The Dream Figure


Irrationally peculiar dream figures – my loose, ‘armchair’ understanding of things is that most people don’t have recurring dreams, or even recurring themes or personalities in their dreams. It’s a popular trope in story-telling, which makes perfect sense – haunting dreams are a wonderful expression of foreshadowing, a device to inject a sense of inevitability, foreboding, or fate. The reality, of course, is far more banal. Those of us who encounter recurring dream figures ought not take too much from them; the general consensus in the psychological community is that they are completely happenstance, and may represent nothing more than a single event in one’s history – not even a particularly important event – that managed to get stored in our memory in such a way as to appear and reappear, like a skipping record.

This particular dream figure has been visiting me for the better part of a decade. I’m assuming she’s some remnant of my college days, which I spent at the University of Arizona. She reminds me of art school girls at house parties, smoking cigarettes in used clothes bought at Buffalo Exchange, a haven for hipster women looking to spend twice as much on a pair of pre-worn jeans than the original price-tag when they were brand new and not covered in holes.

This apparition – and she really feels like an apparition, an uninvited ghost that only I can see – is never aggressive, she never threatens me, never harms me. But I always recall feeling an extreme unease when she walks into the room. She usually walks around a corner, and it’s usually when I’m trying to leave and get outside. In most of my dreams, I turn around and nurse a drink, taking little sips, and make small-talk to the gaggle of faceless others around me, glancing occasionally to see if she’s still there.

She’s always blocking my path. And I spend my time hoping for a chance to scoot by and get outside.

Nothing bad ever happens. No gore. No evil. Just a faceless, toothed, unsettling creature.

I’ll let the psychoanalysts in the inter-webs analyze this. In the quiet of night, unable to sleep, I decided to scribble-out a picture from my dreams.

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Geometric Art, Color, and Heavy Metal


Growing up I listened to a lot of Tool, a progressive metal band that some of you may be familiar with and some of you may not be familiar with. I still listen to my old albums. The percussionist, Danny Carey, heralded from a local community here in Kansas, giving us mid-western backwater hicks some prestige. I’ve spent my entire career as an artist trying to explain to people that the “fly-over” states are filled with creative artists and political malcontents, too.

Midway through their career, Tool began incorporating works form artist Alex Gray – anatomical cross-sections, repeating patterns, and other evocative images intended to illustrate the connection between body and spirit – into their albums. The images rely heavily on the symbolism of the third eye and chakra charts, but they also weave this content into renderings reminiscent of anatomy textbooks, esoteric symbols, and studies of celestial bodies. It’s really cool stuff.

At one point or another, after looking at all of that great art (and probably after watching Martin Scorsese’s film Kundun, and after attending a talk with the Dali Lama at the Tucson convention center), I really wanted to make a mandala. There are countless designs out there, but I’d never made one of my own and, frankly, I didn’t know the first thing about making a design like that. I’m pretty confident that I still, for the most part, still don’t. Nevertheless, I nabbed my metal ruler and protractor and took to making some of the most god-awful radial line-drawings the world has ever seen (except, of course, that the world never saw them – I threw ’em all away because, well, they were terrible).

I have, of late, taken the practice up again. It’s a great meditative practice. It’s complicated and simple at the same time, mathematical and symmetrical, but layered with compositional complexity. Today’s image is my first shot out of the gate – I know I can make more interesting images, but I’m very pleased to be back in the saddle and experimenting with these designs. I’m already working on others, which I will share once they’re done.

I’m “getting my zen on,” as an old friend from the San Rafael Valley would say. The repetition, the tedious nature of making pictures like this, open doorways in the mind. These compositions require a certain kind of concentration to make, but they’re also ordered, logical, straight-forward. The perfect kind of exercise for any creative personality who isn’t feeling any other specific drive; it’s a way of exercising the brain and being creative when one is feeling stifled, uninspired, or otherwise “blocked.”

The trick is to keep the pen moving. This is how I keep moving. I hope you like it.

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Breaking Bad – Say My Name

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Many folks herald Breaking Bad as the greatest television show in the history of television. I wouldn’t go so far. It was successful in developing a narrative that rewarded its audience and grew along with its popularity. But if we’re going to be honest with ourselves, it’s a show that began slow. It certainly managed to enhance its narrative velocity throughout its five-season run, but there was an undeniable lull during the earliest episodes. Its biggest success rested in the show-runners – and creator Vince Gilligan – outlining how they wanted the story to end. The network had no opportunity to milk the show – keep it on life support while the numbers were good – until it fell into relative obscurity (think Dexter or True Blood).

