Sunday, December 28, 2008

Happy Holidays!



















The Leopard hasn't updated this blog in months, but I wanted to punch in and let anyone who still subscribes to this blog know (if there is anyone left) that I'm still alive & kicking and will add entries in the near future.

In the meantime, have a mighty, mighty Obama new year, & see you at the inauguration !!

Saturday, September 27, 2008

My Man Herbie Part 2


A couple of months ago, The Leopard wrote about how much I admire the brilliant jazz musician Herbie Hancock. Recently, I actually got the opportunity catch him at the famous Apollo theater. He was a guest on an upcoming episode of a new TV series taped in Harlem for the Sundance channel called "Spectacle: Elvis Costello with.."

It was kind of a strange evening.  As I waited outside on the ticket line, people seemed giddy with excitement about the show.  I chatted with several folks who were fans of either Herbie or Elvis and anticipating a great night.  But we were all a little unsure about what to expect.

The Apollo theater itself is much smaller than it looks on TV.  I was a several seats from the stage and I still felt like I could see Elvis' nose hairs a little too clearly.  He came out looking a little haggard and worse for wear in a rumpled fedora and his omnipresent horn rims.  He explained the simple concept of the show:  a program where he would interview his favorite musicians and discuss their careers. In the process, they would perform a song or two. Earlier in the week, he had completed a show with Sir Elton John.

Herbie came out with the superb bass player Christian McBride and a young drummer in tow. He was looking great, nowhere near his 69 years. 

Costello proceeded to interview him about his long career, reading his questions from an overhead teleprompter. Elvis' interview style was, in a word, unorthodox.  He tended to meander with his own ruminations and was rather longwinded. In fact, he spoke much more than Herbie ever did. Some of their conversation drifted into pure musician-speak, shoptalk which tended to alienate and bore the general audience.

Herbie only performed three full tunes during the nearly three hour taping. First, an ambiguous kind of solo piano noodling, meant to show his classical influences, then, a fun little musical interlude where he played his hit tune "Watermelon Man" first acoustically with his band, and then switching to synths, doing the Headhunters version. 
The last performance featured Elvis himself singing on a tune, Mike Douglas style, from the Grammy winning album River: The Joni Letters,  called "Edith and the Kingpin."  Accompanied by Herbie, he sang in that limited, reedy voice of his with little emotion or resonance.

By this time, almost half the audience had left, annoyed with the lack of actual music. Personally, I had a great time listening to Herbie tell (when he was allowed to) anecdotes & stories and discuss specific albums, songs and performances from his amazing career. He came off jovial and happy, and didn't seem to give a fig that some the audience wasn't as interested as his host, who, to his credit, seemed to be genuinely in awe of him.


  

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Verrazano Bridge Blues






As the Leopard was riding the Staten Island Ferry to Manhattan a couple of weekends ago, I began to reminisce growing up in the NYC area as a youth.   One of my earliest memories is of my dad occasionally gathering my family when the mood struck him, and as a "treat", we'd pile in our wood-lined station wagon and we'd drive across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge around dawn Friday or Saturday Summer evenings.  He'd look up at the lights and say emotively, "Look--Beautiful"!

As tacky as it sounds, I enjoyed this, because my Dad was seldom around during the week, working two jobs and taking classes. I think it was a a not-so-subtle attempt to bond with my sister, brother and me in some way.

Monday, August 25, 2008

8 things I love about Mad Men


1. The period detail: Everything looks right: The authentic looking 60's sets, production design, and props are perfectly realized.
2. The acting: Every actor on the show from walk-ons to the main characters, are top notch, and utterly convincing.
3. The costumes: They're almost characters in themselves. The wonderful ad-man flannel suits and the form fitting vintage dresses.
4. The writing: Fluid, straightforward, smart. Episodic, but avoids soap opera conventions.
5. The drinking: One of the funniest show elements is no matter where the characters are, in a bar, at work, in a restaurant, or at home, someone always seems to have a drink in their hand.
6. The smoking: almost as often as the drinking, someone is always seen lighting up.
7. The hair: From Don Draper's unnaturally perfect jet black locks to Joan's Lucy Ricardo red coif.
8. The comfort: Of cuddling with my girlfriend on a late night watching our favorite show.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Some of My Favorite Artists (1): Pj Harvey


I first encountered Polly Jean Harvey on David Byrne's old PBS music showcase, Sessions at West 54tha terrific series that featured up-and-coming artists. Through that show, I also began love affairs with Chocolate Genius and Tricky,  two other amazing musicians I also saw for the first time.

