Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Never Not Working

The last few months have been a whirlwind of activity.  I've been deep in the final pages of ISSNES/ Volume One, all the way to the credit spreads and back cover. Excited to be finishing this volume but anxious about the next step. Isness will be a very hard sell for publishers. It falls deep between the genre creases. It misses the mark for the currently held concepts of graphic novel or even independent/alternative graphic novel. The Indie comics community shies away form anything photographed, which is an entire subject unto it's own and well discussed here and in other places. Isness is not a photography book either. Nor is it an an artists book. It's not a real magazine, even though it's designed to have the look and feel of one. It's sort of none-of-the-above... just floating around, in a sphere of its own.

The general layout for the production credits is loosely based on the advertisement layout below (I believe it's from Family Circle Magazine) The grid of squares was very popular in 60's magazines. I've seen it in ads, recipe instructions, makeup demos and handyman tutorials. It's really everywhere... and I love it. The credits are still very incomplete, awaiting bios from the individuals in question.

I'm closing in on a uniform treatment for the speech balloons. Nothing seems to do the job and still look integral to the project. It looks like I will settle on simplicity and conformity. A familiar comics trope in a sea of broken rules. More comfortable with Photoshop, I'm beginning to introduce multiple blurred images as indication of movement. We shot Pachouli-Rose-Blossom (or whatever her name will end up being, because nothing really stick for me) with a lot of in-camera blur for this scene which was a great idea in hindsight and multiplying them adds even more of that dizzying presence I wanted to give her.

Cosmetics are an important part of the story and this very realistic 60's magazine beautifying instructive works well for my character's predicament: Poor nutrition and hygiene have left her skin a minefield of blemishes. Her mother has complete monopoly in the house on any and all cosmetics. This makes them even more coveted and desirable and sets a course for Pachouli's stealing, hiding and lying.

finally finished Lars' darkroom and put him in it. That's where we leave him at the end of Volume One. In the beginning of Volume Two, he will be developing and printing a certain photo which will trigger an extensive flashback.

The activity pages at the end are almost done. The coloring pages were a particularly enjoyably to make. I do miss drawing and painting...

A flip-book is also part of the activity pages and it's more complicated to design than I thought. The bonus however, is that if it works, the stills will suddenly and briefly turn into a real movie!


 The biggest treat, though, has been getting Lars' song off the ground with the help of composer Tamar Muskal and multi-instrumentalist/arranger Rob Schwimmer. Tamar's bold composition establishes that Isness indeed is a musical. Rob is stacking track after track to strengthen the dreamy-optimistic-almost heroic mood of the song. We found an amazing singer to portray Lars' young voice and are very close to recording.

On a separate note, my first foray into film, Cooking with Connie, won Best Experimental Film at the Brooklyn Film Festival  last month. It was an extremely pleasant shock and a real boost. Here's the review it got in  Unseen Films. While Cooking with Connie took less than a year - if I don't count the inactive gaps - ISNESS is already in it's seventh's year of intense work. It's a little confusing to me that film is turning out to be the easier of the two mediums... When I launched the work on Isness I was told by a local figure in the comics world, that I was lazy. That I wanted to just go "click" a camera and have the work be done for me, instead of sitting down and drawing. Seems laughable now, though at the time it stung deeply.

The near future for Isness will include finalizing edits and readying Volume One for submissions to publishers. I may decide to print a few "beta books" for this process, because I believe the project lives best as a tangible object. As soon as I can I will begin to post pages from Volume Two. Many are already laid out.

Meanwhile, a sweet summer to all of you, especially to all those artists slaving over their passion projects in dark and obscure corners of the world.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Body Doubles, New Diorama, and Some Soundtrack News

An aerial view of the defunct tarmac on the island. Before and after Photoshop treatment.

By now I am fully resigned to working on Isness as a lifestyle. 
There are days when I feel cursed and days when I feel blessed to be bogged down in an imaginary world with no end in sight. I was reminded recently by somebody close, that my beloved father practiced a similar kind of meandering, labyrinth-like creative process. He, however, was a scientist. Isness has become, indeed, a laboratory in which no shortcuts are permitted. 
Having said that, Isness Volume One is three quarters finished and all the other volumes roughly laid out. My interest and resolve about the project have not faded, even as I work simultaneously on other projects, with a shorter finish trajectory. My first short film Cooking with Connie is at a rough cut stage and will be reviewed and critiqued by my fellows at BFC in December. They are a smart bunch and help each other's projects realize their full potential.

A still from Cooking with Connie

This past summer has been very productive. Rachel Hahn of RISD was my intern and brought with her, besides a keen understanding of the project, genuine talent and diverse skills.

Rachel also happened to have the hands and a general physique reminiscent of Lars', so I recruited her to do some body double work. This is the second time I've used a body double for this project. Although I always knew I would use body doubles for the nude scenes, I found that hand close-ups are essential in my storytelling, particularly since the narrative is very object-heavy. My characters touch and hold a lot of things...We got closer shots of many objects that Toby Levin touched during the production, and some that were not in the original shoot or story at all.

