I was commissioned to create another poster for the ongoing Freak Folk Show series held every few months at Downbeat Lounge in Chinatown (Honolulu). The most recent iteration, FFSVII, was held the day before Earth Day. The organizers are environmentally and socially conscious folks and wanted FFSVII to be Earth Day themed.
So I got to work on something that was meant to be trippy and surreal, but made the mistake of listening to some pretty intense drum & bass while I was painting. The initial result was pretty dark and pessimistic, a reflection of how current events and the state of the world in which we live.
That wasn't quite the vibe the organizers were looking for however, so I hastily painted a new skin on the iconic VW bus (and adjusted its proportions a bit) and painted a wash of psychedelic color over the grungy city in the background to lighten the mood and obscure the harsh reality. The color wash creates the form of a dreaming woman, which adds to the ethereal feeling of the second poster. But I like that the grungy city, polluted water and smog-filled sky is actually still in the second poster, just hidden beneath a layer of pleasant distraction. Kinda like real life.
The organizers ended up printing out copies of both versions and putting them up side by side, another decision that I really appreciated from them. Seeing the posters up side by side is almost like a cautionary statement, like two very different versions of the portrait of Dorian Gray hung next to one another.
Some selects from a Kahuku Point walk I took for Summit magazine Issue 3.0, Island Hopping: "Do North."
This year was my first time participating in the Webcomic Artist Swap Project (WASP) and it was a blast. The project randomly pairs each cartoonist with two others. Each cartoonist will draw a script provided by one partner, as well as supply a script to the second partner.
Here's the crossover piece I wrote for my on-and-off webcomic "The Sun Also Shines on the Moronic" (the absurdities of the modern world and how to avoid dying of cynicism), drawn by the amazing Courtney Svatek.
And here is the guest strip that I drew for the talented Paula Albaneze who writes a hilarious comic called Hoof Fellas.
And be sure to check out the WASP website.
I just completed work on a fun project with Oahu musician Philip Strauss, who asked me to provide a series of illustrations that could be used to create a still-image music video for his new song "Daylight." Philip had been working on the song during the turbulent election season and I created the six images used in the video in a three-week flurry, while simultaneously watching the baseball postseason, in my home studio, finishing just last week.
The reason for the tight deadline was that the song, while broad in scope and message, has a couple nice, topical tie-ins to politics and the election, as well as societal issues like the BLM movement, the war on drugs, poverty, the environment, racism and other forms of inequality, the prison-industrial complex, career and income uncertainty, political discord and the threat of a madman at the helm with only a neoliberal hawk as our alternative (admittedly, a highly qualified, extremely intelligent, neoliberal hawk).
It speaks of a world where the very daylight itself is slowly killing us as we continue to destroy our ozone layer. Where corporate capitalism is driving the planet and most of its people toward oblivion so that a few fat cats and their political cronies can line their pockets and enjoy cheap thrills until we all burn to a cinder. The song is a kind of lament for the people who have been failed by our current societal system; who have been failed by the "American Dream" itself. My illustrations are aesthetically low-brow, but representative of what we in the biz call "seriously heavy shit," and are meant to reflect that. Take a listen to the song below and check out all six images in the Artwork gallery to the left.
The second song on Brian Von Ahsen's new album, The Brian Show, entitled "Good Boy," describes Brian's journey from hopeful youth to pragmatic adult, helping to set the stage for the emphasis on observation and truth-seeking that Brian holds to this day.
The image itself is of college-age Brian at a dorm party, "buzzin," as the production notes call for. Despite the distractions and pleasures of college partying (front and center-right), which Brian has gotten good at enjoying, he has begun to realize that there is more to life and that he should seek higher occupation.
The poster is of a future iteration of Brian, confident and much more content, guitar in hand, with Hawaii as the backdrop. This is as clear a sign as he could ever get to drop everything and make a life-altering move to the islands. The idea for the poster was based on a real experience Brian had with a sultry tourist poster advertising the beauty of Hawaii, and the vast differences Brian would encounter should he decide to relocate there. This triggered the "ah ha" moment I tried to express through Brian's reaction. This both sparks and predicts his future in the islands. Future Brian in the poster is wearing an "It's All True" shirt, which is actually a real thing, but--more importantly--ties back in to the premise of the album.
Well I used to be a good boy, but that’s a long time ago
If it was ever good for anything it’s in the stories I have told
Now I don’t do much of anything I don’t make such a fuss
I just live to write songs and sing as I’m driving my bus
There’s a whole lot of happiness in this simpleton life
Just remember to call me if you’re feeling all right
In creating the different versions of Brian you see throughout the artwork for this album, I studied old photos of Brian thoroughly. Another, younger version of Brian, was created, initially, to go with this song; that was for the original poster I designed, which was meant to be a single, big-hero style comicbook cover that encompassed the entire album. Once we decided to break the poster into panels, each of which would depict an actual "scene" from the music of each song, that little Brian no longer worked.
