Many years ago, as a young art student at the School of Visual Arts (SVA), in New York, I had the good fortune of taking a class with Harvey Kurtzman. Mr. Kurtzman, was one of the co-founders of EC Comics and later, a founding editor at MAD Magazine. Harvey was a really great guy, although I am not sure what he actually taught. We did whatever we wanted in class and it seemed that we were in a constant struggle to redefine what comics were.
Harvey would pepper his classes with visits from well-known working artists. What remains in my memory is one particular day. On this day the guest was Russ Heath, illustrator for GI Combat Comics. Many of my fellow students seemed to know who he was and gathered around him as he demonstrated his technique. I had little interest in his style, so I removed myself to a corner to draw privately in my sketchbook. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed another gentleman entering the classroom. In a disheveled suit, a frumpy hat and thick spectacles, this man quietly slipped around the group and planted himself at a desk right next to me. It took me a few moments before I realized it was my childhood idol, the underground cartoonist, Robert Crumb.
The drawings in this book are a renewed exploration of a style I hadn’t taken seriously since that time, which is well over 30 years ago. R. Crumb was my biggest influence throughout my developing years as an artist. Later on I would discover Bosch, Ernst, Bruegel and Tanguy to name a few. Many of my high school graduation book signers wrote “To the next Crumb” which was a huge boost to my ego. I strived to draw with his meticulousness and his sense of visual adventure. I relished my R. Crumb comic book collection, which still remains in an old tin box. Comics like Motor City, Despair and Zap, made the strongest impression on my developing pen and ink style.
An alternate influence on my work from my formative years comes in the form of a confession. For about 18 months, from the summer of 1972 till late autumn 1973, I ingested LSD or its’ ilk, every other weekend without fail. It was a period of breakthroughs in perception of the world I was growing into, as well as opening new “doors of perception” within me. I have no regrets about these forays. It stemmed from a deep curiosity about something I had heard about when I was very young; native American vision quests, which allegedly involved the use of hallucinogenics. I had little information to go on other than my curiosity, and a deep urge. One summer night I got hold of some pure mescaline and took it without telling anybody. The experience opened my mind and my heart to what I was really seeking: a spiritual path. It was during this time, that I began to draw incessantly.
Those experiences are far behind me now. I do not even venture near marijuana, having given that up at age 19. But the influence on my thinking and where I am able to push my imagination is still highly influenced by that time. I mention these things because as one looks at these images, I am always asked “what goes on in your mind?” So I am making it clear right here that no substances were used to evoke the images in this book, other than coffee. It is just an artist, sitting quietly with his pens, drawing whatever happens to impress itself on the moment. This has been my sole approach for the past decade, where I have abandoned any pre-conceptualizing in my work.
This current series began quite innocently, as all shifts in style tend to happen. I chanced upon an old box of pens in my closet. The rapidiograph was the pen of choice back when I was aspiring to be “the next Crumb.” So I began to draw little cartoons with odd themes and then passed them off to my son. He is very astute when it comes to imagery and when he looked at the first drawings, his face broke out in a smile. He was interested to see what I would do next. “Cool!,” was his response. I began to see that it encouraged him to draw more as well. It was from this point that I was inspired to continue. A new series was born.
The key factor in this work is the element of fun. I enjoy drawing them. They are not sad, or ponderous. Just slow lines, carefully placed. As the lines appear and manifest through my hand, letting them be as unusual as it is possible to let them be. It is intentional doodling. Spontaneous imagery. The less restraint, the more interesting the story unfolding becomes.
As a collection, they tell a story, although I cannot articulate what that story is. So a book seems like a natural home for them. It is a tale each viewer will have to unravel for themselves. I never really know what any of my drawings are about. They just happen. My characters always tend to be looking at something, interacting, ready to cause mischief or are thinking in a deep way about things that are beyond our ordinary boundaries. It is an attempt to allow the images to wander into unknown waters. Other than that, I am just a vehicle. A tool. And since starting this series, my drawing has been constant, with little interruption.
The wish to draw this series came more from a calling rather than a desire, and it was my duty to serve it. Hopefully, the viewer will feel the joy, the search, the questioning and at times the peace I found in creating them, and therefore, as a spectator, join me in the process.