Sunday, September 30, 2007

Freedom Fair

During the past four weeks I've had my eyes opened a little more to the worldwide issue of human trafficking and slavery. As the father of two girls, ages 11 and 12, it particularly hit home in a very personal way.
The stats are staggering, so staggering that I think it's hard to wrap our minds around it. Two million children worldwide are trapped in sex trafficking. Children. Children who should be going to school and playing with dolls. Of course most of the are girls. Most slaves worldwide are female and most of them are minors. And we're not just talking about Nepal and Nigeria and Thailand and Cambodia. It's right here in the United States. In New Jersey.
We hear about it in odd little news clips here and there, but it seems so unimaginable and ridiculous that we can't wrap our minds around it. The problem is so mind-bogglingly huge and depressing and far-removed from us that we don't even want to take the time to learn about it.
I've decided to take some time to learn about it. This Saturday there's a Freedom Fair at the Holy Grounds Cafe' in Allandale, NJ, to bring about more public awareness. The woman who's running it has hands-on experience at a shelter in Thailand and is bringing a mountain of passion into it.
I'm contributing the above watercolor painting (19x24 on bristol) at the host's request. I'm still new to watercolors and I don't know whether it's crappy or not. Feel free to tell me, I can take it. But, right now, I guess I wanted to do something.
I'm not trying to preach about it and I don't pretend to be an authority. But here are a few links I've visited recently. Take a moment and try to wrap your brain around it. I'm still trying.
This has been a public service announcement from MZJoe. We now return you to our regularly scheduled ramblings, already in progress.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Show at the Dive Bar

Tom Hall and I were invited to do a small comic book show on Long Island, to benefit the Boy Scouts. Sounded like a good deal.

When we pulled up after a brief accidental tour of Brooklyn, our directions had led us to a little bar off the beaten path, sandwiched between a condemned building, a Chinese deli, a European bakery and a cemetary. The front door was locked. Around back, behind a dumpster and through a half-open door, was the 'show'.

There was no sign advertising it out front, no sign on the door. There were maybe sixteen tables. If there there a hundred mainstream comic books in the room I'd be surprised. Yes, I said a hundred comics, NOT boxes, NOT dealers, NOT titles, a hundred comics period falling out of some flat-laying dollar boxes. There was a knife dealer, a bootleg video dealer and a guy whose table included burned copies of garage band CD's and jumper cables. There was a table represented by the Libertarian Party supporting Ron Paul.

The rest of the tables were filled with artists who had been convinced at the Big Apple Con that this would somehow not be a waste of our time.

What can you do but try to make the most of it? The good thing was that I got to spend a day drawing pictures and talking with my best friend. The only customers that anyone had all day were basically the other vendors that had nothing to do but look around. Since it was slow (deader than the cemetary across the street) the artists all spent time getting to know each other and making contacts. I did some sketches at request and we sold (and gave away) a few Megazeens and KING!s to people that will surely read and appreciate them.

I suppose this is what rock bands talk about when they start out at dive bars with an audience of four people. I wanna know, how long do we pay our dues before we play the Garden?

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Truth About Lando Calrissian

Lando Calrissian betrayed his friends to Boba Fett. That's usually what he's remembered for. But then he turned it around, escaped with Leia and Chewie, and later helped rescue Han Solo AND was largely responsible for the destruction of the second Death Star.

That's pretty darn skippy.

Here's something to take note of. Sure, Leia and Han kinda laid a guilt trip on the guy. But if guilt was the sole motivator, then maybe, MAYBE, Lando would have gotten Leia and the wookiee free from Cloud City, but it pretty much would have ended there. Instead he accomplished great things, gained the trust of his new friends and changed the course of history. Even got to dance with the Ewoks during the Yub Yub song.

That's because he found the greater good from within, and some friends took some time to get to know him and believe in him. It's not because they made him feel bad.

My POINT is (yes there's a point) guilt is not a motivator. It might work, a little. It's like the annoying bug near your ear, you'll swat it because it annoys you but it probably won't make you move, and it will just cause you to, well, hate bugs more.

I say this to those who would use guilt trips as a tool to call people to action. It doesn't work. It causes people to resent you and rebel all the more. It is a destructive force like few others, ravaging friendship and partnerships, tearing apart churches and businesses and families.

I've been there, I've even used it and and I've hurt people in the past. It's a power trip and it's prideful and disgusting.

