Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Monster of Rock

Frankenstein’s monster purchased Jerry Garcia’s legendary guitar “Tiger” at auction yesterday for an undisclosed amount. The custom axe was made for Garcia by guitar maker Doug Irwin.

The move comes two days after Frankenstein’s monster unloaded 55,000 shares of Google.

“I’ve loved string instruments ever since that hermit in the woods played his violin for me” quipped Frank, as the monster prefers to be called.

When this reporter mentioned that the encounter with the hermit ended badly, Frank quickly changed the subject. “I’ve been in love with “Tiger” ever since I saw the Dead in Oakland one Halloween back in the day—so I jumped at the chance to bid on it.”

The monster is currently in rehearsal with his new band “Frankenjerry”, which includes Wolfman on drums and Vampirella on bass. The Creature from the Black Lagoon has been mentioned as a possible keyboard player. No tour dates have been announced yet.

Illustration by Steve Lafler.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

New Lafler Comics coming up in "Other" magazine

A ten page excerpt of my upcoming comic book called "Cat Suit" is scheduled to appear in the next issue of Other magazine.

A work in progress, Cat Suit asks:

Why would a grown man put on a skin tight suit and head out into the city after midnight? I mean, what is this guy really up to????

The guy is question is Manx, a costumed cat man. He can't figure it out either so he goes to Dr. Grippo, a sultry divorcee shrink from Eastern Europe.
All heck breaks loose when Manx reveals to Dr. Grippo that he has fallen for Delia, a hottie he picks up on one of his late night excursions.

The four pages above will be included in the piece in Other.

I freely admit that I don't know how long this piece will be, or when it will appear. Forty pages are drawn, about 60 are written. About 30 are inked.
This art and other recent stuff from me can be viewed at my stevelafler.net site.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

I'm Painting -- I'm Painting Again

I'm cleaning -- I'm cleaning my brain.
Pretty soon now I will be bitter
Pretty soon now I'll be a quitter
You can't see it till it's finished.

My apologies to Talking Heads for quoting the preceding lyrics from Talking Heads '77 without consulting any lawyers!

In my previous post, I waxed darn near poetic about viewing Cezanne landscapes last week at MOMA in NYC. Damn if I didn't come home and get the paint right out!

Truth be told, it all dovetails with my central blog theme of Self Employment for Bohemians. I'd been thinking about my custom screen printing business; I've been a T-Shirt guy since December 1977. For those of you who can count, that's twenty nine f'ing years pulling a squeegee!

I love working for myself, but frankly never intended to spend my life as a T-Shirt printer. So, having put a toe in the editorial/commercial illustration worlds at varoius times in my work life and found it not too odious, I've decided to go ahead and jump in, test the waters as it were.

Whether I'm self employed in T-Shirts or in illustration, there is a constant imperative to attract new clients. Currently I have a sufficient clientele built up in Screen Printing to support me; I'm in a strong position to switch my marketing efforts to commercial illustration, looking for new clients there (In the course of business, there is an attrition of existing clients--thus the need to always be on the lookout for new accounts).

I'm painting, I'm painting again!

Note: Click on the above painting to see it bigger in a new browser window.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Let's Get Some Paint!

Sprinted to NYC and back earlier this week for an interview on the Joey Reynolds Show or WOR Radio 710, talking about my brilliant comix career, I suppose was the plan. Quite a ride, blasting out east and showing up at the WOR studios near Wall Street at 2 a.m, it’s sixteen degrees out. In for a few minutes with the resonant voice of Mr. Reynolds, then back into the sub freezing night, praying I can score a cab back to the hotel.

The highlight of my trip came the next day, as I visited the Museum of Modern Art—it was my first visit there since the Nineties, thus it was my first time in the new building. It’s spectacular. More of the collection is shown in a better space.

