Saturday, May 29, 2010

Bunnies and rainbows

A couple of days ago, our area got hit pretty hard, once again, by a series of quick, powerful wind and rain storms.Our power got knocked out for about twenty hours, and some towns in the region just got their power back hours ago. Lots of trees, big ones, came down. In Hadley the bike path was closed by about ten different tree falls, and I suspect the same was true elsewhere on the path.

But today is lovely. Jeannine and I have been sitting on our back porch, enjoying the temperate breeze wafting through the screened-in windows. A few hours ago, I saw a cute little rabbit hop by on our patio -- I don't think I've ever seen one that close to the house. Alas, I was not quick enough with my camera to get a shot of it.

However, about five days ago I was ready with the camera to catch an unexpected rainbow after a quick shower. Here's a panoramic view...

... and a closeup view, probably the clearest I've ever taken of any part of a rainbow.

It was quite something -- it looked like a special effect, not something real.

But even better than a bunny, lovelier than a rainbow...

... is our daughter Emily, home for a brief visit, and seen here bonding with her little dog Louis. -- PL

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

"Things Change…" Part One

(Note: This is a bit of a long one… and it's one I have debated with myself about posting. It's very personal, has nothing much to do with Turtles or comics or artwork, and thus will likely be of little interest to many of the readers of this blog. But… it means a lot to me, and who knows -- it might help someone else in a similar situation.)

"Close your sleepy eyes, my little buckaroo
While the light of the westerns skies
Is shining down on you
Don't you know it's time for bed
Another day is through
So go to sleep, my little buckaroo"

Back in high school, I bought my first record album (you know, one of
those big floppy vinyl things you scratched with a needle to get sound out of), and it was, I believe, the first one released by Michael Parks, then starring in the short-lived (one season) "Then Came Bronson" TV series on NBC. I loved that show, and I loved the theme song, "Long Lonesome Highway", which Parks sang. He had a nice voice, and though many repeated playings I wore out that album, and his next one as well. The songs on the albums were mostly old favorites -- a lot of country/western as I recall.

"Don't you realize, my little buckaroo
It was from a little acorn
That the oak tree grew
Just remember that your dad
Was once a kid like you
So go to sleep, my little buckaroo"

"Little Buckaroo" was, according to Wikipedia, written by M.K. Jerome and Jack Scholl. I can't recall which of Michael Parks' first two albums featured this tune, but it made a big impression on me, and even this many years later, I can still recall most of the lyrics.

Why am I mentioning this? Well, I've been searching around for a pithy phrase to sum up something that recently (about a week ago) happened to me (and in many ways is CONTINUING to happen to me), something that I believe has literally changed my life, for the better -- to say the least. And I kept coming back to those lines in the second verse:

It was from a little acorn
That the oak tree grew

Sometimes, big things spring unexpectedly from small beginnings, when you least expect them. So it was for me this past week, when I was about a month and a half into a project that I had been meaning to do for a number of years.

My wife Jeannine has, over the years since we got together (about twenty-eight so far), made some very nice photo albums covering our early years as a couple, and many from the days when our daughter was an infant, up until she was in high school. I'm glad she did, as -- at least in the pre-digital days -- I took very few photos. It's a wonderful memory archive to have, but for some time I have been thinking it would be a good idea -- and useful. to boot -- to make a digital archive of all of these photos by scanning each of them.

I'd held off for a long time, because I was reluctant to commit myself to the laborious, tedious process of scanning batches of photos at a time on my large flatbed scanner, then going through the hassle of extracting each individual photo from that group scan and saving it as an individual file. I knew it would be a great deal of boring grunt work.

About a year ago, I saw a small photo scanner in one of the many catalogs I get in the mail. It was the "Pandigital SCN02 PhotoLink One Touch Scanner". I was intrigued, because it seemed like it might provide an elegant solution to my problem -- it featured quick scanning of individual photos, each saved to an SD memory card slotted into the back of the scanner. It even purported to have software built in that would rotate the scans into perfect orientation.

However, I didn't buy it. I'm not sure why… I guess I just wasn't ready to start the project.