Sure, we would all have gleefully sat through an additional three seasons of Walter White and Jesse Pinkman dodging bullets and escaping the guillotine, but a poorly-resolved narrative condemns a story to the realm of ‘the forgettable.’ We remember Breaking Bad because the story respected its audience. It was designed to be a complete story, not a money-maker – and that’s why it’s such a profoundly successful money-maker. The competition between ‘art’ and ‘commerce’ destroys most shows, most books, and a lot of popular art. Focus groups and ratings have a direct influence on the direction many of our stories go – seeking to please audiences rather than impact them.

Focus groups are as effective as the SAT’s in measuring success – which is to say, they don’t measure success. In many cases, they destroy it. Breaking Bad is one of the greatest examples of long-form story-telling specifically because it didn’t allow itself to be influenced by outside, disaffected parties. It took risks. It reminded audiences that creativity and ingenuity can allow a television show to achieve as much – if not more – than feature-length films. Breaking Bad inaugurated the wave of cinema-quality television we’re now experiencing.

And hindsight is 20/20. If we can be genuinely objective, Better Call Saul is better at the job of character development and story-telling than Breaking Bad ever was. Artists – and the writers in their ranks – evolve. In Saul, nothing is taken for granted in it’s production. Breaking Bad, the early years, has the tainted film of “this might not be picked up for another season” written all over it. Better Call Saul is infinitely more confident in it’s story-telling – in a way that audiences have never seen. Sure, it could be canceled at any time, but it’s obvious that the writers know precisely where they’re going with their characters. They have to be, because half of these characters already exist in the Breaking Bad series.

With the ultimate fate of the principle characters an already-known quantity, the writers of Better Call Saul have been working on – and achieving – a heightened level of story-telling, the likes of which we have never, in the history of books, movies, or television, ever seen. It’s pretty damn cool.

Keep your eyes open. Look at the quality. And please: Say. My. Name.

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Another ‘Suicide Squad’ Trailer

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For all of the wailing about Batman V Superman, that movie is still a freight train that is on it’s way to hitting the one billion dollar mark. Sure, it was an expensive production and it has proved to be less profitable than Warner Brothers had hoped, but the movie’s still a success. The most vehement critics point to a longer-than-necessary run-time (clocking in at two and a half hours) and a darker-than-necessary tone. These are legitimate criticisms – Superman is supposed to be fun, and this film seemed overly-focused on dragging the Man Of Steel into ‘brooding Batman’ territory, and it simply didn’t work. The film is largely humorless, lacking the kind of heart that audiences had obviously hoped for.

The DC Cinematic Universe is not as well-oiled as Marvel, but the studio still has plenty of opportunity to course correct. The only concern is the very real possibility that they over-correct. For instance, a well-sourced rumor has begun to circulate the Warner is now re-shooting certain scenes from the upcoming Suicide Squad feature to make it more ‘light’ and ‘funny.’ These kinds of last-minutes changes do not augur well for the franchise. They aren’t ‘inspired’ changes. They’re ‘fearful’ changes. Hopefully this won’t spell disaster for what looks to be a pretty exciting ride.

The newest trailer dropped yesterday, and it’s fun as hell. Check it out HERE.

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Better Call Saul 2.09 – Nailed

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“Nailed” is about right. The screws are tightening and Better Call Saul has breached the barrier between ‘procedural’ into ‘true drama.’ This is the episode that fans have been waiting for, after a laborious – and often frustratingly tedious and long-winded – build-up. Consider the final two episodes as one long story; we’ve only seen the first act. And the gun from the Regalo Helado opening from last week? Well, we all know what happens when you introduce a gun in the first act.

The ‘Cain and Abel’ story between Jimmy and Chuck is reaching it’s apex. The connection between Mike and the Salamanca cartel is cemented, but not resolved. The spindle is turning and the yarn isn’t complete. For today, I’ll be reserving a more in-depth review until the season climax next Monday.

Any predictions?

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Illustration – Nude Study


There is no genre of art older than the nude study, the bare human form. It commands our attention and often makes some of us turn away, either in modesty or – more sadly – in shame. The question of its endurance as an art-form throughout the ages is an interesting one. To my mind, the nude is deeply symbolic philosophically, and elegant in its accidental eroticism. The nude is both attractive – and to many, uncomfortably attractive – because it symbolizes true vulnerability; exposed flesh presents a form with nothing left to reveal.

