Palmer, Large, and Moen: Attorneys At Law

Last night’s concert (when I wrote this, it was still last night. Pneumonia and holidays interfered with it being posted in a timely manner) was unusual, especially falling so swiftly on the heels of the Scott Bradlee and Postmodern Jukebox show at the Hawthorne.
I just don’t get out that often – the last time I attended 2 concerts in a week was the week of Mojo Nixon and Those Mysterious Wanktones and T-Bone Burnett 30-some years ago!

Kurt Vonnegut said, “Use the time of a total stranger in such a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted”.
When I haven’t been properly introduced to someone, I try not to waste their time. It’s not that I am perforce uninteresting, but the discomfiture of being “that guy” takes some overcoming. Part of that is clearly hierarchical, but my intensity is all-too-often unsuited to “hanging out”. In this case, I was glad to have the back-stage pass not to go introduce myself to the headliners and be a pest, but because I could use it to get someone out on stage. Funny world.

The stars? Amanda Palmer (hung over after celebrating her newly-minted Best-Selling-Author status for ‘The Art of Asking‘), Portland’s own Storm Large (whose bio I found riveting, but whose PR machineries lack international reach) and Erica Moen (author of ‘Dar’ and ‘Oh Joy, Sex Toy’).

Songs were sung – road manager Whitney joined in on ‘Delilah’, Storm sang ‘I Google You’, and Amanda soloed on a couple more ‘Ukulele Anthem’, ‘In My Mind’, and ‘It Runs in the Family’.
Passages of Amanda’s book were read (my favorites being her introduction to surrogate father/best friend, and her massage at the hands of a stricken internet hater).

But for me (and, I suspect, many others), it was really all about the conversation between these three different but exceptional ladies. If only ‘The View’ had these three!

AFP COncertThe evening included lots of good thoughts about:

The Benefits of Starting Slowly
Creativity as Service
Creativity in Accounting – It seems that Erica & Storm share an amazing Accountant
Creativity in Programming
Being Good at Receiving and at Giving
Taking the Flower + the Doughnut your Mom Made + the Love +  the Money
The Double-Edged Sword of Damocles’ Internet
The Fine Line Between Hate and the Ache for Fame
Oversharing + Overthinking
Broken Homes
Whack a Troll (Storm’s Reality Show)
Women’s Kickstarters doing better than Men’s
The Death of Publishing (all sorts)

And strange for me? I’ve drawn two of these three ladies – more than once (Storm, call me!).
Erica I drew by chance – she was life-modelling at Portland’s Art Institute more than 6 years ago, and I was startled to recognize the model’s tattoos.
She was the best life-drawing model I’d ever had, and while none of these will secure my place in the Louvre, they remain the best collection of life drawings I’ve ever made.
And afterwards, Erica asked if she could use them on the web, so… Victory! :)

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 11.54.42 PMThe first paintings of Amanda, I made (with the invaluable reference shooting Philadelphia’s own Kyle Cassidy) for the 2013 Literary Pin-Up Calendar to benefit Heifer International.

6-gaiman7And since that June started slowly, I had room for a little ‘American Gods’ comic strip while I was about. In this scene Media (Amanda) has a little fun with Shadow. Since Amanda hadn’t had time to pose in I Love Lucy costume, the lovely Venetia acted as her body double:

6 JuneDates22I would love to show you more drawings of Amanda (this time from the reference photos taken in Wellington, NZ by the wonderful Lance Lones), but that time has not yet arrived.

Venetia has already read “The Art of Asking” and I am working my way through it at a slower pace.

And you can see the whole discussion between Amanda, Storm, and Erica here.

Europe 2014 Summary

It’s been a month of glorious travel in Europe. Budapest, Vienna, and Prague (with special guest appearances by Moosbrun, Bratislava, Telč, and Kutná Hora). Our previously posted trio of journals (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3) is a lot to wade through (we know, we lived it!), so we post this captioned pictorial summing up in hopes that those of you who don’t want the minutiae might enjoy it:

Amazing view from Hotel Gellert along the Danube.

1b Up early because of jetlag; plus side is beautiful sunrises.

2Spa day at the Gellert Baths!

3Hike to the castle early in the morning. Beautiful views.

4Some behind the scenes repairs being done early in the morning.

5Another spa day. We just couldn’t get enough of the beauty and hot water.

3cTraveled from Hungary to Austria.

Stopped at friend Kathi’s family’s farmhouse in Moosbrunn.

1Stayed with Kathi in her beautiful apartment in Vienna.

2Day trip to Slovakia. Explored the ruined Castle Devin.

4Were greeted in Bratislava by the carnival!

5More views of Bratislava.

6Trip out to see Kathi’s brother Philipp.

Left: the Golden Plum.

Right: Philipp’s store front for classic Viennese tiles.

7 Walk along the Danube.

8Vineyard overlooking Vienna.

10Delicious sushi dinner!

11Exploring Vienna: the Belvedere and environs.

13The most memorable painting for us in the Belvedere.

13bSt. Marx Cemetery, resting place to Mozart and many others.

Currently in beautiful decay but ongoing repairs may change that.

14Ferris Wheel view of Vienna at sunset.

15General frolicking.

16Leaving Austria for the Czech Republic one must drive by… Excalibur City!!!

1

A rainy day in Telč.

2 The Sedlec Ossuary at Kutná Hora.

4a“When life gives you plague victims, build bone sculptures.”

4bLovely apartment in Prague.

Krampus sighting at the local “farmer’s” market.

5Our group enjoying a delicious luncheon.

9Up to the castle on the hill (there’s always a castle on the hill.)

10 St. Vitus’ Cathedral.

11A detour on the way back leads to hijinx and purloined fruit.

12No comment. Or better yet, “caption this”.

13 The Grail of the trip: Mucha’s Slav Epic.

No we aren’t going to post lots of pictures, you need to go see it yourself!

No really, please do go see it.

14Dinner and after-dinner art.

16 Prague has a cherub problem.

17Miscellaneous beauties seen in Prague.

18Castle on the hill, Kafka, and a synagogue.

20It can be a good idea to go inside buildings.

You never know when you will find an upside down horse.

7Peacock paradise. And the forbidden gardening shed.

22Mucha’s stained glass window at St Vitus’ Cathedral.

24Various treats of the day.

25Sculpted wall  – part nouveau fever dream and part concrete folly.

26And finally the culmination of our trip, Della and Kevin’s wedding!

28Thank you for sharing our trip with us!

Europe 2014 Part 3: Czech Republic – Telč , Kutná Hora, and Prague

We had originally intended to go straight to Prague from Vienna via train but our fantastic hostess suggested she drive us all and that we take a few days in the Czech Republic to explore. The morning of our travels was the first rainy day we had seen thus far on our trip. We had a real vacation-lazy morning, hang about the apartment, taking long baths, and generally meandering. Kathi and I headed back to the market (where at least one of us spoke the language and could read ingredients) before heading north. The trip was slow and rain soaked, but lovely. The landscape was beautiful – and sometimes surprising as we discovered when we crossed the border and discovered Excalibur City! – It seems that Excalibur City is what happens when a DMZ at the edge twixt Empires decides to go all Las Vegas with amusement park rides and the sex trade. Who knew?

