Williams, Spain Rodriguez, Johnny Ryan, Coop, Van Arno, Michael Hussar, Ron English, Anthony Ausgang and myself to be this year’s Baby Tattooville art crew.

Because the artists are different every year, different things can happen each year in addition to the regularly scheduled activities. For instance, artist Michael Hussar opened up his suite to participants every night at 11:00 PM. His rooms were filled with a bevy of gorgeous naked young ladies, who modeled for the participants until about 7:00 AM. Some people just ogled the nude and scantily clad girls; most brought out sketch pads and drew all night long. Thanks, Michael!

The event also features a professional and beautifully designed pop-up shop featuring books, prints, toys and art for sale by the ten artist guests.

For more information and to purchase tickets for next year (the artists line-up for 2011 is unbelievable), go to:

I can’t wait to return!

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Inspirations Tomorrow!

John Fleskes is flying me up to San Jose tomorrow. Our book Inspirations just arrived, well ahead of schedule. I’m flying up to sign them and to take a batch back with me so that I can begin filling all of my pre-orders.

I’ll begin shipping them out on Wednesday!

I’ll fill you in on Baby Tattooville (even better than I expected), the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology meeting in Pittsburgh and this last weekend’s Hollywood Xpo after I’m back from up north.