Just a quick note to thank the staff of El Paso’s Frank n’ Con. They were all friendly, courteous and efficient. The fans were amazing, too (and so was the astounding bread pudding at the State Line BBQ restaurant!). One couple flew in just to meet me all the way from Reading, Pennsylvania. Another family actually drove over a thousand miles from Pocatello, Idaho to meet me. Yikes! Despite someone making off with $115 worth of my books late Saturday night (I wouldn’t want that person’s karma), I had a terrific time there.
I had a great time hanging with my buds, the cast of The Return of the Living Dead. Our DVD on the making of the film, More Brains – A Return to the Living Dead, debuted at this show. It’s been getting rave reviews all over the net (if you don’t believe me, just Google it) and I’ve been informed (correctly, I hope) that Entertainment Weekly has chosen it for an upcoming Must List. It’s available from http://www.getmorebrains.com/ It’s got loads of extras, including Dan O’Bannon‘slast interview and lots more of my art for the film than has ever been shown.
The fifth Baby Tattoville took place this last weekend. This is an event founded and organized by Bob Self, the publisher of Baby Tattoo Books. Each year Bob selects ten of who he considers to be the best artists in the United States to spend an expenses paid weekend (with their spouses) at the Mission Inn in Riverside, California. The Mission Inn takes up an entire long city block and looks as if it was designed by the Byzantine brother of M. C. Escher.
Bob sells 45 tickets (at $2000 to $2500 each) to spend an intimate weekend with ten great artists. All kinds of art is produced during the weekend, including a ten artist painting jam which ultimately gets reproduced as a giclee canvas print for all of the attendees and the artists as well. Artists also bring special items to include in the attendees’ gift bags. Each gift bag ends up with about $4000 worth of art in it. The event’s return rate for attendees is, not surprisingly, at about 80%. Returning attendees also get a hefty discount on future Baby Tattovilles. Spouses are allowed to attend for an extra $250-$300 each (that price doesn’t include the gift bag but gives them access to the meals, lectures and special events).
Meals! There are at least three meal experiences worth telling you about: on Friday night we eat at Tio’s Tacos, a nearby walk from the Mission Inn. Tio’s is on what must be about an acre of land, which its owner has filled with small, medium and gigantic folk art sculptures, including a huge meditation teepee made out of bottles. The food is OK but the surroundings are FANTASTIC! The second meal takes place on the roof of the Riverside Art Museum (also walkable from the Mission Inn). It’s just pizza, but it’s the prelude to an exhibition by the Baby Tattooville artists taking place at the museum. The third meal is the unbelievably spectacular Sunday Brunch at the Mission Inn.
This year was different. Because Bob wanted to celebrate the fifth successful year of Baby Tattoovile, he invited all forty previous artists to return. Thirty of them were able to make it back.
Besides myself, the list included the cream of the Juxtapoz magazine gang: artists like Coop, Tara McPherson, Bob Dob, Tim Biskup, Frank Kozik, Travis Louie, Michael Hussar, Anthony Ausgang, Van Arno, Johnny Ryan, Ron English, Gis Grimly, KRK Ryden, Molly Crabapple, Miss Mindy, Johnny Rodriguez and Gary Baseman, to name a few. James Gurney gave a wonderful Power Point show about his work and the process he goes through to create it. Ragnar drew a great show poster for the museum exhibition (which is up until November 8).
The Circus Punks showed up with about a hundred blank canvas knock-’em-down carnival dolls. The artists were invited to decorate them. The artists rose to the occasion; there were a lot of outstanding Circus Punk dolls. I did two: the zombie doll shown up above and this Frankenstein monster doll:
On Saturday night, all the dolls were lined up on a series of steep steps. The attendees were called in order of their badge number. They were handed a ball. The first doll they knocked over was theirs. Through the Baby Tattoovile grapevine I learned that my two were highly sought after. Bob Self came up to me and said, “My god, Bill — someone’s going to get a thousand dollar Stout piece with that Frankenstein!” My two did indeed go pretty fast.