Fortunately, I created the original poster with each character as a separate file, meaning I could move them around, or pull then out and re-insert them into any panel I wanted. So little Brian ended up playing the role of an extra in a later panel ("War On Truth"). Even though he's never credited as Little Brian, and you might never know unless you're reading this blog post (in which case, you win the game), I think it's a cool little Easter egg for the "War On Truth" panel to have Little Brian watching Old Brian get arrested for singing on the street for coin. Like this panel, it's an instance of Brian looking at himself, invoking the principle of self-reflection while, simultaneously, adding the possibility of a neat time-traveling story arc.
Be sure to check out Brian's album on Music Baby (you can take a listen to the music), and visit the artwork gallery on this website to look at all the completed panels. Purchase the physical CD copy of the album for just a few dollars more, and you'll also receive the beautiful, double-sided, full color, 9.5″ x 11″ fold-out comic poster illustrating each song. Support thewillcaron on Patreon (patrons get access to hidden content, including the original big-hero poster I designed), and keep checking back for more behind-the-scenes content and artistic break-downs of the different panels that went into this novel music+artwork collaboration.
Brian kicks off his album, The Brian Show, with a track called "It's All True." In creating the concept for the artwork that would accompany this album, a larger-than-life, musical retelling of Brian's own journey through life, the producers created a "Myth of Brian" narrative and additional production notes for me to look at, along with the lyrics to the wonderful songs Brian had written, to help inspire some of the outrageous characters and scenarios pictured in the artwork. Like Brian's epic, retelling of his life through song, the characters and art that would accompany that narrative needed to be equally larger-than-life, equally honest in the critiques they present, and equally based on the observations of the artist, in this case, me.
Thank you all for coming out to my big show
Before I get it started there’s something you should know
I’m obsessed with honesty and accuracy too
So when I sing about something you can bet that it’s all true
Brian, memorialized in stone, looks out at the audience. "TRUTH" is engraved below him on a pedestal: a tribute to faithful tale telling, the universal observer, and life according to Brian. A bird craps on his head while flying overhead; a dash of the profane. On the left, a young singer/guitar player sits on a bench, playing for tips. A lone kid with a red balloon stares skeptically at the earnest singer, who is striving to do the artist's part to tell the truth. At the same time, I wanted the kid's skepticism to be understandable; the musician doesn't appear particularly inspiring, evoking a foolishness and an idealism on his part. On the right, a couple walks beside a literal shark in a suit, a loan shark spouting obvious bull crap, while the couple ‘eats it up.’ They seem content to play along the roles society has given them, even if that role is to be taken advantage of by the very system that society is built upon.
The note I got from the producers that led me to draw a shark, was "obvious con-type." One of the fun challenges of the project was figuring out visual ways of communicating the pretty abstract and complicated ideas Brian is able to evoke and dissect through his music. The collaborative nature of the project was unlike anything I'd done before, and translating ideas from music to cartooning required mental and artistic flexibility, openness and quite a few worthwhile revisions.
What do you choose to believe? What is your truth, and how do you express it?
Released in September 2016, The Brian Show marks the recording debut of Oahu-based musician, singer and songwriter Brian Von Ahsen (Von Awesome Music). Back in 2014, Brian approached me to create artwork to accompany the forthcoming album. The project went through its ups and downs, and the initial poster idea I created (which you can see by supporting me on Patreon with a minimum $1 pledge) was scrapped in favor of a much more complicated, but really cool, idea: To create a comic poster where each panel tied directly to one of the songs on the album. (You can view the completed panels in the Artwork gallery.)
Over the next two years, the project developed slowly, with no additional funding, despite the added complexity and time required to generate so much additional content. But, after many hours of work and rework, the project has finally come together and the album is now available through Music Baby.
Brian's contemporary alternative, joke-folk style covers topics that run the gamut from punk and politics to existential philosophy and the mental health industry. The album follows Brian's life story in song: from his college years to his experience working in a psychiatric hospital to the open mic sessions at the popular local bar Anna Bananas (now Anna O’Brien’s). Some of Hawaii’s finest independent musicians accompany Brian on this journey, including Alika Lyman (Alika Lyman Group), Charley Myers (Hamajang), Elijah Oguma (Sing The Body), Ginai Hill, Ian Chames (The Chames Gang), Leslie Klein (Saloon Pilots), Michael Wall (Fire Tribe Hawaii), Pierre Grill, Reggie Padilla, Stephen Inglis and Steven Howells (The Space Kadets). Musical style ranges from punk, to country, and folk to doo-wop and, of course, good ol' rock'n'roll.
Order the physical CD for a couple dollars more and you'll receive a print of the beautiful, double-sided, full color 9.5″ x 11″ fold-out comic poster I created to illustrate each and every song.
