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Spain Rodriguez 1940 – 2012

I lost a wonderful friend to cancer today, Zap comix creator Spain Rodriguez.

Spain was the gentlest and the kindest of all the Zap guys, which might come as a surprise to many, as his work was often violent and sexually explicit in the extreme. We first met around 1969, when Jim Evans and I happened to bump into all seven of the Zap guys (for those younger readers, this amazing pool of talent consisted of Spain, Robert Crumb, Robert Williams, Rick Griffin, S. Clay Wilson, Victor Moscoso and Gilbert Shelton) as they were exiting Cherokee Books, a Hollywood bookshop that maintained a good stock of E. C. comics upstairs. I happened to have an underground comic book story under my arm that I had drawn for Jim. The other guys maintained their cool, but Spain was warm and effusive with his praise.

Spain created the first underground comix tabloid with Zodiac Mindwarp. His fertile imagination gave birth to the ultra-violent Trashman character and gave readers an insider’s view of motorcycle gang culture based upon his own true life experiences as a member of the Road Vultures.

To me, his work combined a love of the E. C. comics of Wally Wood with German Expressionism.

Spain was also a teacher. He recently combined his teaching skills with his cartooning talents (and his lefty politics) to create the superb Che: A Graphic Biography. He proudly admitted to turning on cartoonist Vaughan Bode to the pleasures of weed.

Spain also adapted one of my favorite stories, Nightmare Alley, as a graphic novel. My True Story and Cruisin’ with the Hound are both autobiographical graphic novels about growing up in Buffalo, New York and riding with the Road Vultures. In this last decade, he sported a big, shaggy thick, snow white pompadour, and Buffalo Bill facial fringe, easily the best hair of any cartoonist of my generation.

As he lived in the Bay Area and I live in southern California, we saw each other infrequently. A couple of years ago my wife and I were given a great gift by Bob Self and Robert Williams when they invited us to participate in a Baby Tattooville event at which Spain and his wife, talented filmmaker Susan Stern, were also guests.

Our wives hit it off and we all got to enjoy a couple of days basking in the pleasure of each other’s company — so much so that my wife and I were surprised and disappointed when Spain and Susan didn’t show up at the following year’s Baby Tattooville. Now we know why. We’ll be forever grateful to the Bobs for their gift of quality time spent with Spain and Susan.

Our thoughts of love go out to Spain’s wife and daughter for their loss.

I miss the big guy already. The broad, friendly smile he flashed me whenever we met lights my heart.

I guess it’s time for him to educate, elucidate and raise hell and some eyebrows on the Other Side.

Enter with that smile, My Brother.

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Argo…and Jack Kirby

I finally got around to seeing Ben Affleck‘s new suspense thriller Argo. It’s a fantastic film, made all the more incredible in that it is based upon a nearly unbelievable, riveting true story.

Much to my surprise, Jack Kirby (played by Michael Parks) is a character in the film! Jack was the actual guy who created the storyboards for the sci-fi movie subterfuge. Jack’s storyboards for the film adaptation of Roger Zelazny‘s novel Lord of Light were used as “proof” of the movie production during the actual event to fool the Iranian officials.

The storyboards that were used as props in the Affleck movie are credited as being drawn “in the style of Jack Kirby.” I sure wish Ben had hired me for that gig. Besides the obvious connection of my having inked an issue of Jack’s comic The Demon, I also was the designer for a proposed movie adaptation of Roger Zelazny’s Chronicles of Amber books. In addition, I met John Chambers (played by the always brilliant John Goodman in the movie) in 1968, back when I was an art student. Our storyboard class toured 20th Century Fox studios during the making of the first Planet of the Apes.

Kudos to John Goodman and Alan Arkin (Peevy in The Rocketeer) for their spot-on performances in the film. Without overplaying their roles, they perfectly nailed the personalities of so many of the people I’ve worked with in the movie business.

I highly recommend this movie. It’s the right film at the right time. And that last white knuckling half hour will leave you absolutely breathless. In my book, Ben Affleck has now hit three homers in a row as a director. What a talent!

…and don’t forget, comics fans, to watch for Michael Parks as the King of Comics, our own beloved true-life hero, Jack Kirby.

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William Stout: Animation

I got a nice e-mail from my friend Rick Catizone this morning. I thought my answer might be of some interest to my Journal readers.

Rick asked if I had ever been an animator. He also asked about the progress on my new studio. Here’s my answer:

I have never animated — I usually can’t stand to do the same drawing twice and am amazed at the patience of those who do that over and over.

