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SketchCrawl sample

One lingering suggestion from my past 'Crawls is to get to Harvard Square, or at least cross Prospect Street. Call it rookie leader syndrome, but it seemed the dynamic of a pub crawl (1 drink, move on) and that of sketching (can't I just stay long enough to get it right?) seemed contradictory. Since I always gave into what the crowd was doing, we'd spend 2 or 3 hours in each pub. In that regard, getting to Tavern In The Square in SketchCrawl 22 was a major accomplishment.

For this 'Crawl, I decided to stay in each bar for no more than 1 hour. How did we do? Since this blog's being written days after the fact, I already know. You'll have to read everything below ...

Middle East Restaurant

Noon - 1:30

Samantha and I arrived a little early, getting a head start on sketching. Bartender Lisa remembered my past two 'Crawls and looked forward to seeing how this one would turn out. Some of the artists got here by media listings. Some were veterans of past 'Crawls. The final attendance was 19 artists, the largest 'Crawl I've ever led.

The first hour was extremely busy: artists strolled in, the Cambridge Chronicle arrived for photographs and interviews. To compensate for the setup time, I added an extra 30 minutes to this phase.

Once again, I was stunned at the raw talent in the room. Samantha's hard work during the month was already paying off. Joyce's work was equally amazing.

The Phoenix Landing

1:30 - 3:00

There weren't a lot of people to sketch, but strolling into a bar with a crowd this large is fun. Unlike the Middle East, this room is wide with rows of tables and booths. This made sketching each other from various angles a lot easier. Like previous 'Crawls, the artists who did the least amount of talking did the best work. Aya's watercolor work was outstanding.

Oh yeah, the anti-Frank Miller discussion had to happen.

The Field

3:00 - 4:00

I forgot to take photos, so can't remember anything remarkable. I did notice that the same regular at the bar from previous 'Crawls was in the exact same seat again. The beer is starting to take effect. Must ... keep ... moving!

Tavern In The Square

4:00 - 4:45

Was looking forward to this site, based on the SketchCrawl 22. Back then, we walked right by the hostess and sat wherever we wanted. Saturday afternoons are usually slow for restaurants, so our Art Invasion wasn't a problem. Going through proper channels, we ran into a snag this time. The hostess told us we could only use a single table (allowing us only to sketch each other). Buy the time I negotiated a better arrangement, the artists decided to take advantage of the terrific weather by drawing outside!

Central Square Post Office Stairs

5:00 - 6:00

Staying indoors would've been stupid. Judging from the work, the artists must've felt liberated by the change in scenery. In particular, Joyce did an awesome job drawing a tree. Strangers came by to see what we were up to, and then — while getting in my shot — pose for pictures. At one point, I had to stop to verbally notice something: we've already gone farther than any other 'Crawl in Cambridge.

People's Republik

6:00 - 7:00

Arguably, this was our first true "dive bar". There was still enough daylight to make the place look "sketchy but not dangerous". It's combination of lighting, size, design and decor made this my favorite indoor setting so far.

The Cellar

7:00 - 7:10

Too crowded.

Grendel's Den

7:30 - 8:30

We made it! In only seven and a half hours, we covered one mile to Harvard Square! While the number of artists got smaller, the Grendel's crowd was almost standing-room-only. We drew, drank and talked through the final hour. Hyun and I drew the same German woman sitting at the bar. When approached by us, she said Hyun's portrait was "more flattering" while I got her "German cheekbones right". And Samantha — the only non-professional artist of the group — won the art-snob hearts with her hard work, determination and good spirit!

Thanks to everyone who participated, wrote about us, gave me tips on how to be a better leader, all the friends and families who gave emotional support to the rag-tag group of india-ink slingers. Extra thanks go to the bars, restaurants and coffee houses that let us hang out to draw.

For those who couldn't make it, we hope this 'Crawl looks fun enough for you to consider joining us next time!

SketchCrawl sample


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Simply posting on the SketchCrawl Forum isn't enough to generate a crowd. After all, it's only visible to people already know it's there; most people don't even know SketchCrawl exists. As proof of concept, the only one who showed up for SketchCrawl 16 was yours truly. Since I can sketch alone any time, the lack of other people for the 'Crawl was a resounding defeat. Sitting at the bar of The Druid Pub with nothing but my art supplies and IPA, the constant thought was "How can this not happen again?"

Register With SketchCrawl

  • Go the the SketchCrawl Forum
  • Register
  • Find the topic for the next 'Crawl (example: "25th World Wide SketchCrawl")
  • Once there, search for your city/town/neighborhood (mine is Cambridge MA)
  • If there isn't a 'Crawl in your city/town/neighborhood, create a new topic with the name of your city/town/neighborhood

That's it. It's nice to think my qualifications as an artist, professional and teacher got me this powerful position. In truth, however, it goes to the first person who registers. Welcome to open-source.