Left: Toby Levin, as Lars, brandishing a fencing sword, during the action shoot. 
Right: Rachel giving me a second chance for close-ups .

Left: Toby Levin figuring out how to rig a car battery to power a lamp.
Right: Rachel providing a close-up on an instruction booklet and wire-stripper that were purchased months later.

A while back I shot a body double for Lil' with Mina Jameson, who has perfect "Lil' hands"

This sequence, from the finished layout, has actor Catriona Rubenis-Stevens as Lil' on the left, while the 2 hand closeups on the right, belong to Mina.

Another goal we conquered this summer was  revamping the small diorama of Hunter's camp. 

On location in Sandy Hook NJ.

To duplicate the terrain where shot the scene, I originally made a small diorama. It was enough for adding the essential tent and some miniature tools.

This time around, we included a replica of a log that was on the location (and pertinent to the story) and turned it into a defunct telephone pole.

 We also replicated the makeshift fire-pit that we threw together during the action shoot. Since at Sandy Hook no fires were allowed, I took the opportunity to burn a few matchsticks in the diorama for the sake of extra realism.

In the works for the past year, has been my growing collaboration with composer Tamar Muskal for the musical aspect of the novel. Tamar is an accomplished composer who has done work in genres ranging from classical composition to film scores. I feel very lucky to have such an accomplished and original composer on board.

We are now in the arrangement phase of the first song and will hopefully be recording soon.
Volume one will contains the first song. Four visual spreads to accompany it and a flexi-disc record that will be inside the hard copy.

Regarding the all-important print and publish aspects of the project, I have no good news yet. Besides printing an occasional digital working-draft for myself at about $50 a pop, the cost of self publishing remains prohibitive and I have reached out to two publishers so far and will reach out to many more once Volume One is done.  

The latest digital draft has just been printed and being mailed to me. Hope to make a little video of it for my next post.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Half of Volume One Online!

The last few months have marked a turning point for Isness. It finally has a living, growing presence in its temporary online platform.

I finally found the time to construct a monster jello mold for the upcoming cooking section. The idea behind it, is to allow my "domestic goddess", Nanna, to have a section in each volume where she can display her flamboyant post-apocalyptic/mid-century recipes. Her first featured creation is a giant jello mold, made from long-shelf-life products.
Jello mold inspiration from vintage magazines and blogs such as...
My search for an experienced helping had, brought me to The Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn Victoria Belanger, and I was delighted when she agreed to step up to the challenge. The process took two days, one for making the individual molds and another, after 24 hours of setting, to stack them, add finishing touches and shoot. It was pretty intense work and I was impressed with Victoria's ability to orchestrate all the complex measuring and timing involved.

Victoria Belanger, The Jello Mold Mistress of Brooklyn, with our completed creation
A first draft of the composite, as it will appear in this volume

This past summer's productivity was also enhanced by two talented, smart, and very personable interns from RISD. Julia Rosenfeld and Alec Stewart joined me and advanced graphics, Photoshop and illustration work. Alec focused among other things, on font design needed for the many mock-advertisements, taking logos and altering them while retaining their general look. Julia helped with Photoshop compositing and illustrated portions of a board game coming up in the children's activity section. 
Alec Stewart & Julia Rosenfeld doing great work and goofing around 

One of the tasks Alec worked on was drawing the architectural plan of the barracks-turned-home.
These will return in each volume. Each time a different room will be encircled on the floor plan and featured as an interior design spread, see example below.

Julia worked on many Photoshop images but also did some explorative illustration work for a gameboard spread, coming up later this volume, as a "children's activity".

I finally finished a very large, complex composite, placing the island diorama in the ocean. 
The raw diorama (about 10" long)

...and in the polluted, ocean off the Pacific coast, where the story takes place.

My latest page installment ends at page 114 where the fourth out of seven characters is revealed, torso first. Hunter is the oldest brother and we run into him while he's hunting on the far side of the island. Hunter carries more archetypes throughout the novel than any other character, but when we first meet him, he's in his... well, "Hunter" mode.

Some of the many garments I had Lee try on before we settled on the belt contraption.
Test shots were taken in B&W because we were planning on a B&W project...
Volume one is mostly exposition, setting the stage and introducing the characters and their predicaments. There are many hints at things to come: Objects that play a growing role as the story unfolds and dialog that plants seeds for developments ahead.

I hope that by next time I update this blog, the whole volume will be online and I'll be busy seeking a publisher and laying out Volume Two.

Thanks for stopping by,

& happy, healthy upcoming holiday season!



Sunday, June 21, 2015

Up and Running!

I'm delighted that I can finally invite viewers into the first pages of Isness. At the time of this post I have about 43 pages up and there are many more to come (page count for volume One fluctuates around 200+). It's going to be a busy summer as I race to get at least 10 more pages up every Sunday night.

