Nachos!

Nachos aren’t just a delicious snack, they are a part of my heritage, which is why I’ll be celebrating National Nacho Day on Nov. 6th. Per Wikipedia, the first plate of nachos was created in the city of Peidras Negras, Coahulia, Mexico, which is right along the Texas border, by Ignacio “Nacho” Anaya, a distant relative of mine. As the story goes, he was the maitre d’hotel at a restaurant that had just closed, when a group of hungry patrons came in. Not wanting to turn them away, he took what little they had in the kitchen and turned those humble ingredients into a dish that has not only endured the test of time, but spawned a butt load of variations. Nachos have become so popular that there is not only a National Nacho Day, but also an International Nacho Festival that is held between Oct. 13th and 15th, in Peidras Negras. Now that’s a snack!

According to the lore, “Nacho” Anaya scavenged the meager stores of his kitchen and, finding only tortillas and cheese, manifested the glorious food that are nachos. This part of the story resonates so strongly with me. One of my particular joys is to enter a kitchen, the more foreign to me the better, and, using only what I find, create a delicious meal. The creativity that such a challenge poses is a total rush and, if I’m actually successful at making something tasty and nutritious, I feel like a true artist. I have considered creating an Iron Chef style event just among my circle of friends, several of who like to cook and all of who love to eat. But I digress.

Nachos are basically tortilla chips and cheese, but what’s the fun in that? Talk about a palette that is begging for color. Traditional additions are things like black beans, chopped onions, sliced jalapenos, meat (too many to list here), tomatoes, olives and the like. I like meat, like I’m pretty much a carnivore, but nachos are one of the few dishes that I don’t think do well with meat. Ground beef with taco seasoning is common, but I think it makes the dish too greasy. Chicken is usually shredded and the pieces are so large that they break the already overburdened tortilla chips. Pulled pork? WTF? This isn’t BBQ! And, for the love of God, please don’t ever tell me about the abomination that are tachos, nachos made with tater tots instead of tortilla chips. The secret to the best nachos is crunchy chips baked to sublime crispiness, cemented together with gooey cheese, slightly burnt at the edges to give it its own unique crispiness as well.

A word needs to be said about cheese. This may be an unpopular, but I feel that cheddar is a completely unsuitable cheese for melting. Don’t get me wrong, I love cheddar, but the oil separates too easily upon melting creating an unsavory consistency. For my palette, a combination of colby and jack cheeses will provide the perfect flavor and viscosity combination. Am I thinking about cheese too much? Damn, I really want some nachos now. Well, until next time, stay gooey.

Waiting

Being a doctor makes one very good at waiting. Well, maybe not good, but it gives one a lot of practice. Waiting for lab results. Waiting for patients to get out of surgery. Waiting to get authorization for insurance companies. Waiting for specialists and consultants to get back to you. In medicine, there was a phrase we used to use; the tincture of time. It often referred to seeing a patient with uncertain symptomatology. Many times, the best one can do is nothing, just have the patient come back a few weeks later. Often, the symptoms will resolve on their own, or become something more defined. Without a clear path ahead, sometimes the best one can do is wait.

There is a parable of sorts about this. There were two physicians travelling together, long, long ago. Master and student, wandering together and helping who they could. They came across a man who travelled with them for a ways. Learning that they were doctors, he freely discussed several of his aches and pains, his myriad of symptoms becoming a topic of conversation for miles of the journey. The younger doctor, wishing to prove his knowledge, expounded on the therapies and treatments that he felt would help many of the man’s problems. The man barely seemed to hear. During the day’s journey, the older physician talked freely as well, but about anything but medicine. Family, the weather, the best fishing spots in the region; simple conversation that passed the time, every topic seemingly inconsequential. That night, around the campfire, they all continued their discussions, but the older doctor finally decided the time was right to discuss medical matters. Now, in the flickering firelight, the man listened in rapt attention to the elder physician, duly noting every bit of advice that fell from the old man’s lips. The younger doctor listened, as well, noting that the advice was identical to what he had told the man earlier that day, but now the man acted as if he were hearing the wisdom of the gods.