The process for creating each panel involved a serious amount of brainstorming with Brian and his co-producers, Evan and Kevin. The goal of the panel is to capture, in a visual medium, the essence of each song. The image should compliment and enhance the messages in Brian's wonderful lyrics, and add a bit of visual humor to make things fun and exciting. Of course, the poster itself is a great collectible item and would look seriously great up on your wall.
My favorite part about the project was getting to try out different styles for each panel. We decided early on that, since every panel has Brian in it, or a version of Brian, it would be more interesting to depict Brian in different styles. This ties in with the theme of storytelling and whether everything Brian tells you actually is "all true." The tall tales and the real stories blend together differently in each song, and I wanted to try and evoke that same feeling of alternate versions of reality in each panel. The result is that some panels are done in a hyper-cartoonish way, while others are more painterly, and still others are more graphic and stylized.
Please check out the finished pieces in my Artwork gallery, currently located on the home page, visit my Patreon to help support my work (patrons receive cool benefits, like a look at the original poster I designed for the album) and be sure to give The Brian Show a listen on Music Baby and consider making a purchase to support the creation of Von Awesome Music.
It's difficult to choose a favorite moment from this year's Hollywood Minstrel Awards. Was it Tom Cruise crashing the ceremony in a bloody samurai costume with an actual severed head? (Lol, Scientologists.) Or was it Clint Eastwood shouting racist obscenities at an empty chair while Jared Leto, in literal blackface, announced his next role would be abolitionist Frederick Douglas? (And wouldn't shut the hell up about his "method," whatever that means.) It's hard to beat witnessing the look of despondent confusion on poor Ryusuke Yamada's face as he tried to figure out just what he was doing there, and why the world is the way it is.
"The Minstrels," as the awards are fondly referred to, are a perversely cathartic release for all the pent up, casual racism Hollywood has mulling around in its gut. It's a chance for producers, directors and actors alike to get together and celebrate the best examples of whitewashed characters in both film and television; to say: "Hey, we know we could have cast any number of talented Asian actors to play the main character in a film adaptation of Japan's unofficial national legend, but fuck it, let's write in a new 'mixed-blood' warrior to be the lead role and cast Keanu Reeves instead." (We still have no idea how they're going to explain how Matt Damon ends up on the Great Wall of China, but we assume it will be through a similar trope.)
At The Minstrels, there's no need to sugar coat and pretend like Hollywood is actually making any real effort to consciously cast minority actors in leading roles, especially when the character in question is not white. Even in cases where casting a white actress could be logically explained within the confines of the story's universe, as is the case with Major Motoko Kusanagi from the forthcoming live action adaptation of "Ghost in the Shell," who will be played by Minstrel attendee Scarlett Johansson (the character has a full prosthetic body so, technically, she could physically appear to be any ethnicity she wants), or when—as is so often the case—the character is described as "mixed-blood" to explain the casting of a white actress, as is the case with Allison Ng from the film "Aloha," played by Minstrel attendee Emma Stone, one would normally feel obligated to ask "why?" Why, when there are so many talented actresses of minority descent who could fill those roles more accurately, does Hollywood insist on casting white actresses instead? Why the fuck was William Mapother cast as a character in “World Trade Center” whose real-life counterpart is black? And, more fundamentally, why aren't there more stories being written from the perspectives of minorities?
But not at The Minstrels. At The Minstrels, Jared Leto with "Reverse Jackson" surgery is less weird than Ryusuke Yamada showing up because he's playing a blond alchemist (wizard) whose last name is Elric in the forthcoming live action adaptation of "Full Metal Alchemist." Yamada later told us that he thought he'd been invited as a joke at first, but was beginning to think it wasn't all that funny.
On June 5, 2016, New York governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order mandating that agencies under his control boycott organizations and businesses in support of the Boycott, Divestment & Sanctions (BDS) movement—a peaceful, non-violent means of protesting Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands, controversial governmental policies and laws which segregate and discriminate against Palestinians living within the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT) and Israel-proper based on race and religion (the definition of Apartheid) and war crimes committed in retaliation for terrorist strikes.
“If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you,” Cuomo wrote in a disturbing Washington Post op-ed that reveals just how stacked the deck of American-support is against Palestinians and how empty the “peace process” actually is. “Indeed, a new front has opened in the fight against Israel’s existence. Just as the U.S.-Israel relationship has developed a robust and burgeoning commercial dimension, the threats against Israel have acquired one. There are those who seek to weaken and undermine Israel through the politics of discrimination, hatred and fear.”
Without going too much into the neoliberal foundations of modern Zionism, there are still at least three major things wrong with mandating that the State of New York give supporters of BDS, what I’m sure Cuomo sees as, a taste of their own medicine. I tried to summarize them in the above cartoon using a Groucho Marx-style quip.
