Happy 70th Birthday, Tom Waits!


Apparently, I can’t stop drawing musicians. Even though Tom Waits has probably one of the hardest faces to capture, drawing him seemed necessary once I remembered that it was his 70th birthday.

Tom Waits is my favorite artist of all time–across any and all mediums. His thoughts on music had a HUGE impact on writing All The Sad Songs. I don’t feel fanatical about many things, but Tom Waits’ music is like church to me. Here’s to being original, deep, and surprising for 70 years. Here’s to more to come.

Tom, I am so glad you are in this weird and troubled world.

Heather McAdams show in Chicago

heather show 1Folks, if you are anywhere NEAR Chicago, get ye to the Sulzer Library IMMEDIATELY and go see the Heather McAdams show there–and tell me about it!  Better yet, go to the opening THIS THURSDAY and meet her lovely self and get the whole Heather McAdams experience in art, film, and person!  This is what Oscar Arriola the curator had to say about Heather and the show:

She’ll be presenting one of her patented film jamborees with her husband [the musician] Chris Ligon, this coming Thursday, July 9th. The reception is at 6pm and the films begin at 7pm. Her comics and other artwork are on display on both floors of the Sulzer Regional Library, 4455 N. Lincoln Ave, Chicago, IL through the end of July, 2015. The event is free.

More info can be found here.

Seriously, please go and tell her hi from  me!

Heather McAdams is Alive and Well

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Well gang, Heather Mcadams is alive and well and still making art in Chicago.  I already knew that, but I didn’t quite know WHAT she was doing and man alive she’s doing A LOT.

Two of you were kind to do more sleuthing on your own and found an e-mail address in an odd corner of the internet for Heather and sent it to me (thank you Robyn & Rebecca!).  I was nervous as heck to write her because it wasn’t like she was advertising her e-mail anywhere and I didn’t want to come off as a crazy stalker.  I hesitated for about a second and then thought the magic words *What*the*Hell* and e-mailed her.  My intention was to see if she was still making comics and if there was anyway I could HELP her get more visibility.  In these comics loving times, when her contemporaries are being celebrated for their groundbreaking work, it genuinely seems odd to me that her name is not thrown around more.

I am so happy to say she wrote me back and sent me some examples of her more current work–and gave me permission to show it off.   Continue reading

Introducing: Ink Brick


Probably the biggest influence to my writing and comics is poetry.  I am a giant reader of poetry and find the kind of poems I love have a lot in common with comics I love.  I used to write poetry, but lost the knack for it when I began to write songs.  Now I feel like comics have sort of returned a version of poetry to me.  I consider my one page stories my version of poems.  As it happens, poetry comics are a medium in itself.  I first discovered this about a year and a half ago through an article about the comic poet Bianca Stone.  Through the article I discovered the works of Alexander Rothman and Paul K. Tunis.  Until they met each other they all thought they had invented poetry comics–and here I was thinking I was the only one!

I am excited that they got their brains together, along with Gary Sullivan, and started the first ever comic poetry journal INK BRICK.  The inaugural issue came out in May and it made me so happy to see it arrive in my post office box. It is a beautiful print journal–in full color. I wish they had attached some sort of introduction or manifesto to its first issue, because its very existence feels important somehow, yet I can imagine why they didn’t–a four color print journal (of visual poetry!) is a pricy endeavor.  The work itself is making the introduction–and it is clearly an effort of love.

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Donkey Dream: A Love Story of Pie & Farm

My friend Katherine Dunn is quite an artist and storyteller. Years ago, as I was immersed in the first wave of the on-line creative movement, Katherine was an artist I greatly admired not only for her considerable artistic vision, but for her life vision as well. I poured over her story of leaving a corporate job cold turkey to become an illustrator and artist after watching Joseph Campbell’s The Hero’s Journey. I dreamed of having faith like that and I was again inspired when she quit the East Coast to live out another dream of having a farm on the West.