The next day, the man bid the two doctors farewell and they went on their way. Once again in each others company, the younger asked his mentor why the man had ignored his own advice, yet listened so readily to the older physician. The wise doctor said to the younger physician, “there was nothing wrong with the advice you gave to the man, but there was one ingredient that you left out of your prescription. Time. He needed time to hear what was being said. Time to say the things he needed to say. For him to hear you, he first needed to feel that you were hearing him.”

Now I’m learning that being an artist makes one very good at waiting, too. Waiting for gesso to dry. Waiting for inspiration to hit. Waiting for my paint to be the right consistency. Waiting for a customer to get back to me. Waiting. I suppose every profession has its waiting. And I don’t mind it so much anymore. I much prefer waiting for my prints to be ready to waiting for my patient to die. Also, I usually have three different pieces going, not to mention writing blog posts and having a piece of meat brining in the fridge, so there’s that. That’s for listening and I hope you have as little waiting in your life as possible.

Top 10 Comic Book Artists (according to me)

First of all, let me make it very clear that this list is only my opinion. I don’t mean to say others artists are bad or that I’m even some sort of expert on the subject. I’m just another starry eyed fan boy gushing to the masses. It nearly killed me trying to pick a top ten and to fudge it a little, I’ve dumped a bunch of names into an “honorable mention” category. This is a very personal list, with inclusion determined by not only artistic talent, but by how deeply their art affected me as I was developing my own style. Without further ado, let’s begin.

Juan Jose Ryp

My first peek at Juan Jose Ryp’s art was the Warren Ellis comic, Black Summer. This was followed up by No Hero, also by Warren Ellis and just as dark. His art was perfect for these stories. So detailed you don’t know where to look first and filled with an intense energy that makes one feel that everything on the page is in constant motion. He’s one of the few artists that could make me overlook bad writing in a comic, though I have yet to put that to the test. Warren Ellis is one of my favorite writers and, though I have read very little of Charlie Huston’s work, I thought that the limited series, Wolverine: The Best There Is, is excellent.

Alex Ross

The first time I saw Alex Ross’s work, I never would have considered him a comic book artist. His style is so painterly that I just thought his superhero pieces were fan art, a side line to what he normally produces. Then, Kingdom Come proved me wrong. Quite simply, his art is gorgeous. If you’ve seen his work, you know what I’m talking about and if you haven’t, then go, right now, and look at his art.

Robert Crumb

Probably one of the earliest of my influences, Robert Crumb attained fame from his work in the underground comix realm, with characters like Fritz the Cat and titles like American Splendor. His work was immediately accessible to me, mostly simple black and white pen and ink drawings. He is a master of cross hatching and I did my best to emulate him in my teenage years. His penchant for drawing rubenesque women was also a factor in my appreciation of his work. I won’t go on about Crumb; so much has already been written about him (he’s even got a freakin’ documentary for frickin’ sakes!) and I just wanted to share my love.

John Byrne

Another early influence, I became acquainted with Byrne’s work when he was drawing the X-Men. Part of my love for his art was because of the Dark Phoenix saga, but I followed him onto Alpha Flight, as well. Alpha Flight never garnered much attention, but there’s something I love about the idea of a Canadian superhero team. It always struck me as odd how American centric superhero comics are. Some titles have included superheroes from other countries, heck, Captain Britain had his own comic for a while, but, overall, the scene has been North American dominated.

I’ll include a link to John Byrne’s website, but let me warn you in advance, it’s nearly overwhelming in how busy it is and just how much art and information is amassed there.

Frank Frazetta

I feel a little guilty about including Frazetta on this list, because my experience with his art was not through comics. So, while, technically he is considered a comic book artist, I will forever associate him with Molly Hatchet. Frazetta did the art for their first three albums, all of them featuring bad-ass barbarian dudes.

As a comic book fan, whose art is usually rendered in inks, it’s always striking to me when I see a painter in the mix. Frank Frazetta trained at the Brooklyn Academy of Fine Arts and, while there, trained under a celebrated, Italian painter, Michele Falanga. Falanga was so impressed with Frazetta’s talent, he was going to send him to Italy, on his own dime, for further study, but he died before that could happen. He began drawing for comics when he was 16 and later worked with both movie studios and book publishers doing posters and covers. He did one animated feature called Fire & Ice, with Ralph Bakshi, which was released in 1983. There’s nothing overly original about the story itself (IMO), but the art is gorgeous. In later life, he suffered a series of strokes that affected his ability to do art, forcing him to switch to his left hand. He died of a stroke in 2010.