1A sampler of the sights in the parking lot of Excalibur City

Kathi had suggested we spend our first night in Telč so that was our first destination. After trying to help a trio of Rom with a petrolless car that was impeding the road, we finally found our way to Telč and a lovely little inn. We fell asleep to the sound of the pounding rain outside.

The next day we awoke to find the torrential rain had more or less ended and was now merely drizzling. We ate breakfast, read a bit of the delightful Fool on the Hill aloud (before we had to return it to our hostess), sought Kathi out in the square and found her with coffee and cigarettes. We sat for a moment enjoying the square and then were off. First a trip to the west. We could not venture into the castle, as they were using it to shoot a film. But we wandered out the western gates and shot photos among the rainy parkland – the ponds and trees and flowers. We circled out, returned through the gate and meandered in that touristy way for an hour or so. Happily the windbreaker I’d borrowed from Kathi was all I needed. It seemed it was a magic charm for there was only one additional day of rain after I returned it.

2From central Telč, the only escape via car was a looping circular route, and we found ourselves making loops outside those we’d already made on foot. A few dodgy signs and directions were no match for the high-tech wizardry of the modern iPad though, and Kathi and Venetia’s combined cleverness got us through so that we were soon en route to Kutná Hora, though we’d not even heard of it before yesterday. After posting the minimal connect-the-dots of this ongoing journey on the internet, both Janine Ashbless and Travis Webb strongly recommended a visit to the Sedlec Ossuary and we were game.

We enjoyed stops in tiny Filipov and bustling Havlickuv Brod, where we adored the architecture (though we couldn’t really translate what the Grim Reaper atop town hall had written in gold on his scythe) and stopped for a fine luncheon of “kabob”. Seeing every pepper in the farmer’s market labeled “paprika” was the most sensible thing I have read here – mostly the signs form only accidental collisions with English (“Darky Gifts” leaps to mind), and resemble nothing so much as that nightmare rack of Scrabble tiles where too many Ys fight the Z and an insufficiency of vowels. But oh the lovely people and architecture!

3The Ossuary was glorious in its “When life gives you bones, make bone sculpture” sort of way.

4bGorgeous and macabre in the extreme!

4aFrom there we travelled into the old mining city of Kutná Hora, marveling at its ancient Gothic cistern, sculptures and painted facades before finding some cinnamon-spiced pear juice in a restaurant overlooking the lower park and the cathedral.

Properly refreshed, we began a sunset trip into Prague from the east. I stayed up past midnight talking with Kathi and saying a long goodbye. It’s was so wonderful having her as travel companion and guide – from Bratislava to Wein to Praha. There really is no comparison between the limited movement most travelers enjoy and a proper anything-goes tour guide.

Our first full day in Prague, Kathi left for a meeting with her sweetheart and we dined in the Bar adjacent to the hotel. As the other guests mingled over dubious canned pâté and stake corn flakes, we were entranced by the ancient Czech music video channel – ancient black and white footage of a man who’d made a local hit of Waltzing Matilda, of a group of young men and women wandering down hallways in outfits that Venetia thought better used in Austin Powers movies, and of a local Abba-esque group who made their 80s dream video for what could have been no more than 100 krona.

We paid up and headed to the train on foot, squeaking just enough coinage from our pockets for the trip to Pavlova. A short few blocks later we arrived at the apartment, were let in, and had an an hour or two before Jacob and Henni and Talia arrived from Berlin. After the hugging, some gift-giving and general settling in, we headed out for currency, and to check out what would prove to be the least agricultural “farmer’s” market ever. Our prize? A piece of locally made “malachite glass”. I didn’t even know it existed before, but having done a little research, we ended up on the lookout for some “lapis glass” too!

5Window Seat and Krampus

From there a gander into the Anonymous Coffee Bar (with its V for Vendetta trappings), the massive comics store, and the Tesco – where a great deal of foods were compared, examined and eventually purchased for our week here in Prague. A sublime dinner of gluten-free pasta, sauce and salad followed later after the snacking (on rice cakes and Nutella, among other treats). Life in Prague is good.

After dinner we wandered west, down to the river. Lots of walking and talking. Crossing and crossing back. Coming home and falling into deep sleep.

We awoke to our last rainy day of the trip and headed out after breakfast. After carefully sampling the wares of delicious raw food dessert shop around the corner, we surveyed the pointy dark church at the center of the square a couple blocks up. We then wandered about, shooting reference of the nearby fin de siècle buildings and glorious architecture for an hour or two. When the rain got too heavy, we bid our friends goodbye and they ventured off toward the glorious city center. After a brief stop into the nearer comic store (surreal to see all that pulp printed in Czech), we came back to the apartment and spent the day writing postcards and doing a little drawing. When the trio returned triumphant at 10 pm they made a marvelous late dinner.

6On Monday we were out of the apartment at noon and spent a full day meandering through old town: being told that one shall not shoot photos of the sgraffito murals inside the Post Office (really?) finding the Mucha Museum in passing, photographing many motifs and details of incredible buildings, nipping into the astonishing Opera House (while our colleagues ate fortifying sandwiches on the front steps of the fortified Bank building), into shops, down alleys, past the famous Prague clock, across the pedestrian bridge (lined with ancient sculptures and happy generations of spiders), and slowly up the hill to the Castle.

7While our friends popped into a lovely little book store, we shot photos of on the building across the street on the Romanian Embassy – two chained slaves below, Day and Night above.

8We stopped a little more than halfway for a splendid meal of crepes, galettes, banana milkshakes, and the local speciality – cinnamon rolls put on rollers and served as tasty cylinders. So delicious!

9We topped the hill as the sun began to set, walking through the metal gates (featuring a sculptural stabbing on one side and a clubbing on the other) and around the ancient cathedral – so many mismatched textures, glorious windows and flying buttresses.

10We quickly figured out that the cathedral was a favorite place for couples to take engagement and wedding photos as we saw no fewer than three well dressed couples taking pictures. While we quite like the bright red gown we saw the first day, later we also saw a frothy pink gown which was a bit overblown.

11We explored the area around the Castle a bit more, admiring the views of the city below from the restaurants whose windows we could see through. From there, a short trip down into the orchard where Henni showed us what it means to be in the EU – freely poached fruit! And when none of us was tall enough to reach, Jacob put his years of circus training to use and Henni picked apples from his back.

12After passing through the orchard and back onto cobblestone streets, we passed the Embassies of Germany and the US. I was more than a little sad that the central crest (a crown topped by a gold cross) seemed so accurate a representation of the US. We continued downhill to the river, where we saw a line of lit yellow penguins and some of the bizarre black metal babies that climb the giant telecoms tower. Baffling, but hilarious.

13We crossed the bridge which I misread as “Most Legit” (let’s face it, I need all the help I can get). Sadly, no further legitimacy was conveyed as the bridge is really “Most Legii” which apparently means “Bridge of Legions”. Returning to our apartment along the Moldaur and up a long street, we were treated to gluten-free spaghetti pomodoro with sunflower seeds (Henni’s secret recipe).