I had never seen anyone quite like her.  She had a beautifully harsh, controlled voice that she used to maximum effectiveness, screaming, hiccuping, shouting --while holding in her hands this huge, obscenely loud guitar despite her skinny, slight frame. At first glance, I thought she was physically homely, but her intensity and ferociousness made me quickly appreciate her image. She was womanly-- but not feminist. Her hyper wails of anger and frustration mingled with an aggressive sexuality.  

Harvey is an artist that continues to evolve.  Her first albums, Dry and Rid Of Me were all about raw, punkish rock n' roll, but her third disc, the critically acclaimed To Bring You My Love, despite having some effective rockers, was more experimental and varied in tone.  

Is This Desire? A near-concept record, had a quiet, folky atmosphere with beautiful, wistful songs.  Stories From The City, Stories From The Sea and Uh Huh Her, were  a return to a more rock oriented sound, though more commercial.  Her last album, White Chalk, is another subdued affair with a dark, gothic tone.   

An eccentric character, Harvey always continues to surprise. 

Favorite Songs: Victory, Happy and Bleeding, Legs, Rub 'Til It Bleeds,  50 Foot Queenie, Snake, Rid Of Me, To Bring You My Love, Meet Ze Monsta, Working For The Man, Electric Light, The River, Catherine, Big Exit, The Mess We're In

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Sun Ra song: Nuclear War

(click title for song)
This an amazing Sun Ra song I happened to run into on the web. It's from around 1982,when there was a lot of buzz going around about the threat of nuclear war between the USSR & the states.  According to Allmusic.com, Ra really thought he had a hit song and took it to Columbia Records and had it soundly rejected. Listen to it for just a couple of moments and you'll realize he really must have had his head somewhere in space. The word motherfucker is used over a dozen times--and with lyrics like "It's a motherfucker don't you know/if they push that button yo' ass gotta go. and whatcha gonna do without your ass?"

But I love it. 

Thursday, August 14, 2008

I'm talkin 'bout Isaac Hayes (Shut Yo' Mouth!)


The Leopard is sure that in the coming weeks there will be dozens of articles, obits and tributes about the original Black Moses, Isaac Hayes,  flooding the media. There probably won't be anything that The Leopard can contribute in that area that won't already be covered about the fruitful musical life of the man who was the very personification of soul.

So I can only offer a youthful rumination.  The first time I remember seeing Hayes' image, it was in the basement at my aunt's house. My aunt and uncle were the hippest folks in my family and they always had the latest records. I used to enjoy just looking at the album covers: Jackson Five, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight and The Pips. I especially loved The Ohio Players covers, like the one for the album called Fire featuring a model with nothing on but a fire chief hat. Up until that time, it was the closest thing I'd come to an actual Playboy magazine.

Then there was Isaac Hayes. My aunt and uncle must have been big fans because they seemed to have all his records.  I remember the Black Moses album that folded out into a crucifix. But my favorite was Hot Buttered Soul. Of course, I had no idea what that meant, but I loved the cover image, looking down on Hayes's bald head. I used to stare at the cover while listening to the groovy, soulful sound of his voice.  I looked at it so much that I remember thinking if it's called Hot Buttered Soul, maybe they should have put a pat of butter melting on his head--pretty silly.

The music was different than anything I'd ever heard before--all the songs were abnormally long, sometimes as much as 20 minutes, a whole album side--and had fascinating spoken introductions recited in Hayes's trademark gravelly baritone.

Shaft was everywhere on the radio in 1971.  Everyone I knew had a copy of the album or the single. The Theme From Shaft is probably one of the most recognizable pieces of music ever written.  It is unforgettable. 

