Saturday, May 6, 2017

May the Fourth be with you!





        I have the feeling that I have posted about this before, though I can't recall for sure if I have. So please forgive my aging brain if you've read something like this previously!

         I actually meant to post this a few days ago, on May the 4th -- now known in some circles as "Star Wars Day" -- but didn't get my act together in time.

         Way back when I had my little used book shop (cleverly named "The Little Used Book Shop") in Norhampton, I took it upon myself to build a "Star Wars"-themed costume for Hallowe'en. I had been so taken with the extremely cool design of the stormtrooper costumes in the first "Star Wars" movie that I knew I had to try my hand at making -- as best I could -- a replica of one of those armored outfits.

         However, I wasn't going to even try to recreate the stormtrooper helmet -- the multiple curved surfaces just seemed beyond my limited capabilities. So I ordered a replica stormtrooper helmet from a company out in California which was doing officially-licensed "Star Wars" headgear. 

         For the rest of the costume (except for the foot wear, for which I used some plain white tennis shoes, and the blaster rifle, which I picked up at a local toy store), I set to work building a framework using some nice flexible (but sturdy) cardboard from lingerie boxes I got from a local women's clothing store. As best I could, working from photos of the stormtroopers I found in various fan magazines, I constructed the various armor pieces with this cardboard.

         I then mixed up a home brew of papier mache (basically flour, water and shredded newspaper), and used that to build up the shapes of the armor pieces, sculpting the curves and details.

         When the papier mache had fully dried, I applied multiple coats of pure white gesso, the material painters use when preparing canvases. It not only captured the white color of the stormtrooper armor, but in multiple coats, it also gave extra strength to the pieces.

         For the black under-armor garb, I bought a set of white long winter underwear and dyed them black, and sewed on strategically placed Velcro strips which corresponded to appropriately placed Velcro on the armor pieces, so that I could slip the pieces on and the Velcro would hold them in place.

         The last and most vital piece to the outfit was the helmet. It was getting pretty close to Hallowe'en -- I think about three weeks out -- and I finally received the helmet in the mail. Or at least I thought I had at first, though the suspiciously light weight of the shipping carton should have given me a hint. When I opened up the box, it was empty -- no helmet! I immediately wrote a frantic letter and sent it off to Don Post Studios. About a week later, I got another box from them in the mail. I should have held my sigh of relief, given that when I opened the box, there was no stormtrooper helmet -- just half of a Darth Vader helmet!

         AAAARRRRGGGHHHH!!!!!

         Another frantic letter went out immediately, and finally, a few days before Hallowe'en, I got the right helmet. Whew! I couldn't fit my eyeglasses underneath it, so I couldn't see much while I was wearing it, but it looked great. I ended up using that costume for several Hallowe'ens, until the papier mache and cardboard started to disintegrate. I still have the helmet, though.

         The photos which accompany this post resulted from a happy coincidence. I was. at the time, working on drawing the campus map for Amherst College (my first significant freelance art gig), and mentioned to the man who'd hired me (whose name, if memory serves, was Doug Wilson) that i had made this stormtrooper costume. He suggested that I bring it in and have a staff photographer (who I'd been dealing with as a source of reference photos for drawing that map) take some shots at various places on the Amherst College campus. So I got dressed up in the costume and traipsed around, posing for photos.




         The photographer (whose name, sadly, I cannot recall) took a couple dozen shots, and somewhere I have the contact sheet showing all of them, but I only got a few of them printed as 8 by 10 prints.

         Thinking back on it, I guess I was really "letting my geek flag fly" -- I don't know if I would have the nerve to do something like that today. -- PL

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Dreaming

    Dreams can be very curious things.

    A couple of days ago, I was sleeping fairly late in the morning. Suddenly, I heard a loud, single bark from a dog, as if our dog Kirby was in the hallway outside my bedroom, and I woke with a start.