Tuesday started slowly but beautifully, but we got out of the apartment a little before noon for some shopping under a cloudless sky. While Henni and Jacob worked the Farmer’s Market, Talia and I went to Tesco. After we returned, and had a sort of luncheon, we found ourselves out en masse – onto the subway and north – back to the northern peninsula where we’d stayed on our first night in Prague. This time, the reason was Alfons Mucha’s Slav Epic. I’d heard tell of it for years of course, but aside from the very occasional, and far too small photo, I’d never seen it. When artist Jesper Ejsing visited it last year, his glowing reportage (in tandem with Jacob & Henni’s desire to meet up in Prague and with the city and Mucha heirs’ indecision about the Epic’s future) convinced me that the time was right. It was.

14The Epic is that – epic. Huge canvases, massive mythologizing, and incredible skill. And so worth the trip! I found some (largely those that interpose reality with spirituality and fantasy) better than others, but having surveyed the entirety of the Belvedere’ collection in Vienna, even the most prosaic and documentary pieces were extraordinary. While the Epic rewarded our hours of scrutiny in countless ways, the museum featured none of the photographic reference, thumbnails, cartoons or other studies Mucha made. Further, no mention was made of Mr. Crane, the American who financed this extravaganza of nationalism and, eventually, state-building. The exhibit ends with an almost fantastically slanted film telling the viewers about the ongoing dispute with the Moravian town that had held the Epic safe for so many years. As lawyers circle, money is raised and squandered, and no progress is made toward putting this masterpiece in a proper setting, the irony of Mucha’s efforts intensifies. His massive efforts of love and pride, of hope and union, reduced to a slap fight between incompetent bureaucrats and greedy heirs worried for the loss of copyright licensing. And the Czech book about the epic? A collection of shoddy photographs, massive inaccurate color and tone, loads of words (in Czech only, natch) and plenty of white space (the designer must have been so proud!), it’s an unworthy disaster. Strangely, the postcards of the paintings seem the most accurate to the colors Mucha really employed but are, perforce, the size of postcards.

We had planned to do a full Mucha day but after five hours at the Slav Epic, we were quite worn out. Our friends stopped at the V for Vendetta/Guy Fawkes decorated Anonymous Cafe for coffee on the way back while Venetia and I returned to the apartment. I drew while Venetia slept, and eventually our colleagues returned with presents – slabs of goat cheese so delicious that they barely lasted the night (don’t worry, we went shopping for more on Thursday!) Eventually, the kitchen horrors were vanquished by Jacob and Henni, and a splendid meal of rice patties and beet/zucchini compote was served. As we finished the meal, Henni’s friend Weibke arrived from Germany and Jacob entertained us with wax painting.

16As a side note, Prague has a cherub problem. Excepting Mucha’s glorious cherubim (haloed, with neither wings nor incipient diaper rash), Prague is positively infested with the wee bairns, getting up to all manner of theoretically-lovable mischief. The ones across from our apartment were especially noteworthy, as it is not every day that you see anatomically correct chubby cherubs of both sexes cavorting about.

17Wednesday, the theory was early-to-rise. The practice? Well, out-of-the-house-by-noon is good enough. A walk to the Mucha Museum proved less direct that planned, but we tacked well enough and got to our destination in time – crossing over several routes we’d enjoyed the previous day.

18Jacob and I both wore Mucha-inspired  mermaid shirts we’d designed to the Mucha Museum. The museum itself was far smaller and less extensive than one would wish. Some posters, a few paintings and possibly 20 drawings. That’s it. No wall paper designs, no reproductions of the other sites in Prague and elsewhere throughout Europe and the US. Little discussion of his seemingly idyllic home life (given his spectacular output, it seems he did little but paint and attend parties – supported by wife and children. Did he have staff? Apprentices? Assistants?) And, for that matter, why Gaugin wasn’t wearing trousers in that photo. The notion that Mucha’s works have until recently been protected by copyright, and that the estate must have made a fortune, makes their treatment of Mucha all the shabbier. Largely shoddy poorly-printed and inaccurate products, no reproductions of Mucha’s photography, his rare “le Pater”, or any of his illustration work for that matter.  Sad that such glorious work should be so poorly respected.

Having learned that Mucha designed Prague’s Municipal house, we went back to that building but were disappointed that the Mucha room was only viewable by tour ($$) and not for another hour. We did take a few more pictures around the edges, but missed the main attraction.

19After Mucha our party split into several groups. Venetia and I wandered, without any particular destination, towards the Moldaur, passing the Kafka statue and a stunning Synagogue.

20We walked by the first north facing (and park facing) bridge, crossed the second, and found ourselves in “Peacock Paradise”. The Peacock was a heraldic symbol of the Slavs, as seen on several helmets in Mucha’s Slav Epic, and they roamed the grounds freely. We came across a peculiar building – small, weirdly textured, and made of a dark concrete. No idea at all what it was or why it should occupy this spot. Is it a tool shed? With a might heraldic crest on its face? Bizarre.

22Though we could have walked over a different bridge each trip over the river, only four were central to the area we were walking so on our way back we walked back across the bridge of sculptures. This time we were startled to see a mob of Hari Krishnas blocking the far end. It seems forever since I’ve seen them in the states. Funny world.

22xAfter a long trip home and a few hours to rest, we were overcome with hunger and traveled about the neighborhood – first stopping at the kabob house for travel provisions, and then moving on to the Blue Wagon, where a fantastic deer sirloin with a coffee demiglace (accompanied by Parmesan polenta with asparagus) made us very happy indeed.

Our last full day in Prague started with breakfast, some runaround with the landlord about checking out and other arrangements kept us in the apartment until…. Noon. Apparently that’s just how we roll here in Prague. Of course we had to go get more delicious goat cheese (a marvelous variety with herbs and an aged slab piquant and salty).

23Cheese above is not the amazing cheese we ate but a different store with amusing cheese flavors

Because our first trip to the palace and cathedral had been too late in the day for entrance, we returned on our last day to view the inside of the cathedral and the stained glass window Mucha designed. We headed to the station north of the Castle and St Vitus’ Cathedral, happy to let the massive escalator (not our aching feet) get us to the top. What we didn’t expect was a sealed-off street detour and a ravine twixt park (with its stylish modern oragerie) and the Castle hill. And while we were, accordingly, 20 minutes late to our destination, we were pleased to find our colleagues 30 minutes late. Punctuality is not this vacation’s hallmark.

There was no way to pay one’s way into the Cathedral (to better view the Mucha window) without paying to see a bunch of other things that would have kept us indoors on this glorious day. So we did our best to shoot what was visible and moved on.

24Wandering straight down the steep eastern stairs involved a stop at the overlook and, more crucially to our survival, a spiral-cut potato on a stick (essentially one long bag of conjoined potato chips) and a paprika-seasoned sausage which we ate in the park at the bottom of the hill. When our friends caught up to us, we wandered past the couple blowing enormous bubbles, and west into the Czech Senate.