She was always generous to me in words of wisdom, in moments of needy questions of direction, and in celebrating my work on occasion to those she thought might dig it. It’s my turn to give a shout out to her latest project: DONKEY DREAM: A STORY OF PIE & LOVE, which chronicles her move to the West Coast and all that came (incredibly and magically) after. It’s a full-color painted, scrapped, photographed and written memoir–and it needs help to be brought in this world.  Watch the video and you’ll see what a great and unique project this is.

This project is already 75% funded, but won’t you help kick it to the funded level over the next 18 days?  I know there may be a few of you out there all Kickstartered out, but this is a gorgeous hold-in-your hands piece of art. You can donate as little as you want and it won’t be charged unless it’s fully funded. A small donation of $25 will get you the book and a chance to win an original painting of Katherine’s.  I have already donated and I can’t wait to get my hands on that book!

Please consider helping an artistic visionary get her book out there!

Thank you!

The late, the great

I just found out that the great Etta James has crossed the finish line.  I put her in my Great Gals book because she was a woman who kept rising despite social and professional circumstances, fashion, and self-destructive acts.  She shouldn’t have succeeded (many times over), but she did.  She was a rebel, a powerhouse, and an original.  That lady lived life and sang every note of it.  No offense to Beyonce, who does her own thing very well, but she could not sing “something deep in my soul said cry girl,” with the same weight and power that Etta did.  Etta had a way of plowing the hard dirt with her voice and unearthing the rawness of what was underneath the surface.  She went deep.  Thank you, Miss Etta James for your great effort.  Your music is everywhere now that you are not.

The Artist in the Nursery Interview: Marian Henley

Marian Henley is a cartoonist and author who’s work has appeared in Glamour, Ms., The San Francisco Chronicle, and The Austin Chronicle, among other places.  She is the author of Maxine, Laughing Gas, and The Shiniest Jewel: A Family Love Story.  She lives in Austin, Texas with her family.

At 49 you were working professionally as an artist full-time, when you decided to become a mother and adopt a baby.  That must have been quite a change!  Can you talk a bit about the ways you had to adapt your life to having a child?  Were there any ideas you had about mothering and/or having a baby previous to bringing your son home, that you found were unrealistic or at least different when you did bring him home?

Adapt my life?  Hmmm.  No, I’d say nuclear annihilation followed by painstaking, piecemeal reconstruction is the best way to describe the adjustment period.  This had nothing to do with William – he was an easy baby and, considering the first twenty-two months of his life had bobbed along quietly and predictably (Russians believe babies do best with strict routine), he adjusted to the zip-zip, zoom-zoom kaleidoscope of life outside the orphanage – with two stranger/parents babbling at him in English – with an ease that I can only describe as heroic.  No, what flattened me was the difficulty of the adoption process itself.  My agency made key blunders at several points, one of which was failing to notify anyone that I was arriving in Moscow.  Alone, exhausted, I waited in vain for my ride and finally consulted the information lady, who blew me off in a puff of cigarette smoke.  A young taxi driver saved my life, perhaps literally, considering that dozens of foreigners “disappear” from that airport every year. Continue reading

The Artist in the Office Interview: Noria Jablonski

NORIA JABLONSKI is the author of the story collection Human Oddities (Counterpoint, 2005). Her stories have appeared in FiveChapters.com, Swink, Monkeybicycle, KGB Bar Lit, and the anthology Who Can Save Us Now?: Brand-New Superheroes and Their Amazing (Short) Stories.

What day jobs have you had, what job do you have now?

The only day jobs I’ve had—that is, jobs I’ve had while pursuing writing—were teaching and working in bookstores. Before I decided to be a writer I worked at a coffee roasting company, weighing out one-pound bags of beans. I was a quality controller, inspecting pants (Chi Pants, which had an extra panel of fabric in the crotch, so you could do yoga or tai chi or whatever got your chi flowing, and you could also have a tiny crystal sewn into the back of the waistband to power-up your chakras) and children’s clothing (lint from the velour outfits would turn my snot purple, teal, bright pink, or deep green). I lasted three days canvassing for an environmental organization. I worked in a movie theater. I sold socks.