Tell People You're Alive

So, how do you promote an fun event that doesn't generate a dime? For SketchCrawl 20, I did the following:

What did all that promotional effort produce? Seven new artists and an interview with the Boston Phoenix.

My next event was SketchCrawl 22, which had eleven artists. The bottom line: if you want a decent turnout for your public event, tell people.


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Thumbnail sketch of comic book page

One of the most-used lines in my Art of the Comic Book class is "In the post-Google era, there's no excuse for not knowing what something looks like". Prior to the internet, visual reference was done in public libraries, personal interviews and taking our own photographs.

Doing the research for "Lucky Seven: The Dee Brown Incident" in May/June 2009 supported this view. The story, covering Boston's difficulty with class and race, takes place in 1990. Recreating the era's surface-level items was relatively easy, thanks to Google and Boston Globe articles. Building visual details, logistics and overall atmosphere was a lot tougher. What did Dee's fiancee look like? How did the characters express their words? Which version of the incident — Dee's or the officers' — was the most believable?

As the deadline got closer, it was evident that using Google wouldn't be enough to answer these questions. Forced to use the analog research methods, I ultimately produced a more accurate, objective and honest story.

Google Web Search

May 1, 2009 | Weather, neighborhood demographics

Highbeam Research logo

HighBeam Inc.

May 1, 2009 - May 7, 2009 | An online library of archival print media, was an excellent resource. Their text-only articles (from the Boston Globe, Washington Post, New York Times and Sports Illustrated) provided a framework to start visual research. At this point, I knew what happened, but not what anything looked like.

Google Image Search

May 1, 2009 - May 16, 2009 | Revealed Dee's 21-year-old image and other surface details (the rented Pontiac Grand Prix, Reebok Pump, fashions, etc.) At this point, I didn't know what Dee's fiancee Jill Edmondson looked like. The Globe articles said she "had been a Northeastern University student", so maybe I'll try to find her in their yearbook collection.

Wellesley Hills - MBTA

Taking Photographs

May 5, 2009 | I visited Wellesley Hills via Commuter Rail today. Shooting exterior photos of the neighborhood was easy and educational. Standing on the lawn of the South Shore Bank, diagonally across the street from the Wellesley Hills Post Office, identifying the suspect would be impossible.

Getting interior reference of the Wellesley Hills Post Office was a lot more difficult. My camera is too big to take guerrilla pictures. Introducing myself to the workers as an art school instructor doing a project comparing interiors of various post offices, I asked for permission to take photos. Before 9/11, this would've worked. These days, workers get nervous when dark-skinned strangers take interior shots of federal buildings. My request went all the way to management, who ultimately said no. However, I was allowed to sketch, a practice I hadn't used since 1988's "A Sunday Walk".

It's also easy to see why people would think this was simple racism. Although bright and sunny with lots of trees, the neighborhood feels quietly hostile. Given the option of sticking around for a later train or leaving soon as possible, I got the heck out of Dodge.

In Living Color - Homey The Clown

Northeastern University

May 14, 2009 | Hoping to find Jill Edmondson in the college yearbook, I visited the Northeastern University archive library. Sadly, her name didn't appear in any of the directories. Perhaps she never graduated, or the Globe got this detail wrong. Determined to make this a useful trip, I used the 1990 yearbook to make reference sketches of hairstyles and fashions. Combined with the Google Image Search results of popular TV shows ("Married with Children", "In Living Color" and "Beverly Hills 90210"), I should be able to create my own version of her if needed.

Email Dee Brown

June 1, 2009 | Running out of options, I sent an email to "EDGE Basketball", Dee Brown's basketball camp business in Orlando FL. Mr. Brown isn't likely to respond, but one never knows.

In Living Color - Homey The Clown

Boston Public Library

June 3, 2009 | Jackpot! The Boston Public Library Microtext Department has entire newspaper pages arraigned horizontally on tape. These tapes are on reels that can be viewed on hand-cranked lightbox readers, like a giant View-Master. The manual hand-cranking makes finding exact pages a tedious process. Zooming through irrelevant pages made me seasick. After many wrong guesses, page 14 of the November 17 1991 Boston Globe Magazine had a photo of the elusive Ms. Edmondson. The image was high-contrast and grainy, but more than I had.

Boston Globe

June 4, 2009 | Called into the photo archives for a clearer version of the November 1991 Globe Magazine photo. In the days before Google Image Search, we visual artists used to invade the photo morgues of the Globe, Herald and local libraries. Spoke with chief archivist, who said he'd look for photos tomorrow.

So, What Did We Learn Today?

  • Solely using Google and Wikipedia for serious research is a lazy cop-out
  • There's no substitute for hard work and intelligence

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Smileyface graphic

The trailer for Watchmen — adapted from the graphic novel by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons — was released last month. On the surface level, it's a whodunit murder mystery. On a deeper level, it's a statement that superheroes couldn't work in the real world. Some of those insights were told in a humorous fashion in The Incredibles.