25We consulted a map and wandered a bit before finding the doorway to their courtyard to find the peculiar dark wall we’d seen from the Castle above – a dark wall that seemed related to the bizarre potting shed we’d seen in Peacock Paradise the previous day. The first part of the curious wall is an astonishing aviary holding 9 owls. The sculpted wall then ran on for a great distance – part nouveau fever dream and part concrete folly.

26Clearly related the garden shed, but just as bizarre. I look forward to learning more when I have a moment to do the research.

26bWhile our friends (and the handsome German Goth couple that had been mirroring our touristy viewings through the afternoon) ate their lunch on the benches, Venetia and I did a little yoga on the well-manicured lawn. Until the guard shooed us off, of course.

27Afterwards, our party split up again, with our friends going to the “Meat Factory”, a modern “art” gallery/museum, and us going home via a gorgeous woolen shop and the Tesco. I cooked up dinner in the form of a beet, carrot and mushroom sauce over the last of the gluten-free pasta we’d brought from Austria. Fortunately friends were timely, and dinner was served at 7 – in part that Henni and Wiebke could head out to a Czech punk club thereafter. While they gallivanting about, Venetia and I greatly enjoyed our visit with the Leftons left behind. And when I saw the message from a bellydancer we’d met months back (when she joined our friends from Winnipeg in Rachel Brice’s masters class) and who is moving to Portland and seeking a place to land, I mentioned it to Venetia as she’s continued packing in the other room. Imagine our surprise when Talia asked if it was her friend from Mass Arts. It was.

An aside amid the discursions: I have to wonder at the sheer bloodymindedness of the foreigners who cannot seem to call Praha by its name. It’s not rocket science after all, so why Prag, Praga, and Prague? Ah well, humans will be humans I suppose…. Though the corporate spelling of “Segway” (instead of Segue) is a mercy in Prague (which is overrun with them as a tourist conveyances), lest all pronunciation enter a black hole from which there is no return….

Leaving Prague, we were up at 8am, a speedy breakfast, some final raiding of the kitchen, and quick goodbyes followed. Talia stirred and got hugged even as Wiebke slept through some mighty alarms, but Henni (also out until 1am) and Jacob rose and helped us out. The first two will be off to Vienna while Jacob and Henni get a ride back to Berlin. We took a cab to the airport, and found it worth every penny. What a relief not to be schlepping bags from street to subway to rail to bus to airport!

We were first in line at the Brussels Air kiosk, and our two hour wait went speedily. The trip to Brussels as a short hop, and the layover seemed scarce a blink as we transferred to Iceland Air. Whereas sharing films wasn’t really possible en route to Europe, I chose the modern silent film ‘The Artist’ this time around and found we could both enjoy it (though only one of us got the musical soundtrack at a time). After our brief stopover for customs (and sushi) at Keflavik, Venetia followed the silent movie theme with ‘Singin’ in the Rain’. And while I could not hear it, there was no shortage of goodness in it – from the period pastiches in Technicolor France, to Cyd Charisse’s turn in green (Starstruck’s Verloona come to cinematic life). Glorious. The views over the Atlantic were nothing but clouds, so as Venetia enjoys the X-Men on film, I’m typing this final dispatch of our trip to Europe. What a long remarkable trip it has been!

Addendum: Upon arriving in DC we discovered that Iceland Air had lost our bags. This turned out to be a bit of a blessing (especially as our bags were returned a few days later) because we were in DC for a wedding and therefore spent the afternoon before the wedding running about visiting friends and stores assembling items that were wedding appropriate. I borrowed a suit from Mark Barker which fit admirably, was gifted a colorful shirt from my dear friend Helen, and Venetia bought stripped heels that were an absolute hit at the wedding. We were thrilled to see my beloved friend Della marry Kevin and while we don’t know the groom well, we got to know his family at the reception and they were so absolutely splendid that we believe the groom must be a quality person himself.

28Center pictures from Kevin Donnell

We are now safely home in Portland until our next trip to DC in November. And it only took us an additional two weeks to get these blogs up!

Europe 2014 Part 2: Austria (with a wee jaunt to Slovakia)

We woke early the morning of our journey to Austria, took leisurely baths in the giant tub in our apartment and packed. A quick Sunday morning subway ride took us back to the scene of rail bureaucracy, and we got not only our seats, but those of the kind woman across from us. She realized we preferred to sit together and face forward to see the country, and moved to read her book facing backwards. Having experienced some motion-sickness on the first leg of the trip, her kindness was especially appreciated! We had two changes of trains, first at the Hungarian Border and again close to Vienna. And when we arrived at our destination, there was my old friend Kathi and her adorable new car. After many hugs it was only a quick hop to her family farm in Moosbrunn (“Mossy Well”).

1We had a delightful afternoon of relaxation, snacks, walking the adorable golden retriever down country streams, inspecting the many improvements since last I was there, and seeing her family. Brother Philipp has been using the barn for his architectural renovation business: the piles of ancient building parts (from massive doors to abandoned altars) crowd the old car body he’s working on, and the classic Viennese tiles he’s matching and remaking. Given my own father’s workshops and my uncle’s saw mill, I felt thoroughly at home.

We shared a dinner of chili and polenta with the whole clan, including paterfamilias Wolfgang (now 87), mother Monika (now my Facebook friend) and Philipp’s wonderful wife Connie and son Kajetan. Afterwards, goodbyes were said, and Kathi drove us to her marvelous Vienna apartment. Some of it looked the same but many other bits have been radically improved in the decades since last I’d seen them. Fascinating how few people I know who’ve remained in the same home for so long a time….

2The next morning, Kathi led us a few blocks from home to the Westbahnhoff. Much changed since I arrived there unannounced some 26 years ago, it is now part-shopping plaza. Soon it will no longer be the stopping point for all trains from the west; they will instead travel to the Hauptbahnhoff, where travelers will easily be able to transfer to eastern and southern lines. In our case, it was shopping for local foodstuffs (sheep yogurt? Incredible ricotta-like texture that will no doubt make a fine gluten-free ravioli or cheesecake!) then home for our transportation this day was to by car. After a little hanging out we set out to Slovakia by way of Castle Devin.

3While the ruined castle was lovely, we were most astonished by the local sheep who were in full possession of their tails!

4We continued to Bratislava on a picture perfect day. A taste of impeccably festooned Mardi Gras dancers and drummers greeted us as we emerged up from the Carlton car park – hardly the Balkan folk dancing one might have expected!

5Bratislava was as beautiful as we’d heard, but sporting more graffiti that any classical city should. The central cathedral’s green metal tower roof was inlaid with gold and looked up to the castle on the hill (the better to ignore the highway at its base). The statuary, clocks and design were gorgeous and somewhat obscure – sleepy dragons lay near solicitous guardsmen as a starry lunar clock turned slowly in the tower above. There were many charming and surprising statues, one silver fellow startled Venetia not because he moved but because of his failure to do so!