A blacksmith was set up down in the Mission Inn’s catacombs (yup; this cool place even has catacombs). He worked hard all weekend, demonstrating his craft. I watched as he even made his own Circus Punk doll out of metal!
As far as I could see, there were only two sour notes the entire weekend — and I was (sort of) the cause of one of them.
The jam painting had really progressed to a cohesive whole by the time Johnny Ryan grabbed a brush. For those of you who don’t know his work, Johnny is an unassuming looking young guy who produces what are probably the most outrageous, offensive and hilarious comics being done today.
I came by to check out the progress on what had been developing as an incredibly beautiful jam painting. Whoa! Johnny, true to form, had really made his outrageous mark…a little too outrageous for some. He had added a big, bold Arab mooning the viewer with word balloons coming out of the rendered anus on the Arab’s pimpled ass.
A very upset Bob Self approached me, asking if I would please paint over or “fix” Johnny’s addition. Bob was torn.
“We all know who Johnny Ryan is and what he does. I’m fine with that; I wouldn’t expect Johnny not to be Johnny,” Bob said. “But I’m pretty damn sure the attendees are not going to want to hang a painting with a prominent talking anus dominating the picture! Please help me. Someone? Anyone?”
Jim Gurney offered to paint plaid boxers on the Arab. “I’ll do the horizontal stripes if you do the vertical stripes, Bill.”
I thought that was a bad idea, purely because plaid boxers just didn’t relate to the subject matter at hand in any way. I thought about and recalled several observations I had made while sharing a beach with some Arabs. The ones I encountered loved to wear Speedos.
While another artist was rendering the face of Johnny’s Arab, I added Speedos to cover the gaping anus.
That was when it hit the fan. Several of the other artists were outraged that I would deface another artist’s work — or worse, censor it.
“Hey,” one said to me, “Do you want to work on what I did, too?”
Not long after I finished, I revisited the jam painting and saw that another artist had clumsily smeared a swatch of light blue paint over what I had done.
Honestly, I screwed up. The proper thing would have been to approach Johnny and ask his permission to alter what he had done. I hadn’t and it bothered me all night.
The next morning I sought out Johnny, explained what had happened and apologized. Johnny was very gracious and took it all in good humor. He didn’t seem bothered in the least.
“Look,” he said. “It’s all in the spirit of the jam. Everybody always ends up painting over everybody else’s stuff.”
He was right (but I still feel I should have asked his permission). When I first saw the jam painting there were three huge skulls dominating the picture. By the time I began my additions to the jam, there were only the slightest remnants left of one of the skulls — the other two were gone, painted over. By the time I saw the finished jam painting only the head of Johnny’s Arab remained. The rest of his body was buried under layer upon layer of added imagery.
Johnny, my wife and I had breakfast together (the famous Mission Inn brunch). Johnny Ryan would probably cringe to hear me say this, but I think he’s a classy guy. We talked and laughed about a lot of things, then were joined by my friend Blue Trimarchi, owner of Art Works and Art Works Fine Art Publishing. Blue shoots all of my artwork and produces my giclee prints.
The other unpleasant incident involved an early participant in Baby Tattooville. This guy is an enormously popular artist — so much so that I bought a huge book collection of his work to see if I could discern what made his work so popular.
I couldn’t. There was absolutely nothing I could take away from his stuff. I couldn’t even find one single idea within those hundreds of pages of imagery. I’m still mystified as to why anyone likes what he does.
Well, his success has apparently gone to his head — or maybe he was always an asshole.
I found him berating Bob Self for not giving him a nicer room. He implied that there would be no Baby Tattooville if it weren’t for (artists like) him.
Wow. Untalented AND arrogant!
Bob rightfully stood his ground — but then Bob is a tough, intelligent guy, much smarter than the jerk with whom he was talking.
I couldn’t resist throwing a little gasoline on this fire. I interrupted them.
“Bob,” I said, “I just wanted to thank you for giving me a much nicer room than (asshole artist’s name).”