The nude subject is in its most confident and vulnerable state, achieving these at the same time. This cannot be found anywhere else, and that is why nude studies are so captivating, so mesmerizing, so subtly profound. We objectify and sympathize, simultaneously, and this duality forces certain truths to snake their way into our consciousness, about how we view our own bodies and how we use them.

I am proud to be both painter and subject in this genre, to continue this great tradition. In a media landscape that barely bats an eye at extreme violence but suppresses the most natural of sexual desires, I regret only that my artwork isn’t more filled with genitalia.

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Sin City – Nancy Callahan


I sat down today and watched both of the Sin City films. I’ve been a fan of the comic series ever since I bought a used paperback at ‘Bookman’s Buy-Sell-Trade’ superstore in Tucson when I was a freshmen in college. At the time, the rack was overstuffed with copies, and I nabbed mine for a measly ninety-nine cents. It was cheap enough that I didn’t find it sacrilege at all when I chopped it up and pasted individual frames into my sketchbook.

I was a comic collector since childhood – mostly X-Men titles – and had no idea what Sin City was about. I didn’t even read the book. I just sifted through the pages and appreciated the art. When it was adapted into a feature film, I started paying attention. It had the noir elements, the over-clocked one-liners, trench coats, and fedoras. It was black and white, self-referencing, darkly comedic, and playful. It was a perfect film specifically because it didn’t take itself too seriously – it was engineered to be pulp entertainment. It was designed to be fun.

Sin City was also a throw-away film. It appealed to a niche demographic, not turning too many heads. This is a disappointing revelation because the production was insanely innovative, inventing new film-making techniques that allowed the comic book to come to life. Of all the comic book movies that exist today, I can’t think of a project more true to the source material than Sin City. Most of the film was shot on green-screen, with the background environments inserted in post-production. The violence is stylized, and the black-and-white palette is used with intuitive brilliance.

The sequel, A Dame To Kill For, didn’t perform well at the box office. But it’s a fantastic voyage into the back alleys of Frank Miller’s fictitious city of crime and corruption. Think Gotham, only more fucked up. The vignetted stories are fun, dark, grimly humorous, and worth a look.


Better Call Saul – Expert Camera Work

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One of the better things I’ve heard somebody say recently was that “storytelling is telepathy.” I was listening to this interview with a young screenwriter and he summoned those [likely not too famous] words from author Stephen King. I enjoy the odd logic of the statement, though – somebody writes the words down, and then we absorb them when we read them and create the story in our minds. We don’t just absorb them; we become a part of the story. The inert symbols on the page, black ink on white paper, become images in our imaginations. We assign voices and details, interpretations and emotions, to the tune of elegant simplicity – black ink on white paper.

We’ve been doing it since the birth of civilization.

Cinema, a decidedly modern method of storytelling, is a little different. It’s all more specific. The images, the look of the characters and the sound of their voices – these things have all been chosen for us, by a director. In many ways, we can describe reading as more of a ‘participatory’ form of storytelling – we have to use our imaginations and help co-author the story being told – and watching film & television as more of a ‘passive’ form of storytelling. This is why we associate books with intellect and television with laziness.

This is a false dichotomy.

Good storytelling, either in print or telecast, motivates the reader (or audience member) to make decisions. Good storytelling on the screen is the kind of storytelling that rewards the audience for paying attention – to color palettes, symbolism, narrative structure, foreshadowing, and character development/evolution. Most of us recognize these things, even if we aren’t looking for them or actively thinking about them. Television shows in the last several years, it should also be noted, have achieved a level of quality and substance that rivals most mainstream feature films.

In many ways, the television series allows storytellers to exercise their talents in a way that feature film could never allow. Can a ninety minute film accomplish as much as a sixteen episode season (or an entire series)? Of course not. A television series has more time to introduce an ensemble of characters, establish their unique and individual qualities – their challenges, their strengths, their shortcomings – and bring the circumstance of their lives into clear and cutting focus.

Better Call Saul is a wonderful example of long-form story-telling. It’s one of the reasons that it’s so beloved (and simultaneously so under-appreciated, because of it’s painful rarity) in the television world. It is incredibly ‘literate’ in its approach, each episode a small little piece of a morality play, each episode a small little piece of a bigger puzzle. The most recent episode, to my mind, is one of the greatest examples of cinema-quality film-making applied to a television series, specifically because of how the opening scene is shot, choreographed, and cut.