Kinda like the man himself.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Fear



Recently, The Leopard was having a conversation at lunch with some co-workers about fears. What is it that we are afraid of? We all agreed that our biggest fear would be the death of a loved one: our children, our spouses, our significant others. But what were our childhood fears when we were kids and more self-centered?

I mentioned that the first thing I remember really being afraid of was the Wicked Witch from Wizard of Oz. They used to play it every year around Thanksgiving or Easter and I loved the movie and was mesmerized by it, but I hated the Witch. I remember from the moment when she first arrives to fetch the ruby slippers in one of the early scenes set in Munchkin Land. I would cower in my seat, hugging a couch cushion tightly to me.

In our conversation at lunch, someone interjected that they were afraid of the flying monkeys. She said that she used to have nightmares about them. They never bugged me. Their frozen faces were obviously masks, and even at 8 years old I knew they were fake and you could clearly see the wire harnesses connected to their backs when they "flew". So it's interesting to note, based on personal experience even at that young age, what's scary to some people and what's not.

I think the scariest movie I'd ever seen in my adolescence was The Exorcist. The mixture of religious imagery the sexual references, and the utter grossness of the film freaked me out. I couldn't sleep after seeing it for days. Unlike vampires whom you could fight with a cross and a wooden stake, or Frankenstein, who walked so slow I always imagined I could outrun him, the Devil was everywhere. There wasn't really anything to fight. Like the scene in The Omen where David Warner's head is lopped off by a large sheet of plate glass.

As you get older, you tend to have more realistic fears. The thugs on the street, someone breaking into your home, the car accident.

In the summers, I usually see several children's films with my kids. This year I haven't seen any. The reason is my youngest saw a poster for Dark Knight and the image of the Joker horrified him. Since then, I haven't been able to get him into the theater to see any film. For him The joker is his Exorcist. I don't blame him. If I were 5 years old, I might feel the same way.

The Leopard was afraid of the dark until I was around 8. My parents allowed me to have a blue light in my room until my older brother finally got fed up and took it away. I'm not sure what I was afraid of, there in the dark. I think the Wicked Witch, ready to fly me away to her dark castle. Never could figure out what she'd want with me, though.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

My man Herbie


So let's talk about my man Herbie.

When Herbie Hancock stepped up to the podium and won this year's grammy for album of the year, lots of hip-hoppers everywhere were scratching their heads in a collective "huh"?

They had no idea  that the man they were ogling was one of the most versatile, innovative and important musicians of the 2oth century.  A virtual musical chameleon, My man Herbie was a 7-year old piano prodigy,
soloing with the Chicago Symphony at age 11.

But what makes Herbie one of the baddest cats in all jazz--indeed all of recorded music-- is that he was one of the first musicians to bring electronic instruments up front on major labels and to play them with real human dexterity and warmth.

A devout SGI Buddhist, He brought legitimacy to machines because he's a brilliant acoustic pianist and composer who worked with Miles Davis for years in one of his greatest groups, as well as having recorded many of his own influential and classic solo recordings.

He took a cue from his former employer in the late sixties forming a real jazz funk outfit called Headhunters that outsold any jazz record up until that time, later he did the same damn thing again with the hip-hop influenced Rockit, which became an MTV favorite.

He continues to bounces back and forth between serious jazz  recordings, electronic outings and star studded solo records. 
The Grammy he won for River: The Joni Letters barely scratches the surface of this man's accomplishments, but maybe now he'll get a little more respect from those few who don't already know what time it is. 

Friday, July 25, 2008

Jazz
























The Leopard has been thinking lately about that wonderful art form that I've devoted so much of my life to: Jazz.

Not only as a once near fanatical collector and lover of the music, but also it's been a great inspiration to me in almost all facets of my life. For years, I worked for a large institution devoted to jazz; I've written about jazz as a reviewer, and much of my visual art has been connected to the music.