Frank Quitely (AKA Vincent Deighan)

Words cannot express how much I love Frank Quietly’s work (I say as I write these words). The first time I saw his work was in a comic called, Gangland, a crime-themed rag of short stories that was dark enough to scratch my itch. He has worked on The Authority, Flex Mentallo, Jupiter’s Legacy and All-Star Superman. His art is gloriously detailed and intricate. He won the “Best Artist” Harvey Award in 2007, 2008 and 2009.
The is one of the few artists I am envious of. There are many, many artists whose work I appreciate, but, being an artist myself, which brings a certain amount of arrogance about one’s own art, I don’t usually consider them better than myself. Their styles are either so different from mine that there is no way to compare, or the artist has a style that I enjoy, but would never want to do myself. You hear stories such as the tales about blues singer, Robert Johnson, who sold his soul to become the greatest blues musician. If the devil asked for my soul in exchange for Mr. Quitely’s level of talent, I’d say ‘no’, but there would be one hell of a long pause before I did.

Rick Griffin

A true child of the 60’s, Griffin was in the heart of San Francisco during the summer of love. He was part of Ken Kesey’s Acid Test and created a number of posters for psychedelic bands. His first art exhibition was at the Psychedelic Shop on Haight Street. In the early 70’s, he started doing some work for Zap comix. I’m not sure where I got them, but I have a number of “underground” comix, which, incidentally, is where I also got into Robert Crumb, and I would literally study the pages illustrated by Griffin. I consider his style to be quintessential 60’s psychedelia.
He died at the age of 47 in a motorcycle accident. Prior to his death, he found God and became a christian. I have seen a few articles that commented on how this entirely changed his style, but I did not find this to be true. His illustrations of biblical scenes seem just as trippy to me as his drug-centered work, but then some consider religion a drug itself, so that doesn’t really seem that strange to me.

Richard Corben

I don’t know how he gets the look he does in his art, but the first word that comes to mind, to describe his work, is lush. There is almost a 3D look to it. One can practically feel the flesh of his characters, smell the hot, foul breath of the fanged maws of the creatures he draws. The very first piece I saw by him was the album cover for Meat Loaf’s 1977 album, Bat Out of Hell, but he also had numerous contributions to the magazine, Heavy Metal. His art does not shy away from some rather extreme sex and violence, which I confess a slight weakness for.

Bill Sienkiewicz

In the late 80’s, I got my hands on a four issue series called, Stray Toasters. It was an incredibly surreal piece that I fell completely in love with. Without giving any spoilers, it reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s The Screwtape Letters. The story was certainly strange and convoluted, but I don’t believe it would have had the effect it did on me without the art of Bill Sienkiewicz. Rendered in subdued pastels, the art is phrenetic, having no respect for the neat boxes that usually make up the panels of a comic book, the sequential nature of the story delightfully uncertain and bound only by the page itself. Oh, and he wrote the comic, too.
I’ve read those comics time and time again, and I still consider the work to be one of the finest stories I’ve ever read. This sounds like hyperbole, I know, but I have a rather unusual taste in the stories I like and they’re not easy to find. Stray Toasters checked all the boxes for me. After more than 30 years, he is still very active in the comics scene, drawing for titles such as Batman, The Hulk, 30 Days of Night and the like. He has also done album art for RZA, Roger Waters and Kid Cudi, and even illustrated cards for Magic the Gathering.

Will Eisner

You don’t claim to be a comic books fan without knowing Will Eisner. Born the child of Jewish immigrants, he began drawing illustrations for pulp magazines in the 30’s. His most famous creation, The Spirit, an urban crime-fighting comic, ran from 1940 to 1952 and profoundly influenced comic book artists for years to come. He did work for the U.S. Army during WW2, his illustrations used for educational purposes, training soldiers in vehicle maintenance and ordinance usage.
His career spanned about 40 years and he even formally taught comic book creation, writing two books on the subject, Comics and Sequential Art and Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative. Truly one of the greats!

