The Favourites

I have seen 3 movies recently, and all of them are good. I made sure, because I read the reviews beforehand. The first movie is the Favourite, a period drama about two ladies jockeying for the Queen of England’s favor (or favour) through saucy insults, frequent swearing, and lesbianism. The second is Spider-Man into the Spider-Verse, which is the exact opposite movie, being about a kid who gets spider powers and is coached in using them by different other heroes who also have spider powers who are all shuttled together due to a rip in time and space across different dimensions. The third is Mandy, an surrealist action horror film starring Nic Cage as a man whose wife is assaulted by an evil cult, and goes insane seeking bloody revenge against them.

One of these movies has been nominated for 10 Oscars, one for 1 Oscar, and one was disqualified from entry, and I’ll leave you to figure out which one is which.

All three movies are made by people who know exactly what they want to put on screen, exactly the story they want to tell, and exactly how they want the audience to react, and all three succeed in all three categories. I mean, the Favourite is a dark movie about political and sexual intrigue, which I usually find boring, butt it’s also very funny, all the way through. It tosses in everything, and makes the very, very topical point, I think, that the rich and powerful are not to be trusted. Even while there’s a war going on, they’ll hire a fat guy to strip naked and wear a pink wig in order to throw tomatoes at him for fun. They’ll gamble on duck races. Even those who work their way up from the muck (literally) will happily embrace a life of ordering their social lessers around and kicking bunnies, and engage in all sorts of skullduggery and “harmless” violence to keep their position.

Spider-Man: Into The Spiderverse was no doubt rewritten a hundred times by a small crew of screenwriters, but they must have been very good, because the story and characters are perfect, and they hit every single emotional beat out of the park. It’s probably incomprehensible to anyone unfamiliar with Spider-Man, but how many people does that count these days anyway? What drew my wallet to the box office, though, was the animation. This movie is unlike anything I’ve ever seen, in blending 2- and 3-D animation, erasing backgrounds, and flipping between filmic and comic-book-style imagery. Nearly every frame looks like a picture from a comic book, with the amount of color, detail, and action crammed in. Sound effects show up on screen as bouncing words! At one point, Spider-Man throws a bagel, and it hits a guy on the head with a tiny “BAGEL!” noise. It’s inventive, and strange, and a little hard to understand how a major studio threw $200,000,000 at it, but all of that money is visible in the final product.

Mandy also grabbed me for its visual style. I usually don’t pick up B-movies unless they’re very stylish. Otherwise, what’s the point? Nearly every single B-movie is a rehash of some very old tale, and in Mandy’s case, that’s a revenge story. The first half of the movie is dedicated to Mandy and Nic Cage’s home life, and is set to a soft-focus, dreamy, floaty sort of camerawork. It makes me want to move to the Pacific Northwest and built my own cabin and sleep under a giant stained glass skylight discussing my favorite planets with my wife. The second half is set in a sort of nightmare world. Half the time the screen is completely red, and all movements leaves aftertrails. One scene involves Mandy being drugged with LSD and mutant wasp venom (?) by the evil cult, and everything is shot in a blown-out, saturated, slow-motion hallucinatory daze. It either makes you really want to try LSD, or never ever touch LSD with less that a 40-foot pole, and I’m not saying which camp I fell into.

The point is, movies for the rest of the year have a high bar to cross.

Society of Illustrators: West Coast

Two of my works have been accepted by the Society of Illustrators: West Coast (abbreviated to “SILA” for Los Angeles because “SIWC” is not a word) and I’m very pleased.

The first is displayed on the top of my home page, because I am a clever marketer who sometimes does smart things like putting my best work closest to the audience, and hiding the filler at the bottom. It’s the one with the minotaurs and demon pigs in Tibetan Buddhist style for Tricycle: The Buddhist Review magazine. I knew from the get-go how pretty awesome this piece would be, and having worked extra hard on it, I’m glad that other people with professional credentials feel that way too.

The second piece will be up soon, about gerrymandering. I’m pleased with this one being selected also, since there was an experimentation process going on while I was working with it. I honestly get bored sick working on the computer, and this piece was an attempt to see how much I could get away with working off the computer, while still allowing me the freedom to edit as I pleased. Like all great experiments, it didn’t quite work, but I learned a bunch, and can possibly use that knowledge for a future assignment.

Which, of course, leads me to a crossroads I’ve been at since before college. Having received professional accolades for two of my projects, both of which I enjoyed equally, but each of which looks vastly different from the other, I am unsure which style to proceed with. I think they’re too similar to split them off and market myself as a man of many styles, take your pick! But they’re too different to advertise together (like I’m doing now) without art directors being unsure what they’re going to get if they hire me. Already, I don’t have the time to churn out personal work in both styles, and when I do personal work, it looks completely different anyway.