The obsession started as just being someone who simply enjoyed the music. A friend of mine who was a bit more sophisticated than me at the time discovered it first, and we would listen to Miles Davis and Charles Mingus records in his house, taking it all in, trying to figure out what the hell was going on. In addition to the music itself, I enjoyed the visual presentation. The wonderful Blue Note album covers, for example, with their gorgeous introspective photos of the artists which suggested the very epitome of cool. It was one of my greatest inspirations and what probably eventually led me to become a designer.

But the thing that I think I was most attracted to was the idea of creating art with freedom of expression that also translated into a profession--something that people paid to see that was almost as challenging to listen to as to create. I love Jazziz magazine's description, "Art for your ears".

The basis of jazz , improvisation, always held interest to me. I remember digging the Kind of Blue album for the first time, hearing each soloist play off ideas from the melody line of the tune All Blues and thinking about the infinite possibilities each musician could extend their musical imagination within the framework of the tune.

It did more than open my mind up musically, but also as an artist and a creative person. You can build up a traditional framework and playing within the confine of the song, or you can even go further, like latter day John Coltrane or Ornette Coleman or Albert Ayler, and have no boundaries at all; you could veer off into the further reaches of space, without a net. Of course, this can make things challenging for the listener, but those who stick around can be rewarded. That's where jazz I think gets the reputation as "challenging" or "difficult" music. I personally think it's more about listening a little harder and opening yourself up a little.

With the decline compact discs, I fear that in the digital internet landscape jazz may evaporate and the many young up-and-comers won't have the backing of record companies to promote them (honestly though, the truth is many of the major companies had dropped their jazz divisions before the decline of the CD). People will have to seek it out, even for the great masters like Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and Charlie Parker. It will take some doing with the massive amount of information floating around, to keep the music going.

When It Comes, It Comes



Many years ago, The Leopard was at a wedding party where I met the Pulitzer Prize winning author, Michael Chabon. He had just written his first published novel, Mysteries of Pittsburgh. (Since that time, he's gone on to write several acclaimed books such as The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Klay and The Wonder Boys, among others).

I was introduced to him by the host, and I was fascinated by his recent status. His book had been well-received. He seemed a quiet, low key personality. Knowing what a daunting task it is to write a novel, I asked him if he ever had writer's block. He seemed taken aback by this. He just sort of looked me up and down, put down his glass, said "no", and walked away. I guessed that I must have hit a nerve.

Later, my friend who had invited me to the party informed me that Chabon told the host he was very angry and insulted by my question. Later, my friend and the host became estranged as a result of this. For years, I thought Chabon had overreacted, especially since he ended up being pretty prolific.

But it has taken me this long to really understand what it takes to do what Chabon does, that is, create a piece of art. Unfortunately, having a little bit of talent alone doesn't account for much. It's motivation and ideas that really clinch it.

The director David Lynch says that ideas are like fish; sometimes it's easy to catch one. Others, you could sit a long, long time and still not get a bite. One thing I would add to that is as you get older, the fish get harder and harder to catch. What used to come so easily seems more precious.

I love to sit down and draw something, but I find so little time that I always feel that I have to have a real purpose or it's not worth the time. I'm beginning to realize now that that's a bad idea; you just have to just do your thing when the mood strikes you. If you wait for the big idea, you could end up like the great writer Ralph Ellison, who wrote Invisible Man, h
is first and only novel. He received remarkable accolades and the National Book Award in 1953. He then spent the rest of his life trying to write something equally as brilliant. When he died in 1994, strewn around in his study were thousands of pages of rewrites of an unpublished novel. He just thought it none of it was good enough.

So I've learned to just do it. The Big Idea? Well, when it comes, it comes.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The Dark Knight geek-out


I remember as a kid of fourteen & fifteen being totally immersed in the world of superhero, war, horror, even romance comic books. I would get lost in those worlds. When I was reading a really well produced comic with terrific art and a great story, it was as real to me as any good novel, TV show, or film.

My pals and I used to fantasize what it would be like if the movies would get it right, not with the usual "pow/bam" pop art type treatment like on the old 6o's Batman TV show, but with all the nuances and subtleties that the best creators had been putting into the medium for years .

