I watched a lot of cartoons and movies. I draw incessantly and carry a sketchbook everywhere. I work in animation and self-publish my books. There are monsters in the streets, don't wear red. Mad bulls and monsters hate that color. I still watch cartoons.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Happy Holidays!

Photshop drawing on Cintiq.

Have a fun and safe holiday break! See you all in the next year.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

Japan Entry No.3: The Uesugi Evening

He arrived at the station to meet us on a Tuesday afternoon, December 7, 2004. Enrico and I had been musing in the minutes before that the designated time, 4 p.m., didn't seem conventional as dinner invites go. Then again, it's not conventional for us to be invited to the home of a world-class illustrator from Japan either and neither of us was questioning our lucky stars at this point.

He wore a black long sleeved crew neck shirt, unfazed by the fall weather. Boyish looks and easy demeanor, he gestured us to the exit where apparently a car was waiting. Hikaru Takahashi brought his car and we were introduced, then we were off on my first private car ride in Japan. I must mention that I love all the tiny cars of Tokyo. They fit the place. No need for muscle cars in a city webbed with subways and trains and the likely travel you're faced with could be done as easily with a bicycle if it weren't for the occasional need to ferry large groceries or visiting starry-eyed artists. The streets were always amazingly clean and somehow pedestrians, bicycles and mini-cars avoid collision routinely in the narrow streets.

A small van variety I keep seeing all over the place.

We were surprised to know that Hikaru we’d met already online when we were invited into a web community of artists in Japan called Mixi. We loved the idea but found that we couldn’t navigate the pages, unable to read Japanese. He drove and tried not to turn his head back to us to converse. Shortly we file out of the car and briskly make our way into the Uesugi condo, where the warm air had the unmistakable aroma of home cooking. And then we were introduced to the lady of the house, Kuro. The table at the center of the living area is already laden with small plates and food, she’d been in the middle of completing the evening's repast and welcomed us gracefully with such a open smile that one would think we were long lost relatives. I must admit I was very taken by this reception. We were home its seems, after a fashion, and no thought was given to the fact that this was the very first time we are meeting or that we could be very unpleasant folk. I was amazed and felt very honored--it was the first of many that evening when I felt I was going to lose it.

We stood around the table and met Aoi, Hikaru's daughter, and also a puppet (in the Charlie McCarthy style), a clown which Hikaru proceeds to bring to life. Kuro had been busy all day apparently making the dinner and was almost ready, now just awaiting a pork roast, "Is pork okay?" thinking now that perhaps one of us might be vegetarian. Lucky for us, we're dedicated carnivores of opportunity, and believe me that would’ve been the wrong time to become vegetarian—the roast was deeeeelicious.

Throughout dinner Tadahiro would be talking to us through Kuro, who was pulling double duty as chef and translator. His hands would move expressively about while he talked, head nods punctuating every line, then he'd point to me meaning that it was to be phrased now in English for me to hear and then Kuro would then translate. One would think that this could be cumbersome as conversations go, but surprisingly enough communication through one's gestures and inflections carry a whole lot of information and with the help of conscientious Kuro and Enrico the night was lively and full of information.

Books. I had gifts for them, t-shirts and copies of Paper Biscuit, Fragments. We also had a copy of the Art of The Incredibles for Tadahiro and he immediately commented on the retro style of the imagery. Then it was their turn and the deluge of books didn't seem to stop throughout the evening. As topics bring something to mind Tadahiro would bolt up and disappear into his office returning soon after with a book. Before dinner we had stood around his office around the bookshelves filled with books and more than a few had his familiar illustrations on covers. He lifts a book from a shelf, “This is my teacher” he says, pointing vigorously at a drawing book. Setsu Nagasawa. I saw it right off, the influence. A fashion illustrator in the classic sense. Very expressive, wildly gestural and with attitude. I shift to documentation mode and was snapping pictures and Enrico was taking down notes. Tadahiro would point to another book that I had just bought earlier at Kinokuniya, an illustrator of the UPA/Sasek mold, Ryohei Yanagihara. Unmistakable again—and now an even closer influence in a Japanese Sasek hero. All this was making my head swim. There was going to be more.