I've also been hurt on the receiving end, which is how I learned my lesson finally. It's amazing how prevalent this is particularly in the church. For example:

I've been told that I'm not listening to God if I don't get involved in a particular project.

I've been told that my salvation is in question if I don't attend a prayer meeting.

I've been told that I'm commiting adultery if I attend another church on Sunday.

I've been told that my choice not to give to a certain charity demonstrates my need for a comfort zone, thus I'm not Christlike.

I've been told that my church commitments should exceed my commitment to my own family.

The amazing thing is that someone could argue that all these points could, in fact, be true. And they even might be true, warped as that sounds. But if you lay on the guilt trip, brother, I can't hear that truth. You're just a bug I wanna swat. And I will swat.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Preference vs Principle

In church we're doing a series on how screwy the church can get. Very enlightening.

One of the things I dig about the church we're now attending, Emergence, is that they don't push the ideas that the Bible is silent about. They play rock music but are respectful of choirs and pipe organs. They don't push Republican over Democrat, or Wall Street tycoon over bohemian. They understand that, while there ARE absolute truths in life as outlined scripturally, there is room for the Holy Spirit to lead different people to different passions.

Megazeen has received its share of judgmental hate mail from those who say it's irreverent or distracting, but you know what? That's their preference. We also don't like the preachy tone that other Chrisitan comics take, and would prefer some more entertaining comics, whether deep from within a painful soul or just a good ole fart joke. That's OUR preference.

The danger comes in when we take our preference and decide that it is a principle that others should live by. There are principles we should all live by for sure. But the trick is in understanding the difference.

For example, my wife doesn't like Pink Floyd's "The Wall" or Stephen King's "The Stand", two emotionally charged works of art I thoroughly enjoy. But she shouldn't think less of me for listening to it myself. Just as I can't stand the morning DJ's or the music selection on the local Christian radio station- but I don't think they make my wife cheesier for her listening to them. These are preferences. In the end, we still go to church together on Sunday. That's a principle.

So, whether you like the new Transformers movie or are a cartoon loyalist, whether you get something out of Benny Hinn or you find him silly, whether you read Ghost Rider or Owly, or like Clinton or Giuliani, or Kirk or Picard, Disney World or Universal, Coke or Pepsi, etc or etc, they're all just preferences. It's when we decide that others need to feel MY way about the subject that we get into trouble.

Read I Corinthians if you doubt it.

A wise man once told me. "Being right ain't all it's cracked up to be." Changed my life.

I have my preferences on all the above, by the way. But that's not your problem.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Mecha Manga Bible Stories

If you had told me a year ago that I would ever be involved in a project called Mecha Manga Bible Stories, I'd have laughed in your face like the cocky anti-establishment hippee artist that I always pretend to be.

But look at that preview concept art and drool.

I was humbled to be asked to be involved in this project, but not because of the intrinsic project itself or the publisher behind it (though both impressive). What really got me pumped was the incredible talent involved. I found out that I'd be working with four other artists that I have enormous respect for, all Megazeen artists that are graduating into the recognition they all deserve.

Tom Hall (whom I co-wrote with), Jeff Slemons (cover art), Kneon Transitt (pencil & ink) and Daniel Bradford (colors and letters). Add Paul Castiglia's experience as editor and you don't get a better team. Anywhere. From everything I've seen so far, this is the Bible comic I would have always wanted to read. And isn't that what we should be shooting for?

Art's underway. I'll gush more along the way. Trust me.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Getting Started in Comics

I guess I've been at this long enough now that prospective artists now contact me wondering, "How do you get started in comics?" Some guy recently on my comic board jumped in with a recommendation that you make a graphic novel because that's where the money is.

Uh, no.

Telling someone who is considering doing comics to write and draw a 96-page epic graphic novel is akin to telling a kid who's showing up at the town pool for the first time how to try out for the Olympic free style 200m race. Or telling someone at a mini golf course how to navigate the 9th tee on the pro world circuit. Or convincing someone who's showing up to a school board meeting how to run for congress.

Here's how you get started in comics.

Here's the big secret.


Pick up a pencil and start drawing on a piece of paper.