The last time the film industry really nailed it was Spider-man 2, which had to have been created by geeks: not only there were subtle references to the comics sprinkled throughout the film, but also it held the true drama of the original strip, the emotion. It's something that only a true fan (i.e. the director Sam Raimi) would recognize and appreciate.

Now, having seen The Dark Knight, I know there are even more people out there who know how to get it right. Not just in look and mood, but that one element which is always left out when discussing comic books: intelligence.

The screenplay for this film is probably the most ambitious ever for a film of this type.   It goes well beyond its pulp origins into Shakesperean proportions--without the pretense.

I won't go into the details of the story here, because The Leopard knows almost half the world has already gone out and seen it--and many of us will again--but suffice to say the film is terrific, almost flawless. Heath Ledger's rendering of The Joker does not disappoint. It has a sly, subtle razor edge that no one portraying the character has so far explored.  Christian Bale, now comfortable in his bat skin, is more than up to the task of handling the script's new found complexities.  The moral compass of the piece is  the fine, layered work of Aaron Eckhart, the most perfect Two Face one could imagine.  All the actors--Maggie Gyllenhaal, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman, and Michael Caine--are uniformly inspired, and are all given enough screen time to shine.

But the true hero for me of  The Dark Knight is director Christopher Nolan--his balance of comic book legend,  deep understanding of the possibilities of cinema, and an acute sense of  drama has created one of the very best superhero movies ever made. 

Sunday, July 20, 2008

My Batman


As a preface to a review the Leopard will be posting soon on the Dark Knight movie, here's a a little background on my personal relationship with the character.

I love Batman. The first drawings I ever did were of him. One of the fondest memories I have are when I was about 8 or 9 years old taking the Staten Island Ferry with my father. In the ferry station, they would have these enormous newsstands, and there was always a Superman or Batman comic book or two. I'd always pick Batman, of course. For some reason his image always appealed to me. I related to him somehow. Maybe it was his outsider status. I just thought there was just something beautiful about him.

Although I haven't really read many new issues in years because of the massive glut of material that's produced, but I've gotten my kids into him, and I'll sometimes drop by comic stores to see what's been done with the character. It's one of the few constants of my life.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Turiyasangitananda


I heard something very disturbing a few weeks ago, but what was especially disturbing about it was how and when I found out. 

I was recently reading an interview with a well known jazz musician,  who casually mentioned that Alice Coltrane was dead. I almost dropped the magazine.

Also known by her Hindu name Turiyasangitananda, Coltrane was a brilliant pianist as well as harpist and composer. She died January 14th of last year at the age of 69.  

Because she was not quite a mainstream household name on the level of her legendary husband, this was not widely reported.  To me this oversight was not just a reflection of the lack of interest in serious artists and culture in America, but subtle racism.  Alice Coltrane was Yoko to John Coltrane's well, John.   He wrote one of his seminal works, A Love Supreme while living with her, and she played in his last groundbreaking band for several years, taking the seat away from the great pianist McCoy Tyner with her own brand of lyricism. After her husband' s death, she created many wonderful albums of her own, Including Journey To Satchidanada and Monastic Trio, combining her unique piano with ethereal harp playing, along with superb musicians like Pharoah Sanders and Rashied Ali.
She made her last album, Translinear Light in 2005 with her son Ravi.

An excellent composer and improvisor, and a longtime devotee of Hinduism,  and a lover of peace throughout the world, she will be missed.


Tuesday, July 15, 2008

My Job World Part 2

Around 1994, I began to learn some of the basic design programs which were still coming into fashion: Pagemaker, Photoshop, Freehand and a little later, Quark.

The Leopard's background has mostly been in drawing, so it took a little getting used to a technological mindset. Soon, I had a little experience working on small publications, but for the most part, I was kinda of figuring things out as I went along. My first real gig as a designer was at a small magazine called Pizza Today in Indiana.

Yup, a magazine solely about-- pizza. And yes, before you ask, The Leopard did get a lot of free pizza. The whole enterprise was really a promotional device for the owner, who put on a huge Pizza Expo every year for vendors catering to the business. Apparently, this was extremely lucrative and made him a millionaire. But the magazine was legit. It was bi-monthly, and there was a full staff. The thing I remember the most was sitting around in an editorial meetings discussing stories about pizza. How they come up with them issue after issue, I'll never know.