Later, other folks were showing up we were told. Tamami Yamakado, who was in movie distribution, is a friend of Kuro’s and had been enlisted to help in translating since she had studied in the U.S. and speaks fluent English. Although Enrico and Kuro had a good handle on the conversation I was relieved to have another English speaker to keep me in the mix. The conversation soon got to comics and Tadahiro was off again. He hands me a book by Jiro Taniguchi and proceeds to explain that he was an apprentice to Mr. Tanaguchi once back in the early nineties. What’s this? Tadahiro in comics? An apprentice, no less. He points to the cover of “The Walking Man” and says that he drew the houses and stone walls and steps. “Did not do the color,” he quickly points out. I can see why since it was less than exemplary.

Well, fancy that? He’d done comics. Hikaru too, I gather, was also an assistant at one time (He now is on his own. I have a book of his now). Then Tadahiro announces that one of the phone calls was from the studio of Mr. Tanaguchi and he is sending an assistant to hand us copies of his books. Whoa. Now, I know that I must have been good in some lifetime but this just bust loose from its moorings. Yoichiro Hiroki, the assistant, did arrive within the hour and our party was in full flight. The books were impressive. All this time I was also trying to eat everything in site. Tadahiro even broke out the vintage sake for the occasion (I didn’t know what good sake tastes like, but I do now).

The night was moving apace and Tadahiro was curious about Enrico and I, asking questions about where we studied, “how did you fix your style?” “Do you know of artist, Alex Nino?” Apparently he was struck by the unique brushwork by the legendary artist from the Philippines. I never met Alex myself but do know of Gerry Alanguilan’s website and the Philippine Comics Art Museum. I promise to send him a link. Then he disappears again only to return with an envelope. Enrico opens it. It was a stack of bond paper doodles. That’s too simple. They really weren’t doodles. Not the kind us humans know to do. I’m handed another stack and I must have quite the expression on my face because Kuro was smiling and looking to her husband as if to say, “This one’s really having a blast with that, isn’t that sweet?” Well, I was. My jaw was agape the whole time and I sneak looks at Enrico’s stack and they were even more stunning. By the time I finished looking through both stacks, Hikaru would add that there were boxes and boxes of these in the office. Tadahiro brings out a pen, “The only pen I use.” I look at it and see that it looks like a lot of the pens one could purchase in the U.S. and not forged in Asgard. He promptly offers it to me, “Keep!”

Okay, I’m the modest sort and given to demure in the face of generosity, a cultural reflex learned from boyhood in the Philippines, but I wasn’t going to pass this up. He brings out a brush. A Japanes fine hair one, for detail work from the looks of it. He offers that to me as well. Now, I can’t very well turn that down, are you kidding? I inquire about a drawing of a lady curled up onto her self in full dress and the ink line. He brings out the brush he used, the kind that has it’s own ink reservoir in the handle. He gestures for me to have it as well. I feel like I’ve received enough and laugh out to decline. If I thought more about it…

The conversation was lively and everyone was having a good time but it was getting late. Hikaru was trying to call for a sane regard for how Enrico and I were to get back to our hotels. Tadahiro talks to Hikaru and at the end of the exchange he waves his hand, “No problem.” Earlier in the evening Tadahiro had sounded out that he was going to give a demonstration of how he worked. I know I heard that wrong and it sure is easy to do that here. But here was Kuro again reminding him that he has yet to show us. I’m not really understanding this right, am I?

What followed was the act of a man comfortable with is craft and generous as any child welcoming a friend to see his toybox treasures or simply a more evolved being in a selfless act of inclusion. He shared his procedure with us and we looked, marveled at how simple it was. To answer just this much because I promised not to divulge any of it…it’s all Photoshop. And to tell you honestly, I didn’t get all of it because his Mac had all the menus in Japanese.