I have worked on various animation projects, however. I designed animated commercials for Lennox weather units. I designed the characters for Walt Disney’s Dinosaur feature. I was a consultant on the Dino-Riders TV series. I painted the bumper art for the Dink the Little Dinosaur TV series. I wrote an episode of the animated Godzilla TV series. I was the production designer for a proposed Jurassic Park animated series (never sold) for Universal Cartoon Studios and drew all of their model sheets. I was a designer on the animated feature Ant Bully. I have also written and designed several CG films for theme park attraction simulator rides. And, of course, The Land Before Time was based upon my award-winning children’s book, The Little Blue Brontosaurus. I didn’t work on that film but I did do some of the film’s advertising art.

I’m moved into my new studio and have begun the long process of unpacking and organizing the contents of over 1000 boxes…I’m enjoying it, actually. I have a two great people (Kris and Danny Kobziff) helping me right now, one of whom (Kris), I recently hired as my personal assistant. With Kris’s organizational skills, sharp mind and help, I plan to produce a lot more art in 2013.

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APE Today (But Not Tomorrow)

I’ll be appearing for most of today at APE ,the Alternative Press Expo. My publisher John Fleskes is flying me up for this event, one of my favorite conventions. I’ll be at the Flesk Publications booth.

I thought I was going to have to cancel but we worked it out so that I’ll be at APE today, Saturday, but not tomorrow, Sunday (I need to finish packing for my studio move).

That, of course, means I found a new studio — which I did. No, let me correct that statement: a new studio which my brilliant realtor, Nancy Valentine, found. Thanks again, Nancy! It’s a huge space in the city of Monrovia. It takes me only about twelve minutes to drive there, about the same amount of time it took me to drive across Pasadena to get to my current-soon-to-be-ex-studio.

I found the skeletal remains of a dead sparrow there yesterday (we’ve named my new studio mascot Myrtle, after the street on which the studio is located), which in my world is a very good sign.

So, if you’re in the Bay Area today, please come up and see me at APE (location details in “Appearances” on this site)! But remember: I won’t be there tomorrow.

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Convention Appearances

My “Appearances” section has been hinky as of late. While it’s being worked on, I’ll have to make my Appearances announcements here on my Journal page.

OCTOBER/NOVEMBER APPEARANCES

APE (Alternative Press Expo)

October 13 -14, 2012
Concourse Exhibition Center
635 8th Street
San Francico, CA 94103

EXPO – The Edmonton Comic and Entertainment Expo
October 20-21, 2012
Edmonton Expo Centre
7515 118 Ave NW
Edmonton, AB T5B 4X5 Canada

I will NOT be at the October Chiller Theatre show Halloween weekend. I MAY be at the Halloween weekend Monsterpalooza in Burbank. I’ll announce that appearance as soon as I get word from the show’s organizers.

Long Beach Comic Con
I will be part of the RAW Studios booth at this show.

November 3-4, 2012
Long Beach Convention Center
300 East Ocean Boulevard
Long Beach, California 90802

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Van Dyke Parks

It was my great pleasure to spend a big chunk of my birthday evening in deep conversation with one of my musical heroes, the brilliant musical and lyrical multi-hyphenate talent, Van Dyke Parks.

“Well, to me, the tensile strength and the very definition of an artist is something that I would place at the top of a vertical hierarchy. To be an artist is to suffer and to lead a life without shelter. It takes a great amount of daring-do, self reinvention, imagination, familial loyalty, sacrifice, economic uncertainty, and the right to be wrong, the right to fail in order to achieve something of noticeable value. ”

Van Dyke Parks

If you’d like to know more about the amazing Mr. Parks, here are three good introductory links:
www.vandykeparks.com
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Van_Dyke_Parks
http://www.allmusic.com/artist/van-dyke-parks-mn0000838241

You can also read a great new autobiographical piece he has written for the Los Angeles Times Review of Books at http://lareviewofbooks.org/article.php?type=&id=933&fulltext=1&media=

If you have any interest in the late 1950s/early 1950s music scene in Los Angeles, I think you’ll love it.

Here’s a favorite quote from the piece, as it applies directly to me and my work:

“Eclecticism wasn’t viewed as an illness in those days. It was applauded, and audiences were taken places in the ‘real’ sixties.”

Happy Reading!

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Happy Birthday to Me…

Thanks to all my friends, family and fans (and all of you who cross over into a couple — or all three— of those cherished groups) for remembering me today with your birthday wishes. I’m trying really hard not to feel so…old.

So, how am I going to spend my day? You guessed it: Working! But on fun stuff. I’ve just finished inking the last of my 100 portraits for my Legends of the Blues book from Abrams. I colored one last night; I have 54 more to color by the end of this week (don’t worry; the coloring goes pretty darn fast on these).

Tonight also happens to be a salon night, so that’s where I’ll be this evening. Our group includes an extremely interesting variety of very successful artists, writers, pop stars, designers and a few film folks on occasion. We gather at the end of a cul-de-sac of a prominent Pasadena artist’s (not me) semi-private street full of craftsmen homes that he owns (!) for great (and funny) conversations, good wine and mediocre pizza. It’s a really nice break from the grind…plus, it’s right here in Pasadena (short drive!).