After leaving there, I took a gig at a tiny minority-owned ad agency. It was run by a former football player who didn't really have much experience but a lot of "heart". He used to call me B.O.P. (Big Ol' Pimp) because I drove around in a late 70's customized van at the time that an uncle gave me--a Leopardmobile if you will. There were numerous cash flow problems at the agency. Sometimes, we didn't get paid at all. Eventually, he fired the whole lot of us except for one guy. But I learned a lot while I was there about the business.

But boy oh boy, did I have learn the hard way.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Summer Movie Mini-Reviews 1

Hancock
Will Smith, Jason Bateman
I loved the premise of this film. What if a superhero was not a nice guy but a drunk, and a coke snorter? What if he's a fuck-up and doesn't care about anyone but himself ? What if he's homeless, imperfect, a jerk? What if he's black?

Being life-long comic book fan, it sounds like a breath of fresh air. But a movie is more than one original idea, charismatic stars, an abundance of special effects. Hancock works at times and sometimes not. Despite the innovations in the script, the screenplay occasionally veers into typical Hollywood superhero movie cliches in the second half, which makes what could have been a great movie into merely a fine one.


Hellboy II: The Golden Army
Ron Perlman, Selma Blair
Though the first Hellboy worked very well as terrific superhero movie, nicely imagined by the thoughtful auteur Guillermo Del Toro, This picture is the rarest of the rarest, a sequel that outdoes the original. Now that all the origin business has been taken care of, we plunge directly into the story, which is a monster fest: wonderful, outrageously imagined monsters and beasties, each one more frightening and strangely beautiful than the last. The story is a standard Hobbit-like battle of good vs. evil, So it doesn't matter much, but the film itself is a magical feast for the eyes and also unexpectedly funny and tender.


Chapter 27
Jared Leto, Linsday Lohan
Pointless. This plodding, glacially challenged snore fest is borderline offensive: a minute by minute account of the days leading up to the murder of John Lennon. Leto too effectively plays Mark David Chapman, a self absorbed creep who at first is enamored with the formal Beatle, and then through contrived circumstances, decides to gun him down. Lennon himself is a mere shadow. The film attempts to depict this diseased killer's state of mind. Personally, I was much more interested in Lennon's state of mind just before this asshole shot him. This movie rewards him with just what he wanted: immortality, just like his former hero. He doesn't deserve it.


The Incredible Hulk
Edward Norton, William Hurt
Of the two Marvel comics vehicles this summer, this is the weaker one. The formula is in place: A-List actors in an action-filled popcorn movie. The first half, depicting Norton as the eternally suffering Bruce Banner in South America, desperately learning how to control his anger which could lead to freeing the monster inside him is fun and absorbing. Norton does a nice job humanizing the proceedings. But almost the instant when he shows up stateside in the second half, the CGI generated Hulk steals the show, along with endless gunfire, explosions and even uglier monsters for Hulk to smash. Too bad, because they really had something there for a minute.


Saturday, July 5, 2008

Fair Fourth

Another July 4th bites the dust. My two sons and I were trying to avoid the usual crush of crowds in NY, and decided to view the Independence day fireworks from another vantage point: the New Jersey State Fair.

Do you remember the State Fairs of your youth? I do. Stinky affairs. My family would go to the south each summer during vacation to visit relatives and inevitably visit the farm animals, lame rides, overly expensive carnival games and freak shows. My family never had much money, so my main experience was simply passing by stalls, looking at prize winning pigs, blue ribbon roosters and the like, and yes, experiencing that darn smell. The thing I remember the most were the tiny cots in between the animal stalls where the farmers and their families slept. If you got to the fair early enough, as you checked out the animals, you'd still see little Jimmy snoring next to his families' prize cow. I always assumed that the reason for this was that they simply couldn't afford accommodations once they came to the fair to show off of their livestock, but it didn't seem sad to me. It seemed touching.

The New Jersey Fair seemed different; all I saw were cheap rides. But the kids and the Leopard had great fun despite the cheesy surroundings.