Bob laughed. The artist glowered. It turns out this guy who makes his damn good living at drawing idea-starved funny and/or whimsical stuff is also cursed with having no sense of humor (which partly explains why I couldn’t find anything in his work to attract me).
The situation became clearer to me moments later when this artist’s little hottie arrived to ask him something.
“That’s it”, I said to my wife. “I’ll bet prior to the event he had been boasting to her how he was the greatest and most important artist here and how, because of his infinite fabulousness, Baby Tattoovile was going to put them up in this incredible rooftop room with a spectacular patio, etc., etc.”
When he just got a really nice nice room like the rest of us, his ego couldn’t handle it, compounded by his losing face in front of his little chickie. Instead of berating Bob, this hack should be thanking his lucky stars that anyone even pays attention to his crap — much less buys it. What a loser.
So, those were the only two minor bumps in what was otherwise an incredible weekend. I don’t know who or what Bob Self has in store for Baby Tattooville 2012 but I can assure you it will be worth far more than the ticket price.
The buffet breakfast at the White Hotel was fantastic; one of the best of our trip.
After breakfast we took a taxi to the Brussels airport for our trip to enchanting Venice, Italy.
I had booked us on SwissAir for both the trip from Brussels to Florence and from Florence back to Amsterdam. I had heard good things about SwissAir.
With the wackiness of airline pricing, I found it was dramatically cheaper to book two round trip tickets for each of us instead of purchasing a pair of one way tickets (we just threw away each of our return flight tickets and — Oila! — we had convenient one way tickets). As far as I know, Southwest is the only airline that doesn’t do that. Their one way tickets are half the price of their round trip tickets. Duh.
The SwissAir flight staff, food and drink (and free Swiss chocolate!) were wonderful. These folks seem to actually like serving their passengers!
I was concerned about our connecting flight, though. We were flying from Brussels to Zurich, Switzerland, changing planes in Zurich and then flying to Venice. There was only a half hour between our scheduled arrival in Zurich and our departing flight to Venice. On top of that, our plane left fifteen minutes late, leaving us only fifteen minutes to get off the plane, find our gate and board our Venice flight. What if they had the same “no more boarding of the plane 30 minutes prior to departure” rule as in the U. S.? Yikes! It didn’t look like we were going to make our connection.
Just before landing, however, it was announced that SwissAir was aware that several people had tight connections. They said someone would be waiting to assist us upon landing.
Sure enough, when our plane landed there was a SwissAir employee on the tarmac holding a sign that said “Stout”. We caught his attention. He smiled and escorted us to his nearby van.
Once inside (our minds totally blown), he said, “I’m just going around to the other side of the plane to collect your luggage.”
He whipped the van around, grabbed our luggage and loaded it into the van, verifying that we had everything. Then he cruised across the tarmac where our SwissAir connecting flight was waiting for us.
As we walked over to the stairs to board the plane, he said, “See? I’m loading your luggage on to this flight.”
“Omigod,” I gasped. “Is this standard treatment for all European air travelers?”
“No, this is SwissAir standard policy. We hope that you will fly with us again.”
“Are you kidding? I’m going to try not to fly with anyone else. Your service is extraordinary!”
He flashed us a big SwissAir grin.
Think about it. This policy makes real sense. And dollars & cents sense, too. Because we didn’t miss our flight, they didn’t have to go through the hassle of re-booking us. If there hadn’t been a flight until the next day, they would have either have had to put us on a rival company’s plane (costing them money) or provided us with a hotel room for the night plus money for meals (also costing them money).
We were gobsmacked, as my English friends are fond of saying.
So, we got to Italy.
But I’m not going to talk about Italy just yet because I’ve got to get ready for the weekend event known as Baby Tattooville. This is the coolest contemporary art event in the U. S. It takes place in Riverside, California (Wha?) at the incredible Mission Inn (a trippy hotel apparently designed by M. C. Escher that takes up an entire city block). I’ll be one of a total of 30 top artists this year (up from their usual ten — it’s publisher and event organizer Bob Self‘s way of celebrating the fifth anniversary of Baby Tattooville). Attendees have full access to us for the entire weekend. There’s a professional pop-up shop there and gift bags for attendees that are typically filled with about $4000 worth of art goodies by the time they leave.