My studio disaster…er…situation: I got a little bit of an extension at my old place, which is good because the guy who owns what I hope to make my new space has a lot of heavy machinery he still needs to move out of there before I can move in — hopefully sooner rather than later, as I don’t want to have to move twice! The packing is going amazingly fast as well. My friends Kris and Matt and I have have packed over 200 boxes of books already — in just four days.

I’m trying not to get too excited about my new space, as we haven’t signed the papers yet — but it’s bigger and nicer than my current studio space, and just a few blocks away from my current studio. Short move! (distance-wise, anyway)

Just one more thing here…This birthday has a bit of sadness to it, as Joe Kubert and I share the same birthday and this is the first year I can’t wish Joe a “Happy Birthday!” on our mutual celebratory day. I miss you, Joe. You never stopped pushing yourself and learning new things, my friend. You and your tremendous work ethic still stand as a role model for us all.

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Life On Hold

My search for a new studio space continues. I am even considering buying a building so that this can’t happen again. I have a lot of friends looking for me, something I really appreciate. I am checking out two to three dozen places each day. My wife took off work last week to drive me around the sketchy parts of L. A. and Pasadena, hoping we could find the right place.

I am so sorry to hear about the suicide of film director Tony Scott. Like his brother Ridley, every film Tony made had incredible visuals. My favorite film of his is also my favorite Quentin Tarentino movie: True Romance. In my opinion True Romance was easily the best film of 1993. If you have never seen this movie, you are in for a cinematic treat. The cast is unbelievable: Christian Slater, Patricia Arquette, Dennis Hopper, Christopher Walken, Gary Oldman (as a black pimp!), Brad Pitt, Val Kilmer (as the ghost of Elvis!), James Gandolfini, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Penn, Saul Rubinek, Conchata Ferrell, Michael Rapaport and Tom Sizemore.

The scene between Hopper and Walken is worth the price of admission alone.

My second favorite Tony Scott movie is Man on Fire with Denzel Washington, Christopher Walken and Dakota Fanning. It’s an incredibly visceral film and a sadly accurate and vivid depiction of the world that is Mexico City (I used to live there). Man on Fire has my favorite performance by Mr. Washington.

I was hoping to work with Tony on a film; one of his regular production designers is a good friend of mine. I am sorry that’s never going to happen. I am really, really sorry that there will be no more Tony Scott films.

Comedienne Phyllis Diller also died. I really wanted to meet this funny lady to ask her one question. In an interview from years ago she said that her friend Bob Hope taught her the proper way to enter a room (at a party). I would love to know what he told her.

Joe Kubert passed away as well (reaffirming the “it always happens in threes” superstition). Joe and I shared the same birthday (September 18). We were looking forward to collaborating (I was dying to ink a Tor piece for him). Joe had that special knack (like Frank Frazetta, Mark Schultz, Charles R. Knight, Frank Cho and Bernie Wrightson) for capturing the essence of All Things Reptilian. As Al Williamson would say, Joe Kubert was a “good lizard man” (good at drawing dinosaurs). Joe was a giant in the comic book industry, influencing hundreds of artists, both through his work and his groundbreaking school. When I was fourteen or fifteen, Joe was already an enormous fan favorite, primarily worshiped back then for his Hawkman work. I loved his Viking Prince and Rip Hunter Time Master comics, too. Later, I reveled in his gritty war comics. One of the things I loved about Joe Kubert was that he never rested — he was always pushing himself and his work in new directions. What an inspiration! Besides being a great artist, Joe was a great guy, as anyone who knew him will attest. My kindest, warmest thoughts go out to Joe’s family.

I’m hoping my next Journal entry includes a bit of happy news.

Let me close with a funny story from last weekend.

My grandson Jesse was visiting. He’s not quite two yet but his vocabulary and cognitive skills are off the charts (he knows his numbers and has begun to read). He asked my wife if she would read him a story. She agreed and they went upstairs to where I keep a stash of Gustaf Tenggren Little Golden Books for just such an occasion. We still have a crib in that room. Jesse insisted on getting inside the crib.

“Don’t you want to sit on the bed and hear the story?”

“No. I want to be in the crib.”

My wife lifted him into the crib. He settled in and then proclaimed, “Ahhhh…it’s like the good old days.”

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Looking for New Studio Space

Well, it’s the end of an era. After over 25 years of having my large, grand studio in what was once the ballroom of the Evanston Inn, a white Victorian luxury hotel built in 1872, the building has been sold and I have been given 60 days (now at 50 and counting down) to vacate.

Of course, I had just turned it into my dream studio, recently spending over $5000 cleaning and fixing the place up.

So, I need a big, new space. If you hear of anything in the Pasadena or general San Gabriel Valley area, please contact me through this website and let me know about it. You’ll have my deepest appreciation.

Thanks, my friends, and wish me luck!