One attraction was for .50 you could view the world's smallest horse. It was on a platform surrounded by bales of hay. I paid my money and walked up the stairs to a pit, and down there was a small pony. It was indeed disconcertingly small but not shockingly so, which is what the exaggerated posters surrounding the display suggested. It was standing, staring blankly into space, while spectators dropped loose straws of hay on his head.

As I was leaving the exhibit, I was asked what I thought of what I saw and all I could say was "Kinda sad". We all grasped hands and continued to stroll, checking out the crowds, the lights, the sights and the sounds. Sure enough, here was another display, "World's Largest Horse". I found myself digging immediately into my pocket for loose change.

That's what fairs are about.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Job Search Goes On

Being a freelance designer can be a lonely and frustrating experience. I consider myself to be one of those type of people who prefers to be an employee, sticking around a company for years and possibly moving up in the ranks.

The order of the day in my business, and I gather in in the whole corporate world---is freelance. It's cheaper--no benefits, and you can fire someone for any reason when you're done with them with no legal repercussions.

The Leopard has worked at well known places for up to 6-8 months as freelancer and then told the project has ended with no ceremony. I usually work longer than is initially projected, but it sucks. You have to be a wizard of economizing in order to stay on your bills--they're still consistent even if your job isn't.

I just got off a freelancing job at a prominent advertising agency. I was really happy and it seemed like things were turning around. I was told they wanted to keep me on as a freelancer for month and if I did well, they'd bring me on as a staffer.

Well, the month went by and I was praised for my work, but lo and behold, the client was having internal problems and cut their budget on the project.--They couldn't bring me on.
So now I'm back to pounding the pavement.

I've been fortunate, I know, that I've been able to work at all. But if this is the way things will be looking in the future, It's gonna be a long summer.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Parking Blues

Much has already been written about the ungodly parking situation in New York,  but because of my current mood, I'll add to the glut.

The Leopard has paid over $1000 to the city and had my car towed twice in the last two years. Why? Because a sign wasn't clearly marked; because I got out to my car at 8:30 in the morning a moment too late; because I was two inches closer to a fireplug then the law allows. 

Now most people say that you shouldn't have a car in New York, anyway. True. 
But I actually live in New Jersey and I drive into the city only occasionally; and even then, I get zapped.

The only way I can get around things is to drive around the neighborhoods from 20 to 40 minutes until I can catch a break. Often this means squeezing into a super tight space, waiting for some slow poke to move out of a space, or lining up on the opposite of the street 
and waiting for an additional hour until a space is free. 

I once worked with the great caricaturist Al Hirschfeld. He was 99 years old at the time (He died a year later). He was famous for his dead-on illustrations of Broadway stars and celebrities for the New York Times. He lived in NY most of his life and as part of his job, he went to a play almost every night. 
He drove around the city in this Gi-normous vintage Cadillac.  
He once told me that in all his  years, he always found a space right near the theater he was attending.

That's what I call some bitchin' car karma.  



Monday, June 30, 2008

Summer In New York part 1

The Leopard finds that he spends most of his time in the Chelsea area of Manhattan these days. Yesterday was the Gay Pride Parade and the neighborhood was alive with the sights and sounds of everybody's favorite alternative lifestyle.

It simply wasn't the place to be if you don't like being checked out from head to toe. But if you don't care a wit because like the leopard, you're comfortable in your manhood, there's much to be seen everywhere. Young men with carefully cultivated hard bodies on the make; comparing abs, and shorts shorter than I've seen since the 1970's NBA.

I was returning a DVD at the Blockbuster on 20th and 8th when I saw a young man dressed only in what looked like an impossibly tight speedo standing outside the American Apparel, giving out leaflets for the store. two young Latino girls, presumably from another part of town, stepped up to him, oohing and ahhing, reached out and felt his privates in broad daylight. His reaction was only a slight smirk.

This scene seemed to shock no one, and I suddenly felt old.