The trailer was positively-received at this year's San Diego ComicCon. Some of the love was from Zack Snyder's faithful adaptation of 300; most came from fan appreciation of the source material. For instance, if you're old enough to remember the actual Muhammad Ali, the Michael Mann film "Ali" was nothing more than Will Smith pretending to be Muhammad Ali (at 10 years old, I did the same thing for a lot less money.)

The film won't be in theatres until next year. This trailer has what appears to be an error (Nite Owl II looks too buff), questionable casting decisions (see Age of Characters chart) and costumes (Ozymandias learned nothing from Joel Schumacher). At the risk of sounding like Rorschach, it makes one wonder what other subtleties got missed.

Comparing the characters' ages with the actors who portray them
Age of Characters
Character Actor (DOB) Actor Age
at Filming
Age in Story

*Osterman was 30 at Gila Flats. Perhaps the powers preserved his physical appearance.

Sources: Charcter Ages, Actor Ages/Movie Stills

Nite Owl II/Daniel Dreiberg Patrick Wilson 35 45 -10 years
The Comedian/Edward Blake Jeffrey Dean Morgan 42 61 -19 years
Silk Specter II/Laurie Juspeczyk Malin Akerman 30 36 -6 years
Rorschach/Walter Kovacs Jackie Earle Haley 47 45 +2 years
Ozymandias/Adrian Veidt Matthew Goode 30 46 -16 years
Doctor Manhattan/Jon Osterman Billy Crudup 40 56/30 -16 years or +10 years*
The Beatles on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964

To be fair, the characters age at least 20 years, so it was probably cheaper to make young actors look old than making older actors look young.

Readers under 30 years old might not understand the graphic novel's effect on the industry and fans, and probably wonder what all the fuss is about. I feel the same way about The Beatles on Ed Sullivan.

It's easy to say "people were dumber back then" or "guess you just had to be there". While there's an element of truth in both statements, it's more constructive to define context by understanding the era as best as possible. Much like backing away from the Water Lillies, the picture becomes much clearer. This is the same methodology high school students use to understand Shakespeare.

All in Color for a Dime

During the industry's infancy (1939 - 1962), comics were thought of as a commercial, disposable extension of Children's Fiction. The editorial voice was "adults telling stories to children". There were lots of genres to choose from. Publishers survived by (a) paying talent as little as possible and (b) following market trends. Can you imagine running a business based on the whims of teenagers? If you can't, here's pretty much what happened back then:

  • January: Company A publishes a western comic that turns out to be a hit
  • February: Company A publishes 5 imitations of that same western comic
  • March: Companies B-Z flood the market with imitations of the popular western comic
  • April: Everyone is sick of western comics. Company B publishes a crime comic that turns out to be a hit ...
Fantastic Four #1

The Fantastic Four were introduced in 1961. While proving innovative superhero fiction had short-and long-term profitability, this effectively killed off all other genres. The Big Two still published a few western and romance comics. However, they used second- and third-string talent, dooming the mission before it started. To this day, it's impossible to tell if other genres would've survived. Mainstream non-superhero books were as credible as the dreaded 49ers running game.

By the early 1970s, the talent pool began to change. In my opinion, this is when mainstream comics lost their roots. Kids were expected to outgrow comics by high school. With Marvel's popularity — like Apple Computer's aura of "coolness", kept a market base longer than originally intended. The previous era's professionals were getting replaced by young adult fans. The new editorial voice became "arrested adolescents telling stories to other arrested adolescents".

As an actual adolescent and Marvel Comics enthusiast at the time, I thought this was a brilliant approach. I said so in my high school book report on "Origins of Marvel Comics". Citing the book as my only source, my report didn't grade very highly.

Notes from The Underground

Zap Comix #1 - Cover

Running parallel to this was the underground comics movement. Rebel cartoonists made uncensored personal stories, with emphasis on drugs, Jimi Hendrix, sex, violence, contempt for social conformity and distrust of the government. There weren't a lot of Nixon/Agnew supporters buying Zap Comix.

Like rebels of other mediums, the underground stretched boundaries of the possible into the probable. Some mainstream creators got so interested in boundary-pushing they lost sight of the superhero genre's larger goals.

By 1980, mainstream superhero comics were formulaic, script-heavy and predictable, but still profitable. Editors treated researching anything but other comics as a waste of time. Adolescent emotions were presented as adult thought. With some notable exceptions, the underground market and influence was reduced to Golden Gate Park.