Honorable Mention

As I said earlier, I can’t really realistically only name the top 10 artists. There are so many awesome inkers and painters and illustrators, that to ignore them would be criminal. The likes of Frank Miller, Steve Dillon, Bruce Timm, Dave Mack, Mobeus, Mike Mignola, Milo Manara, Jim Lee and countless others have inspired me to be a better artist. In building my technique and style, I have borrowed much from them and I am eternally grateful for their art.

I Love Comic Books!

I love comic books. There’s no better way to put it. They have been a major part of my life for most of my existence. As a child, I grew up with my uncle reading comics to me. Spiderman, Iron Man, Conan the Barbarian, the X-Men; we were Marvel fans all the way, True Believers! The first comic I ever bought myself was Ghost Rider. I guess a motorcycle riding demonic spirit of vengeance appealed to my prepubescent self. Comic books expanded my vocabulary, enhanced my love of reading, taught me some elements of storytelling and inspired me with their colorful and dramatic images. They made me the man I am today.

In high school, I discovered independent comics, titles put out by companies who were not one of the big two, DC and Marvel. Eastman and Laird were local celebrities when Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first came out. I still have some of their first and second printings of the early TMNT and I think they even did a signing at the comic shop in Portsmouth, NH that I used to go to. I would read and reread issues of Dave Sims’s Cerebus the Aardvark, both because of the intricacies of some of the art and to catch the humor as they lampooned the world of comics, as well as several other favorite targets, such as politics and religion. Teenage me loved the sex and violence that characterized Howard Chakin’s American Flagg. There was one time, during a final exam, I finished the test early and was required to sit quietly at my desk, while other students still worked, taking full advantage of their allotted time. Fortunately, anticipating this very situation, I had brought comics with me. One of these comics happened to be the finale of Matt Wagner’s first Mage series. I got so caught up in it, I forgot where I was and, at the end, almost jumped out of my seat and cheered for the hero’s inevitable victory. Like any art form, be it music or movies, comics have a way of creating an emotional response that can just sweep one along.

College interrupted my love affair with comics as certain other interests took their place. Not to mention that I wasn’t exactly rolling in money. It was reignited when I transferred out to a California school, where I didn’t know many people. Having more freetime, without overwhelming social obligations, I indulged in one of my favorite pastimes, wandering through libraries. It turned out that my university’s library had a graphic novels section, I happened upon it when I had a 2 hour break between classes. Browsing the stacks, I found a copy of Alan Moore’s The Watchmen and sat down to read it. I could not put it down. I skipped my class and burned through it in 3 hours and got up unsteadily when I was done. That book rocked my frickin’ world. Taking an almost equal role during that time period is Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns.

Somewhere in that time period I also discovered underground comix. I could say a few words here and there about the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers, Cherry Poptart and Fritz the Cat, but the two main influences to come out of this genre are Robert Crumb and Rick Griffin.

I still read comics. The titles I currently follow are (in no particular order) Ms. Marvel, Lazarus, East of West, Walking Dead, Wildstorm, Saga, The Injection, Scarlet to name a few. At the height of my comic addiction, I was probably buying 40-50 titles a month. I own complete, or nearly complete, sets of The Boys, Preacher (Love Garth Ennis), an entire box of Batmans, a bunch of special events, like Blackest Night, Flash Point, Infinite Crisis, etc. To appease my wife, who would often look in horror at my exponentially growing collection, I eliminated roughly a third of my comics, meaning I currently only have 2,000 to 2,500 comics left. Don’t worry; I’m already building it back up again. Don’t let my wife know.

I’ve made this too long already. I wanted to talk specifically about comic artists that I love, that have influenced my work, but I think I’ll move that to another post. Given the internet’s love of top 10 lists, I’m going to make a list of MY top 10 favorite comic book artists for next week’s blog post.

What is your style? (or Why the Dots?)

I hate brush strokes. That pretty much sums up my style. My first experiments in color involved watercolor markers. Their soft tips left lines where the marks overlapped, making darker lines as the layers of pigment bled into the paper, like the pattern vacuumed into a shag carpet. I hated the look. My solution was to use the markers in a circular motion. I would have preferred a uniform field of color, but wasn’t unhappy with the cloudy swirls that resulted. As it turned out, though, this swirly pattern was what people commented on the most.