    But I knew Kirby was not there, as he was, at that moment, in Maine. I had a few moments of disorientation until my sleep-befogged brain processed the situation, and I realized that I had dreamed that very realistic bark.

    Then today I was feeling anxious about an odd business venture I'd gotten involved in -- custom-mixed plastic zipper bags of cereal, which I was personally mailing out to my customers. The anxiety came from my realization that for the first batch of shipment, I had -- for some stupid reason -- added milk to the cereal in the zippered bags before I'd shipped them. My mind was imagining the disgusted reactions of customers who would be receiving plastic bags full of mushy cereal slop and sour milk…

    … and then I woke up.

    Curious. -- PL

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Bernie Wrightson, 1948-2017



    This morning I saw the sad news that the world of comics and illustration has lost one of the great ones -- Bernie Wrightson has passed away.

    Way back in the early to mid-1970's, I -- as a comic book geek and aspiring comic book creator -- had the good fortune to be hired by the late, great Norman Witty of Northampton, MA, to work in his used book and comic book store, Omega Books, and even go to a few comic conventions with him as well (my first experiences with such). I got my first original Jack Kirby page at one of these shows, a cool Vince Colletta-inked page from "The Mighty Thor", a piece I still have, and treasure.

    I learned a lot about comics and comic art from Norman during those years, and and although many details of my life back then are a bit fuzzy, one thing I remember very distinctly was his pointing out the artwork of Bernie Wrightson in one of the first issues of "Swamp Thing" from DC Comics, a book which was getting "hot" at that point in time among collectors, with the first issue being a real collectors' item, in large part because of the uniqueness and high quality of Wrightson's artwork. Norman directed my attention to a number of small panels on one page, expressing his opinion that these small panels were lovely pieces of storytelling art in and of themselves, showing more care and artistry in a few square inches than many other comic book artists would put into whole pages.

    And he was right!

    I was blown away by the care Bernie put into his drawing, and especially his inking, which was lush and precise. I became a big fan of his work, and followed it pretty avidly through most of my subsequent comics-buying years. I was even lucky enough to find (if I am remembering correctly, with the help of TMNT co-creator Kevin Eastman) and purchase a beautiful full-color piece of his work featuring my favorite dinosaur, Triceratops. It now hangs in my studio.

    As fans of his art know, Bernie went on to do a lot more amazing work. His illustrations for "Frankenstein" probably represent a high point in his career -- imaginative, amazingly detailed and almost superhumanly inked with a fluid precision which still boggles my mind.

    He will be missed. -- PL

    P.S. The illustration I chose for this post is my hand-drawn copy of one of Bernie Wrightson's wonderful drawings from his run on "Swamp Thing", one of a number of such pieces that I did on wood back in the 1970's. I would pick favorite artwork from comics and do my best to carefully reproduce them by hand in pencil, ink and color on 3/4 inch pine boards. Then, using the tools at the UMass wood shop, I would carefully cut out the figures with, typically, a combination of band saw and jigsaw, then cover the edges and back with black ink, finishing with several coats of protective polyurethane.

    This particular example, created circa 1975, was actually owned by the aforementioned Norman WItty, who was a great admirer of the work of Bernie Wrightson. I'm not sure if I sold it to him or gave it to him, but apparently he liked it enough to keep it in his collection until he passed away a few years ago.

    (The photo here comes from an eBay listing for the piece from 2014.)

Sunday, March 5, 2017

A matter of perspective

Enduring the bitter cold on a windy Maine beach in 16 degree weather yesterday, my friend John Dusenberry and I noticed an interesting phenomenon -- a stark, almost perfectly straight line of white etched across the distant shore rocks. It was immediately apparent that this was due to ice on the rocks, frozen during high tide.





 

Walking over to the rocks, that bold white line began to break apart, and as we moved to a position where we could look down on some of those rocks, the dramatic straight white line collapsed into a jumble of fragments.






It reminded us both of the importance of perspective -- things often look very different from another viewpoint. -- PL