Commerce has always been the bane of my career. But no one in any professional capacity has responded positively (I mean, by hiring me. Plenty have said, “You do good work!” and immediately forgotten my name) to anything I’ve done for my own pleasure, which is probably what broke my sense of how my art should look to begin with. I’ve opened and closed too many online stores to be able to gauge anything from a popular vote, and the friends are generally too… friendly or inexperienced to give what I feel is useful advice. My wife has given me some good pointers, and I trust her, but she has tastes that often veer from mine, and from art directors too.

Which way shall I go? Because I’m sure straddling the fence is just as damaging to my illustration career as the five years I spent with a crude, unpopular, lazy style following college.


Today I conned my wife into going shoe shopping with me with promises of movies, which is a sentence I don’t normally say.

For quite some time now, I have been without proper rain gear. I have a rain coat, but all of my shoes either have holes worn in them, or are running shoes with mesh “breathability” fabrics that make them about as waterproof as an old sponge. Lest you think I only have two pairs of shoes, I also have a dress pair that feel like the instep is lined with thumb tacks (for job interviews) and army boots that are so old they have grown fuzz.

So, I hunted the internet for boots, but really, there was only one brand I kinda sorta wanted: Doc Martens. These are the boots of punk bands. Joe Strummer wore them. Johnny Rotten wore them. Peter Capaldi in the role of Doctor Who wore them. They’re stylish, leather, and sturdy working class boots that come in a variety of posh designs and also cost $140 on average for the standard 8-hole lace up style. My decision was not only based on style. Doc Martens are supposed to be very rugged, long-lasting boots, and according to the “boots theory” of economics, an expensive pair of boots will last the buyer as long as 10 cheap pairs of boots, meaning that people who can only afford inferior brands will end up paying more over time. And I am only cheap in the long term.

The boots I ended up getting were made of Orleans leather, which feels sort of like frozen Crisco, but room temperature, in the only color that came with 8 lace-holes: military dark taupe. In reality, they are a dark green brown that looks like I skinned a ninja turtle for my shoes. I wish they came in black, but I’m willing to take the fashion risk, given that they were only 1 of 3 kinds that sported the superior Good Year welt stitching, and the other two felt like boot-shaped bricks.

After that adventure, (which only took 15 minutes, because I had a spreadsheet of my prefered styles laid out in my agenda booklet) we went to see Crazy Rich Asians in the Georgetown AMC. It was a very fun, cool movie full of extremely good-looking people, about two very nice people overcoming everyone else’s snobbery. It was very specific in its Asianity, in a way that I appreciate, because now I want to go to Singapore and eat at their street food court. The food there looked way better than any Asian food I’ve had since my mom made dumplings from scratch.

There is also a scene where the whole Crazy Rich family makes dumplings by hand, and the unfavored children get criticized for it. The rapper Awkwafina has a role as Sassy Best Friend and now I want to listen to more of her music on Youtube, and was, in my opinion, the best part of the movie, other than the food bits.

I wore my boots home. They will require some breaking in, and definitely some insoles, because apparently British people have no arches. But I used a coupon code and got a can of balsam oil for free, and we didn’t buy popcorn at the theater, because I snuck in Cheezits. Movie popcorn is too expensive in the long term.

ICON 10 Report

Yesterday, I returned home from ICON10, the Illustrators' Conference, held this year in Detroit, MI.  That means I got to go to Detroit, and I got to eat hot dogs and beer and burgers, and look at cars, and visit their art museum, because that's what's in Detroit.  I did not go to a Tigers game.  They're also in Detroit, but I don't think they, or the Red Wings, were playing at the time.  So, no hockey, no baseball.  Just food, and adult beverages, and soft pretzels, and art, and illustration.

I really love going to the ICON conferences.  They're held every two years, every time in a different city.  The first one I went to was in Portland, Oregon, which was lovely.  They have donuts and pinball arcades there.  The second one was in Austin, which has barbecue and 104 degree weather, and bats.  Austin was less lovely, but the conference is always good.  There's always a decent spread of snacks and coffee and a free full breakfast buffet, and cocktail hours, and usually some nice giveaways, and oh yeah, IT'S FULL OF ILLUSTRATORS, who, along with my wife, and most Nobel Prize winners, are the best people on the planet.

And I don't get to see enough of them.

For most of my adult life, I've lived in either Washington, DC, or Charlottesville, Virginia, which have thriving art communities and minute illustration communities.  There are very few people I can meet for coffee and talk shop with, compare fees, bitch about assignments (although all of my assignments recently have been cool) and grow my presence.  Which is what ICON provides.  For 4-ish days, I hobnob among my people.  EVERYONE comes to these things.  You have old pros who have been working since the 60s, young hotshots who win awards every year, students, art directors, designers, agents, people who illustrate children's books, people who illustrate the New Yorker, cartoonists, poster artists, muralists, writers, and every single one of them is delightful to a tee.  I've met so many friends there just by following up on the business cards I collect. 