Art School Confidential

1980 was also my first year of art school Being in an environment dedicated to Art was an important developmental step for me. History, literature and painting slowly became more interesting than whatever Chris Claremont was babbling on about. I still loved the art form, but began to hate seeing it used badly. When compared to older works (Windsor McCay, Milton Caniff, Alex Toth, Noel Sickles, lots more), the 1980s mainstream comics were soul-less, hacked-out reminders of better work.

As my 1986 graduation approached, I almost exclusively bought works by my favorite artists and writers. Consistent with the dynamic of reading two children's books per day for six years, the good ones stand out. In other words, Watchmen came out at the perfect time.

Burn Hollywood, Burn

recent photo of Alan Moore

Alan Moore: Blending in

Like lots of creative souls, Alan Moore's always had a complicated relationship with management. Creative and management need each other to survive, but sometimes it's like neither one's learned a thing from "The Defiant Ones". At times, it seems his public actions were solely crafted to irritate publishers. In the manner of "just 'cause someone's crazy doesn't mean they're wrong", he has a strong point when it comes to Hollywood adaptations of his works. "V for Vendetta", "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen" and "From Hell" were distorted beyond recognition. If Alan were more of a personable guy, could he have worked with the producers to make better movies? We'll never know. Based on current history, the odds don't look good. Frank Miller was as pro-active as possible on RoboCop 2, and it still sucked. (Can you imagine Irvin Kershner's misery of listening to Miller yap about character development?)

At first, I thought Mr. Moore's stance on movie adaptions of his work was refreshingly hands-off. If I were lucky enough to be in the position of adapting a popular work from a living author, I'd need complete autonomy in order to succeed or fail.

Then it hit me: Alan Moore is a public isolationist. A true isolationist is never in the public eye. When's the last time anyone heard from Salinger? On the other hand, Alan Moore will talk about his isolationism to anyone with a working microphone. It's worth noting that Entertainment Weekly, The Onion and MTV mention how "rare" his interviews are.

Does this mean the graphic novel is perfect? No. The portrayal of professional psychoanalysis is embarrassing. Moore himself said his segue technique became a burden; using unnatural dialog to make the transitions work.

Despite of zealous fan complaints, it is possible to make a decent movie from comic books without being 100% literal. Spider-Man, Iron Man and Batman immediately come to mind.

Inna Final Analysis

So, What Did We Learn Today?

  • Watchmen is a terrific graphic novel (especially for those who hate superhero comic books)
  • I was a terrible high school student
  • Superheroes have lived way past their 15 minutes
  • I was a brilliant art student
  • Alan Moore is a chatty isolationist
  • Filmmakers need complete automony in order to produce
  • Statistically spaeaking, most filmmakers use that automony to make terrible movies

Oh yeah, there are worse things in life than sitting through a terrible movie.


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Is it possible to do a Bataan Death March while standing still?

I'm not a fireworks guy. People "oohing-and-awwing" over them always seemed a bit ... dim. It was Sam's idea to go, we were on our own this year and I didn't have a creative alternative.

We started from the Lowes Boston Theatre. After "The Incredible Hulk", we walked through Boston Common, then up Boylston Street. We stopped along the way for a meal and to check out the new Apple store (he's a killer on Lego Star Wars), walked down Massachusetts Avenue to the MIT bridge. Combined walk was just under 2 miles. If you count multiple trips up 3 flights of the Apple Store, the total walk was closer to 7 miles.

photo: Sam at restaurant

We got there near 8:30 PM, just in time for 10:30 PM fireworks. The city closes off the bridge to cars, creating a large open space with a great view of the fireworks. It was about 1/3 full of standing pedestrians when we got there. By 9:00 PM it was shoulder-to-shoulder.

When I lived in Cambridge 15 years ago, that's all the city did. This year they put loudspeakers along the bridge, broadcasting the show from the Hatch Shell.

We’re On a Road to Nowhere

For some strange reason, there was a country music vibe to this year's show. Not classic country, but the watered-down, simple-minded corporate stuff that chased Johnny Cash to his grave. Toby Keith's "An American Soldier" is a perfect example. Instead of inspiring patriotic pride, the song only reminded me of David Cross' response to Lee Greenwood's God Bless the U.S.A.: "Okay, asshole. Here's a gun, there's a plane. Get moving."

photo: Johnny Cash - Hurt video

There were other classic moments, such as Jack Williams reading "Casey at the Bat", sounding even more robotic than he does at his day job. Various talking heads trying to "rev-up the crowd" getting no response. The overall feeling -- at least on the bridge -- was that the broadcasters spent way too much time amusing each other with no connection to the audience. This is what happens when focus groups are allowed to run wild.

(The 2-hour standing part might be a major source of my negativity. People with lawn chairs and the lucky ones partying in boats on the Charles River below us didn't seem to be that angry.)

I was ready to bolt at any moment, and Sam was getting dopey from lack of sleep. You gotta hand it to the rotten kid; he held onto the dream. He was going to stay if it killed him. If only he'd show the same drive in cleaning his room and three-point perspective.