1) Political and human rights boycotts, like the BDS movement, are a protected form of protest guaranteed by the First Amendment. In NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co.(1982), a local branch of the NAACP boycotted white merchants in Claiborne County, Mississippi, to pressure elected officials to adopt racial justice measures. The merchants retaliated by suing the NAACP for interference with business. Ultimately, the Supreme Court found that “the boycott clearly involved constitutionally protected activity” through which the NAACP “sought to bring about political, social, and economic change.” Justice Stevens concluded that the civil rights boycott constituted a political form of expression under the speech, assembly, association and petition clauses of the First Amendment.
The New York Attorney General will probably try to argue that the state has a right to boycott as well. The State of New York might not be suing BDS supporters, as white businesses did in Claiborne County, but I would argue that creating a blacklist and targeting citizens for their political beliefs with another boycott counts as a prohibitive measure against those citizen’s constitutionally protected right to express their beliefs through boycott.
Supporters of the BDS movement, whether you agree with them or not, should not be punished by a governmental entity, whether local, state or federal, for exercising a First Amendment right. The BDS movement clearly fits within that definition as it, too, seeks to bring about a political, social and economic change. It doesn’t matter that you disagree with them, they’re not committing a crime.
The actions of the BDS movement are no different than the actions taken by many entities around the world—including our own government—during the boycott of South Africa for its Apartheid regime and racist violence against Black South Africans. Imagine if the U.S.-South Africa relationship had had the same “robust and burgeoning commercial dimension” that the U.S.-Israel one does. Imagine if South Africa had its own neoliberal bankroll in the United States donating vast sums of money to an American political party (the Jewish Telegraphic Agency itself estimates that the Democratic Party received between one- and two-thirds of its money during the 2008 election cycle from pro-Israel donors—this could be an ill-conceived brag, but there’s no doubt that Deborah Wasserman-Schultz was made chair of the DNC to court Zionist money, so it might not be too far off). Nelson Mandela might still be in prison if an equally powerful South African lobby had been donating to the Republican Party while President H.W. Bush was in the oval office.
2) Creating a blacklist of companies, organizations and influential individuals that support the BDS cause is disturbingly McCarthy-esque. Even if you don’t agree that Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in the OPT and Israel-proper constitutes major human rights violations, do we really want the governor of an American state adding the names of law-abiding citizens to a blacklist of any kind? This is an incredibly dangerous precedent to set and is the number one reason this executive order needs to be struck down in court.
3) And finally, the State of New York is currently boycotting the State of North Carolina as we speak because of North Carolina’s transgender-targeting, discriminatory bathroom law—and good! That law is morally reprehensible. But it’s just a little hypocritical for Gov. Cuomo to go after BDS supporters when his own government is engaged in the exact same kind of protest.
The bottom line is that this executive order, and the ongoing legislative movements in several other states to take similar action, is about money, and it targets a peaceful movement by citizens expressing their First Amendment right to dissent and to refuse to engage economically with a State with whom they morally disagree using McCarthy-style tactics. It should never be the State’s job, nor will it ever be the State’s right, to dictate, through any means, what its citizens (and, in this case, by extension non-profits and businesses) think—especially about a foreign country. And it ought never to be the State’s purview to take debilitating or restrictive action against its citizens in retaliation for exercising a First Amendment right within the law.
Civil rights boycotts are a form of protected First Amendment expression because they are, too often, the last peaceful means available to an oppressed people and their supporters in calling for justice. Shame on the State of New York for punishing those people at the behest of big money interests.
Evelyn Beatrice Hall wrote, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Whatever happened to that tenant of Freedom of Speech?
Note on the cartoon: I chose to depict Groucho Marx as the BDS supporter to be grilled by Cuomo-as-McCarthy mostly because I felt like the responding quip summarizing my points was in the vein of his actual style of comedy. However, I want to make it clear that I am aware that Julius Henry Marx was of German-Jewish descent. Being anti-Zionist is not the same as being anti-Jewish, and I’d like to think that someone as intelligent and critical as Groucho would have been fully aware of that. Whether or not he would have supported the BDS movement is not important, but I’d like to think that he would have, as have many other conscious and caring individuals of Jewish faith and/or descent.
Photos from a fashion shoot at La Mariana Sailing Club with outfits by Roberta OaksRead More
Photos from Mel & Ramyt's second wedding reception at the Halekulani, Waikiki.Read More
Behind the scenes of a mad dash to the Millar World annual new talent competition deadline.Read More
As Congress waves a teary bye, bye to Speaker John Boehner, we reflect on how I totally called this, like, four years ago (and won awards for the resulting cartoon, too). Plus, in-progress looks at my illustration for part three of HI/039, a dystopian sci-fi tale set in Hawaii in the not-so-distant future, serialized in issues of Summit.Read More