When it was time to go the trains were down to the last trips and my hotel was the farthest point. Enrico and Tamami can catch their train it seems but I was going to be driven personally by Hikaru and Hiroki. I felt bad that we might be putting him out. The Uesugi’s walked outside to see us off and we shook hands, I wish I had said that night that is was quite an honor to have met him and that I will never forget this evening for rest of my life. Instead I may have said, “I now have bragging rights! Wait ‘till the boys back home here about this!” I don’t remember. But I do know that everything else is going to be told over and over again. You can ask me and I can rave about that evening on cue, in chronology and never tire of telling it. That is, until the next time this happens.

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Japan Entry No.2

Soho's in Jingumae. World conquest needs a good vantage point.

The most important component to my trip was timing my trip to coincide with Enrico's. We had mused one day in September or October about just jumping into an airplane to catch Miyazaki's "Howl's Moving Castle" in November. How cool would that be? And darned if we didn't do this trip right.

Being in Japan without any capacity to speak the language or make heads or tails of the trains and subways would be challenging to any first time visitor. If that first visitor is me, then multiply that challenged state a few hundred fold. But Enrico figured all that ahead of time and kept me informed and did the diligence of translating all our conversations with everyone he introduced me to.

Akihabara. Met a doll. She gave me the silent treatment.

I was tagging along and felt free to stare wide-eyed at the immense spectacle that is Tokyo. So, thanks, pal. Anytime you need a guide in Manila, let me know (actually, I've not been back for so long I'm likely to get just as lost. I can translate though). Now, I gotta go back to Japan with some Japanese lessons in my belt so I can figure all this out on my own and pass along the help to others.

Okay, besides just walking, shopping, meeting awesome people and eating astoundingly good food we both even got in some discussions on what to do about our books and careers next year. Sketchcrawl is such a great idea that it would be a shame to just keep this journal sketching jones to just the few who have done it with us. Enrico had started something really good here and people are responding. More will have to be done. Then there are the books and conventions. APE and San Diego. Perhaps Angouleme the following year so we can do what we did here in Japan there in France. What's next? Singapore? This travelling bug and meeting artists from other countries is such a blast that maybe we can keep this going. Hey, it doesn't cost anything to plan, eh?

The Ghibli Museum. We walked along a small lagoon that had trees turning their fiery fall colors and avoided stepping on ducks, a bedroom community really, then through a sparse park. Could there really be a museum in here? Before long, Enrico was saying, "We're here." Whoa. There it was. Not imposing in size but eyecatching really, blended well with its surroundings. Good job with that, I thought. We got treated very well at the museum and got to roam around before the doors opened. We were met at the door by Chihiro Tsukue who normally works in the studio but would be our guide through the museum.

As we stepped in and my eyes could not be bigger as I finally got to stand in front of these magical exhibits that I've only seen in pictures from others who've taken the tour. Man, if you think that Miyazaki is a master at creating convincing worlds in his movies, just wait till you walk around this museum. He designed the whole thing! There were exhibits that explained animation and all it's evolutionary manifestations. The most impressive was a circular animating loop of the characters from "My Neighbor Totoro" done in small sculpts, in-betweened to create a tableau of a merry-go-round of character cycles. The strobing light creates the film frames to hold the images in place and then--viola! Magic. Later we meet Goro Miyazaki, Hayao's son, who runs the museum and graciously welcomed us. He had illustrations in the museum which were fine engravings of such exacting detail. A chip off the old block.

I could go on and on about the stairs, the bookshelves, dioramas showing Miyazaki at work and as a Pig character; the hundreds of drawings on the walls surrounding the "imagined ideal workspace" of master Miyazaki, drawings on animation disks you can flip yourself, multi-plane camera set-ups...it was glorious.