6After some failure to escape the Slovakian countryside, we finally found a road that allowed a western crossing back into Austria and drove home into the glorious setting sun through fields of windmills. We shared buffalo mozzarella and tomatoes before the dinner Kathi made of gluten-free pasta, 2 kinds of mushrooms, truffle oil and pork loin. A little musical conversation (and the inevitable YouTube sharing) followed, before we all collapsed for the evening.

The next morning we headed back to shop, this time for chocolate as we had already devoured our stash. After looking at the supermarket selection we stalked up on both our favorite Lindt orange, as well as new and unexpected flavors: pistachio, chili, and various nuts. Our adventure of the day was off in the Northern reaches of Wein, to Nussdorf, via the Hunderwasser-designed incinerator called “the Golden Plum”.

7We arrived too late to see Connie, but in time to wake young Kajetan from his nap and get a tour of Philipp’s remarkable old house and a few of it’s more extraordinary fixtures.

9The five of us took an evening walk along the Danube and over a glorious bridge across the channel. After taking the requisite reference pictures (there’s a Michael Parkes Painting waiting to happen), we picked up Ice Cream from Kajetan, chips for us, and climbed the back streets up into the rolling vineyards.

8As we hiked, the gorgeous weather gave way to a splendid sunset over the city as it spread out below us to the south. We came down via the grapevine rows and through the graveyard until we reached the walled creek channel.

10We followed that down to a restaurant called 21 dots, where the sushi (and related delicacies) flowed. We chatted with Kathi and Philipp, and tormented Katetan in our sly way, as we enjoyed Spicy Duck Sushi. We opted to avoid the Hello Kitty Roll, no matter how much we admired the notion of devouring her (and the use of beet juice to stain the sushi rice).

11On our second full day in Vienna, we headed into the city proper by way of the subway at the Westbahnhoff. We exited on the other side of the city, and headed southward through the park – documenting textures and vistas as we went. We eventually turned down the grand boulevard, past equestrian statues and memorial fountains to Russian soldiers, past Nouveau building, and a few embassies, to the gate of the Belvedere. After a quick view of the grounds, we bought our tickets and headed into the old palace.

12The usual suspects (Klimt, Schiele, Rodin, Monet et al) were as gorgeous as I remembered from my journey here 26 years ago. But the big surprise was seeing Giovanni Segantini’s ‘The Evil Mothers’ in person. Seeing it life-size and uncropped was a revelation (and really – Such a peculiar painting!), and so were ‘The Senses’ and the enormous court scene painted by Makart.

13bThe Habitrail contraption of flashing lights that purported to be a psych experiment certainly came as a surprise too, as did the funballs with slip covers that lay about the place. It was like something from an old Ken Russell film….

13After looking through the entirety of the palace (and at the views therefrom) we headed further south, toward the new Hauptbahnhoff. From there via tram to St. Marx Cemetery, more for the beauty of the ancient stones than to visit Mozart’s remains (though of course we paid those respects as well). Countless ancient worn and vandalized markers lie everywhere, with vines and trees and sometime fallen stones occluding them. However it was heartening to see the care and work put into restoring the old graveyard, even though it means losing some of the decaying beauty.

14We had energy left for only a few hours in the graveyard before we took our weary feet back to the tram line, and a straightforward trip back to Kathi’s. Thank heavens for simple and effective public transport! After dinner, Kathi took us out to the Ferris Wheel made famous by that old style gangster Harry Lime. The small park beneath has changed a lot since last I was there last, including the ability to have a $500 meal while gracefully spinning on the wheel. A Basilisk-themed toy store, a tall column of swings and a hall of scale-model mirrors were among the other new-to-me attractions. The sun set as we were leaving, casting luscious colors over the gaudy ones already there. Perfect timing.

15And of course we had to exit via the gift shop!

16From there via subway we headed into the heart of the old city at twilight. Old steps, alleys, back ways and, of course, St. Stephens Cathedral – all the more inscrutable and powerful in silhouette. After a quick circuit there, we headed back and fell into a deep sleep.

17

Europe 2014 Part 1: Budapest

We began this journey as we seem to begin them all: by settling as much hash on the home front as humanly possible. We know too well the avalanche of unattended emails and many tasks unfulfillable from the road that are inevitable….

So we cleaned house and freezer; sent mails, packages and contracts; wrote bios and tidied web sites; cooked up plum coffee cakes, packed up snacks, cleaned out the refrigerator, and attended the neighborhood soirée; did small jobs, finished larger ones, and where overwhelmingly large, left them in as elegant a place as possible. We also had guests and talked long-range planning.

Then finally, after a few hours’ sleep, were driven to the airport by my mom. Though without the battery recharger for the camera. C’est la travail….

A few hours on Alaska Air brought us to LAX, where we waited in the squalid old terminal for the people of Air New Zealand to report for duty (their days start at 1:30 pm). A few last minute phone calls later, it was time to take our bags (small carry-ons only which is what made up all our luggage) up the funny stairs.

Strange how the security kabuki inside the US differs from that when one is bound for the UK. It’s almost as though it’s completely arbitrary. But still, how nice to go through a screening gate more or less unmolested. Even then, I cannot help but be amazed at the vasty variety of commerce on offer and the virtual impossibility of preventing mischief, if someone wanted to create some. And to be appalled at the wastefulness of “security”, whether the emptying of water bottles during a drought clearly visible from the air, or the small “security”-sized liquid containers in their own grocery aisle….

We love Air New Zealand though. Good people, kind service, and a degree of comfort pretty much unheard of in the US. Also? Really good movies. Venetia spent much of our trip to London watching ‘The Other Woman’, ‘Frozen’ and ‘Veronica Mars’. For myself, it was ‘The City of Ember’, the second Hobbit confabulation, and parts of several other films. Strange to see Bill Murray’s ‘Caddyshack’ Carl on one screen and his corpulent Mayor of Ember on the next, and a little sad not to be able to share films with Venetia en route.

But it was not all movie banquet and good gluten-free food. There was also air-sickness, and it hit Venetia hard. When we arrived at Heathrow, we asked for some help, and rode a mad beeping cart through the endless terminal to the bus stop, whereupon the infamous bus ride to Terminal 3 made the rest of our trip seem normal and calm. From there, we made it as far as the next security scan before Venetia collapsed. And rather than assuming it would just be alright if she sat for a while, we asked for the airport paramedic. Even as our request was being processed, an unspeakably handsome Dallas doctor appeared with the anti-emitics Venetia needed so badly. When the paramedic arrived a few minutes later (by snazzy yellow bicycle), Venetia was already recovering admirably. We popped her into a handy wheelchair, got the tickets for this part of our journey from the BA counter and headed for the bus and the ramp. Safely ensconced at last, we were asleep almost the moment we were airborne.

We awoke to see Budapest from the air, and a half hour later our shuttle deposited us at the Hotel Gellert. Venetia was quite taken with our room – upgraded to overlook the Danube. She spent much of her time not sleeping but sitting and writing overlooking the river.

1I thought we’d sleep a dozen hours – from 7 to 7. And we did. However because of our jetlag we enjoyed several glorious sunrises in Budapest, which we usually miss in the states.