Now I am unemployed! I was a lecturer for several years at UC Santa Cruz, but I got laid off last summer. I call it my recession sabbatical. It’s been a blessing. I’ve been teaching in some capacity for eighteen years, first as a high school English teacher, then teaching college. This time off has given me time to explore creatively. Most importantly, it’s allowed me to play, which is what I think is, or should be, at the heart of creativity.

I know there was a time when you were teaching high school and not pursuing your writing.  Can you talk about what changed for you and why you decided to commit yourself to being a writer?

It took me a while to figure out that I wanted to write. Like, seriously write. Like, write an actual book. I was not one of those people who always dreamed of being a writer. I always had a talent for it, but growing up it didn’t occur to me that it was something I could actually do. What I really loved was reading and I read whatever I could get my hands on. Fairy tales, the Oz books, cereal boxes, the TV Guide. Trashy Judith Krantz romances, Agatha Christie, The World According to Garp. But in junior high I had a terrible English teacher who made us diagram sentences and I lost my love for reading. He had greasy hair, he wore the same shiny disco shirt every day, and shoes with pilgrim buckles. His voice was nasal and flat. He had no affection for language. He made words a chore.

During my sophomore year of high school I had an amazingly cool English teacher. She liked the band X and told me I looked like Exene [Cervenka, the leader singer of X]. She lent me her copy of Black Tickets and I rediscovered my love of language. I decided I wanted to be an English teacher, like her. When I told her I wanted to teach she said, “Don’t do it.” (She quit after her first year of teaching and went on to law school.)

At 22, I started teaching high school in San Francisco. Six classes a day, 35-40 students in each class. It was exhausting. In photos of me during that time my eyes look buggy and manic. One night during my second year of teaching I went to hear a friend of mine and her writing group read stories at Red Dora’s Bearded Lady Cafe. I was so jazzed! I went home that night and began writing a story. And then a member of the writing group left for grad school, so I auditioned for a spot and got in. We met weekly, drank a lot of wine. We put out a zine. We did readings at Red Dora’s, the Paradise Lounge, the Chameleon. (All those places are gone now.)

Writing was a way for me to reclaim a part of myself, or to claim part of myself that I’d never really had a chance to express. I’d been devoting all my energy to my students, helping them find their voices, but I hadn’t ever done that for myself.

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Rest In Splendor

I’ve been meaning to pay tribute to HARVEY PEKAR the author of the acclaimed comic series American Splendor, who died two weeks ago.  I know, that’s like 1987 in Internet Years, but I haven’t had a moment to do it.  As my friend Matt said, he was one of the original artists in the office.  He worked his entire adult life as a file clerk at the VA hospital in Cleveland, while also writing reviews of jazz records and penning the stories behind American Splendor.  His job and many of his co-workers appeared within the pages of Splendor.  He kept his job, not only because he couldn’t quite make a living from his writing, but because it gave him structure and a place to go.  As he said, “Who am I kidding?  I’d be lost without my job.”

He was crabby, difficult, and a natural contrarian.  He was also an American original.

Harvey, thank you for your great effort.

Artist in the Office Interview: Michael Filan

Michael Filan is a painter,  instructor at The School of Visual Arts in the Graduate Art Education Department, and a coach at TAI, a company that helps clients find creative solutions to today’s business challenges.

When do you do your creative work?  Do you have any rituals, schedules, etc.?

My schedule at work is ideal for getting to the studio to paint; I paint mainly in the mornings. I have one ritual that helps me transition from my workday head into a creative head:  I sweep and clean up studio before I begin to paint.