Then, there was the Pixar exhibit. The gates of Pixar, Emeryville, replicated inside a room dedicated to the work of Pixar. Man, even we don't have this kind of exhibit back at work. It was so good to see work that can only be viewed in the archives but right here, arranged for viewing. Many pictures of John and Miyazaki together, even one of them in a plane worthy of Porco Rosso himself, with both of them in goggles. Then I find my own drawings from "Finding Nemo." Man that was so cool! My drawings are in the Ghibli Museum! The mind reels and implodes. I also had many caricatures on a board full of the Nemo story crew caricatures. But wait, there's more. A pastel illustration of Mike and Sully standing at the bus stop in "...Totoro" along with Totoro himself that we all signed. There was my signature and drawing of Nina, right below it is Enrico's drawing of Porco and a greeting in Japanese--they recognize him at the studio right away because of that.

But I wasn't done. There was shopping to be done. So off to the store where I proceeded to grab stuff like a madman, battling moms and grandmothers to merchandize that I feel I won't have a chance at ever again. These places do that to me, you see. I won't say that I went overboard but let's just say that my luggage needed to be sat on to zip closed.

Okay, I'm just prattling on. Go visit the museum. It's so worth the trip. I'd show you more pictures but that would just spoil the surprise when you get there.

Pencil and watercolor on Fabriano sketchbook page.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Back from Japan!

Gun-slinging photo shot above by Enrico "Quickdraw" Casarosa

I have photos, six hundred or so, to prove that I was there. Otherwise I could question that it happened at all. I woke up this morning from the first full night’s sleep since I got back from Japan yesterday —the sleep of the dead, depth charges couldn’t have roused me from the jet-black-lagged coma. I can recall the details but already they are slipping away—the constant sound of announcements out to the ever moving crowd, the roar of Pachinko parlors, boot legged women well appointed to the nines riding bicycles, men in business suits pouring out to lunch counters, trains whistling into stations heralded by chimes and voices, the oppression of second hand smoke. It was all marvelous!

Enrico’s sojourn in Japan had started two weeks earlier and we had conspired to meet on his third week there. It was a great deal for me, since I don’t speak a lick of Japanese but Enrico can converse freely like a local. Instant guide and translator! I swear, if it wasn’t for him my trip would have been infinitely more boring and frustrating. We met at Shinjuku station on December 2 after my JR express ride of gawking at the country side. Shinjuku station, the largest of the train stations in Tokyo, where literally millions pass through on a regular day is also an amalgam of shops, malls, stairs, turnstiles, ticket machines and rushing crowds. From there we trudged over to my hotel and checked in. We knew it was likely going to be small but I was still struck by how small. It was a long closet with a bed, a dresser and a bathroom (I will notice that all toilets here are built to have your knees just inches from the door that closes on it).

We immediately head out to walk the night streets of Shinjuku. The lights, noise and the sound of commerce on full throttle. After an eyeful of the delights being offered by Pachinko parlors, girl clubs -- and there were men clubs for equal opportunity dates for sale, complete with a star roster of matinee idol head shotss and slick asian mullet coifs—we headed past the small eateries in an alley (Piss Alley, though Enrico assures me only the name persists) he settles on a more conventional restaurant to eat our first meal together in Japan. Noodles and Mochi soup. Yum. I also took the first photo of what would be a near perfect documentation of all my meals there. It would all be glorious eatin’.

Before I forget I have to thank a couple of people, Heather Feng for helping us out with the Ghibli people and Michele Spane for making sure we got in the museum and treated to a special tour. I had a little scare at the very start of the trip. On the way to the airport I rummage through all the pertinent papers needed for the trip and found the tickets furnished by Michele weeks earlier missing! ARRRGH! NO! I was in a panic and called her at work before my plane left. She wasn't worried at all, she said she'll call ahead and will take care of it then told me to just have fun. That was so nice. Heather continued to correstpond with Studio Ghibli to pave the way for our visiting the studio well in to the trip. My eternal gratitude to you both.

