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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 Factasaurus bumper art for the Dink the Little Dinosaur TV series (unfortunately deleted by Warner Bros. from their Dink DVD collection). 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.