Have you considered doing art full-time?  If not, why not?  If you have, why aren’t you doing it full-time?

I have considered doing art at different times of my life. I have not [pursued art full-time] because I prefer not to have the pressure on my creative life in order to make a living.

I also enjoy other sides of my personality and joy and pleasure out of the work experiences.

What are those ‘other sides’ of your personality?  Why/how does your jobs suit those parts?

When I first herd the term people person I thought that’s a great description of me. I am very curious about other people, love to ask questions and learn about people.

A look outside myself at others to help define myself and my life. I am outward directed [as a person].  Some people are very inner directed. The artist part of me is very inner directed and self-referential.

Why did you decide to go into teaching and art therapy?

I was a child of the sixties when young people considered doing service work as an obligation to ones country.  I see teaching as service work. To be a good teacher you need to see the work as a calling.  For me working with others creates a balance in creating art that is self-referential.  I also feel that the choices I have made to teach and do Art Therapy are very much part of my evolution as a person and an artist.

I know there was a time when you were working, but not doing art.  Can you talk about that struggle and what it was that made you finally pursue art?

I found that the artist part of me kept on talking to me to get back to painting.  I felt like a major part of myself was shut down.  I know that for me to feel whole and productive I need to be involved in the creative process.

What sort of things did you do in order to start doing art again?  Did you have to buy art supplies, schedule in art making in your day—how did you start doing it again and how did it feel?

The best solution to getting back to work [that I found] is to get my self into my studio. Once I stand in front of a canvas I can begin to work.  It’s really a head game with me. The very thing I need to reconnect and reenergize is the last thing my brain goes to, so I have to help myself and trick myself to getting into the studio.  The creation and creative process doesn’t care about sales [or a] show’s progress.

After a long day at work how the heck do you find time to do your painting?  What keeps you motivated?

At a point there is choice I must get back into studio and paint. I begin to paint pictures in my head and then back into the studio I go.   I begin to feel out of touch with myself [if I don’t go into the studio] and know that I need to get to the studio and just paint.

When I paint I feel autonomous because my decisions in the painting are all mine– nobody can make these decisions but me.  I like to bring all parts of me into play–that’s what painting does: it brings the child in me to meet the adult who makes intellectual and aesthetic decisions all together….  I love looking at my work in progress.

One of the things I learned from you is that being a professional artist isn’t just about doing the art, it’s about doing the business, contacting galleries, going to events, making contacts, etc.  When do you find time to fit that in with the art making?

I go into different modes sometimes I am very focused on the business aspect and then I will go into creative mode. [To help with this] I have hired an art assistant [and] she does all the things I hate: …editing, reminds me of due dates, helps me organize… Wish I could hire someone to go events for me; I still need to work on that one.

So many artists are gifted, but they really struggle with the business end of it.  What would you say to someone who HATES the business part of an art career?

One has to make a decision on what you want out of your career.  If you want to sell or develop a resume of shows you have to get over whatever stops you, [and/or] your fears and insecurities. Some artists choose not to be a business person and just do their art. It is a choice.

Sometimes as an artist it can be hard to not “be an artist” 24/7, but I find I can get burned out if I don’t enjoy other, often mindless stuff. Do you have anything you do outside of work that isn’t art related?

Love movies love to read love to exercise

Do you have any advice for creative types that have a day job?

Once again you have to look at what you want.  If you just want a basic salary and don’t mind doing a non creative job that’s great.  I seem to need to [be] creatively stimulated in everything I do.  I remind myself daily how grateful I am to have all that I do, and not dwell on what I don’t have or have not created for myself.

I [also] continue to reframe my being an artist of a certain age in a society that is so age phobic.  I understand on a very elemental level that my art making has no need to be famous or rich it just needs to be.

Any words of wisdom or favorite quotes you have received through the years?

Just play

Forgive and Forget

What goes around comes around

I’m just going to be happy

Thank you, Michael Filan!