During the 2-hour stand-off, I chatted with another middle-aged father from Philadelphia. He and his daughter were heading home from up north, but the horrible traffic made them stop in Boston. The most positive thing they said was that it beat being stuck on 93 for hours. He'll never do a Boston 4th again.

We thought the real show was going to start when they played the 1812. This was only a tease, meant to set us up for more lame comedy bits and failed local-celebrity crowd control.

So we all just stood there, like on some Twilight Zone version of Ellis Island, waiting for the windbags to run out oxygen.

Burning Up The Charts

Digable Planets - Blowout Comb

The literal fireworks were spectacular. The new shapes, textures, combinations, colors and progressions made me a convert, shoving my negative memories of fireworks into the same brain storage compartment that holds rotary-dial telephones, 8-track tapes and Digable Planets. In a completely different context, Sam was even more amazed.

Yet even in this space, we weren't free from our power-drunk host. (Dean Martin was a funny drunken host. Joe Hazelwood wasn't.) While everyone else plays the 1812, someone decided the most awesome fireworks display the world's ever seen needed a soundtrack of corporate-country radio songs.

At this point, after being on my feet for two hours, I was holding a 50-pound kid on my neck, watching terrific fireworks get ruined by a shitty iPod. Thankfully the bombs bursting in air eventually drowned out the nonsense.

I’m on a Road Shaped Like a Figure 8; I’m Going Nowhere But I’m Guaranteed to be Late

photo: walking back to Cambridge from MIT bridge

After the show, the Cambridge-bound crowd walked down Massachusetts Avenue, flooding the bars and roof top parties. Massachusetts Avenue was closed off all the way to Vassar Street, allowing pedestrians to take the street's entire width. I can't tell of my good feelings were from:

  • being allowed to walk down the middle of a busy street
  • seeing how happy Sam was
  • finally getting that broadcast out of my head

The crowd was well-behaved and no one was in a rush. Sam was dead tired by now, but the 83 bus we needed was still a mile away, down Massachusetts Avenue in Central Square. He never complained or whined. We had to do some last-minute running, but made our bus just in time. Poor kid finally got to bed at midnight.

Goodnight, Cow Jumping Over the Moon

photo: Sam sleeping

I wasn't up too much later. In fact, I might've done something unusual and passed out on the couch. As the darkness pushed the pain in my legs, neck and soul away, two thoughts came to mind on my express train to oblivion:

As a unique display of arrogance and incompetence, this was the best Fourth of July show I've ever seen. (Beating out Salem MA in 1996, when the fireworks were thoughtfully shot behind tall buildings). The other thought?

How will they ruin it next year?


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Watching historical events expressed by Hollywood schtick ain't easy. It's kind of like when someone with a speech impediment tries to tell you something important. Much as they try, you need to get the message from some other source. Sitting through "American Gangster" was like watching a meat-grinder shove actual events into existing holes of cop-movie cliches.

The plot is a collection of sewn-together parts from better movies. Need to highlight the Heroic White Guy's honesty? Take this from "Serpico". Want to show Lucas' conflict on morality versus his job? Take the Michael Corleone baptism scene from "The Godfather". How would Frank Lucas handle family-job stress? Swipe the attempted hit on Michael Corleone from "Godfather 2". Wait, we need a scene where Frank Lucas uses racism to justify his violent, self-serving behavior. Here's a Denzel Washington speech from "Malcolm X". I'm not positive about this last one, but I think some of the action scenes came from "Starsky & Hutch".

From what homeless shelter did they dig up the "look-a-likes" of Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier and Joe Louis? Needing to round up some last-minute negroes, our casting director must've used Denzel's line in Hurricane: any one will do. Seriously, police get in big trouble when they stray this far from "the description". Where's the justice?

The I-Spy Connection

The compelling reason to see the film is the story Frank Lucas, inventor of the "Cadaver Connection". Instead, Hollywood creates another "I-Spy" connection, which turns a black protagonist story into "Adventures of the Heroic White Guy". Similar films include "Cry Freedom" (Steven Biko dies halfway through the movie) and "The Last King of Scotland" (the entire film focused on the white doctor). Following this established tradition, Richie Roberts (our Heroic White Guy) is loaded with character traits that must've come from a focus group. He's in a custody battle; the real Roberts never had kids from his first marriage. Every white broad want to bang him; the real Roberts wasn't a womanizer.

To be fair, the Hollywood Bullshit Machine didn't stop its work on the cops. Among other inaccuracies, Lucas wasn't arrested at church, holding hands with his wife surrounded by cops with Richards posing like Hackman in "The French Connection". The real Lucas was arrested at home alone after the Mafia ratted him out.