But a couple of months ago, I did finally buy one of those scanners -- I just really wanted to see what it could do. So I got it out of the box, hooked it up to a power source (no computer connection required), and tried it out. I was initially disappointed because it didn't work very well with most of the dozen or so photos that I had randomly selected for this test. Admittedly, the instructions DID warn that photos with lots of dark areas, especially near the edges, could confuse the scanner's software and cause errors. And that was exactly true -- the bad part being that MOST of the photos I was going to scan fell into that category.

So I started thinking. The scanner came with a sleeve with a clear front and a black background, into which you were supposed to slip the photo to be scanned. When inserted into the scanner, the sleeve would allegedly protect the photo and the black background would work with the software to allow it to rotate the finished scan into alignment. I wondered -- what would happen if the photo was set against a WHITE background instead? So I cut a piece of white index stock to the same size as that black background, set a photo on top of it, and ran it through the scanner.

The result was much better, though not perfect. The white background prevented the scanner software from rotating the scanned image into perfect alignment, so I would need to do that myself in Photoshop. BUT… practically all of the scans came out beautifully, dark areas near the edges or not. And I was very pleased with the resolution and color fidelity of the scans -- as far as I could see, they were about equal to what I could have gotten with my big scanner. And the speed was amazing -- about two or three seconds per photo.

So I'd picked a winner! Now all I needed to do was start taking all of the photos out of the old photo albums and then start running them through this cute little scanner. As I did so, I realized that the albums Jeannine had used contained what are somewhat laughingly called "magnetic" pages -- these are actually stiff paper coated with some kind of sticky waxy substance, with a clear plastic overlay on each side. This type of album page has it's advantages, chief among them being that you can orient your photos in any direction, and even overlap photos if desired. But one of the big downsides (apart from them often being a real pain to extract photos from, given the tendency of that sticky stuff to REALLY stick, especially after a long time has passed) is that they don't age well. About half of these pages had already yellowed or browned in an unsightly way.

I consulted with Jeannine and we decided to go with new, archival-quality plastic photo sleeve inserts to replace the "magnetic" pages. I found some through which would fit nicely into the three-ring binders that Jeannine had originally used. The downside of these is that you are limited to the orientation of the individual pockets, but as it turned out, that didn't bother Jeannine (or me), so I decided to go with it.

I dove into the project, scanning on average one album per day. As I completed scanning an album, I would put the photos into the new pages, then spend some time rotating and cropping the scans in Photoshop. That takes a lot longer than the actual scanning -- in fact, I've only finished that work on about five of twelve albums.

So that's all the technical stuff. It's not really what this entry is all about.

I was expecting that I would feel some nostalgia as I looked at all these photos, and I would be looking at them a lot -- as I took them out of the old album pages, as I scanned them, as I put them into the new pages, and as I looked at them on the screen of my computer. After all, I'd be seeing scenes from the days of falling head-over-heels in love with Jeannine, the wedding photos from our back yard in Dover, scenes of friends and family, some sadly no longer with us, and many scenes of our daughter Emily as she grew up. I mean, come on -- how could I look at all that and NOT get nostalgic? I'd have to be a stone or something.

And I did get nostalgic.

But what COMPLETELY blindsided me -- what I've been calling my "epiphany" -- was the rush of feeling, of clarity, that hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks one night about two weeks into the project. I suddenly realized how emotionally blocked I had been for many years, especially the last five or six.

There are many reasons for this, as I have realized through further thinking and analysis. A great deal, perhaps the largest chunk of it, comes from the Turtle years. I have often said to Jeannine that through those years, I very often felt like a square peg in a round hole, at least as far as the business end of things. It wasn't so bad when it was just me and Kev putting together our little comics and self-publishing them out of our living rooms -- that I could handle without many problems. But when the major licensing stuff hit in 1987… that was a whole different story.

We went from being two guys having fun with our comics to those same two guys trying to hold onto the reins of a runaway licensing and merchandising success. Piles of contracts, meetings with lawyers, hiring new people to make our business work -- this was all new to us, and we were learning as we went. And in short order, we discovered the wonderful world of parasites.