My brain was being happily crushed by the paintings on the fifth floor, four big Kandinsky’s making real inroads on my psyche, when I came upon a series of maybe four Cezanne landscapes. I’ve always loved Cezanne of course, but considered him a master who opened the door for the brilliance of Monet and the impressionists, of course Gauguin, but above all beloved Vincent, the beautiful tortured genius.

I saw Cezanne anew this time. He found a way to coax a profound truth out of his regimented yet diffuse brushstrokes. These landscapes reported accurately on the beauty of what Cezanne saw in the moment; the brushstrokes, angled and consistent, pull the world through the master’s senses and present it through the canvas. Of all the incredible stuff in MOMA, it was these few straightforward canvases from Cezanne that kicked my ass two days ago.

I’m gonna go out and buy me some goddamn paint (it’s been too long). Thank you Paul Cezanne for your warmth, your humanity, and your glorious chops.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Never Underestimate the Power of the Staple Gun

This piece recently appeared in my DIY column in Alarm magazine.

Long before the world went digital, before creative and marketing tasks were performed online, the DIY entrepreneur had one rough & tumble, indispensable piece of equipment: The Staple Gun!

Think about it. How do you get warm bodies to show up to see your band? How do you advertise a yard sale, massage services, a second hand store, a screen-printing business? You run off a couple hundred flyers, grab your trusty staple gun, and head out into the hood to spread the word. True, you will post to Craigslist (and other on line locations), you will email friends and send a stack of postcards. But don’t forget to paper the town with fliers if you want results.

Veterans of the postering trade know where the most productive forests of phone poles are found, they know what bulletin boards will yield the biggest crop of fresh faced college kids swilling cheap beer at the gig. They also know where the cops will chase you away, where the retailers will yell at you for defacing their precious avenue. Sure, every kid with a stack of posters and a staple gun knows they are, in fact, littering. An etiquette of sorts is observed. Most will pick up old, worn fliers that have fallen by the wayside and stick them in the trash, and most will not paper over an obviously new flier.

The fact is, it is necessary to be tough minded out there when postering, if not downright brazen. It’s normal to feel self-conscious about sticking fliers on every phone poll on a crowded street in a thickly packed urban neighborhood, or university enclave. Get over it! If you are trying to make a living, trying to drive a crowd to an event, trying to make the phone ring, recognize that you are a warrior on a mission. You are trying to stay alive; the fliers must go up! One note: try to avoid that hitter of stinky green bud before setting out on your mission—you’ll feel a lot less self conscious if your not laced to the gills on thunderfuck weed! And, you can reward your self by taking a little lift when you get home, if that’s your thing.

I came at my relationship with the staple gun and postering from an oblique angle. As a painting student at the University of Massachusetts on a budget, I purchased my first staple gun in order to stretch my own canvases. From the get go, I really liked the thing, an Arrow model painted industrial blue, it was a simple, elegant machine that perfectly executed the job it was designed for.

Upon graduation, faced with the horrid reality of working full time for minimum wage (the fate of many a painting student!), I turned to T Shirt printing to pony together the few bucks I needed to survive at the time. The T Shirt trade provided me with ample beer and date money as an undergraduate, so I dove back in. It was the path of least resistance between hunger and a burrito in my belly.

As I built up my clientele, I explored every avenue open to the low budget entrepreneur for getting the word out: Postcard mailings, postering, small ads in weekly or college papers, cold calling (yeccch!), and so on. Over time, I found postering to be one of the most reliable ways of attracting new clients—I actually got The Residents as a shirt client that way, as their merch person saw a flier on a phone pole near her house! I did their shirts for about nine years, and it was fun and challenging to produce their spectacular designs.

As a dedicated cartoonist, plying the T Shirt trade has always been a secondary concern for me. A cash cow, if you will. That being the case, I’ve had a tendency to do just enough commercial work to pay the bills, and spend most of my time making comics. There have been many times where, lifting my head from an obsessive bout of cartooning, I would notice I was down to about enough money for, say, two beers and clean laundry. In times like this I would dust off the trusty staple guy, grab a stack of my ever-present fliers, and head out to do battle.