Color has never come to me easy. I was terrified of color, at first, avoiding it like the plague for years. Those watercolor markers busted my prismatic cherry, but I wanted more, I wanted bigger and for that, I’d need paint. I choose acrylics for their simplicity and affordability. Space was tight in the one bedroom apartment I lived in at the time and it seemed a bit risky to keep the flammable supplies I would need for oil painting. Watercolors, with a brush, not the markers, have always been too uncontrollable for me and while I knew of gouache and tempera, I had no idea how they worked. So, acrylics it was, but I still needed to figure out what to do about the brush strokes.


My first few paintings were crap, but that’s no surprise. At that point I had failed so many times at so many things that failure is expected. I only have a few pieces from my “early days”, the rest long since thrown away or painted over. “Three Birds” is the first piece where my current style began to emerge. The paint was applied by being dabbed onto the surface, which didn’t quite achieve the look I wanted, but did eliminate several brushstrokes. I don’t really like this piece anymore, my style having developed and progressed in my opinion, but it does possess a raw energy that was the purpose of the piece. My wife likes it, and has insisted that I keep showing it, but I suspect that she may be a little biased.


My use of dots is slightly more developed in my piece, “Otherworldly”, but they are used sparingly, only for background. It wasn’t until “God of the Ants” that dots became a major aspect of my work. This is also the piece that made me realize that I like working big. At 47” X 29.5”, I can remember looking at the vast expanse to be filled and thinking, “Do I really want to do this? Do I really want to try to cover this with dots?” I didn’t keep track of every minute I spent working on this, but it was created over a three month span. I used to roam the neighborhood searching for painting surfaces, and was very excited to happen upon the sides of a shipping crate. “Otherworldly” is also on one of these sides. Unfortunately, in addition to its size, “God of the Ants” weighs in at a little over 18lbs, making it difficult to hang anywhere, so it has never been publicly shown.


Using layers of dots upon dots also provided a way for me to blend colors. Without any classes, any training in things such as color theory, I was clueless as to how to mix different colors on my palette. Not that I don’t still try, but my results are far from predictable. If nothing else, my use of dots gives my paintings a look that is distinctively mine. As much as I lament about how long it takes me to build a painting the way I do and how I sometimes wish that I had gone to art school, that I had been “trained” in some way, I am proud that I can own my style. I look forward to seeing how this style of mine will grow and develop over the years.

Who am I?

As basic a question as this is, it’s one that I’ve always avoided answering. I enjoy being the chameleon, the one who could step into any role that needed to be filled. The scientist, the healer, the brute, the poet, the lover, the strange, silent guy mumbling to himself in the corner; I’ve been all of them at one time or another. Until now, I’ve never claimed the title of artist, despite creating art for the vast majority of my life. It seems like I’ve tried every career path I could to avoid being a professional artist, but none of them ever rang true.

I was born and raised along the southern coast of Maine. Got my black belt in karate and began teaching to help put myself through college. Graduated with a degree in chemistry and went to work in an analytical lab. Began taking tai chi and studying to become an acupuncturist, but ended up getting a scholarship to a medical school in Maine, which made medicine the more financially viable path for me. My time in medicine was brief and I went into biotech, which was an equally uncomfortable fit. Just before my dive into art, I spent an extended period operating my own bodywork practice, while teaching anatomy at a medical school on the side. Throughout all this time, I kept telling myself that I would do art seriously, once I felt I was “stable” enough. At a certain point, it became obvious that the “right” time would never come and I was going to have to make art a priority, or it would never happen.

Despite what many people may believe, art is not easy. I don’t make art because I want to; it is a relentless compulsion that drives me to create. A cruel taskmaster that demands that I manifest the crazed visions that blossom within me. How does one paint joy or sketch dread? I spend agonized hours in internal conflict about whether I should use quinacridone violet or magenta. My job is to bring the impossible to life and accept the inadequate fruits of my labor. My work is a solitary endeavor. I can’t even talk to others about my work, since few are interested in the intricacies of paint viscosity or the difference in tooth between smooth and vellum Bristol board. Don’t get me wrong, there is joy involved, as well. Making beauty is an ecstatic experience, an act I consider to be my highest purpose. I claim the title of artist with a great amount of pride, but it is a role so ill-defined, often times outside the very boundaries of society, that there is a butt-clenching level of fear that accompanies that pride.

Of course, I want to be rich and successful, but, right now, I’ll just be happy if I don’t shit myself.