Indy's Back

I finally saw Indiana Jones and The Crystal Skull last night. A little background: I am a HUGE fan of the series. I loved Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981). This may age me a bit, but I saw it the first week it was out and I bought the soundtrack. I had a copy of the screenplay, illustrated with storyboards from the film. I used to read it over and over, because it was like reliving the film. I was also, like most red-blooded film geeks at that time, a huge fan of both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg and I thought the film was a match made in heaven.

I was a little disappointed with Temple of Doom (1984) but I still liked it quite a bit, especially the wonderful coal car race at the end and the scene with the rope bridge. I missed Karen Allen, though. I thought Kate Capshaw was a weak substitute.

Although I liked Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989), it felt a little like a retread of the first two films. The thing that worked most for me was the casting of Sean Connery who's wonderful in the role of Indy's father.

Crystal Skull, I think had a brilliant opening by setting it in the government warehouse last shown at the end of Raiders. I thought Cate Blanchett's villainess was a lot of fun and a nice change of pace. In reading other blogs, the consensus seems to be that Shia LeBoeuf's Mutt is like the second coming of Jar Jar Binks. I disagree. I think the role is underwritten, but he does about a good job with it as could be expected.

There are many nice stunts and effects as well and a nice surprise at the end. I think my favorite scene is the one with the giant devouring ants.

When we first see Harrison Ford as Indy, I felt a little disappointed. He looked old to me. But as the film went on, I forgot about it, and it all made sense. My biggest criticism of the film would be that the structure of the screenplay seems slight jumpy and stop n' start, but I thought in the final analysis, it's enjoyable and a worthy entry into the series.

My Job World, Part I

For the last 15 years, I have made my living as an Art Director. I started out wanting to be a cartoonist. I went to a well known art High School in New York called, appropriately enough The High School of Art and Design, hoping, as did many of my classmates, I'd make it as a cartoonist at Marvel Comics. Of course it wasn't long before I realized that this was more of a fantasy. For one thing, there were many better artists than me around, and also I realized I would never get to be as creative as I wanted, because as I had seen, Marvel had a factory-like atmosphere where the best attribute one could have to be a penciller was not only talent but to have an industrious nature, meaning to put out a large number of pages by deadline, not to have say on what characters you drew, and to do exactly what you were told.

I stumbled around until I ended up in Louisville Kentucky. I was brought there to be with my eventual ex-wife. She taught at a large well-known college there, and I had to make a decision on what I would do with my life.

I started working for a small magazine doing little illustrations, when I noticed the guy laying out was really lame and I hated the way he dealt with my artwork. I started laying out the pages by hand and giving him my sketches which he followed, but never to my satisfaction.

Eventually, he taught me to use Pagemaker and my designing life on computer began.

I am The Leopard

When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I created a superhero called the Leopard. His real name was the very super-hero alter ego sounding Jim Morgan. He came out of an group of imaginary characters my best friend and I created in our playtime growing up in Staten Island, NY. I had a brother and sister, but my friend was an only child. He was Jewish and I 'm not (of course I didn't know what that was at the time), and his mother was a school teacher and a lousy housekeeper.
We had his big house to ourselves and we would play with these little block that represented buildings and toy cars. We called it Bilmelytown because it sounded vaguely British. We thought anything British was cool. So my character, Jim Morgan, and his character and
brother, Rex Morgan were millionaires and Mayors of Blimelytown.

Of course, what the people of Blimeleytown didn't know was that these two were actually
The Cats: The Leopard and The Jaguar, two former archeologists who found an ancient Egyptian coin that gave them super powers when they recited the following words:

"Of All The Cats In The World,
Please Join,
Put Your Strength
Within This Coin"!

We did these characters for years. I drew pretty well, so we began creating our own comics featuring the characters which we wrote together and I drew. I went to an Art High School and my friend went to a different school and I dropped his character and the title "The Cats" and continued to make my own Leopard comics. When I look at them now he was a very obvious stand in for me. Even though on the surface he was battling super villains like The Jack O' Lantern, Spider-man style he was having personal problems with family, girlfriends and the like. It's obvious as I pore through them now he reflected my own pathetic life.

So now in adulthood, I embrace my alter-ego, The Leopard.