I’d relocated by Oakland by then, and I knew my way around every nook and cranny of Oakland and Berkeley’s phone poles and bulletin boards. It would take most of a day and about 250 fliers to do the justice to the totality of the East Bay. Let me tell you, it is serious grunt work. But after making those rounds, I would feel relaxed enough about my economic prospects to quaff a cold one, nip a hit of bud, and uncork my ink bottle for another round of cartooning. In due time, the phone would ring, shirts would be printed, and more burritos would appear on my table!

These days, with the splendid power of Google Adwords and a million other digital and online tools at my disposal, the trusty staple gun rarely gets a workout. But I plan to dust it off soon, as I’ve lined up a couple punky power pop bands to play the publishing party for my new graphic novel. If I want to drive a crowd to the gig, I better head out to the streets with my staple gun and a stack of fliers.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

The Road to Yagul

One fine hot summer afternoon in 1997, I found myself walking up the road to the ancient city of Yagul with Serena and Jenny. Yagul is one of the lesser known ruins in the Valley of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, less famous than the spectacular mountaintop ancient city of Monte Alban, or the mysterious palace at Mitla with its trippy geometric designs. No slouch of a ruin itself, Yagul boasts some super cool, creepy tombs you can climb down into. There’s also a virtual warren of multi-room buildings and the second largest ball court in all of Mesoamerica (after Chichen Itza).

As impressive as Yagul itself is, I really got a spooky thrill walking the road to the site. About a half-mile off the road on the right side, there were massive stone cliffs that appeared to be carved with some sort of art or hieroglyphs. I did a double take. Were we talking about some amazing natural rock formations? Or did the ancients of Yagul do this as their summer art project over the course of several decades? I don’t know! I took a picture of the cliffs, reproduced here, but it can’t do justice to what I saw.

That afternoon was one of those gorgeous deep blue sky days where every rock and cactus appears in super real, crystalline detail. A few billowy clouds gave depth and a timeless surreal quality to the sky. I gazed at the cliffs and a wash of impressions rolled over me. In the late afternoon sun they glowed with a sublime rosy orange presence. The sun was still high enough that the shadows were not deep, yet the forms stood out in hyper real relief. The jaunty presence of the rock, the color, the impact of their craggy statement, the actual fact of their existence in the immediate moment was overwhelming. I wondered if they were meant to be seen from a great distance, perhaps from the sky. Even as I was sure they were deliberately carved, part of me puzzled over whether they were natural formations. Deep in my skull, one voice assured me they were indeed shaped on purpose, only not by humans. What??? I snapped out of it! Take a picture, ya big dummy, we’ll figure it out later.

Checking my handy Lonely Planet guidebook, I see Yagul was built after A.D. 750, when nearby Monte Alban was on the decline. The book doesn’t have one word about my spectacular mystery rocks. In his book Oaxaca Journal, pop science writer Oliver Sacks mentions the rocks. He sees “…a cliff face with a huge pictograph painted in white over a red background, an abstract design, and above it a giant stick figure, a man. It looks remarkably fresh, almost new—who would guess it was a thousand years old? I wonder what the image means: Was it an icon, a religious symbol of some kind? A warning to evil spirits, or invaders, to keep away? A giant road sign perhaps, to orient travelers on their way to Yagul? Or a pure, for the love of it Pictographic doodle, a prehistoric piece of graffiti?”

I’m wicked happy that ol’ Oliver took the time to note this amazing piece of real estate, because I haven’t seen it mentioned elsewhere. I’m trying to remember the white paint over the red background part—I mostly recall the rock formations. But reading over his comments, I do remember part of my initial shock upon seeing the cliff pictograph: I had the distinct impression that I was already intimately familiar with it. It was almost as if I had done it myself! This was not a déjà vu, more like that feeling an artist gets when they are really pleased with a painting or drawing they have executed; they own it in their heart, they see it as no other possibly can because it belongs to them.