Happy Days

During one of the many cliche tsunamis, I wondered if characters from other '70s New York films and shows were in the background. As Russell Crowe drove to save his partner, did Gene Hackman's Popeye Doyle pass him at an intersection? Did Serpico get shot next door to this film's final shootout scene? Is that Jimmy "JJ" Walker shouting "dyn-o-mite" while catching a free turkey from Bumpy Johnson? Was Joe Louis portrayed by Fat Albert?

Frank Lucas

Richie Roberts

Cry Freedom (starring Denzel Washington)

"Some criticized the film for focusing more on (white) newspaper editor Woods, on whose written accounts of Biko the film was based, than on Biko himself, whose life is told in the movie mostly through his interactions with Woods." wiki

Last King of Scotland

"Instead of presenting directly the Ugandan dictator, the movie is focused on a white doctor, who's eyes are the point of view on the story and of the events the movie tells." imdb


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My first full-time employer Gregory Fosella Associates. Fresh out of art school, I was hired as a production artist and junior graphic designer 1986. Making professional art was a lot more tactile back then. "Camera-ready art" meant building a "mechanical", which was a thick board with multiple layers of acetate, paste-up (typography or art glued to the acetate) and instructions for the offset printer. Sacrificing fingertips to the Exacto blade gods in production was considered a rite of passage, especially after being up for 36 hours on Jolt cola and hermit bars. Ah, the good old days.

The industry's technology hadn't changed in a century. Individual tools got more sophisticated, but the workflow process hadn't. Speculative mockups were hand-drawn (colored pencil or professional magic markers) and mounted on presentation boards. Typography was produced by paying a type house. Artwork was formatted with line screens on stat cameras. These elements were cut out and glued on acetate, which was then positioned by hand with registration marks. Graphic designers and illustrators handled the artistic expression. Proof readers were still considered a valuable asset. Account managers were responsible for client dialogue. Production artists built mechanicals from client-approved mockups.

Sometime around Black Monday, things changed. Computer companies, specifically the three-headed monster of Apple, Adobe and Microsoft, became more important than my killer paste-up skills. Inspired by John Lennon, employers "imagined a world" without production artists, stat cameras, proof readers, type houses and offset printers. This transition meant I was in danger of being washed-up at 26 years old.

Notes from the Underground

I borrowed an old friend's computer, an Apple Mac Plus ("loaded" with System 6). The machine had a ton of software, which allowed me to self-train at nights after work. With no printed manuals, the training moved slowly. At this time, as a broke-ass artsy dreamer, I lived in the Central Square neighborhood of Cambridge Massachusetts. About a mile away was Harvard Square's Wordsworth Books, which had a terrific computer section. Whenever I got stuck with a Photoshop or FreeHand problem at home, I'd:

  • write the problem on my pocket-sized notebook
  • bicycle to Wordsworth
  • research, write the solution
  • barrel down Massachusetts Avenue at a furious pace, trying to get back home before losing the solution (sometimes my handwriting sucked)

I built a portfolio that eventually landed some temp work. Back then, they were hiring anyone who could turn on a Mac. At this point, however, my desktop publishing skills weren't as strong as other designers. Evidently, some namby-pambies chose to learn in accredited schools, with books and qualified instructors. Feh!

My preference was to get in situations way over my head, learn while trying my best, get fired, repeat. I always knew more leaving an assignment than I did going in. Eventually, the mistakes were smaller and less frequent, while the quality of my work got better. By 1990, I was known as a reliable deadline-hitter.

Didn't We Learn Anything from John Connor?

Like your friendly neighborhood drug dealer, corporations created a global dependency on their product. They correctly guessed that the short-term expense of the new technology would be offset by long-term profits. Several elements aligned to form the new dependency:

  • Apple Computer sucessfully promoted their "user-friendly" interface
  • storing data on disk consumed less space than colored file folders
  • shifting from a Fortune 500 model to individual consumers, hardware companies lowered their pricing

The end result: disguised as smiling servants, computers invaded our world. Somewhere, H.G. Wells and Nat Turner must be laughing.


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As someone who read the Ian Fleming novels this summer, I was disappointed by the 2006 film "Casino Royale". Like Microsoft's recent Internet Explorer 7 -- another long-overdue, huge-scale makeover of an international household name -- the film doesn't completely escape the burden of it's legacy elements.

Compared to the past films, this one's a lot more faithful to the overall feeling -- if not exact plot -- of Ian Fleming's novel. That much wouldn't be difficult. Most of the films deviate from the novels completely, only sharing the titles. Throughout my summer reading project, many people thought I was reading novelizations of those shitty movies.

In his first novels (anything before Thunderball), Fleming beat the pulp genre of action/espionage into his own image. His world is a physically violent, uniquely British, emotionally distant place. There are subtle indications that Bond, like most of his real-world contemporaries, didn't leave World War II with his mind intact. James thinks he's held in high regard by his employers. The exact opposite is revealed when Bond leaves the room. The quite moments reveal Bond's unstable state of mind. He wakes up in a cold sweat, can't keep track of his drinking or chain-smoking, and takes uppers to function. On a level beneath the action, there is a quiet, subversive indictment of battle fatigue syndrome.