2That first morning, after fulsome hotel breakfast, we fell back into a deep sleep, arising only when our last chance to use the Gellert Spa was nearly gone. We hastened downstairs in bathing suits, and sampled every pool and tub we could. It was glorious.

3The next day we rose, ate the hotel breakfast again (this time avoiding most of the curiously unsatisfying fruit and juice), and hastened through the spa and up the promontory across the street. A steep climb through a very shabbily kept park followed. We encountered a few joggers, and countless overgrown scenic views, bottles and detritus. It reminded me of the bad old days in Central Park…. But the views were lovely where they could be taken.

4Heroic statues, some religious, were on offer, but we hadn’t time for the abandoned fortress atop the hill. Instead we descended to the north and toward the amazing castle complex of museums and culture which ran counter to most everything we’d seen on the hill. Loads of new street and stone works were underway, blocking access to some of the refurbished (and likely new) buildings. As glorious as that area is, it is going to be even more astonishing by years’ end. The museums were closed (it was too early) but the walk and the views were amazing. It was nice to see a different view than most tourists get, all the behind-the-scenes of people waking up and starting work.

5We returned to the Hotel for the end of breakfast, gobbled up more corn flakes, bacon and water, and checked out. After which we wandered to the AirB&B apartment we’d rented in Pest. Or so we would have done had we been provided the correct address. The free wi-fi at the Starbucks allowed communication with our landlords, and after 40 minutes or so we’d walked back much of the distance we’d traveled. We met the landlords briefly, got settled in, and… passed right out. For the rest of the day.

(Though there were some glorious moments of consciousness filled with Julian May’s The Many Colored Land and a very comfortable bathtub.)

6The next day involved a comical journey to the train station. We ‘d tried to make all our travel plans in advance, but had been baffled by the Hungarian Rail system – Why couldn’t we book a trip online? Why would they need to mail us a ticket (for an additional fee)? It just didn’t make sense. Until we spent our hours in the train station of course. Only then did the bureaucratic horror of the thing really start to congeal. Hours of waiting in a curiously undifferentiated tripartite line for our number to be called “111, 703, 410, 704, 705, 412, 411, 112, 706″ finally got us to the window of a lovely woman who riffled wrinkled time-tables printed on onion-skin. She messed up the first hand-written and carboned form but finally seemed to get the writing (and the proper stamps, natch) in order before telling us something utterly unintelligible through her teller’s window. When we suggested that we couldn’t hear a word over the racket of her adjacent tellers (one of whom made the Middleman’s Ida look a mere cuddly wannabe), she walked out to the man directing lines past the broken pick-a-number machine, and he in turn told us that our hours of standing in line were all well and good, but while we’d purchased international tickets, we now had to go stand in the Internal ticket line to purchase a ticket to the border itself. Time consuming madness, made all the more curious by the efficiency and excellent of their subway system. Old bureaucracies die hard….

7After our letters of transit were finally secure, we walked through the nearby Embassy Row, around the large 70’s sports arenas, back over the tracks and to the mall, that we might shop at Tesco and find a battery charger. On a day of transit foolishness, we were happy to put something in the Win column. Venetia was very taken by the ironwork she saw in doors and gates and mostly took pictures of those, although there are a few doors she regrets not taking pictures of!

8The next day saw us back on the underground, and moving to the northwest end of the most scenic tram line. Soon we were getting an excellent view of the city’s varied and beautiful architecture (a hotel called the “New York”, Gaudi one moment and Bauhaus the next, Baths and island waterparks). We hopped off when we crossed the Danube again and found ourselves back in Buda. A short walk on the waterfront brought us to the Gellert once more, and a long delightful day of spa pools.

3cSure, we missed the dozen other major spas in town, but victory is victory.  :D

3bThus we spent our last day in Budapest. The humidity of the two cities came as a surprise, but the spas, the architecture, and the bathing lived up to its promise.

1b

San Diego Comic Con (E I E I O)

Among its many claims to fame, The San Diego Comic Con is a way to visit people I would never get to see otherwise. Jaime Carrillo and the lovely Ana were the first people we saw entering the hall, or at least the first place we went. Since I have only ever seen them inside the hall I made the daring suggestion that we go to dinner to see what we look like under different circumstances. It worked. They were not site-specific holograms after all.
Other friends live close enough to visit for Super Bowl Parties, however it took me until SDCC to visit Todd Lockwood to sign the paintings we collaborated on earlier this year. LockwoodDragonsThe Badali Jewelry booth was our sanctuary this year, the place we went when things became too overwhelming and we needed hugs. Not that they weren’t always swamped with customers (and selling out of fantastic new pieces) but they always had a moment for poor weary travelers. The busy Stacy ducked out of the crowds of people long enough to give me a hug and tell me the odyssey of getting the huge dragon on top of the Weta booth. We only ran into Brent Weeks once and that was at the airport where Venetia twitter stalked him. Venetia was able to spot Seanan McGuire from her glorious hair and we were lucky to see catch Amy McNally during her brief visit. Venetia also got to see her dear friend Sarah and fall in love with a new adorable baby. The Shiftlett Brothers were safely in their box fort and we admired their newest piece in progress this glorious barbarian/viking statue we wanted to get for Drew and Cat.

ShiftlettJohn Picacio was one of the stars of the show this year which meant we only got to talk to him and his lovely assistant Tara briefly but they were undeniably winning the con. Someday I hope to be so savvy. There was a panel about the upcoming Neil Gaiman documentary just brimming with lovely and talented people, including Cat Mihos and Les Klinger. Peter Beagle and the indispensable Connor Cochran were in Artists’ Alley and we spent enough time with them to ensure that we will indeed see them again soon, although Venetia has decided she wants to live at Peter Beagle’s elbow so that she can always listen to his stories.

If you’ve talked to Venetia or I about books recently, you may have heard us rave about Red Rising which is definitely the Next Big Thing™. I was suspicious at first upon reading it because I hate being pandered to but I quickly gave up and surrendered to enjoying the book. I especially always appreciate it when plot twists aren’t quite what I expected. Pierce Brown was doing several signings at his publishers booth and we end up standing in line twice. The first time was to meet him and get a book for a friend, the second time because we realized we have a lot more friends we would like to give his book to.

Also on the author front, I finally got to meet Sam Sykes in person. A most upstanding young ne’er-do-well, I suspected I would like him from the twittery volleys we exchanged and was happy to further appall Seanan McGuire with some punning conversation with Sam.

I also made one of my very rare purchases for authentic screen-used gloves and mask made by WETA Workshop used in the Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian (2008). Some prices (even at SDCC) are too low to be ignored.

PrinceCaspianAnd while Keith is an old friend, we met several of his compagneros ’round the fire pit Saturday night – including singer Marian Call and her posse from the great state formerly known as Seward’s folly!

Last, but certainly not at all least, we encountered an intriguing sign attached to a table of goodness that said that for $20, Bill Plympton will draw your picture. How could we resist! Venetia couldn’t stop smiling for her portrait, even after Bill said she could stop.

CartoonVenetiaWho IS this guy?