It is a sad fact of life that money can make people do weird things. I will freely admit that it's made me do some not-terribly-well-advised things over the years. I think Kevin would probably say the same. That's bad enough, when YOU are doing something dumb with YOUR money. But when creeps and jerks start coming out of the woodwork wanting to do THEIR dumb things with YOUR money, the crap level goes up precipitously. From a local politician blithely saying publicly that we should just donate six million dollars to the local schools, to the total stranger asking me for two hundred and fifty thousand dollars so that he could buy a local general store… it got pretty weird and disconcerting.

It was weird and disconcerting enough that I started making moves to protect myself and my privacy. Some of the things I did were common sense -- unlisted phone numbers, not advertising Mirage's street address, things like that. And they made a difference… they helped. But the other stuff…

What was the other stuff? Well, in short, it amounted to me slowly but surely, bit by bit, tiny increment by tiny increment, starting to draw away from people close to me, and from enjoyment of life itself. It was not intentional -- or at least, if there was any intention on my part, it was instinctive and unconscious. Slowly I built up emotional walls around me, distancing myself from many of those closest to me. Now, I'm not going to say I wasn't still close to these people -- I was. But there was a thickening, protective skin coming between us. (I'm tempted, somewhat, to say "a shell", but that might be too corny… and I'm not feeling particularly corny right now.)

There was -- and still is -- a physical manifestation of this protective covering, and I name it "stuff". What is this "stuff"? It's all -- or at least most -- of the things the Turtle money allowed me to buy. Toys, books, magazines, motorcycles, Segways, gadgets, computers, and on and on. It makes no rational sense that this "stuff" would protect me from anything… but humans are not always rational beings, no matter how much we desire to be. I continued to pile up this stuff around me, often literally -- anyone who has seen the two rooms in our house which I have taken over for my use has seen the truth of this. (This must change -- in fact, IS changing… but that's getting a little ahead of myself.)

The thing that really nailed me to the floor with my "epiphany", the thing that has made me feel like a total heel, the thing that has reduced me to a sobbing wreck on more than one occasion in the last week, was the realization of just how much this walling off of myself emotionally had affected my relationship with my wife, Jeannine. It crushed me. I am starting to come to grips with it now, but… it is very difficult.
The especially aggravating, insidious aspect of this situation is that I didn't even realize it was happening… and it's been happening for at least the last five years, and probably even longer than that -- more like ten or twenty years, I'd say. In fact, if someone had asked me the day before I experienced my "epiphany" if I loved my wife, I would have said "Yes, of course!" And it would have been true -- I love my wife. I've loved her since long before she became my wife, in fact in a remarkably short time after we'd started dating. She is a beautiful, kind, generous, funny, creative person. (And she makes GREAT raspberry muffins.) Like any couple, we've had times over the course of our relationship which have not been as rosy as other times. But I can state unequivocally that I have always loved her.
The big problem is that, until this past week, I had no idea just how much of that protective barrier I had let grow between us, and how much that had dulled and reduced my ability to let her know how I felt about her. It galls me to see now exactly how much time has gone by with this barrier in place.

I have spent much of this last week talking with Jeannine and spending more time with her on a daily basis than I have in a long time, trying to let her know exactly what kind of change has occurred in me. And it is an enormous change. One sign of it -- and this is going to perhaps sound a little mundane to some of you -- is that for the last five days, we have gone to bed at the same time. Or, to be more precise, I have adjusted my sleep schedule to hers. This comes after many years of a staggered schedule, wherein Jeannine would go to bed around 9:30 or 10, and I would stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning. (For a few years, it was even more extreme -- I'd stay up until four or five AM.) Originally, it was a vital ingredient to my staying sane and getting my work done -- the quiet of that time at night helped defray the angst of those crazy Turtle days back in the late 1980's and 1990's. I could work without having to take phone calls about this deal or that.

But… for a long time, it




And yet, I stuck with it. I honestly could not, at this point, tell you exactly why I did -- except that perhaps it was a combination of ingrained habit, mixed with some of that unconscious self-protective impulse -- as if by having this time with no one around, no calls coming in, no demands on me, then nothing bad could happen. Perhaps at some time in the future I will fully comprehend why I did this and some other things.