If all you've got is a few sweet looking pinups, all that other stuff is way out of reach yet, and all it's going to do is flood you with a bunch of confusing info that you WILL NEVER NEED unless you pick up your pencil and draw on some paper. Worry about printers, publishers, copyrighting, ancilliary rights and everything else later, because it doesn't matter at all right now, and will matter very little even in the future compared to your artwork.

(FYI- I recommend finding the right graphite or lead pencil which will usually NOT be the #2 pencil everyone uses to write with. I use a 2F for lighter lines, and an HB or 6B for the heavier lines, when I'm just pencilling, but get a bunch of pencils (most art or craft stores sell a full range of pencils as a cheap set). Experiment with a non-repro blueline pencil along the way too when you're ready to start playing with ink. As for paper, I use Bristol paper and prefer vellum finish, which has a texture and doesn't smear as easily, but you might like smooth better, just as you'll need to find what size you're most comfortable with. Oh, very important, use a white Magic Rub eraser or a kneaded eraser, not those stupid pink ones that will smear your lines and destroy your paper.)

And that's how you get started in comics.

Graphic novel... oy vey.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Musings at 39 - Baseball at 13

When I was 13 years old my father took me to my one, and to date only, major league baseball game. It was the Yankees v White Sox at Yankee Stadium.

The game was probably, by accounts, a sleeper with a score of 2 to 1 Yankees, but I was in heaven. The stadium was massive, the steady muttering of the crowd was hypnotic, the game and the scoreboard and the "charge" organ were everything they were supposed to be. My dad bought me a hot dog and a soda. We never had much money, so I actually recall being so remarkably grateful and impressed with him that night, for splurging on his son, bringing me on an adventure I would never forget.

As the game ended with a quiet non-climactic strikeout (which was as exciting to me as any home run), we began our slow decent from the upper nosebleed tiers of the stadium. As I inched down the stairs with the crowd, talking with my friend Steve, I tried to hang back a bit so my father would not be far behind.

It was then that I was violently, inexorably shoved down eight steps to the platform, kneed solidly square in the back, colliding with Steve and several others before me. As my friend exclaimed, "What are you doing?" I turned to see a massive giant of a man, with mustard stains dripped down his white shirt, his huge double chin englufing his stretched out collar, his navy blue Sox hat cocked back over his greasy mullet. Glaring at me with angry, tired, cold eyes, and having not spilled a drop of the Budweiser in hand.

I saw my father behind him, looking on at me, smiling so as not to let me be scared, but a little frightened himself, an emotion I rarely saw cross his face. We were in the Bronx, and he was fifteen feet away from me. And for a moment it felt like the distance of that entire stadium. I waited at the bottom and stood way clear as Goliath lumbered past me, never taking his eye off me until he did (nor I him). Then my father put his hand on my shoulder, and did not remove it until we were back in the VW bus.

It was that day I learned that, most often, violence does not need a reason.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Musings at 39- Chest Pains

For a long time I had planned on writing some of my various musings on life, what I've learned and when and how I learned it. But I think what ultimately prompted me to start was when I got a call one night back in July.

"Joey. It's Don's mom."

I know that can't be good. I've known Donny since I was seven. We still regularly keep in touch but rarely talk on the phone unless someone died. That Donny was not the one calling me, well, yeah, that can't be good like I said.

Turns out Donny had a big ol' heart attack and had just come through triple bypass. 38 years old. What the hell? Why am I seeing so many friends cut down way before their time? Anthony, Brian, Mychael, Jenna, the list is getting longer.

But at least Donny made it through. I went to see him in the hospital the very next day, with all the wires sticking out of his body, poor guy. The cool thing about Donny is that he's not one of those old frinds that just talks about the old days. We stay in the now, we get serious when we have to, we mostly laugh, and we don't get on each others' nerves EVER.

But now... man, he had a heart attack. And I've seen my friends cut down. And I'm 39 and I eat really bad food all the time and have an incredibly stressful job. And less than two years ago I was in the hospital for chest pains. And Mike Wieringo just died.

And right now, another one of my best friends is facing HER final days. I can tell when she looks at me, she doesn't say it, but I know she's wondering how much longer, and she's wondering why she hurts and why she can't hear my voice any more.

I'm not very smart, but I guess the best thing we can do is embrace the living, especially when we know days are running shorter. Embrace the living and cherish the days. Embrace the living and do our best to ensure that we meet up again in eternity after this trip ends. That said, I have a phone call to make and some quality time to spend with an old friend.