"I meet more bitches, more 'ho'es. I don't wanna sleep so I keep poppin' No Doze."

-- Ice Cube, "Amerikkka's Most Wanted

Another important element in the books is how he and his contemporaries handle the mundane: they can't. In "Live and Let Die", Bond and Felix Leiter ponder retirement. Considering what happens to Leiter after this talk, retirement would've been a good idea. The thought of settling down with a spouse and day job, however, seemed like a death sentence. It's not so much that they're adrenalin junkies; they're simply incapable of living what we in the real world call normal life.

Like everything else in the novels, the women are also governed by mundane naturalism.

This is my long-winded way of proving how enthusiastic I was about this film. While disappointed, I can't say I was surprised. While they ported a lot of the cool elements from the novels, the film makers ignored some of the more subtle tones.

For instance, the movie Bond is part super-hero. In film's opening chase scene, Bond runs for nearly three miles with no signs of exhaustion. In real life, linebackers who run more than 40 yards on an interception look like they're dying.

Ian Fleming's Bond was never a great fist-fighter. Yet here, he could give Jet Li a thing or two. Maybe this film takes place in The Matrix and Bond's the seventh "One".

The book Bond wasn't a great thinker, detective or strategist. His critical errors have endangered himself and his friends. This year's film model is a computer whiz, breaks into M's home and deduces getting set up by Vesper.

If you've never seen a Bond film or read any of the novels, you'll probably think this is an okay action flick.


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Monday, September 4

We left Boston’s Logan Airport at 4:45 p.m. on Sunday. We arrived in Paris’Orly International Airport around 9:00 am (French time) the next day. During the long trip, it occurred to me just how huge this journey would be. After all, I’d be a foreigner who didn't speak the local language. What would I do? How would I get to all the sights, or even know which of those sights would be worth going to? How would I buy Twinkies? Luckily, some local friends gave me a list of fun things to see and do. Of course, I forgot to bring it with me. We’re off to a good start already.

Instead of packing properly -- which I had all of Sunday to do -- I hung out with my old pal, the beautiful Judy White. She’s the red-headed vixen who talked me into buying a camera to document my European Vacation. I’ve never taken photos before. It seemed that stopping whatever fun I would presumably be having, in order to use the camera, would be counterproductive to going on vacation in the first place. My freckled companion countered that by saying that her seeing a bunch of my photos would enable her -- or anyone else -- to “live your adventure vicariously.” That, and her threat to never speak to me again, was the final selling point. Besides, I’ve never even loaded film into a camera before, so who knows how the damn things will come out anyway? Computers I know. But this is the first 3 mm experience I’ve ever had (unless you count those “art” photos, taken back when I really needed the money), so good luck, I say!

Speaking of photography, I should dedicate at least one paragraph to my completely horrible passport photo. This is my first passport, so I didn’t know I’d be stuck with this damnable image for ten years. When it was just taken, I thought this was merely the ugliest photo of me ever taken. Now that a few months have passed, I’m convinced it is the ugliest photo of anyone ever taken since the first camera was built. I’m told that sucky passport photography is nothing new, but even most-traveled and passport-savvy among my crew were amused and shocked at how this image turned out.

watercolor painting

Sophie Cohen-Solal
Most men forget
to remove the watch.

As already mentioned, the flight proved to be pretty long and exhausting. Although the graceful Sophie Cohen-Solal-soon-to-be-Gordonized was my pal, I traveled with the groom’s entourage. The cast of characters: Michael (the groom, God help him) Gordon, as well as his brother William and sister Lisa, his parents Peggy and Walter, and his long-time buddies Tom and Walter Carr. Good pal Shohei would join us later on Thursday. The flight from Boston to New York’s JFK was pretty short and we had an hour to kill before heading to France. While still at Logan, we saw the New England Patriots’ come-from-behind victory over the Cleveland Browns, so airport entertainment was not an issue. At JFK, we were stuck between a bar and a Burger King, both of which would close at 7:00 pm. It was 6:30 pm when we arrived. You know, the help gets pretty serious about going home on time. Since we didn’t make up our minds to eat until 7:59:30, this proved to be an issue. We’re lucky to have gotten out alive.

So there we were, on this big-ass plane, heading to Paris. For some reason, we tacitly agreed to avoid talking for most of the trip. In fact, I actually managed to sleep for almost half of the 7-hour flight. This would play a major role in my inability to match my sleeping patterns to Paris time.

watercolor painting

Michael Gordon
We call it “Das Boot.”