The early pages, and in a way this entire volume, are an introduction to the characters, their predicaments and certainly to the particular language of this novel. Things that don't make sense yet, will come together later on as the plot thickens.

Stick around!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015


Very infrequent posts means that my work goes mostly into the project itself. This is how I convince myself, and hopefully you, that a sparse blog is a good thing, in my case anyway.
It's been very busy for Isness the last few months and will get even busier in the next few, as I brace myself for finally presenting Volume one online. This is one year later than I recently thought, and four years later than I initially planned when I started the project.

Below is the cover, which minus a few tweakings is pretty much done and ready.

 Isness has 8 volumes. They are designed as issues of a magazine, including advertisements, activities and visual articles about cooking and fashion.

Although I've been preparing Isness for print and have been spending a lot of time figuring out paper weight and "signatures" and "paginations" (yes, I didn't know these print terms either when I started) I never intended to self publish and would rather wait and seek out a publishing partner as I continue to work. Meanwhile people can read Volume One online, get acquainted with the characters and the format and I will have a place to direct potential publishers to, instead of printing very expensive mock-ups that may end up in the dust bin.

For this type of work, which is supposed to provide that tactile, retro experience of a magazine, online publishing is a temporary compromise. The "real deal" will have pages of different textures, gatefolds and things you can cut out like paper puzzles.

The original campbell's soup ad followed by my post-apocalyptic version, made with miniatures and quinoa seeds instead of beans.

Another aspect I've been wrapping up is the landscape diorama. After years of having the large 4'x8' diorama take up the larger portion of my studio, i have begun to dismantle it. Every possible photo of this abandoned military outpost has been taken or will be taken in the next few months. Destroying it is both sad and cathartic. As the layers are exposed, I recall the long process of turning a mound of crumpled newspapers and plaster into an imaginary home base for my characters.



The little island-diorama, however, will not be destroyed any time soon and in fact it just got an extension and a tarmac as I realized that this is how these pacific military islands were used. My research of the era is not very thorough but I do try to avoid glaring, unnecessary inaccuracies. So tarmac it is.

 The new tarmac (and snow cap!)

Testing the new addition with the surrounding ocean added.

In a couple of weeks I will be joined by two talented interns from RISD who will assist me this summer in the effort to round up all loose ends for Volume One. After a couple of semesters scrambling to pay interns a minimum wage I realized that I just couldn't pull it off anymore. As good as my intentions are, I'm an artist who's been hemorrhaging money on this project daily for many years and cannot afford to pay. For this reason I am terribly thrilled to still have fantastic people come on board and I make it a priority to address their creative interests and do a lot of teaching as we work!

So stand by to read Volume One very soon. I'll make a big splash about it on Isness FB page when it happens!

All sorts of other updates will be on Isness Kickstarter Timeline too!


Happy Summer!


Friday, November 7, 2014

People Who Need People...

A friend asked me the other day how I cope with the epic, never ending scope of this project and the answer that came out my mouth was: "I deal with it like a chronic illness. I don't expect it to go away so I'm never disappointed". It made me think later about how this project is a sort of lifestyle in the way that sewing and knitting daily used to be my lifestyle, which made me think about how all my creative energy used to go into knitting a pair of socks, for instance... a million stitches to then be worn and scuffed to shreds in the darkness of a winter boot. "Women's work"... How lucky I am to have visited and enjoyed that work but to also have the option to choose another kind of epic  - and yes, chronic - work.

I have recently announced yet another deadline for myself and watched it go by. It was for the first volume online publication. I got sidetracked by a collaborative effort with musician Aurelio Valle which will actually benefit Isness in the long run. In exchange for a music video for his new, mesmerizing song Bruised and Diffused, he will create and arrange the first song to appear in conjunction with the 1st volume of Isness. Below is the "music" spread mock-up with a floppy vinyl I bought on ebay as a stand-in.

Another thing I'm noticing lately is how important it has been to have the help and support of others in this long term effort. Some people who've come to help at one point or another have become friends... Some friends have become helpers... I think I'll give a shout out to a few right now (more later) to acknowledge how much it means to me to have them say "YES" and "CAN do!" to this yet to be born brainchild of mine.


Thanks, Mindy, for many nights of miniature work!

Thanks, Maggie, for endless scrutiny and observations!

Thanks, Alex, for fantastic ideas, for being Isness' #1 cheerleader! 
(What the heck are you doing in this pic, anyway?)

Thanks, Abbie, for jumping in with your amazing illustration skills!

Also thank you to Yunshu Chen who was my second intern to work on Isness and brought with her an excellent eye for details. (and hand!) 

So I'm noticing that there are not so many men here on this helper list and making a mental note to recruit males and stop being so sexist.

That's all for now. 
Check out my latest Kickstarter update.
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