At the moment, what matters to me is that I feel as if a great, previously- unknown (but still present and heavy) weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Just getting up at the same time as Jeannine this past week has given me a tantalizing glimpse of what I have been missing.

Things are changing.

This doesn't mean I'm going to start doing comics again, or finish Volume 4 of the TMNT series, or jump into any particular new art project any time soon. (Actually, I hope that last thing DOES happen, but I'll have to wait and see.) But the important thing to me is that -- to use the old Biblical phrase -- the scales have fallen from my eyes. I feel recommitted to my marriage, to Jeannine, in a way which I haven't consciously felt in a long time. The strength of these feelings is almost scary.

But I think I can deal with it.

Because for the first time in a long time, when I go to sleep at night, I am actually looking forward to the coming day. -- PL

Sunday, May 23, 2010

"Ladyslipper" or "Lady's Slipper"?

A couple of days ago, my wife told me she was going on a short hike in the woods west of Greenfield with her longtime friend Sue, the intention being the seeking out of the elusive and short-lived flower known as the "ladyslipper" (or "lady's slipper"). I couldn't remember ever having seen one of these plants before, so I wheedled my way into their excursion. (I think offering to make salads for a picnic lunch may have helped.)

It was a lovely, relatively short hike on a beautiful early summer day, and we had our picnic lunch at a spot called the "High Ledges", which offered a great view of the town of Shelburne Falls and the surrounding hills, now green and lush. Here's a shot of me and Jeannine standing on the ledges, taken by Sue...

But what was really cool was that we found ladyslippers in abundance on the hike -- first the more common pink type...

... then later some of the more rare yellow variety.

Both Sue and Jeannine told me that it's pretty unusual to find this many ladyslippers -- I think they said that on their last such jaunt, they only located a few. So I lucked out!

I'd like to thank both ladies for allowing me to intrude on their trip, and I hope I can join them next year for another ladyslipper hunt. -- PL

Friday, May 21, 2010

Blast from the Past #305: "Pursuit"

In my entire career as a comic book artist I haven't done many complete comics stories by myself. Issue #12 of the first volume of "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" may be the only comic book wherein I was reponsible for everything (except the lettering). Issue #15 comes close, but Jim Lawson inked that one. And I think I did all but the lettering on the first issue of "Stupid Heroes"... or did Ryan Brown ink that? It's been so long, I don't remember.

So anyway, this following piece -- a ten-page comic story titled "Pursuit" that I wrote, penciled, inked (and, sadly, lettered) -- is kind of unusual. Not for any particular inherent qualities of its contents, but just because completing a piece like this by myself was a rarity. I'm not sure why that was. Some have suggested that -- at least as far as comic book work goes -- I work better in collaboration with others. I think there is a certain about of truth in that. At the very least, I am more productive in collaboration with others.

This short story concerns a violent incident in the "life" of P-13, a police pursuit android. It's interesting to read this and consider some similarities between it and "Fugitoid", which Kevin Eastman and I worked on together. I am pretty sure "Pursuit" came before "Fugitoid".

As you may notice on reading "Pursuit", it has an open-ended conclusion which makes it seem like I may have been considering further adventures of P-13. In fact, I even put in an "End of Chpter One" caption on the last page. Whatever my intentions were at the time, I do know that I never did anything else with this character.

I don't think this has ever been published anywhere. -- PL

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Thoughts on where this blog is heading

The first comment on my last post (about the Vintage Japanese Motorcycle show) was from Gale Benning, who wrote:

"I know of some people that don't really care about updates you do on your blog that are not TMNT related, but I find great joy in those that are not and this one in particular because it gives us a glimpse into your lives outside the universe of the pen & ink realm. "

It's a pleasant coincidence that Gale wrote and posted that just as I had been contemplating making an announcement about the future of this blog which relates closely to what he mentioned.

Astute readers of PALBLOG have probably noticed that since I started doing this blog, the TMNT-related content has varied in frequency, getting somewhat less frequent in recent months. Partly this is because I have already used up most of the coolest TMNT stuff I have in my files, but it is also reflective of a desire of mine to move forward from my association with TMNT. I'm not sure where that move will take me, but it is beginning to happen, slowly but surely.