We all took the Metro to Sophie’s parents’ house. One thing that instantly struck me was the electronics. Sophie bought our Metro tickets through this machine that took her ATM card. This vending system was much more interactive and advanced that any transit system I’ve ever seen. Unlike the one in San Francisco, this one even works! Her father later showed me an on-line service that gives him access to local train schedules, ticket fares, shopping centers and more. The computer geek within me made a thankfully-brief appearance and was utterly amazed.

While traveling along the Metro, I noticed a couple of things. Being in a land where every single word -- both printed and spoken-- is in another language can make mere existence into a surreal experience. As far as direct contact with any native who wasn’t bilingual, we were at the communicative level of 2-year-olds. Where were all those convenient translator devices we saw on Star Trek? To say the least, asking for street directions was bound to be an adventure. Anyway, I now have a new-found appreciation for what foreign pals of mine went through when they entered the United States.

The buildings also caught my attention. Since most of the tracks between Orly and Paris are at least 40 feet above the Parisian suburbs, I could look, through the round-cornered windows of the train, down upon the rooftops. They were a collection of shapes, textures and sizes that I’ve seen in photographs,but never in this context. The buildings, roofs, pipes, chimneys, drains and tiles absolutely drew in all my attention.

The only similar experience I’ve ever had was when I first came to Boston at 17 years old.

It was 1980, my first year at Massachusetts College of Art. I was staying with family in Roxbury’s Dudley Square, which at the time was the last stop on the transit system’s Orange Line. The track was elevated high above Washington Street, between Essex Street and Dudley. In September of that year, my daily commute offered a bird’s eye view of all the tenements, gas stations and record stores. The view was so fascinating that I stared with all my intensity. Every fiber of my being tried to soak in all the details; memorizing every nuance, all the shapes, pipes, skylights, laundry lines and billboards. It seemed like a giant Lego village. Getting any artistic feelings from this new toy seemed like stealing. I ran straight from the station to my Aunt Linda’s house, frantically drawing as much detail as possible before my short-term memory would cause my precious mental snapshots to vanish. These trances would sometimes last for hours. The next morning, on the way back to school, I’d bring my sketches with me to compare them to the actual cityscape. This process went on until Christmas.

For Paris, I didn’t bother; looking was enough.

By the time Sophie and her parents got the tired, smelly, rag-tag lot of us into their home, we’d been up and on-the-road for 19 hours. My plan would have been for us to catch a quick shower and nap, then do the social thing later in the evening. But nooooo ... both parents decided -- no doubt based on their vast experience in international traveling -- that we should all try to stay awake until 10 pm to battle the jet-lag. 12 hours later. So there we all were, staring into space in the Cohen-Solal living room. There were more than a few pockets of silence. We must have come off as boorish Americans, but the truth is we were simply pooped. After comparing notes with the others later, I know now that any one of us could have fallen asleep the instant we thought we could get away with it.

Thank God Sophie’s mom is a great cook, but an even better host! She didn’t just make a terrific meal, she presented it one course at a time. Each dish was more elaborate and involved that the last. The food was wonderful, but I think the actual act of eating somehow gave us our second wind. And Sophie’s mom seemed to relish in the role of presenter, host and savior. She made us feel so comfortable.

watercolor painting

Willy Leitt
You did WHAT to my shower?

After brunch, Sophie introduced us to the Metro, bought us week-long transit passes, showed us where and how to exchange our dollars into francs. Sophie and Mike took the rest of the entourage to the hotel to get situated. This left me alone with François, Monsieur and Madame Cohen-Solal. They were nice enough to let me sleep until Sophie could return to drop me off at my temporary residence Willy’s apartment, which is in the Belleville neighborhood (9 Rue Morand,right in between the Belleville, Parmentier and Couronnes Metro stops, the 20e arrondissement). Michael is fond of referring to the apartment (or “flat” as they say here) as “Das Boot”, because of the unique architectural design. The walls are white with thick stained-wood trim. The floorboards are wider than average and creek. Willy’s rafters have ancient-looking runes burned into them, presumably to ward off evil spirits.

This area is neat, but not as pristine as the more tourist-conducive Saint Augustin area where the hotel is. A mosque is just at the end of the block. There are a lot of Arab-looking dudes, so this must be a predominately northern-African ’hood. Having been raised in an American ghetto, and having lived in Boston’s Roxbury twice as an adult, I wondered just how safe this neighborhood was. Did I import American paranoia? Philippe later told me that this neighborhood used to be a red-light district that was full of crack dealers. From what I see tonight, quite a bit of money and a lot of spirit must have been put into rebuilding the area. There are no hoodies with beepers, no cars jacked up on cinder blocks and no winos. And I didn’t see one pregnant teenager. Belleville’s vibe doesn’t have the same unspoken, constant potential threat of danger I’m used to.

Mike and Sophie dropped me off around 9:00 pm. They split, I fed Clementine -- the cat -- and that was that.


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