I know that I can't possibly post everything I experienced here in one post so I'll break it into several. There were many highlights in a trip that's left a sad yearning for the place. The best part were the people I met through Enrico's network of friends he's garnered over the eight times he's been visiting Japan. The Tamori's :Yozo, Mitchiko and their son, Atsushi who works for Studio I.G. We had dinner with them in Mitaka on December 3 at a small restaurant that had bar seating and tables at back. Apparently Enrico had earlier seen a curious looking horizontal slot running along a wall and peered in. It was a window to this restaurant and Mitchiko decided that reservations were to be made. I found the Tamori's to be so welcoming that you can hardly believe how genuine it is. Throughout my stay I will meet them several more times and each time I grow more fond of them.I also met Brian who works for Hitachi. Originally from Texas he fell in love with Japan when his parents took him to visit a cousin. He vowed to work there someday and to date he's been in Japan for eight years. Brian speaks fluent Japanese and in all gatherings from hereon I will be the only one who will need an English translation of conversations -- I now wish I'd taken the same Japanese lessons my kids are taking. Dinner was great. That's an understatement. Personally prepared dishes as well as grilling on coal bowls set between guest made such an evening so unique.The chef did a masterful job of creating rather avant garde dishes (I think, but what do I know) some of which I featured above. He's quite young to be chef master, kidding around with us even as we ask about other guests' orders being prepared right in view. I snap a picture of him as he hams it up with a fish head as you can see above--and now I'm making good on a threat that I would post it on the net. Hello, Chef!

Alright. I'm going to skip and go for a teaser. We are great fans of Tadahiro Uesugi and this visit was just as much about meeting him as anything. We couldn't believe our eyes when we see the email that invites us to "have a party" at his place. He's not kidding, is he? Well, meet him we did. Party? Did we ever! A lot happened that blew the doors off of my fragile mind that night and I am still reeling from it. I am such a lucky bastard--pardon my English--but I just met a modern master of illustration and he had us over for dinner! I am so insanely lucky!

And as if that wasn't enough, we met illustrator Takahashi Hikaru there as well. He was taking photos and sent me one of them, that's it above. More on the Uesugi party, his lovely wife,Kuro-chan, Takahashi Hikaru and the rest on the next post.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

I'm off to Japan

Lost girl done on storyboard paper. Pencil and watercolor. Actual media rulez. Nina in a Cosplay get up. Did this drawing weeks ago and had meant to post it for Thanksgiving.

Whew! Just got in from chasing down the clock at work. I had to finish a sequence before I left and I almost got it all done, too. Darn. I spent too much time doing some in-between poses for a horde of shots. I'll admit it just this once...I was having fun. Sometimes the work is good, no? My thanks to Heather Feng for paving the way for what portends to be a mind-blowing trip. And my pal, Ricky "King Karaoke" Nierva for heralding our arrival over there so's they don't sic the dobermans at us.

Last minute packing (as always) and hoping I brought the clothes I'd actually wear. My wife packed the suitcase (I'd be a ball of frazzled nerves if I were a day without that woman) and it looked like I can be dressed for every winter scenario (and it's only fall there). Likely, I'll wear half of all that but she says, "You'll never know..." I checked the weather in Tokyo and I see that it's around the low fifties to high forties. Enrico already gave me a heads up that I should wear layers. Boy, I gots me layers alright.

Jing from Super 7 emailed me all these treasure spots of toys, books, what-nots and then some. Ahk! I'm going to be very poor, very soon. This ought to be fun. Charles Kiyasu sent me all these tips on how to get around the commuting hassles. I hope to put them to good use--or relish being lost.

Metafilter featured yours truly last November 27 in an entry (I should tell them that I didn't work on "The Incredibles" huh? I stood right next to people who did. 'That count?) and my website traffic went through the roof. This here blog gained more subcribers as a result. Sweet! My thanks to the folks of Metafilter. Another place that have featured this here website is March Design. I sometimes break some items here that get featured there. Sweet again. If you're looking for a great graphic design related hub then you should visit Coudal Partners. Chocfull of reading and I love the Western State documentaries by Slowtron, one of which I feature right here.