Read all about it at http://www.babytattooville.com/BTVille/Home.html
This year’s event is sold out (usually, there are only 45 total slots — 50 for this year — sold; Baby Tattooville is kind of a semi-secret non-advertised thing that sells out almost as quickly as it is announced — with enormous repeat attendance), although there’s a waiting list. If you’re interested, I advise signing up for the 2012 Baby Tattoovile ASAP. It’s almost always in October. Bob likes it that way because the big summer convention crush is over. Having it in October gives everyone a chance to finally relax.
We arrived in Brussels by train from Bruges in the afternoon. I had deliberately booked us into the White Hotel, an incredibly design conscious hotel in the upscale neighborhood of Ixelles. The hotel is on Avenue Louise, the Rodeo Drive of Brussels.
I wanted to stay in this neighborhood because I had never visited this part of Brussels before and because the neighborhood is loaded with great examples of Art Nouveau architecture, including the home of Belgium’s greatest Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta.
Horta’s house is now a museum devoted to his works. Horta went all out in designing his own home as well as much of the furniture it contained. It’s an Art Nouveau masterpiece.
There were loads of gorgeous books on Art Nouveau for sale in the Horta House shop but the thought of lugging these heavy tomes all over the rest of our European trip was daunting, so I restrained myself (believe me, such restraint is not typically a part of my nature). My wife and I did our own Art Nouveau neighborhood walking tour. We admired this building (“The Owls”) as well as the Art Nouveau structure next to it.
I was standing on the opposite corner so that I could get some decent shots of the two structures when we were approached by an enthusiastic Belgian. I was apprehensive at first, as he jabbered on about the buildings I was shooting. Some guy trying to be our tour guide? No; he just wanted to share. He explained that the building we were looking at was his favorite building in the world.
“Did you know you can go inside?” he asked. “It’s a photography institute now. They have regular exhibitions. For a small fee, though, you can see the current exhibition and explore the interior of this magnificent building as well.”
I thanked him; he smiled and then disappeared into the pedestrian crowd.
We did indeed enter the building. We saw an interesting photography show and I shot pictures of the building’s interior. There were peeling period frescoes on the walls winding up the spiral staircase:
From the top of the staircase I got this shot of the incredible mozaic floor below:
Besides the grandeur of the Art Nouveau buildings I love the architectural details with which so many of these structures are adorned. Look at these marvelous door handles:
There happened to be an incredible open air market up the street from our hotel. After exploring the market we had (some powerful) drinks at a sidewalk cafe near the center of the market (the beer in Belgium is justly renowned the world over). All was well with the world as we contemplated our trip the following day to Venice, Italy.
Bruges is touted as “The Venice of the North” and the best preserved medieval city in all of Northern Europe. It’s picture postcard gorgeous. The beauty and romance are enhanced by the canals that weave through the town.
Before I knew anything about Bruges or its beauty, I wanted to go there because of the Brangwyn Museum. Frank Brangwyn (1867-1956) was born in Bruges but spent most of his time in England, where he is still celebrated as one of Britain’s greatest artists. I have over seventy books on the guy. Brangwyn is a huge favorite of mine, obviously.
Any medium or artistic field you could name, whether it be oil paintings, ceramics, furniture design, watercolors, etching, wood block prints or murals, to name a few — Brangwyn was a master.
As soon as Dean Cornwell got his mural commission from the Los Angeles Public Library, he went to England to learn how to paint murals, studying under Brangwyn. Got it? Brangwyn’s The Man.
On my first trip to Bruges my cab driver had trouble finding the Brangwyn Museum. He finally stopped to ask someone, since we knew it was in our immediate vicinity. The local directed us to the museum.
I was unhappy to learn that there was no longer an entire museum devoted to Brangwyn. I couldn’t believe it — Brangwyn, the most lionized artist in in the UK, now relegated to just one or two rooms in what was once his entire museum. The rest of the museum was devoted to local crafts now.