The entire first sequence follows a refrigerated truck – presumably smuggling narcotics – across the US-Mexico port of entry. Using one camera operator, three different vehicles, and a steady-cam, the establishing shot is achieved in one single, sustained, three-plus minute shot. A ballet of vehicles and extras – law enforcement, truck drivers, perpetrators, and K-9 units – swirl around the scene. The camera glides through and captures this scene without a single cut. The trick of trying to cram non-narrative story into a long, sustained, uncut shot is as old as film itself, but rarely is it accomplished with such extraordinary finesse. The longer the camera can reveal an unfolding narrative, the less the audience is motivated – whether consciously or unconsciously – to question its authenticity. That’s because real life – our true, moment-to-moment lives – aren’t cut from angle-to-angle, perspective-to-perspective, over one shoulder and then <whack> over another shoulder. The longer the scene can go without an edit, the more we are seduced, as audience members, to believe it.

If you haven’t hopped aboard the Better Call Saul bandwagon, I suggest you give it a day in court – pun intended. Following the ‘cartel mule-truck through the port’ scene – an extraordinary achievement in television film-making – I can’t wait to see what other cards the show-runners are hiding up their sleeve.

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Other films with remarkable tracking shots (nope, can’t think of any other television shows):

  1. Boogie Nights – The opening scene starts outside the night club, tracks into the club, snakes through the seating area and onto the dance floor, and winds back out. Every single major character in the film has at least one spoken line of dialogue and the scene lasts roughly ten minutes (a so-called ‘full-film-magazine’). It is insane when you consider how hard it must have been to choreograph this.
  2. Irreversible – This is the film that can’t be un-seen. It’s one of the most grotesque and challenging-to-watch films ever made, with Gaspar Noe at the helm. The film is replete with slight-of-hand cuts (paving the way for Birdman, but taking it’s inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rope) that give the illusion of long cuts, including the devastating brawl at the gay sex club in the first scene. But it’s the sexual assault scene in the middle of the film, in a dark roadway underpass, that is truly shocking. The camera sits like a fly on the wall. The graphic content of the scene makes it all-the-more uncomfortable for the audience, that the camera never blinks, never looks away, never cuts to something less awful than the brutal violation right in front of it. It’s easy to forget that this is just a movie, watching this scene. It’s hard to remember that it’s not real, that this isn’t in fact a true-to-life snuff film. This is one of the most amazing films ever made, but it comes with an asterisk – not for the weak of heart.
  3. Children Of Men – I’m not even a fan of this film. The premise is outlandish, with little or no real time spent on trying to explain how or why the characters live in a world where women simply can’t get pregnant. The idea itself is compelling, but the details are glossed-over and we’re expected to just accept that, yeah, this is the world of this film. Women ain’t gettin’ pregnant. World’s gonna end. Bummer, dude.
    Nevertheless, there is a moment in an embattled urban area, tanks creaking into the streets, in which the protagonist walks through mortar fire and military vehicles, through throngs of people, to bear witness among a huddled gathering of resistance fighters, to an infant child. The camera follows him through the streets, around tanks, amid explosions and hordes of civilians battling military personnel. The camera never cuts, and the scene is undeniably, tear-inspiringly beautiful. It’s a shame that it’s embedded in what, to me, is a muddled mess of a film. But it’s one brilliant piece of film-making nonetheless.

Can you think of any long-cuts that should be added to the pantheon? Let me know in the comments.

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Illustration – Steam Punk Poster


Right up front, I have to admit that this poster-style illustration is based on a photograph. I made a lot of choices while constructing this graphic but, I don’t know, I think it’s always important to be honest when sourcing other material. In cases where I’m doing fan art, it’s obvious that I’m sourcing from various popular culture properties, but it isn’t obvious when it comes to pieces like this.

I’ve never been into cosplay or SCA (society for creative anachronism), but I brush shoulders with countless creatives who participate in these activities. I’ve only been to a couple of comic book conferences, and I spend more time in front of the computer than I ever could spend trying to problem-solve my way through an elaborate fan costume. Rather than create a costume, I derive a lot of inspiration and develop ideas by knowing these people, listening to their ideas, and witnessing their marvelous creations.

That being said, the steam punk aesthetic has been popular for maybe about ten years now, but it wasn’t until the past few years that it has become recognized in a more mainstream way. Steam punk has been around for decades, tracing it’s origin back to the science fiction sub-genre ‘cyberpunk,’ usually attributed to the stories penned by William Gibson; Neuromancer should be required reading for anybody who feigns interest in cyberpunk and steam punk.