Also, since I started this blog (a little over two years ago, on May 8, 2008), I've discovered that it is at least as much fun for me to talk about stuff I like or am currently thinking about as it is to talk about (and show) old Turtle stuff. It's turned into a fun way to keep family and friends somewhat informed about what I am doing, how my life is going... and some of them find that interesting, for which I am grateful. And I don't think I'll ever really be comfortable with the chaotic mess that is Facebook, so this form -- my blog -- is probably going to be the best outlet for me for this kind of stuff. I'm also taking inspiration from my wife's blog (as I did when I started PALBLOG) -- although I doubt I'll ever reach her level of beautiful, thoughtful writing, it's definitely a great standard to aspire to.

What I have also discovered through two years of doing this blog is that, in a way, it is serving as a kind of journal or diary for me. I've never been a consistent diarist, though I have tried many time, but for some reason this blog form helps. Obviously, it's not EXACTLY a diary, but it is enough of sort of one that it encourages me to continue.

So what can readers of PALBLOG expect to see in the future? To put it simply, more of the same, with less of an emphasis on Turtle stuff and more emphasis on personal thoughts, musings, rants, critiques, and so forth. Maybe even some posts about new art projects (if I ever start any, that is.) I'll not abandon the TMNT thing altogether -- I still have some items worth posting, and you never know what I'll uncover as I go through old piles of stuff. But for those people who come to PALBLOG looking for TMNT stuff and have lately found themselves grinding their teeth in exasperation when all they seem to see are posts about motorcycles, bicycle rides, panoramic nature photographs and other such things, it might be time to move on to other pastures. That being said, if you want to stick around, you're welcome to stay. -- PL

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

2010 Vintage Japanese Motorcycle Show at Look Park

This past Sunday, it was time for another display of vintage Japanese "iron" at Look Park in Florence, MA, and this time Steve Lavigne came down from Maine to join in the fun. He stayed with me, and in the late morning we rode to Williamsburg to hook up with Jim Lawson. It was a pleasant surprise to run into Mike Dooney there (even though Mike was not going to the show).

Jim, Steve and I headed down to Look Park, where we met up with Eric Talbot, who'd ridden in on his Triumph Scrambler, which he is progressively customizing. Then we started walking around and checking out the cool bikes.

One of the first bikes to catch my eye was this beautiful Kawasaki Mach 3, from the era when powerful multi-cylinder two-strokes ruled the road. I've never ridden one of these beasts, but maybe someday...

Not too far away from that bike were these two lovely little Hondas, a CL175 (also known as the "Scrambler" model) and a CB175 (the "street" version). I always lusted after the bikes in Honda's CL class -- I just thought those shiny, high exhaust pipes were so cool.

While we were walking around, three guys on immaculate Honda CB750's rode in and obligingly posed for the crowd.

It was a beautiful day and a fun display of cool bikes, and after heading off for lunch at a roadside joint in Haydenville, we tried to hook up with Mike Dooney to go out for ice cream, but, alas, he was not around. Jim, Steve, Eric and I did a bit of bike-swapping for a short ride before we headed home. I took Jim's Yamaha FJR1300, Jim rode my Honda NT700V, Steve piloted Eric's Triumph Scrambler, and Eric tried out Steve's Honda Fury. Here's a shot of Eric on that bike.

I'm looking forward to next year's show! -- PL

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Blast from the Past #302: Conan versus Spider-Man

I think I drew this sometime in the late 1970's, back when I was a big fan of both Conan and Spider-Man, and regularly bought and read the various titles Marvel Comics put out featuring these stalwarts. If memory serves, I just did this one for fun.

I wonder just how long ol' Webhead's mace and shield (made out of webbing) would hold up against the surly Cimmerian's steel?

A couple of small details stand out when I look at this one closely. First, I forgot to draw Spidey's spider icon on his chest. D'oh! And second, look at how over the years the Zip-A-Tone background I applied as a plastic film has shrunken and pulled away from the edges of the drawing. I guess nothing lasts forever. -- PL