This year I forgot my satchel of business cards at the hostel when I flew back, but the hostel staff found it, and they're mailing it back to me, which is nice, but they're making me pay for it and I only forgot it because I lost it when they forced me to switch rooms, which is less so, so in all, I'd give the Hostel Detroit something between 0 and the most stars, because they deserve both.

Most of the Conference is taken up with talks and workshops where people with experience or knowledge to share, share that knowledge, and then run away very fast before everyone deluges them with contact information.  And I've found most of it to be very useful.  Last year, I had lunch with an art director who vehemently insisted that being in New York was very important to my career.  That's part of the reason I moved to DC.  Manhattan is just a quick train ride away.  This year I heard an educator talk about how to best shape my portfolio to attract new clients.  I'll take his advice too.  And I always meet a lot of people, many of whom continue to inspire me, out of the sheer beauty of their work, or their work ethic, or my jealousy at their ability to manage both at the same time.

Now that I'm back, I desperately need to catch up on sleep while I wait for my business cards to arrive in the mail.  Then I will get right on that.  I'm an illustrator and I want to be a better one, and I REALLY hope the next ICON is held somewhere I don't have to fly to.

I recommend Northwest Washington, DC.

I never have pictures in my blog because I never see the need to post anything on the internet twice, but my Instagram account to the right has most of the sketches and photos I took, and my Twitter has most of the same, but with better captions.

Do you know a good Doctor?

I'll start this post off with a solid explanatory lead: My wife likes Doctor Who now.

To those who don't know who Doctor Who is, the question is not so much one of who, but of what, where, and when.  Doctor Who is a BBC program that has been running on the BBC on and off since 1965.  It's about an alien from the planet Gallifrey who travels around the universe in a time (and space) machine called the TARDIS.  Each episode, he gets out in a different location and either has an adventure or stops evil aliens from taking over the universe.  Often times, he comes in contact with historical figures like Mme. Pompadour or William Shakespeare and helps them have an adventure or stop evil aliens from taking over the universe.  The Doctor (just "The Doctor") usually has a female companion on these journeys, with whom he shares a lot of unresolved sexual tension.  They've kept it running by making it canon that whenever the Doctor is dealt a fatal wound, he transforms into a different actor.    The modern era of the show starts in the mid-2000s.  I started watching on season 5, when the new Doctor Matt Smith debuted.

My wife, having heard about the show from nerd friends of hers, started on season 1, with Christopher Eccleston as the Doctor and Billy Piper as the companion.  These were the episodes I'd never seen, as the group I'd hung out with in college when they were first airing was more into Japanese pop culture than British stuff.

Boy I wished I'd switched friends.  Doctor Who has always operated on a tiny special effects budget, which necessitated the main baddies looking like giant vacuum cleaners with toilet plungers stuck to their sides.  As a result, the writing as always been incredibly sincere, to make the folks at home believe that angry vacuum cleaners were really a threat to all life in the universe.  I like that sort of narrative sincerity.  These days, a lot of the most popular media is made by people who have encyclopedic knowledge of other popular media, and somehow, it always feels like they're winking at the members of the audience who also have encyclopedic pop culture knowledge.  Doctor Who operates under the philosophy that everything and everyone is important, and should be respected as such, no matter how goofy or rushed.  Indeed, half the time the Doctor himself only solves the main problem by roping together a bunch of garbage into a science fiction machine that's never been built before, plugging it into a wall, and hoping that it'll work in a way that saves everyone's life.

Craig Fergusen, the former host of The Late Late Show, is a Scottsman and a Doctor Who fan, and summarized the show better than anyone else I've ever met when he sung (yes, sung): "It's all about the triumph of intellect and romance over brute force and cynicism!"  And, because everything ties back into politics these days, I feel like brute force and cynicism are the dominant philosophies running the world right now.  Everything is terrible and the only way to make it better is for good people to punch the bad people in the face.

Well I don't cotton to that.  And only partially because that doesn't work.  You can't out-cynicize the cynics, and you can't punch evil into submission without becoming a cynical brute yourself.  Trust in the sincerity of good intentions, in intellectuals and romantics, and tomorrow will be a time worth living for, even if you don't get to see it yourself because you've sacrificed all your blood to a space vampire to mark her with your alien DNA so the rhinoceros-alien-cops who have come to arrest her will teleport the hospital you're in out of quarantine on the moon and back to Earth so all the people inside won't suffocate to death inside the forcefield.

That's why I'm glad I get to watch all the back episodes of Doctor Who now with my wife.