Aesthetically, steam punk designs are generally influenced by the style of the 19th-century scientific romances of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, and Mary Shelley. It incorporates the technology and designs of 19th-century industrial steam powered machinery (hence the name), often implementing clocks, gears, modified 19th century dresses, suits, and hats, and other such paraphernalia.

I had a lot of fun tinkering with this illustration, and I certainly hope you enjoy it.

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The Walking Dead – “East”

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Carol and Daryl, taking things into their own hands, are the catalyst for a host of poor decision-making among the Alexandrians in this week’s episode of “The Walking Dead.” Carol, broken and weary, leaves a note behind announcing her departure, insisting that nobody come looking for her. Daryl, on the other hand, heads off in another direction, recklessly in pursuit of Dwight to avenge the needless slaughter of Doctor Denise. Rick and Morgan head out to find Carol while Rosita, Michonne, and Sasha head out to stop Daryl.

At this point in the story, “The Walking Dead” isn’t really a horror-genre narrative – it’s a study on survival on recovery. That being said, there are certainly horror tropes that persist, lest we forget that dead cannibalistic corpses continue to roam the countryside. Every character in the show that we have come to know as capable, dependable, and intelligent does the one thing you never do in a horror film: they split up, leaving Alexandria vulnerable. None of this is really in-character, but one might surmise that the storytellers are trying to cement the notion that the Alexandrians are prepared, have united as a community, can face any problem together, et al. But it falls flat. When all is said and done, the audience recognizes that this is an excuse to fragment the group, push forward with the character drama, and leave the principle characters in an exposed position for the [likely] explosive season finale.

The heart of this episode’s themes exist in the interaction between Morgan and Rick. We are reminded of the flimsy morality in the new world as the two characters explain why they have chosen their own particular path toward survival. Morgan refuses to kill the living and Rick sees killing as an inevitability; one message seems sage-like, the other authoritarian. As Morgan expresses how he sees everything as cyclical, explaining to Rick how he saved the Wolf who, in turn, saved Denise, it’s difficult not to view Morgan as the more sympathetic, morally upright person.

“We didn’t finish it like we thought we did, with The Saviors,” Rick says midway through the episode.
“No,” Morgan says. “You started something.”

And we know that Morgan is absolutely correct.

Watching these two talk reminds us that they represent far opposite ends of a moral spectrum. As members of the audience, we know that both of them are right in their thinking, and that it’s the circumstance that lets us know which course of action is the correct one. That’s what the jail cell Morgan built is all about: creating an option other than falling on routine and regular summary execution. The set designers didn’t build that room just for one small scene in last week’s episode – that jail cell is going to get some use. At least, that’s my prediction.

We’re also reminded that, even though Rick and Morgan view the world from radically different lenses, they are on the same side. There are several paths that can lead to the same destination. Thankfully, the end their conversation on peaceful terms instead of thrown punches; they know that they can learn something from one another, temper their philosophies, and survive together, even if this conclusion is explicitly presented.

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Is Daryl Dixon dead? Don’t count on it. That spray of blood was pretty spectacular, but super-fans have Zaprudered it, as have I, and there are a few things to keep in mind. First, the advertisement for the season finale clearly shows Daryl in a scene, so he at the very least isn’t dead yet. More importantly, he is a fan favorite with plenty of qualities rife for further exploration in this increasingly character-driven narrative. I have long predicted that Daryl would eventually be killed because he is one of the few characters who only exists in the television series (not the source material of the graphic novel), but I have actually reversed my position on this. As the show veers further and further away form the source material, characters like Daryl and Carol and Morgan are actually more essential than ever, allowing the show-runners and the writer’s room to keep the story distinct enough from the graphic novel as to keep the show unique.

Who was the man in the barn that Rick and Morgan happen across? He had a spear that was clearly forged by the blacksmith at The Hilltop, and Rick concludes that he must be one of The Saviors. But what about the peculiar armor he’s wearing? It’s my guess that this is the first hint at yet another community wrapped-up in the trade agreement with The Hilltop and The Saviors. It’s my hope that the seed is planted in the season finale – and the brief glimpse of an armored man on horseback in the season finale preview metes this out – and we start to learn more about The Kingdom. There’s no need to spoil anything here, because I could just as easily be wrong, but it’s certainly one of my hopes.

See you next time, after Negan crushes a few skulls with his barb-wired wrapped baseball bat, Lucille.
I’m guessing she’s pretty thirsty…

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