I am always astonished by the sheer volume artists whose work is on display and for sale – especially the really GOOD artists. Every year I take at least one whole day, and usually additional returns, to wander – not just through the designated “Artists’ Alley, but through the entire Convention floor. This year it was my great pleasure to “discover” the already brilliant and successful Viktor Kalvachev. His work does not fit into one style or description and his sketches are superb. His finished cover pieces contain many of the subversive elements I especially enjoy – the kind of art work you can study and think about but also can enjoy just at a glance for it’s aesthetic value.Circe_0011(Image: DC Comics cover for Men of War Vol2 by Viktor Kalvachev)

Viktor is the kind of person who knew his comic would make a great video game, so he started a company in France to produce it. When I commented on how good his blood stains were, he explained that the trick was to study the blood stain reference – the sheen, the shapes, the volume – and then draw his own.

Some links for more information on Viktor: a good interview with him about his work and another interview about Blue Estate and it’s look and feel.

Les Cités obscures

In 1988 I was thunderstruck in Paris by the giant (and hugely expensive) series of graphic novels called Les Cités obscures. On Thursday afternoon of this 2014, we walked into the vasty hall in perfect time to see its artist, François Schuiten, signing and drawing in copies of his newly-translated-into-English book, The Leaning Girl. Upon learning that I was an artist and a fan, he drew this picture – in ink, without any preparatory pencil work – in the front. Author Benoît Peeters also signed and Steve Smith, his devoted publisher captured the scene. It seems he had taken photos of the previously-drawn pages and not one was the same as mine of of any other.SchuitenYou don’t have to put on the red light

The local police decided to put on a show the second to last night of the convention. Twice, on successive street corners. This is how it “worked”: For cash money deposited in a clear box on a stand, any willing person could get themselves (pretend) arrested. But not just any arrest, no no. The sort of arrest that involves being manhandled and throttled with batons. What a… hoot? So, instead of keeping the bottlenecks madness of the night to a minimum, this bunch of jokester cops-for-hire made the traffic far worse. And like the train wreck it surely was, people could not look away. Either time. And the young fans getting their photos taken during mock arrests? What street cred! And the cops? It was a debacle on every level, but perhaps most of all for rule of law.

San Diego Zoo – How we do vacation

In order to combat the exhausting drone of the convention this year, we decided to make it our vacation and spend a few extra days in town. Venetia started a subtle and focused campaign for the zoo by saying the word “zoo” periodically throughout the weekend. We had a late but large breakfast to prepare ourselves and took the bus on the corner of our street straight to Balboa Park. We entered the zoo at a few minutes to noon which means I can say with certainty that we were at the zoo for 9 straight hours. I can only describe how much my feet hurt by describing to you how the bright red color on the soles of my feet radiated up along the sides of my feet as well. We saw almost every single exhibit in the San Diego Zoo with very few exceptions. Venetia’s highlights were the playful polar bears, the elegant and mysterious secretary birds and the flamingo disco party she was insistent on visiting at the very end of the day which firmly put our trip into the exactly 9 hours of zoo. After that, it was a relief to get on the plane for a few hours the following day just to rest our feet!

FlamingoDiscoPartyFake geeks

Many of us have read the inane whining and vapid protests of young entitled boy fans talking about “fake” geek girls. San Diego at this time of year is the adamantium melting-pot where law interns and all manner of European exchange students put on their geekiest to pedal wee thrones of Westeros, peddle tchotchkes they know little and care less about, or seat diners in fantastically overpriced restaurants. Heck, every mannequin is wearing a WonderWoman tiara and every shop is stocking Wolverine and Hulk merchandise it might normally sneer at. All of San Diego is a “fake” geek, because that’s where the money is. There are hostesses indistinguishable from casual cosplayers, and tattooed local drunks  who may or may not have any idea which gaming character they resemble.

Soaking in this debauch of 3-color lunacy for a week, and daily wandering through a convention where most of the founders of the feast are utterly unknown and where art dealers make multiples of profit on comic pages that netted their creators precious little, has led me to reconsider the protestations of the clueless. It’s not fake fans they should be concerned about, it’s the fake executives, the fake money men who pull the strings. Because those guys? They’ve never cared a jot for the material and they probably never will….

Final Notes

While nothing that happens in Hall H stays in Hall H, most of it gets to YouTube faster than it can move about the sales floor of the convention. It’s interesting to be so close, and yet so far (and, as a long-time fan, disappointing not to hear more of Doctor Strange and The Inhumans). I saw the Avengers posters at a distance on this, the last day of the convention. But heard no context about any of it.

The piece de resistance on the last night of the convention was on the TV in our hotel. It was the first Thor movie. Dubbed into Spanish. While the Norse Gods seemed marvelous to me growing up, and fun (if more than a little absurd in the hands of Stanley Lieber – I mean, c’mon he’s a fiery hard-drinking redhead!), seeing Rene Russo, Tom Hiddleston, Natalie Portman, and Chris Hemsworth in Spanish is just somehow… better?

Expanded Elements

My Elements piece is thus far my most popular piece of writing and has proven valuable to myself and others so I would like to expand on more recent painting breakthroughs. In mid-2013, I painted a piece called “Glorianna” for the new Starstruck volume (which I am currently hard at work painting). Here are some of the lessons I realized in this painting:

No Expectations:
I’d started with no expectation of making a finished piece right away (see the video on Creativity by John Cleese). In my insanely busy work life (yes, I once did 1000 pieces one year and this year I’ve completed one Small God a day for 365 pieces in the past 365 days), that is itself shocking.

Don’t Jump at the First “Success”:

Verloona3I’d done a quick sketch of Verloona first (the obvious bad [and vain] girl pin-up of the Starstruck characters), but rather than finish it, I thought I’d try another subject – the character I am the most simpatico with: Glorianna. I thought to set her up as a tall/thin Nouveau Mucha piece, with nods to John R. Neill.

Go With It:
But when the piece started to come together as a Pre-Raphaelite piece (the two pieces below are NOT mine, and never could be. But I love the Pre-Raphaelites deeply) instead, I did the smart thing (for a change). I let it.

CrystalBallWaterhouse1902ReferenceSend Roughs/ Get Input:
I sent a rough (I historically hate rough work and try never to show it) to Starstruck’s author Elaine Lee for her thoughts about moving it to finish. She found it agreeable, and I asked her for information so the background could become something other than a generic clearing in generic trees.

Glorianna9Do More Roughs:
Originally she was standing on the same plane as the background. Through the process of fixing her back arm, and making a working background I made many permutations until I could choose the very best versions.

Don’t Get Attached:
Historically it’s not the reference that I’ve found hardest to shake- rather it’s fidelity to the details of the character, milieu or environment. In this case, it wasn’t so hard for me to riff on Michael Kaluta’s wonderful character design. In part because, unlike most comic characters (and animated characters), she’s a real person who wears more than a single set of jammies. And having discussed the background with Elaine, I knew I was drawing something outside the extant range of the comic. So a sigh of relief there.