I asked a lady at the museum what had happened.
“When this museum was solely devoted to Brangwyn, we had twelve English visitors each year and one American. Congratulations! You are our American this year! When we downsized the Brangwyn exhibit into it current size and began showcasing local crafts, the museum attendance boomed.”
Aaaargh! as we say in the comics.
We got to the museum too late this time to see the Brangwyns but I was able to buy three more Brangwyn books I didn’t have in the still open museum shop.
My wife and I continued to explore Bruges via a canal cruise.
If I couldn’t see Brangwyns, at least this time I could enjoy the sights of the city.
Bruges has a particularly wonderful chocolate shop:
We stocked up with a box of Madame Dumon‘s irresistible ganaches and continued our stroll through Bruges.
Much of Bruges is very Tenggren-esque, reminding me of Gustaf Tenggren‘s designs for Walt Disney’s Pinocchio.
The architectural styles alone (and their fine preservation) are reason enough to visit Bruges.
Lucky us! We got to spend two nights in Bruges, something I didn’t have time for on my first trip there.
Like most European towns, Bruges is an incredibly safe city. It’s fun to stroll down narrow cobbled streets and past spectacular architecture at night.
We had a surprisingly crappy dinner our last night in Bruges but we stayed at a well-located hotel that I’d readily recommend: Hotel Malleberg.
It’s a great, trippy little place with very friendly staff. Great chill music plays during the hotel’s generous breakfast, which is served in a charmingly refurbished underground cellar.
Our last morning in Bruges was market day. I LOVE perusing markets in other countries, examining the vast variety of exotic foodstuffs.
After the market we took off by train for one of my favorite European cities, Brussels.
The free sketch dilemma aside (which was less important than perhaps I made it seem by yesterday’s Journal entry), the Breda Strip Festival was a really good convention. Our hosts, Mark Thelosen and Guido de Bue, took excellent care of us, as did our publisher, John Fleskes.
While at the show I did an exhaustive interview for Europe’s oldest serious critical journal on comics. I met brilliant artists (of whose work I had been completely unaware) from all over Europe and the UK. I was especially impressed by the work of Crisse, who has produced a series of stunning cartoon graphic novels that take place in ancient Egypt. I told Crisse that if he lived here in L. A. that he’d be snapped up immediately by Disney or another such animation studio. The guy really has chops.
The artists were treated to a spectacular dinner buffet at the Apollo Hotel. The Apollo’s staff was top notch; extremely cheerful and helpful. Art collector extraordinaire Jim Reid joined us in Breda, so it was fun to get to finally hang out with Jim in a more relaxed and informal situation.
On Sunday night the Flesk artists, their spouses, Jim, and our convention hosts & friends had dinner at a typical Dutch restaurant in Breda. My wife pleasantly surprised us all by picking up the tab. That’s my sweetie!
The next day, everyone except my wife and I took off for Amsterdam. We stayed and further explored Breda. One highlight was visiting Guido de Bue’s outstanding comic shop De Stripspecialist. Guido is incredibly well-loved by the local comics community. He is extremely knowledgeable when it comes to comics (from all over the world — not just Europe) and he loves to generously share that knowledge in the sweetest, most enthusiastic manner. My wife and I both fell in love with dear Guido.
That evening we stopped at a coffee shop (I don’t really think they sell any coffee there) and imbibed in preparation for one of the best meals of our trip. After a very stoned meander, we found our way to a highly recommended (by an Apollo staffer) Middle Eastern restaurant named Sultan Lounge. The food, atmosphere and service were impeccable. We received highly personal service from our phenomenal waitress.
Our walk back to the hotel after dinner was much more direct than our previous meander. We were finally getting to know our way around Breda!
The following morning my wife and I took a train (the train station was conveniently right next to the Apollo Hotel) to Bruges, Belgium, the “Venice of the North”. I had been to Bruges many years ago (just to see the Frank Brangwyn museum) and wanted to share the charms of this most beautiful of Northern European medieval cities with her.