Don’t Overwork:
I’ve been doing this professionally for more than 30 years, and until this month, I’ve never felt secure in my work. Ever. But after a lot of introspection, I’ve stripped down my paintbrushes and gotten serious about not being a control freak. Yes, there are still some small details to hone (her Krystal necklace is important), but leave well enough alone! This piece took less than 2 full workdays – and that alone could be cause for my next point:

Be Happy with Happy:
This sounds a bit ridiculous, but I find artists too seldom spend time enjoying their successes.
But I am delighted with this piece and what it means to me. So there. :p

GloriannaWide2

Everything Wrong is Right Again

Oscar Wilde once said, “The good ended happily and the bad unhappily, that is what fiction means”.
But when an author combines the real and the fictional so well, when he mixes the ingredients so deeply that one cannot quite remember whether it was Whistler, Sickert or Hallward that is the one Victorian Painter who is not like the others, and when everything and everyone is in his and her place (or is it someone else’s?)… fiction can mean still more.

MugnainiMugnaini

When I was a lad I read Ray Bradbury, and of his many indelible stories Usher II and The Exiles held a special resonance.
These were not fiction, they were… something else. Bradbury was a magician, and The Exiles (and others) an incantation. A summoning. Magic on the printed page.*

JohnnyAlucardIn Kim Newman’s latest – Johnny Alucard – the marvelously-named author Kenneth Anger believes in this sort of magic. Of words made flesh. Of Cinema writ large. Maybe writ in blood.
Maybe it’s untrue, but why would that noted liar and magician Kim Newman lie to me? And does it matter if he has?
This is where those lines – between truth and fiction, between facts and gossip, between fiction and magic – blur to the point of uselessness.

I’ve loved Newman’s Anno Dracula since I read it decades back.
I read it again (this time aloud) after last year’s trip to Brighton for the World Fantasy Convention.
I’d been fortunate to meet up with the author there, and returned with signed books.
But I put off the reading of this newest work (the fourth “real novel” in this series) for months. And even now, I’m going slowly.
The suspense is terrible. I hope it’ll last….

AnnoDraculaI’m only at page 300, and while I have some thoughts about how I might end it, there’s nothing to say that Newman will agree, or even stick the landing.
And it doesn’t matter. Because it’s not about the destination, truly. It’s not a question of whether it ends in dust and disarray. It IS those things – red dust specifically: “Drac”.
It’s a series of short stories and novellas that pretend to be a novel. Just like how Uncle Bradbury used to make ‘em.

I remembered my qualms about Anno Dracula. “Really, a book about Vampires? Who cares?”.
Well, me for one. Neil Gaiman (as the new Titan Books edition of the novel makes clear on the spine) for another.
I had qualms about starting Johnny Alucard for a very different reason – because the book would wrap around that second Age of Victorian Values – The Age of Thatcher – the very period that had inspired Anno Dracula in the first place. And, I think, the key to so much of its power.
A vampiric ouroboros, I worried that this confection must collapse under the weight of its own referents like a flan in a cupboard.

I was wrong to doubt. At first, I simply enjoyed its game of flashback and substitution. The magic of movies at their most intense.
The ouroboros seemed bent on swallowing its own tail (well… tale) and draining it dry, but I went with the arterial flow. Why not?
Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, unmade – remade – made as an alternate history’s Dracula in Ceaucescu’s Romania?
Splendid!

A swan song for Philip Marlowe outside Poodle Springs was charming, but brief. And light.
An aperitif? A sorbet? Or were we getting as lost in the West as the “vipers” themselves?

And then another change of scene, some light…. necking?
The Dude? The Slayer? And a certain rumpled detective?
What!?!
Well, all I’m saying is that I wouldn’t leave town if I was you.

BuffyColomboTheDudeAnd that’s when I realized that this wasn’t an ouroboros at all. There was no end in sight, certainly not in the fanged mouth of Maggie Thatcher.
No, not a coiled serpent, more a sort of Moebius Strip. It wasn’t covering the same ground or coming from the same place. Rust never sleeps. Anywhere.
Through the Looking Glass? More like ‘Through with the Looking Glass’.
And just as well, mirrors are bloody useless to a vampire…. A vampire needs an audience.

Like Swann’s famous contract at The Paradise, “All item’s excluded are deemed included.”

 

* In my mouth (during a public reading) his words proved merely a recipe – a list of delicious ingredients that I was utterly incapable of presenting properly. But in the proper hands…

UnDoomed Kickstarter Games

While I do not yet have a copy of ‘The Doom That Came to Atlantic City’* I am pleased to say that many fine people are receiving theirs, and sending me photos online to prove it.
I know that some folks have already played, and several already have favored permutations!

That said, I did receive a different Kickstartered game that I worked on – ‘The Emperor’s New Clothes’ by Jonathan Liu and Hoke’s Games. Here’s a shot of Venetia with my winning card:

Hokes

*Please have no concerns for me, I think it only proper that mine will be shipped after all the backers have theirs! Besides, after a 25 year development period, the short one that remains is surprisingly tasty. :)

 

The Book of Endless Pages

This month I had the opportunity to do a fun side project.

EndlessPagesCrop THE BOOK OF ENDLESS PAGES INTERVIEW: LEE MOYER

Shawn Speakman: How were you approached to do this incredibly unique yet hilarious project?

Lee Moyer: After a meet-up at Powell’s, my assistant mentioned that Tracy (one of Portland’s most knowledgeable and devoted bibliophiles) had a cover project in mind, and wondered whether I might be interested.

I loved everything about it. I love the opportunity to work in other people’s sandboxes – matching styles, working with typography, and being a little subversive if I can – in short, it was was right up my street!

Shawn Speakman: You have an incredible body of work that ranges from pin-ups to fantasy covers to gaming. Do you have a favorite area of the publishing world that you like to work within?

Lee Moyer: Thank you! I love working on any and all aspects of books:

• Covers, because I love the books within, and I want to do justice to the author’s hard work (paying especial attention to the spine of the book. There is no more important real estate on one’s shelf than those few precious inches!)

• Maps, because – whether the Dragon Kingdom of 13th Age or China Mieville’s New Crobuzon – nothing makes new worlds so real.

• And Design. I love creating symbols, working with type, and fitting all of the elements of a project into a single elegant design – much of the challenge of “Endless Pages” was matching Brandon’s genuine wraparound cover.

Happily, Brandon’s real book is filled with interior illustrations, and endpapers that would be the envy of many other covers. While many people in publishing are worried about the end times, it is so refreshing to see a book like Words of Radiance where the publishers seem to understand that books are objects of beauty and reverence above and beyond. I greatly enjoyed reading Brandon’s essay on what this book means to him, how he is pushing the limit of what “epic fantasy” can mean, and how fully he is creating this world in all it’s aspects (art, maps, symbols, short stories, poems and languages) for his readers.

Shawn Speakman: I’m sure you’ve seen Brandon Sanderson’s reaction to the new dust jacket. How does that make you feel to see the joy it brought him?

Lee Moyer: I was utterly delighted by Brandon’s reaction!

While I do not know him well, I feel he is one of the hardest working authors in the business and I respect that so much.

For more on the story and to see Brandon Sanderson‘s great reaction to the book cover, visit Suvudu.com!

EndlessPages